The Season for Giving
I can’t believe it is nearly 12 months since my last Christmas column. Time to steam puddings and bake cakes…again. Well, on the good side I have managed to win the Christmas lunch debate with my mother-in-law. We are going to Canterbury Leagues for lunch. This battle has been going on for some years now, but after the whinging that went on last year I knew it was a good time to push the point. I think it is a relief to all of us. I think we are all sick of slogging ourselves to a melting-point-lather at a very hot time of the year getting food ready that everyone is only half inclined to eat if it is a really hot day.
We have a Christmas bash every year for friends in the jungle…oops, I mean backyard. It happens sometime between mid-November and early December, depending on everyone’s calendar. It is always looked forward to, and usually involves a lot of champagne cocktails – I have most of a bottle of Vanilla Vodka to get rid of at the moment, so know already what sort of cocktail it will be – a lot of wine, and bring-a-plate of food. Fortunately for us, all our friends are gourmands so the food will always be great and adventurous, despite the inevitable battle of who provides what for which course. It’s bad luck to the rest of them that I have desserts planned already, which they will be notified of shortly. Suck eggs, I say!
Part of the Christmas bash traditions is the exchange of gifts – another traumatic buying exercise, and usually ending up being CD’s. However, part of my traditions is the giving to each guest of what is laughingly referred to as a ‘charity bag’. Considering that most of them are too busy or too lazy to make any little luxury items for themselves, I try to do it for them. I find this kind of gift giving to be personally satisfying. There is something genuine about giving friends gifts that you have made yourself. I used to make the bags a mix of biscuits, sweets and preserves, however I have dropped the biscuits as from last year. They have to be made early due to my other commitments, and with the humidity and heat associated with Christmas, I have found that they go soft before they can be given out – as happens with biscuits with no preservatives. So, preserves it is…and a CD.
I have included a bit of a mix in this column of things you can either make to use for yourself, or use as gifts for your friends. They say it is better to give than receive…but they had better make sure I get something in return.
Happy Christmas to all my column readers. Keep yourself safe, don’t drink too much…meaning not to the point of passing out. Enjoy the conviviality of friendships and have a great New Year where all your wishes and hopes and dreams are fulfilled.
See you next year.
BASIC FRUIT MIXTURE:
You can make this mixture a month in advance, and store in a cool place like the fridge. Can be used in cakes, puddings or mince tarts. Or bottle and give as a gift.
6 cups (1kg) sultanas
2½ cups (375g) currants
2¼ cups (425g) raisins, chopped
1½ cups (250g) seeded dried dates, chopped
1½ cups (250g) seeded prunes, chopped
1¼ cups (250g) glace cherries, quartered
½ cup (125g) glace apricots, chopped (substitute dried if glace not available)
½ cup (115g) glace pineapple, chopped
½ cup (115g) glace ginger, chopped
¾ cup (120g) mixed peel
3 medium apples (400g) peeled, grated
2/3 cup (240g) fig jam
2 tablespoons finely grated orange rind
¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
2 cups (440g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon mixed spice
1 1/3 cups Grand Marnier (or substitute for any citrus-flavoured liqueur, rum, sherry or brandy)
Combine ingredients in a large bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Store mixture in cool, dark place for a month (or longer) before using. Stir mixture every two-three days.
¼ quantity basic fruit mixture (above)
250g butter, melted, cooled
3 eggs, beaten lightly
4 cups stale breadcrumbs
¼ cup plain flour
Combine fruit mixture in large bowl with butter and eggs, then breadcrumbs and flour.
Fill large boiler three-quarters full of hot water, cover and bring to boil. Have ready 2.5 metres kitchen string and an extra ½ cup plain flour. Being cautious, place a 60cm unbleached square of calico (if new, soak in cold water for 1 minute, then boil for 20 minutes, then rinse in cold water) in the boiling water for 1 minute, squeeze excess water out, then working quickly spread the cloth out and run flour into centre of cloth where the skin of the pudding needs to be thickest.
Place pudding mixture in centre of cloth. Gather cloth evenly around pudding, then pat into a round shape. Tie cloth tightly with string as close to mixture as possible. Gather and tie of the corners into a handle to make the pudding easier to move.
Lower pudding into boiling water, and tie the ends of the string to the handles of the boiler to suspend the pudding. If your boiler doesn’t have handles, place an inverted saucer or a round metal trivet in the bottom of the boiler to keep pudding from sitting directly on bottom of pan. Cover with tight fitting lid; boil rapidly 4 hours. Check water and refill regularly.
Remove pudding from the pan when cooked and DO NOT PLACE ON BENCH TO COOL. Suspend on a wooden spoon placed between 2 chairs or stools, or over a large bucket. If must suspend freely. If pudding has been cooked correctly, patches of cloth should to dry almost immediately. Suspend for 10 minutes.
