Christmas Sweetness

As the big day draws near and we take a little moment to reflect on the year that has passed, I thought I’d take a little moment to thank you all for your kind words, comments and support during what has been a difficult year. Yesterday we celebrated the first of several events without the exuberant, Christmas loving, presence of my father. My brother and his family travelled South to Bexhill on Sea and my mother hosted a family meal. Lots of hard work, a few tears, plenty of laughter, and of course a great deal of good food.

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Not usually much of a dessert maker or eater, you sometimes need to make an exception and Christmas is mine! One of the desserts I made is a great one for anyone who either doesn’t like a traditional Christmas Pudding or forgot to make one. It’s an Italian dish called Zuccotto, and can be made many different ways with little twists of your own. This is a particularly  Christmassy version as it uses panettone and is quickly assembled and feeds a crowd.

INGREDIENTS (to serve about 12 people)

  • 1 panettone (you’ll probably have a little left over to enjoy with a coffee)
  • 750g ricotta cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mixed peel
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped dates (or use some chopped nuts, or a mix of both)
  • A small glass of marsala or sweet wine or sherry

A round bottomed bowl (about 1.5l) or large pudding basin

Start by mixing the icing sugar into the ricotta then diving the cheese mixture roughly into 2 portions. Stir the mixed peel and orange zest into one portion and the cocoa powder and dates into the other.

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Line the bowl with plenty of cling film, leaving enough overhanging to wrap the base of the pudding (it will be turned out when finished and chilled).

Cut the top and bottom off the panettone so that you have two discs, about 1cm thick, then cut the rest of the loaf into 1cm slices. Put the smaller disc on the base of your bowl and line the sides with overlapping slices. It doesn’t matter if they are taller than the bowl, you can tuck them over at the end. Brush the bread which is now lining your bowl with the marsala, be generous!

Place the orange and mixed peel mix of ricotta into the base of your bowl and then cover this mixture with more slices of panettone. Brush the bread with masala and top with the cocoa and date ricotta. Place the second round on top to make a lid (which will become the base) and tuck over any overhanging bread. If you have any gaps, fill with any scraps of panettone and give it all a final, generous brush of marsala. Wrap the cling film over the top, place a plate on the  bowl and weigh it down leaving it to chill overnight in the fridge.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the fridge about 15 minutes beforehand, peel back the cling film, place a large serving dish over the bowl and tip the dessert out, flipping it over. Dust with cocoa powder and enjoy.

All that remains for me to say is Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Buon Natale to you all. May the year ahead bring you health and happiness and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2018.

Ice Cream

If you do fancy making a more traditional but lighter Christmas Pudding, try this recipe. And don’t forget my Christmas ice cream or my favourite coffee ice cream.

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Spiced Ham

So, here we are in 2014 and a very happy and healthy New Year to you all and thank you for all your good wishes! This is a dish I made over Christmas, but it was so good I’ve just bought another smoked ham joint to make it again.

Spiced Ham (2)

Perfect hot or cold, great as a main course with chips, mashed potatoes or jackets or in sandwiches or as a sneaky midnight feast….

I was inspired by this recipe I found over on the BBC Good Food site, but of course I changed it a little. Well, life would be dull without a few twists and turns! Big Man and I were back to work today at the house renovation and tonight the limbs are aching. A few days off have turned me into a useless Lady Builder. Or maybe it was the food and alcohol…

Is it just me or does my ham look like a grumpy face?!
Is it just me or does my ham look like a grumpy face?!

Ingredients for a 3.5kg ham joint (but they’re flexible)

  • 3.5kg cured ham or gammon (smoked or unsmoked, the choice is yours)
  • 2 litres of ginger ale (plus you may need extra water to cover the meat)
  • The zest and juice of 2 tangerines and one orange
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 onion
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 dried chili

For the glaze

  • 3 tbsp molasses or treacle
  • 3 tbsp thick cut marmalade

Put the meat into a large pot and add all the first set of ingredients (and extra water if needed to cover the joint). Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum then simmer, partly covered for about 3 ½ hours. Leave to cool in the stock and use the stock to cook lentils with or make soup –  it’s amazing!

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If you want to glaze your ham (you don’t have to but it’s worth doing), warm the molasses and marmalade together in a small saucepan until melted.  Peel the skin off you ham if it has skin on and score the skin. Pour the glaze over your ham (which you will need to put into a heavy oven tray lined with greaseproof paper to save ruining your oven tray) and bake at about 220 degrees C for 30-40 minutes until the glaze starts to brown. Baste it every 10 minutes while it is cooking.

Serve hot or cold – it will keep for about 10 days (in theory) but I bet you won’t be able to resist scoffing the lot before then.

And if you have any leftovers…well, I’ll tell you what to do with them another day.

The Easiest Coffee Ice Cream You Will Ever Make

And probably one of the best tasting too! Christmas madness is starting to kick in around here. It will be a quiet but fun affair Chez Chica and Big Man – my parents are coming for Christmas so whilst it will be a small group, the food will still be cooked and enjoyed together, glasses will be raised to loved ones not with us, and of course silly hats will be worn.

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As you know, Christmas tends to be quite a multicultural affair in our home. That way we get to enjoy the best of everything. Big Man is on his way back from a trip to Spain and hopefully his suitcase is full of tasty goodies from Andalucía. We’ll be eating Panettone on Christmas morning and after lunch we’ll hotly debate whether Turrón or Torrone is better. And in a change from the roast lamb or beef we generally eat, we’re going for Goose this year. Yum…it’s been a few years since I cooked one as they’re not so good for larger gatherings as although they have loads of flavour, you need to buy one the size of a bungalow to feed a crowd.

I’m making things that I know we’ll love (why wouldn’t I?!) and I know my mum, although not a big dessert eater, loves coffee flavoured ice cream. Big Man is of the opinion that a law should be passed to make it obligatory to eat ice cream every day and my dad and I will let them tuck in whilst we tuck into the cheese and nuts.

This is a Nigella Lawson recipe, and perfect for a last minute dessert if you don’t fancy making custard…

Ingredients (makes about a litre)

  • 600ml of double cream (heavy or whipping cream)
  • 1 tin of condensed milk (mine was 397g)
  • 4 tablespoons of instant espresso coffee powder

Whip all the ingredients together until thick and soft peaks are formed. Pour into your freezer proof container and freeze until solid. No churning, no whipping. Remove from the freezer a few minutes before you want to eat it to let it soften a little and enjoy. See, I told you it was easy!

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!

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.