Christmas Kitchen

After a few days off work, I’ve felt more relaxed and de-stressed than I have for a looooong time….

This weekend I felt inspired to do some Christmas cooking.  Many years ago I used to bake and decorate a Christmas Cake each year – starting from when I was in Secondary School.  I think it was from the second year upwards(age 12-13ish).  It’s hard to believe we used to make something so seemingly complex in Home Economics lessons.  It was not only fun(and wonderful for the family to eat!) but we also learnt a variety of great cooking skills by doing this.  I only wish I still had the recipe we were provided for the Christmas Cake, as they were superb cakes.  We had to write out the list of ingredients by hand, and it included quantities for different sized cakes.  I went on to do O-level Home Economics(I’m old!) and for much of the time I was taught by Mrs Peters who was a wonderful teacher.  She was a bit strict(!) but so encouraging and helpful, with a ‘can-do’ approach to food and cooking.  Mum sees her around town on occasions and says hello – she still remembers me, ooo-err!!

A few years ago I made a Christmas Cake – for some reason it was burnt when I cooked it, and that put me off making one again, until now.  I thought it time to lay that little episode to rest and have another go.

Boozy fruit

Boozy fruit

There is such a variety of Christmas Cake recipes available – not only in multiple cookery books, but also via the internet.  The choice of recipe is really all about one’s own preference.  Traditional or a modern twist?  Alcohol or no alcohol?  Fancy or plain and simple?  Will the cake be iced?  Candied peel?  Glace cherries?  There’s also the size of the cake to be considered, and how many people it’s being baked for or, alternatively, how many months after Christmas it will last for!  Many people have recipes handed down from family members over the years which they like to use.

My preference is a traditional, old-fashioned, dark and rich fruit cake.  With(plenty of) alcohol.  A few Glace cherries(which I don’t love but can bear if they’re chopped up small).  Traditional fruits of raisins, sultanas and currants.  No pineapple and apricots, thank you very much.  And no rotten candied peel.  With some almonds.  Lovely, gooey and gorgeous black treacle. And soft, dark brown sugar.  I finally chose the fruit cake recipe from ‘Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook’.

The picture above shows the dried fruits which had been soaked in alcohol overnight.  No matter how much I tried, I just could not stick to the specified amount of brandy!  It didn’t seem sufficient for the fruit to bathe in.  And I thought a little sherry would also be a nice extra flavour.  So before going to bed last night I added 2 tablespoons of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and stirred it in.  This morning I also added some extra brandy…er-hem!  You can never be too sure…  The smell in the kitchen was great.

All-in-one

All-in-one

I had to purchase a new washing-up bowl(bargain at £1.25) as my mixing bowl was nowhere near large enough for stirring the ingredients!  So the boozy fruit above is actually in the grey plastic bowl(which of course was washed in soapy water, and dried before use).  Which leads me to the next point….

Treacly cake mix

Treacly cake mix – pretty!

Making Christmas Cake is not remotely sexy, or romantic or dainty.  I love Mary Berry’s approach – the recipe used an all-in-one method for the cake batter.  Which means you can ‘dump’ all the cake ingredients into the mixing bowl and then just beat/mix up thoroughly.  A great style. I used an electric whisk to beat up the basic mix above.  But once that is done the boozy fruit needs to be hand-stirred in to the mixture.  Oh – with the nuts first.

Chopped almonds

Chopped almonds

Bit by bit, very carefully….

And finally...

And finally…

Until it is all really well mixed in.  It’s hard work!  The amount of fruit is large.  It does take some arm-power to get it all stirred up.

Now….the next lesson to learn:  Read very carefully exactly which size cake-tin you should be using.  Heh!  Guess who didn’t?!!?  So there was enough mixture for a 23cm tin – my tin was 20cm.  It also didn’t help that, because I omitted dried apricots and candied peel, I increased the quantities of currants/raisins/sultanas.  Oh dear.  I packed the cake tin full of mix.  The rest went into a 1lb loaf tin to make a separate cake – more about that in a moment.

Lining and protecting the cake tin is a total faff – but it has to be done, and it has to be done properly.  It just is not worth cutting corners on this.  I think this is where I may have gone wrong with the ‘burnt Christmas Cake’ affair(although that might also have been a wrong oven temperature, or a dodgy oven at the time).  The baking parchment height is double the height of the cake tin – to reduce the risk of the cake top burning.  It will be left on the cake, as a wrapping, once it has cooled and been removed from the tin to keep it moist and protected.  And the brown paper around the outside of the tin will reduce the risk of it burning.

All wrapped up

All wrapped up

The cooking temperature is very low – 120*C in a fan oven.  And the cooking time is very long.  The smell as it is cooking is divine.  You can smell butter and booze and brown sugar with treacle and spices.  A lovely warm, autumnal aroma in the kitchen.

Here’s the additional 1lb loaf I also made, due to an excess of mixture!  I just used a tin liner for this cake and hoped for the best – it worked out okay.