To store pudding, allow to cool to room temperature, then either wrap in Glad wrap or store in a freezer bag. Store in fridge for up to 2 months, or in freezer for 12 months.
To reheat, bring to room temperature, then steam for 2 hours.
MOIST CHRITMAS CAKE
½ quantity basic fruit mixture (above)
250g butter, melted, cooled
5 eggs, beaten lightly
2½ cups plain flour
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or whatever you used to flavour the fruit mix)
Preheat oven to 150°C. Line base and sides 22 cm square cake pan with one thickness of brown paper and two thicknesses of baking paper, extending paper 5cm above sides.
Combine basic mixture in large bowl with butter and eggs; add sifted flour in two batches.
Spread mixture in pan. Drop pan from 20cm height 2-3 times to settle fruit. Level top with a spatula. Bake about 3 hours. Brush top with liqueur; cover hot cake in pan with foil; cool in pan.
Can be made three months ahead, and stored in an airtight container under refrigeration.
GOURMET ROCKY ROAD:
300g toasted marshmallow with coconut, chopped coarsely
400g Turkish Delight, chopped coarsely
¼ cup roasted almonds, chopped coarsely
½ cup roasted, shelled pistachios
450g white eating chocolate, melted
Grease two 8cm x 26cm bar tins, line base and sides with baking paper, extending paper 5cm above long sides of pan.
Combine marshmallow, Turkish delight and nuts in large bowl. Stir in chocolate; spread mixture into pans; push mixture down firmly to flatten. Refrigerate until set, then cut as desired.
CHERRIES IN VODKA
500g fresh cherries, pitted
¾ cup caster sugar
2 cups vodka, approx
Place clean jars on sides in large saucepan; cover completely with hot water. Boil, covered, 20 minutes. Remove jars from water, drain upright on board until dry.
Layer cherries and sugar in jars. Pour over enough vodka to cover cherries completely. Seal.
Stand in cool, dark place for at least six weeks before using; invert jars occasionally to help dissolve sugar.
Makes about 4 cups
½ cup pouring cream
300g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
cocoa powder for dusting
Place the cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to the boil. Add chocolate and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Pour into a greased 15cm square cake tin lined with non-stick paper; refrigerate for 2 hours, or until firm.
To serve, cut into squares and dust with cocoa powder. Store in refrigerator for 10 days. Stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
PLUM & PORT SAUCE:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium brown onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 medium tomatoes (1.5kg), peeled, chopped
6 medium (780g) blood plums, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 cup port
2 teaspoons juniper berries
Heat oil in large pan, add onions and garlic; cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add remaining ingredients, stir over low heat, without boiling, until sugar is dissolved. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
Blend or process mixture in batches until finely chopped, strain, discard pulp. Pour hot sauce into hot sterilized jars. Seal immediately.
Makes approx 4 cups.
COCONUT CRUNCH COOKIES:
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup desiccated coconut, toasted
Beat butter, sugar and vanilla essence in bowl with electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in flour and coconut. Cover, refrigerate 1 hour.
Divide dough in half. Place each half onto plastic wrap and shape into a 22cm long log. Then wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Cut dough into 5mm thick slices. Place on baking paper-lined baking trays about 5cm apart. Bake in moderate oven about 8 minutes. Stand cookies on trays about 5 minutes before coolong on wire racks. Dust lightly with sifted icing sugar.
Makes about 60. Will keep for 1 week in an airtight container. Keep uncooked dough in fridge 1 week, or in freezer for 2 months.
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup caster sugar
1¾ cups plain flour
¾ cup self-raising flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon bicarb soda
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Whisk eggs and sugars in a small mixing bowl with electric beaters until just changed in colour. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
Stir in sifted dry ingredients; mix to a firm dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth. Divide dough into 2 portions. Using floured hands, roll each portion into a 30cm log, place on lightly greased oven trays. Bake in moderate oven 35 minutes or until firm. Cool on tray.
Cut logs diagonally into 1cm slices, using a serrated knife. Place slices, cut side up, on oven trays. Bake in moderately slow oven about 15 minutes or until dry and crisp, turning once during cooking; cool on trays.
Makes about 40
2 medium lemons
10 cups water
10 cups sugar, approx
Cut unpeeled grapefruit in half, slice halves thinly, discard seeds. Combine fruit and water in large bowl; cover; stand overnight.
Transfer mixture to a large pan, bring to boil, simmer, covered, about 45 minutes or until rind is soft.
Measure fruit mixture, allow 1 cup sugar to each cup of fruit mixture. Return fruit mixture and sugar to pan, stir over heat until sugar is dissolved.
Boil, uncovered, without stirring, for about 15 minutes or until marmalade gels when tested on a cold saucer. Pour into hot, sterilized jars; seal immediately.
Makes about 10 cups