Festive Cantuccini or Biscotti

 

A final, final (promise) Festive Recipe before we move into the New Year.

I´m not sure why, but in our family, Biscotti were always called Cantuccini.  Maybe it´s because the words biscotto (singular) or biscotti (plural) in Italian mean biscuits (cookies) and could apply to any type at all.  I´m not sure.

Of course, now we make our own, and like many of you out there, we add our own special twists to appeal to the people we are giving them to, or the time of year, or depending on what is available.

I´ve made these Festive Cantuccini for the last few years at this time of year because there are so many beautiful dried fruits available and the spices, to me, evoke Christmas smells.  Of course, the fruits, nuts and spices can be changed to please you and your loved ones.

Delicious served with frothy coffee or Vin Santo for dipping.  Buon Appetito!

Ingredients

  • Heat oven to 180º or Gas 4 and line 2 flat baking trays with silicon or greaseproof paper
  • 350g plain flour plus 2tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 3tsp mixed spice
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Grated zest of one large orange and one large lemon
  • About 200g of dried fruit (I used candied peel and dried cherries)
  • 100g nuts (I used whole blanched almonds)

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl with the zest and then stir in the beaten egg with a broad knife initially and then your hands. Keep kneading even though it seems dry, it will come together.

Now add in the fruit and nuts and mix in well.  Divide the mixture into four and make a sausage shape out of each piece, about 30-40cm long. Put two on each baking sheet and bake for about 30 mins until firm.  It will spread out slightly but still be pale.

Leave them to cool slightly for about 10 mins, reduce the oven temperature to 120º/Gas 1. Cut diagonally into slices and put back on trays and into oven.  Continue to bake for about 30 minutes, turning half way through.

Can be stored in an airtight tin for up to one month (like they´ll last that long!).

All that remains for me to say on this last day of the year is, Health and Happiness to you all in 2012!

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Cranberry and Citrus Confit

I am till trying to squeeze in a few festive recipes before we leave the celebrations behind, I thought I would share this favourite with you.  It´s another Delia Smith recipe, tweaked as ever, but enjoyed not only at Christmas.  As it is reduced to a jam like consistency, it keeps in the fridge for about a month and can also be made later in the year using sour cherries or even dried (and reconstituted) apricots.  Wonderful with cold meats and pickles, or bangers and mash (if you know what that is!).

Ingredients

  • 500g red onions finely sliced (you can use white if red not available)
  • 2 gloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of red or white wine vinegar
  • 150g (approx) of cranberries or other sour fruit
  • Grated zest and juice or an orange plus the zest of a lemon
  • Optional – ¼ teaspoon of crushed cardamom seeds
  • Salt & Pepper to season

Cook the onion, garlic and sugar slowly in the oil for about 10-15 minutes-  Allow to soften but not to brown.  Then add the rest of the ingredients, cover and simmer for 10-15 mins.  Remove the lid and reduce for a further 30 mins (approx) until the mixture is thick and jam like in texture.  Cool and place in a plastic container.  Serve at room temperature.

PS. This morning we planted our garlic. Tradition round here says it should be done around Christmas Eve, preferably when the moon is waning.  We´re a bit out of sorts what with Christmas, so they only went in today.  About 100 cloves, so fingers crossed that in about 4-5 months we´ll be harvesting!

Speedy Pasta with Aubergine and Tomato Sauce

When I lived in London my life was, as you can imagine, very different from life Up The Mountain.  For a start I had a Proper Grown Up Job. And I travelled a lot, sometimes spending weeks living out of a suitcase or briefly stopping at home for a pit stop to repack the case.  At times like this my best friends were the local take away menus.  Luckily, I lived in an area that boasted an amazing amount of pretty good quality restaurants who could get something tasty to my doorstep within about 30 minutes of me placing a call.

When I moved to Spain, it took me a while to adjust to the fact that when I didn´t feel all that much like cooking it was either Big Man´s special fried eggs, or jamon, cheese and melon to eat. The nearest take aways or delivery services are, I imagine, in a town a 45 minute drive away.

Finally I realised that I could still have something tasty to eat in about the same amount of time as it would have taken me to decide what to order from the take away menu, make the call and wait for the delivery guy to show up.

This is one of my speedy suppers.  In the time it takes for a large pot of water to come to the boil and the pasta to cook, I have a delicious sauce made to serve with my favourite pasta, plenty of grated parmesan and I even get to swig a glass of wine while it´s cooking.  Well, I need a dash of wine for the sauce.

Per person you need half an aubergine finely diced, two cloves of crushed garlic, two medium tomatoes peeled and chopped, a large slug of wine, a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of parsley and basil), seasoning and olive oil. I also use a crushed dried chili as I like my sauce spicy, but this is up to you.

