Christmas this year is for many people something to be dreaded rather than looked forward to with the usual joy and anticipation.
Everywhere one turns, there are a myriad of reminders of out of reach temptations.
The Christmas lights have been twinkling for several weeks now and this year I saw the first Christmas tree already bedecked with baubles and bows in mid November. Thereâ€™s an understandable desperation in the retail world as they try to tempt us all to buy but if the money isnâ€™t there, Christmas with all the glamour and glitz turns to torment.
A cook will always welcome a rosemary bush, plant it for remembrance. 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 Pigâ€™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 inDublin, or one of the Avoca Shops is bound to be a hit.
However, there are many alternative ways to give a present, pledges on homemade little â€˜gift vouchersâ€™ cost nothing and give double pleasure, a gift of babysitting, cook dinner for the family, wash the car, walk the dog, Hoover the houseâ€¦
Gifts that involve your time seem to have a different dimension and meaning plus an extra feel good factor.
Edible presents are also doubly welcome so this week and next, Iâ€™ll suggest lots of easy and delicious homemade gifts to charm your family and friends – not just fancy bottles that can sometimes sit on a kitchen shelf for years. Â A few cartons of frozen homemade soup, a tagine or a gorgeous pot of comforting stew will be welcomed with open arms and greatly enjoyed at a later stage. So it doesnâ€™t have to be fancy just delicious and after all the way to everyoneâ€™s heart is through their tummy at Christmas and throughout the year.
Winter Root Vegetable Soup
A mixture of carrot and parsnip would also make a delicious soup if you canâ€™t find celeriac andJerusalemartichokes. Easy, cool and fill into the carton, cover and freeze and label.
Serves 12 approx.
125g/ 4Â½oz celeriac
or whatever combination of vegetables you fancy or have to hand.
1.1kg (2 1/2lb) carrots, preferably organic, chopped
90g (3oz) butter
225g (8oz) onion, chopped
275g (10oz) potatoes, chopped
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
sprig of spearmint
2.4L (4 pints) homemade light chicken or vegetable stock
124ml (5 fl ozs) creamy milk, (optional)
6 teaspoons freshly chopped spearmint
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
a little lightly whipped cream or crÃ¨me frÃ¢iche
Melt the butter and when it foams add the peeled and chopped vegetables, season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add thyme leaves, cover with a butter paper (to retain the steam) and a place with a tight fitting lid. Leave to sweat gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes approx. Remove the lid, add the boiling stock and cook until the vegetables are soft, alternatively add 3 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Alternatively, puree the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a little creamy milk if necessary.
If serving immediately, garnish with a swirl of lightly whipped cream or crÃ¨me frÃ¢iche and some parsley sprigs.
Tagine of Lamb with Preserved Lemon
Any tagine, stew or casserole can be make in large quantities and gifted in portions for 1 to 2 people â€“ easily defrosted and enjoyed. Donâ€™t forget to add reheating and serving instructions to your label.
1.35kg (3 lbs) boned shoulder of lamb
scant 1 dessertspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch saffron
50g (2ozs) unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
175g (6ozs) raisins, soaked in water and drained
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 tablespoon oil
50g (2ozs) flaked almonds
1 preserved lemon (half if large) optional
fresh coriander leaves
Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes. Mix cinnamon, ginger, pepper and saffron with 4 tablespoons water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.
Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the drained raisins, honey and half the coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.
While the tagine is cooking, scoop out the flesh out of a preserved lemon, chop up the peel.Â Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown. Then add the diced lemon and toss 2 or 3 times. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle preserved lemon, almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving. Natural yoghurt makes a delicious accompaniment.
Note: No need to serve any vegetable, but a green salad would be a delicious
Beetroot and Ginger Relish
This sweet sour relish is particularly good with cold meats and coarse country terrines and keeps for ages, pretty labels and ribbons and maybe a sprig of holly will make it all the more festive.
1 1/2 ozs (45g) butter
8 ozs (225g) onion, chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb (450g) raw beetroot, peeled and grated
1 fl oz (25ml) sherry vinegar
4 fl ozs (120ml) red wine
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Sweat the onions slowly in butter, they should be very soft, add sugar and seasoning and allow to brown slightly.Â Add the rest of the ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.Â Serve cold.
This relish keeps for ages.
Janieâ€™s Green Tomato Jam
If you or some of your friends still have some green tomatoes, this is a completely delicious jam which can be used for sweet or savoury dishes. Delicious with cold meats and pÃ¢te.Â We use the green fruit for chutneys for predictable things like fried green tomatoes and chutneys.
Makes 2 small jars
500g (18oz) green tomatoes
450ml (16fl oz) water
300g (11oz) granulated sugar
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
Boil rapidly for 10 â€“12 minutes or until setting point is reached.
Blood Plum and Apple Chutney
Particularly delicious with cold ham, pot in small jars.
Makes 7 x 200ml (7fl oz) small jars
110ml (4 fl ozs) cider or wine vinegar
175g (6ozs) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger
900g (2lb) blood red plums, stoned and chopped
900g (2lb) Bramley apples, peeled and chopped
Put the vinegar and sugar in a stainless steel saucepan with the cinnamon, star anise and ginger.Â Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.Â Add the chopped plums and apples, simmer gently for about 40 minutes until the plums and apples are tender and the liquid is thick.Â Pour into jars.Â Cover and keep in the fridge.
This mincemeat is the most delicious I know, add a few recipe suggestions to the basket, itâ€™s great in pies, tarts, ice-creamâ€¦
Makes 3.2 kilos approx. Makes 8-9 pots.
2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling
2 organic lemons
450g (1lb) beef suet
pinch of salt
110g (4oz) mixed peel (preferably homemade)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
225g (8oz) currants
450g (1lb) sultanas
900g (2lbs)Barbadossugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)
62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey
Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180Â°C/350Â°F/gas mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.Â When they are soft, remove the skin and mash the flesh into pulp.Â Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.Â Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.Â Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.Â This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.
Free Range Turkeys and Geese for Christmas
If you havenâ€™t already ordered your turkey or gooseâ€¦
East Ferry Free Range deliver fresh, oven ready White and Bronze Turkeys and Geese all over Ireland. Robbie Fitzsimmons can do last minute deliveries too 0862056020 or email email@example.com
Philip Monks fromÂ Monksfarm, Â Ballyvaughan, Co Clare delivers fresh free-range Bronze turkeys and Legarth geese (traditional white geese)Â Â to the Dublin, Limerick and Galway areas, he’ll also take orders right up to the last minuteâ€¦ Order online www.monksfarm.wordpress.com or phone Philip direct 086-8735565
Seek out Riverlane Panforte – a small Italian cake with an intense flavour made from Irish honey, home-made candied peel, Bandon Creamery butter and nuts -Â available in Urru Bandon, the ABC stall (Alternative Bread Company) in the English Market and Riverlane CafÃ© in Ballineen, Co Cork â€“ Susan Fehily â€“ 0238847173 â€“ firstname.lastname@example.org. Perfect when you feel like a slice of something.
Iâ€™ve just discovered Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup “Irelands answer to maple syrup” itâ€™s a sweet and delicious, pouring syrup, the first of its kind. The organic apples are grown and produced by Highbank Orchards in Kilkenny – no pesticides, no artificial fertilisers or preservatives. The syrup keeps for ages and is delicious drizzled over goat cheese, ice-cream, coarse pate, ham, pork, yoghurt..Available at Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop â€“ 021 4646785 – www.highbankorchards.com