Surplus cake

Surplus cake

The cooking time for this small loaf was 2 hours.  I prefer a moist cake so always cook for a shorter rather than longer time – tested by inserting a thin knife blade to check whether it comes out clean.  Depending on how clean or messy the blade is determines how much longer to let it cook for.

The main reason for making a Christmas Cake so long before 25th December is so it can be matured and nurtured…with more alcohol!  Once it has cooled, tiny holes are made in the top of the cake with, for example, a cocktail stick – then drizzle small amounts of brandy(my preference) over the top to let it soak in.  This is called ‘feeding the cake’ and can be done a few times to help the cake mature.  The end result is a wonderfully flavoured, rich cake.  The cake is wrapped in its cooking paper and some tin foil and stored in a tin in a cool, dark cupboard.  Feed it as desired and then eventually I will marzipan and ice the cake ready for Boxing Day.

I won’t be making fresh marzipan – that’s a step too far!  But I will make Royal Icing to decorate the cake.  Some people like to decorate the top of the cake with a pattern of whole blanched almonds prior to baking the cake, which gives the appearance of a Dundee Cake.  Others like to use Glace fruits to decorate the top.

I haven’t posted a recipe for this cake.  There are so many available, and I’ve already said it depends on personal preference.  You can also see – I messed my recipe up and had too much mixture!  But I just thought it would be nice to share this.  Perhaps it might help someone.  It really is fairly simple to do and the end result is so rewarding in many ways.

End result(5 hours cooking time!)

End result(5 hours cooking time!)

Next up – homemade mincemeat  🙂

p.s. I think I will find it difficult to resist the temptation of the extra cake.  It won’t be ‘fed’ and iced – I’ll share some with the family as a taste of what’s to come.

p.p.s.  Please be assured – I don’t have problems with excess/alcohol consumption, really!

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Christmas Craft

P1060818Fun sorting through the sewing tin

P1060817Old, old sewing needles which belonged to my Great Grandmother

P1060819This time last year I wanted to make these cards for friends and family but a) I didn’t have sufficient time  b) I didn’t have all of the necessary equipment  c) I didn’t think I would be any good at making them.

P1060821A little pin-cushion which I made many years ago

P1060825Ribbons saved through the year, cut from the insides of garment shoulders – reuse, reduce, recycle!

The last hurdle above came about as a result of childhood experience.  As a small child at school, one of my friends had made this wonderful little felt, stuffed rabbit.  I wanted to make exactly the same.  When I showed the teacher(who was not actually a teacher but someone from the village who came in to do the sewing class each week) she was not impressed:  It was untidy, the stitching was far too large, it was a mess.  I was to undo it all and start again.  I was devastated.  I don’t recall if I actually did remake it.  But I do know that event has hindered me from hand-stitching ever since…until now!  Ha – she didn’t win!

Felt ornaments in the making…

P1060828P1060830With ribbons and beads and sequins and threads and buttons…

P1060831P1060832P1060833And the finished product…

P1060834P1060836P1060839These ornaments were a pleasure to sew to create the cards.  My hand-stitching isn’t that bad(I don’t think!).  The ornament is attached to the card by a black thread through the back of the ornament, through the card and knotted on the inside of the card.  I included a small, printed explanation in each card to say the black thread can be cut and removed so the ornament can be used if desired.  Perhaps as a tree decoration, a bookmark or to hang in the car.

It was fun to choose colours and items.  I’ve never sewn beads or sequins before – they were enjoyable to do, and they’re fairly simple and look pretty.  Who knows what next year’s Christmas craft will be?!!

Have you handmade Christmas?

Seasonal Sarnie

P1060809

This time last year I was enjoying brie and cranberry wraps.

This year I fancied a variation on a theme – cranberry with turkey and stuffing, spinach for nutriton factor.  A little mayo to wet the bread  Lashings of cranberry with juicy, fat berries.  Not home-made.

P1060812Good all the same.

Your seasonal favourite?

Christmas Salad

Oh dear….long time no blog  😦

It’s frightening that work can obliterate the creative spirit in me – it saps energy, enthusiasm and the desire to make things.  It’s insidious – just creeps up, slowly, slowly, and bam!  It seems the only time I feel remotely creative is when I’m on leave.  I’m now determined each year to have a week of leave in December – I love the Christmas season, I love making things at this time of year; and I love the cosiness of being at home, reflecting on the Christian meaning of Christmas, indulging in Christmas traditions.  Time off work during this season is a tradition to keep for me.

I’ve also not had a card-reader for my camera/laptop for a while.  I recently taught an aunt how to save photos to a Memory Card on her mobile phone, and then transfer those photos to her PC.  She did it!  You are never, ever too old to learn new things.  I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense – I love helping people to learn, helping people to have the confidence to do new things, to achieve things.  It’s great!