Put the pot of water on to boil and sauté the aubergine until brown.  Now add the garlic and once it is softened add the tomato and seasoning and the chili if using.  Let the tomato cook down a little by which time you will probably be ready to put the pasta into the pot.  Add your wine and herbs to the sauce and let it bubble away gently until the pasta is cooked and ready to be drained. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

The sauce is a little like the one used in Pasta alla Norma  (ChgoJohn has a fine example of it here and Linda at Savouring Every Bite here).   These recipes give you a deeper tasting, richer sauce as it´s cooked for longer. Yum!

Now all you need to do is mix the sauce into the pasta, grate or shave over plenty of your favourite cheese, pour another glass of wine and think about how you are putting the fast food delivery services out of business.

My Christmas Wishes For You All

I know that I am blessed. I have a loving family, partner and friends.  I live in my own home, I am warm and never hungry.  I have good health and no financial worries that keep me awake at night.  So many people have none of these things and Christmas can be a cold and lonely time of year.

Regardless of religion or belief, Christmas is here and celebrated with joy by millions of people around the world for whatever reasons make it special for them.  I spare a thought for those who cannot, for whatever reason, mark the occasion.

My wishes for you all are that you have a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas, however you are spending the next few days.  May the coming year bring you health, for without that we have nothing.

It has been an incredible year for me with regard to this blog, which I started in January 2011. I have shared recipes and experiences that are special to me and those I share my life with.  Unbelieveably, people began to read and respond to my posts.  I have read and shared recipes and experiences from around the world with my new family of blogging friends.  A wonderful and unexpected bonus.  I thank you all for opening up the windows into your lives and the pages of your family recipe books.

I have almost always loved Christmas.  As a child, my parents and grandparents (my mother´s parents who lived with us) always did everything to make sure it was a magical and unforgettable time.  Lately the magic of Christmas has been rekindled for me and this year my parents are spending their first Christmas in Spain with me and Big Man.

Christmas Eve is the “biggie” here.  We will go to Big Man´s family and we will all participate in preparing a feast.  And it will be a feast, despite the fact that we will probably eat off paper plates and be all squashed up one against the other on folding chairs with wobbly trestle tables.  It gets like that when there are about 50 of you together.  Yes, you read that right, 50 people!  The menu will be simple and hearty – braised mushrooms, jamon, cheese and prawns every which way. Then we will eat goat…I think 5 have been ordered so that leftovers can be shared out and enjoyed the next day.

Guitars will be played, castanets clacked, hands clapped and Christmas songs sung.  The meal will start about 10pm and then those who want to pop down the road to Midnight Mass, or the Misa del Gallo will disappear for an hour.  Coffee and liqueurs and Spanish sweets and biscuits will be served and the last one standing will put the lights out.

Christmas Day will be celebrated Tanya and Big Man style.  We will have champagne with our breakfast, well…what the heck!  We will open stockings filled with silly and tasteless gifts and we will exchange meaningful gifts too.  We will wear silly hats and eat oysters and suckling pig and delicious desserts.  Coffee and brandy will be drunk and we may play cards or silly games and listen to Christmas Carols.  My parents will, I hope, do nothing that involves washing up.  Although I expect we´ll all be in the kitchen together preparing the meal.  I want to give them a Christmas full of happy memories.

Did you see the incredible family photo I found?  The childish writing on the back tells me it was Christmas Day 1977.  The UK was coming through a terrible economic crisis, just as most of Europe and great parts of the rest of the world are going through now.  Of course, I remember nothing of this.  I was 12 years old and looking forward to becoming a teenager in January.  Punk was new, we had celebrated the Queen´s Silver Jubilee, Star Wars was released in the UK after Christmas and I clearly hadn´t yet discovered fashion!  My brother was 9, my mother an amazingly young 33 year old and my father 42.  Times must have been hard for them and my lovely grandparents, still also incredibly young and how I always think of them.

But despite financial hardships and job concerns for my parents, we must have celebrated just as we will celebrate this Christmas.  We were together, a family, with loving friends, and just for a few days, everything was as it should be.  Peaceful, happy, warm, good food on the table and happy memories being made to treasure in the future.

I wish you all the very, very best of everything.  Merry Christmas…and here´s to whatever 2012 holds for us all.

Clara´s Pastry and Up the Mountain Mince Pies

Don´t recommend cooking these during a power cut!

Last Christmas Eve, which is the Big Night here as far as Christmas dining goes, we were a “small” group of only about 20 over at Big Man´s mother´s home. He comes from 10 siblings, all apart from one have at least two children.  Most of the neices are nephews are also married and have children of their own, so you can imagine what family weddings are like.

