Christmas Presents

C
Every year I swear I’ll never ever again be wrapping and delivering presents on Christmas Eve, yet despite my endless resolutions I somehow end up doing just that the following year.

On one occasion I was so tired I managed to scrape the side of the car on the gate post on my way home, I was so blind with exhaustion. 

This year I’m determined to start earlier. I make endless lists, get some inspired ideas but then there are a few special people for whom I can’t seem to find something appropriate.

So for this column I’ll focus on pressies for foodie friends. 

The number of escapees from the city looking for the good life in the country is really gathering momentum. It’s now at last becoming hip to grow one’s own vegetables, have a few hens and a growing number – wait for it – are even keeping a pig. These are the acolytes of Monty Don, Antony Worrall Thompson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and James Martin. Virtually every magazine lifestyle supplement and Sunday supplement has evocative photos of new age farmers in green or even spotty wellies and Barbour jackets feeding the pigs or collecting the eggs – I’m all for it. Sting was one of the originals, but more recently Zac and Sheherazade Goldsmith and Roger Saul of Mulberry were the subject of colour spreads.

For these born again rural dwellers a pair of rare poultry, Ancona, Buff Orpington, Hebden Black, Speckledys - Will generate some terrific excitement on Christmas Day – a practical present which will provide a few eggs and maybe a clutch of chickens later in the year.

For the aspiring gardener a little hamper of vegetable seeds – say a few early potatoes, a mixture of lettuces and salad leaves, a packet of carrot seed, a few radishes, some beetroot and my favourite broad beans. You may want to add a beginners guide to vegetable gardening to get the whole project kick-started. A selection of little pots of fresh herbs and maybe a window box will also delight a green-fingered cook. You may even want to offer to plant them close to the kitchen door – parsley, thyme, chives, mint, marjoram and tarragon would make a good starter pack.

A cook will always welcome a rosemary bush, plant it for remembrance and remember it will only thrive in the house where the woman wears the pants! The aromatic spears can be plucked in every season to flavour lamb, chicken, pork, roast vegetables and jellies and sorbets. Choose a favourite farmhouse cheese and arrange for one to be sent by mail or courier once every 2-3 months. Alternatively choose a little hamper of Irish Farmhouse Cheese from Iago or On the Pig’s Back in the English Market in Cork, Sheridans in Galway or Dublin, or Peter Ward from Country Choice in Nenagh.

A gift token for the Midleton Farmers Market or tempting food and wine shops like Urru in Bandon or The Butlers Pantry in Dublin, or one of the Avoca Shops is bound to be a hit.

Look out for Richard Graham-Leigh’s delicious buttery cakes and pastries in Urru in Bandon or at Clonakilty and Fermoy Farmers’ Markets, they are quite simply the best ‘bought’ confectionery you are ever likely to find.

A side of smoked wild Irish salmon from Ummera, Belvelly, Dunn’s or Woodcock Smokery will remind your friends of how smoked salmon used to taste. We also love Bill Casey’s smoked salmon from Shanagarry. Native Irish oysters are in their prime at present, only in season when there is an R in the month. A couple of dozen oysters packed in a split timber box are a really special present for shellfish lovers. Its always good to include an oyster knife in case its been lost or mislaid – it’s a nightmare to open oysters without a special knife.

If you want to taste ham like it used to – try Fingal Ferguson’s ham from The Gubbeen Smokehouse – might be too late for Christmas but worth seeking out anytime.

A brace of pheasant, well hung with a little pot of bread sauce and some red currant jelly would be a treat, but imagine how gorgeous it would be to receive a really large joint of beef , a wing rib – dry aged and well hung – wrapped in greaseproof and brown paper and tied with butchers string, instead of a nasty sweaty plastic bag. As an extra treat, why not include some homemade horseradish sauce or some garlic mayo.

An exciting new cookbook is always a bonus for a foodie friend and a food guide eg. Georgina Campbell’s Ireland – The Guide – tried and tested recommendations of the best places to eat, drink and stay throughout Ireland or John and Sally McKenna’s Bridgestone Guides – 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland, 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland, Bridgestone Dublin Food Guide, Food Lovers Guide to Northern Ireland www.bridgestoneguides.com  These guides should be in the glove compartment of every car, they make terrific stocking fillers. These are just a few suggestions to add to the more predictable, but nonetheless welcome plum pud, mince pies and Christmas cake.

The following sauces as well as making great presents will be a wonderful standby in your own Christmas supplies.

Red Currant Jelly

Red currant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts. 

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it's fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the red currants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.

Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) jars

2 lbs (900g/8 cups) red currants
2 lbs (900g/8 cups) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the red currants either by hand or with a fork. Put the red currants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

Cumberland Sauce

Serve with cold ham, turkey, chicken, guinea fowl, game or rough pâtés.
Serves 8-12 approx.

1 orange
1 lemon
225g (8oz) red currant jelly
3-4 tablespoons port
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a pinch of ground ginger

With a swivel-top peeler, remove the peel very thinly from the orange and half of the lemon (make sure there is no white pith). Shred into thin julienne strips, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain off the water and discard it, then refresh the peel under cold water. Strain and keep it aside.

Squeeze the juice from the fruit and put it into a stainless steel saucepan with the jelly and spices; allow it to melt down. Then add the peel and port to the sauce. Boil it rapidly for 5-10 minutes.

