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.