Because I have the biggest oven, I was put in charge of cooking 2 whole lambs.  Even though they weren´t enormous by some standards, it was a whole lot of lamb and a whole lot of cooking.  In true Up the Mountain style, we had a power cut on the evening of 23rd December which lasted 24 hours.  Luckily my oven is gas, so cooking the meat was not a problem but I was doing it by torch and candlelight.  As they tend to eat their meat cooked through here, and I had to ensure it wasn´t remotely pink, keep it warm and transport it 25km whilst ensuring no one went down with food poisoning, it was challenging to say the least.

Yesterday, we ran out of gas.  Not through negligence on my part but because the man who delivers the gas cylinders (no mains gas Up the Mountain) seems to have disappeared and we haven´t been able to swap the empty “bombonas” for full  ones for a few weeks.  Not to worry I thought, planning my baking today, I can use my little electric oven and Big Man can load the empty bombonas onto the truck and drive to the nearest village which stocks them and change them over.

Meanwhile last night, the lights went out, then came back on, but it looked as though they were being run by a generator fired up by an old lady pedaling slowly on a rickety old bicycle.  As I type this I am working on battery power, fingers crossed things resolve themselves soon and I can cook, bake and post.

Today I will make mince pies.  I don´t come from a family of great pastry chefs, but my best friend Ria, luckily does.  Her mum, Clara, makes the best pastry ever, and like many people of her generation, does it without a list of ingredients or measuring.  When I moved to Spain I remember calling her one Christmas in desperation and she yelled the ingredients down the phone to me which I then managed to transfer into measurements I can use.  She always uses margarine in hers with lard, I use butter and lard.  You can use all butter, the choice is yours, but don´t blame me if the pastry is not as good as Clara´s.

Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 50g each of cold butter and lard
  • One egg, beaten
  • Milk

Rub the fat into the flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (I won´t tell Clara if you do this in a food processor….not an option for me today with the electric situation), Then using a broad knife, work the egg into the flour.  Now gently start to bring the pastry together with your hands.  You will probably need to add a very little milk so add drops rather than slugs.  This morning I used about a tablespoon.

Now wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge until you are ready to use it, but bring it up to room temperature first.

Bake at about 200ºC when you have filled with mincemeat, jam, whatever.  Obviously I had another power cut mid way through baking today, hopefully you won´t and yours will be perfect!

I made my  mince pies using my mincemeat, but even a humble jam tart is elevated to perfection with this biscuity pastry.  Clara doesn´t bake anymore, but I hope she´s proud that her recipe is being shared for so many others to enjoy.

Merry Christmas Clara – wish we could have a sherry and a mince pie together this year!

Christmas “Pudding” Jewelled Ice Cream

If you don´t like cake, or stodgy puddings, a great alternative at Christmas is ice cream.  To me there is something very decadent, almost naughty, about eating ice cream in the depths of winter. Of course, if you live somewhere that Christmas falls in the middle of summer, then it´s even more perfect.

We´ll be eating this not as an alternative to pudding, but as well as!  I´ll serve it with my Light Christmas Pudding and Boozy Fruits….and who knows, a few mince pies may sneak onto the table too.

It´s very easy to prepare, and can obviously made ahead of the Big Day. It´s another Delia Smith´s Christmas recipe, which I have tweaked a little over the years.

The night before you want to make the ice cream, soak about 100g of your favourite mixed candied peel (chopped) and raisins, plus some glace cherries in about 6 tablespoons of rum or your favourite liqueur and stir in 3 tablespoons of honey. I also used dried apricots and cranberries – it´s up to you!

For the ice cream, using an electric whisk, beat 4 egg yolks with 100g of caster sugar until pale.  Grate about 75g of creamed coconut into 400ml of double or whipping cream and heat it gently until the coconut has melted.  Stir over the egg mixture while whisking (it should thicken a little, but don´t worry if it doesn´t) then when it has cooled a little stir in 200ml of thick, creamy, Greek yogurt and add about a teaspoon of vanilla essence (optional).  Finally stir in the fruit and alcohol with honey and pour into a 1litre pudding basin.  Cover with a lid or a few layers of foil and freeze.

When it is about half frozen (it took about 8 hours in my very packed freezer) spoon the mixture out into a bowl and mix it gently to distribute the fruit which will have sunk to the bottom, then pack it back into the pudding basin.  Cover, freeze and forget about it until you are ready to serve.