Test like jam by putting a little blob on a cold saucer. When it cools it should wrinkle slightly.
Cumberland Sauce may be served in a bowl right away or it may be potted up and kept until needed, like jam.

Horseradish Sauce

Horseradish grows wild in many parts of Ireland and looks like giant dock leaves. If you can=t find it near you , plant some in your garden. It is very prolific and the root which you grate can be dug up at any time of the year.
Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.
Serves 8 - 10

12-3 tablesp. grated horseradish
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoon mustard
3 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
8 fl ozs (250 ml) softly whipped cream

Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a ‘slivery grater’. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not overmix or the sauce will curdle. It keeps for 2-3 days: cover so that it doesn=t pick up flavours in the fridge.

This is a fairly mild horseradish sauce. If you want to really Aclear the sinuses@, increase the amount of horseradish!

Emmilines Peanut Brittle

Emmiline Weeks is a student on our current 12 week Certificate Course. She demonstrated this delicious peanut brittle for us. At home in Maryland she packs it into little cellophane bags tied with raffia as presents for her friends.
675g (1½lb) castor sugar
350g (12oz) golden syrup or light corn syrup
495g (18oz) peanuts (fresh roasted and salted)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
vegetable oil

Equipment
2 large baking sheets
candy thermometer
large pot
metal spoon

Oil 2 baking sheets (if they are small you will need 3). In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, golden syrup and 125ml (4floz/½cup) of water. Dissolve the sugar over a high heat. Once the sugar is dissolved reduce the heat to medium, insert the candy thermometer and bring to 120°C/230°F. At this stage, add the peanuts. You must stir constantly with a metal spoon, stir until it reaches 150°C/300°F – this will take around 30 minutes. Once it reaches 150°C/300°F, remove immediately from the heat and add the vanilla, baking soda and butter. Pour into prepared baking sheets and smooth out. Allow to cool for at least an hour. The brittle should lift easily from the pan, break into desired size.
Store in an airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for at least a week if not two.

Ballymaloe Chocolates

¼ lb (110g) chocolate
24-30 sweet paper cases
Chocolate Ganache
¼ lb (110g) best quality dark chocolate
¼ pint (150ml) cream
¼ - ½ tablesp. rum or orange liqueur

Garnish
Crushed praline or crystallized violets or unsweetened cocoa powder.

First make the chocolate cases. Melt the chocolate until smooth in a very low oven or in a bowl over simmering water. Put 2 paper cases together and spread melted chocolate evenly over the inside of the paper case with the back of a teaspoon. Check that there are no 'see through' patches when you hold them up to the light, if there are, spread a little more chocolate in that area, stand the paper cases in deep bun tins to keep the sides upright. Chill until they set hard, carefully peel the paper off the cases (it is a good idea to do a few extra cases to allow for accidents!).

Put the cream in a heavy-bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted. Transfer the chocolate cream to the bowl of a food mixer and allow it to cool to room temperature. Add the liqueur and whisk until it is just stiff enough to pipe.

To Assemble: Using a piping bag and a three-eights inch star nozzle pipe a rosette of the mixture into peeled chocolate cases. Decorate each one with a little crushed praline or a crystallized violet leaf or a dusting of unsweetened coca powder.

Sue’s Hazelnut Whirls
Place one toasted hazelnut in each of the chocolate cases. Pipe a rosette of ganache on top. Dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Lemon Curd

110g (4 oz) castor sugar
50g (2oz) butter
finely grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, lemon juice and rind and then stir in well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools.) 

Foolproof Food

Homemade Cheese Biscuits

They keep for several weeks in an airtight tin and also freeze well. These biscuits can be cut into squares, diamonds, or even star shapes for Christmas. You could give them with a present of some Irish farmhouse cheese.
Makes 25-30 biscuits

4 ozs (110g) brown wholemeal flour
4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached
½ teasp. baking powder
½ teasp. salt
1 oz (30g) butter
1 tablesp. cream
Water as needed, 5 tablesp. approx.

Mix the brown and white flour together and add the salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter and moisten with cream and enough water to make a firm dough.

Roll out very thinly to one-sixteenth inch thick approx. Prick with a fork. Cut with 2½-3 inch (6.5-7.5cm) round cutter. Bake at 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

White Cheese Biscuits

Use 8 ozs (225g) plain white flour instead of the brown and white: adjust liquid as needed.
Top Tips

Good Things in Durrus – will hold an Open Weekend on 11/12 December from 2-6 with stalls selling cakes and other goodies, and some local art. Tel Carmel Somers at 027-62896.

Smoked Salmon – 
Woodcock Smokery, (Sally Barnes) Castletownsend Tel 028-36232
Shanagarry Smokehouse, Tel 021-4646955
Ummera Smoked Products, Timoleague, Tel 023-46644
Dunns of Dublin, 01-8643100
Kinvara Smoked Salmon, 091-637489
Belvelly Smokehouse – 021-4811089

Gubbeen Smokehouse– 028-28231

Irish Society of Poultry Fanciers – tel 045 432325 – the preservation and survival of pure breeds including duck, geese and all fowl.

Hidden Ireland Guide 2005 now available –
A unique collection of historic private houses throughout Ireland which combine stylish accommodation with great hospitality. Ideal for weekend breaks, house parties, workshops or corporate retreats. Full details of locations and rates from brochure or www.hiddenireland.com  or Tel 01-6627166

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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