Anyway, I gave her my card-reader so she could continue her new practice, and ordered a new one for me.  Lo and behold a few days ago my Beloved declared ‘You don’t need a card-reader, you can insert the Memory Card straight into your laptop’.  Thanks for telling me one year into this laptop…  I know – I should read instructions.  I don’t.  But I’m delighted this is possible on my laptop – makes things SO much easier!

P1060840Today I wanted a big salad.  A hot Christmas Salad.  This does not contain traditional Christmas foods.  But the bright colours make me think it is festive.  The bold orange, dark green and bright green with dots of white are beautiful.  Bright lights for a cold winter day.

P1060851

Does anyone use a Butternut Squash(BNS) within a few days of purchase?  Is it just me who keeps it on the side for weeks…?  I thought it would be great roasted for a salad.  And I am now converted to ‘not peeling a BNS’ before roasting it.  It’s a total nuisance to peel and chop.  But this way is easy.  I’ve seen others say it can be roasted in this way – I didn’t really believe them, I thought it would take forever to roast, I thought it would be tough and chewy.  Wrong on both counts.

P1060844Nip off the stalk at the top. Slice the BNS into four – mind your fingers!  Scrape/slice out the seeds.  Place on a roasting tray, sprinkle with salt and fresh black pepper, splodge with some oil and rub the oil over the flesh(don’t worry about the skin).  Roast in the oven – 180*C(fan) for 45 minutes.  The flesh needs to be tender to a knife.  Done!  So easy!

For the salad base I used spinach, avocado and walnuts.  A drizzle of balsamic.  Some chopped goat cheese – I used Gevrik.  Then chunks of hot BNS over the top.  Enjoy!

P1060847This was sweet and savoury, with the freshness of avocado, the earthiness of the walnuts, sweetness from the BNS, and tanginess from the Balsamic.  Satisfying. Tasty.  Hot and cold together.  The BNS is surprisingly fibrous – not really noticeable when it’s liquidised into soup – but certainly not tough.  Soft and yumptious  🙂

Is Salad in winter right..?

Bookmark

A fabulous gift which I received for Christmas – an Electronic Dictionary Bookmark by that company called if.  Take a look – it’s great to have at your side when reading, especially as I’m reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens which contains some olde-English words and meanings.

Thank you Santa!

Your favourite Christmas gift was….?

Christmas Wrap

Just another idea for a wrap, and a little more Christmas(not that I need the festive season as an excuse to eat certain foods…).  I made some Cranberry Sauce and included it in this wrap for a lunch.

A large handful of spinach leaves, a good dollop of Cranberry Sauce(I love cranberries) and some tasty brie rolled up in a wholemeal tortilla wrap.  The Cranberry Sauce was very sharp but the mix was good.  And included a portion of veg.  I count the cranberries too, although I’m sure many would question that!  But every little helps one’s health.

I’ve also had this wrap hot, toasted in the frying pan – melty brie is good!

Do you have any interesting combinations involving cranberries?

Edible Gift

I used this recipe for inspiration to make some cheese biscuits as a gift for a friend.  What piqued my interest was the Smoked Cheddar to provide the cheese flavour.  I’d heard of this before, but never tried it and didn’t know if I would find it locally.  I did.

It has a very strong flavour – if I were to eat it alone, I could only manage a very little bit as it is so intense.  But the smokiness is wonderful.  It filled the kitchen while the biscuits were baking – and no, that wasn’t smoke from burning food…

Christmas Stars(makes lots depending on cutter size used)

200g Smoked Cheddar

100g Plain Flour

50g Butter

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Paprika

Oven 180*C(160*C Fan)

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Use the grater blade in the food processor to grate the Smoked Cheddar.  Change to the S-blade.  Add all remaining ingredients and whizz until the mixture forms a dough.  Remove the dough from the processor bowl, shape into a ball, wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for 30 minutes – this is essential, to be able to manipulate the dough.

Remove the cling-film from the dough.  Cut the dough in half.  Roll the first half out to a circle, approx 1/4″ thick; and cut stars.  Place on the baking sheet.  Re-roll the dough and repeat until used up.  Bake for approx 12 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Repeat for the second half of the dough.

Enjoy!

The round splodge biscuit on the cooling rack = taste-test!

If you can’t find Smoked Cheddar, Extra Mature Cheddar would be good.  Don’t be tempted to add any extra salt to the recipe – the Smoked Cheddar is salty enough.  Don’t be tempted to overcook the biscuits – once on the cooling rack, they become very crisp.  My word, these biscuits are addictive…

My Beloved thought they were great – and I made them with wholemeal flour – oops!  He doesn’t know!  Just a little extra fibre…

I packaged the Christmas Stars in cellophane and ribbons, and hand-printed a tag.  They looked pretty and special.  Christmas meals with family can be overwhelming sometimes, with so much food leftover.  I intend to make another batch of these at the weekend and give them to family as early gifts to enjoy.

If you could receive any edible gift, what would it be?