This ice cream stays fairly soft, so you can turn it out and serve it immediately.  I usually hold a hot wet tea towel around the bowl for a few seconds before turning it out. It doesn´t look quite as pretty in the photo today as it will on the Big Day on a beautiful plate and drizzled with boozy fruit.

Secret Santa and Stinky Baked Camembert

You know that Christmas really is upon you when you decide to Get Organised.  I put that in capital letters to help motivate me.  And then when you decide to Get Organised, Things Go Horribly Wrong. I think you get the idea.

With my parents arriving shortly I sorted out our spare room for them this morning with my best linen, plenty of coat hangers and a few little tasteful decorations.  The bedspread is a gorgeous mulberry colour and I have some lovely purple Christmas lights that I wanted to drape around. Do you think I could find them? Like heck I could.

Then I decided to remove all my nice table linen from the chest in the spare bedroom so that I don´t have to go disturbing my parents.  What did I find? Well, the linen was where it was meant to be but I also found the remains of an enormous red wine stain on my lovely tablecloth.  It´s not even in the middle where it could have been hidden by plates or candles…damn, that´s now doing its third round in the washing machine.

Finally, the dishwasher made a very rude noise and appeared to have given up on me mid cycle.  I foolishly opened the door to give it a good talking to, and out flooded a sea of dirty and very hot water.  One of those days, you see.

But all was not bad.  In the midst of all this mayhem, sorry…Festive Fun… Big Man came in bearing a beautiful poinsettia for me and a parcel from Secret Santa. I also saw that Nia awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award, so a huge thank you to the lovely Nia.  For my responses to this in a previous post, check this out.

Tandy over at Lavender and Lime kindly organised this fun exchange of gifts, so thanks so much Tandy! My Secret Santa (you can´t hide your details from the Spanish Postal system!) is a lovely Blue Jellybean from Madrid – thanks Jellybean, I´m so pleased with my gifts!  Look at my gorgeous book of Tapas recipes – there are some old favourites in there plus a load of new and inspiring ideas for me to try out next year.  I´ve only managed to get a quick flick through it as I had to wrestle it off Big Man who was deciding what “we” (for “we”, read “me”) should try first.  I also received some gorgeous decorations…which are very special as I ask Christmas visitors to buy me a new decoration for us to keep and remember them by.  So perfect…my first gifts and I am a very, very lucky Chica indeed.

Of course, while things were exploding and flooding all around me, I did have time to make a little bite to eat.  Inspired by some Baked Brie recipes From the Bartolini Kitchens and Rufus´Food and Spirits Guide, I decided to do a simplified version with a Camembert which was so ripe it was about to take a walk all on its own!  I unwrapped the very stinky camembert from its box and separated the plastic paper from the waxed paper which I wrapped around the cheese again.  I put it back into the base of the box and baked for about 20mins in a hot oven.

We ate it with bread sticks, and I put a few spoons of my plum compote in the top of the cheese.  The strong taste of the cheese worked well with the cinnamon and vanilla notes in the plum and we quietly sipped a glass of vino Rosado whilst the dishwasher groaned and breathed its last breath.  Guess what Santa might be buying tomorrow?!

Light Christmas Pudding

It will look prettier on the Big Day on a Christmas Plate!

With the forthcoming arrival of my parents, I´m getting into the swing of Christmas food preparations.  Traditional Christmas cakes and puddings in the UK can be made ages ahead of time (even a year) to allow them to mature.  Of course, I am nowhere near as organised as all that, and none of us is mad keen on the heavier traditional pudding.

For many years I have made a lighter version based on a recipe from my trusty Delia Smith´s Christmas Cookbook.  In fact, looking back, I made it the first year I was in sole charge of Christmas lunch for 10 people.  My beloved grandfather had died in the November, and this was 21 years ago.  Of course, we were all still in a state of shock and sadness, especially my darling grandmother, but we still wanted to celebrate.  I lived up the road from my parents in a little flat, and it was decided that we would change things a little so that memories of sitting in my parents´ dining room with Grandad at the head of the table would be a little less vivid.

My parents cooked the turkey in their oven as I just didn´t have room, but everything else was done in my little kitchen.  All my wobbly hand me down tables and chairs were pressed into service, and the family walked up the road carrying girft and fold up chairs.  Plates were borrowed – I was a 25 year old in her first flat as a non sharer, so I was still building my collection.  Tears were shed, but much there was fun and laughter too.  It was emotional but happy and we all ate and drank far too much.  The meal ended with this pudding – made initially as my grandfather would probably have grumbled about there not being “proper” pudding and this made us all chuckle.  Since then it´s become a new kind of family tradition whenever I am the Christmas lunch fairy, and my parents requested it this year.

I haven´t changed the recipe much at all, so I hope Saint Delia won´t mind.  It can be frozen once made, and then warmed through in a steamer or Bain Marie on Christmas Day while you are eating lunch.

Ingredients

  • 175g sifted self raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 110g softened butter
  • 110g brown sugar
  • 1 medium apple chopped or grated
  • 2 large eggs beaten gently
  • 3 rounded tablespoons of mincemeat
  • 2 pinches ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Grated zest of one lemon and one orange
  • 2 large tbsp of candied peel

Put half the peel in the base of a 1.2 litre buttered pudding basin. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and then add 1tbsp of egg and flour and mix in, continuing until both egg and flour have all been incorporated.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir in, then spoon the mixture into the basin.

Cover with a double layer of pleated foil and tie a string around to keep the foil tight and give yourself a handle to lift it out.

Mucky Cooker – oops, don´t let it boil over!

Place it in a steamer or saucepan half filled with boiling water and steam gently covered with a lid for 2 ½ hours.  Keep a kettle of boiling water to hand to top up the water when needed.

When the time is up, let it cool completely and you can then turn it out and wrap well in cling film to freeze until needed.  If making ahead and reheating on Christmas Day, slide it back into the pudding basin and cover again with foil to do this.

Delicious with custard or brandy sauce, boozy fruits, ice cream….whatever takes your fancy!

PS. Stir Up Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent) is when Christmas Puddings were traditionally made to allow them to mature.  Of course, I missed that date, but never mind!  I was also always told that every member of the family needed to give the cake or pudding a stir and make a wish – so we did this too…

Boozy Christmas Fruit

One of my “go to” books at Christmas is Delia Smith´s Christmas.  Sometimes I follow the recipes with just a few tweaks, and other times the book just inspires me to try something new.

My parents are coming out to Spain this year to celebrate Christmas with me and Big Man.  To say I´m excited would be a huge understatement.  When I was growing up, and ever since to be honest, they always made Christmas a very special and magical time for me and my brother.  My grandparents lived with us (my mum´s parents) and next door was my godmother, Zia Luciana, and her two daughters who were all part of our extended family.  I have very happy and treasured memories.

Although I have entertained my parents before at Christmas, it´s been a while, so this year I really want to make it extra special.  Of course, one of the ways I can do this is through the food I prepare for us to share.

My dad requested a Light Christmas Pudding, which features in the Delia Smith book that I have made previously.  I´ll post that soon.  I´m also going to make an ice cream inspired by another recipe and I´ve just made some Boozy Christmas Fruit.  The recipe in the book uses mainly glacé fruit, but it´s a recipe that is flexible.

Here´s what I used (quantities are up to you)

Dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried apricots (chopped), chopped mixed peel, glacé cherries and ginger

All these are put into a jar and covered in a sweet dessert wine (I used a local wine which is very much like Vin Santo).  The recipe calls for Madeira.  I took the shot before it was mixed up to show you the different fruits.  This will now sit quietly in a cool dark place until Christmas Day when it will be spooned over the ice cream and any other desserts we fancy eating it with. I may have to do a few quality control spot checks beforehand though…just to be sure its maturing nicely you understand.

Suet Free Mincemeat

For anyone not familiar with mincemeat, let me explain.  It has nothing to do with minced or ground beef, it´s made with fruit. Well…initially it was made of meat, flavoured with sugar, fruit and spices.  This, historically, was probably to mask the strong flavours of meat which needed to be preserved without the benefit of refrigeration.

Over time the mixture became sweeter and all that now remains of its meaty ancestor, is an ingredient called suet, which is usually beef or mutton fat. This melts down into the mix to preserve it.  Vegetarian suet it now also available.

When I spent my first Christmas in Spain 6 years ago, it was impossible for me to track down ready made mincemeat for my Christmas Mince Pies, let alone suet to make my own.  Things have changed now over the years, but I still use a recipe I came across (and I don´t know where, so apologies to whoever it “belongs” to) which is a suet free version of mincemeat.

The flavours develop and improve over time, although it´s excellent even freshly made.  If you make a large batch, it will be wonderful next Christmas!

Ingredients

  • 250g brown sugar
  • 250ml cider (sweet or dry) or apple juice
  • 1kg of peeled and chopped cooking apples
  • ½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 250g each of currants, raisins, cranberries
  • 75g glace cherries
  • 75g blanched almonds
  • Rind & juice of ½ lemon plus rind of 1 orange
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy or rum (optional)

(Feel free to vary the ingredients according to your taste)

Dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat, add all the other ingredients except the alcohol and cook until soft and pulpy.  Cool slightly, stir in alcohol and put into sterilised jars.