Who knows what kind of Christmas weâ€™ll have this year. Will we be able to get together and celebrate with our family and loved ones or will we be forced to wish our children, grandchildren and grandparents a Happy Christmas through tears of loneliness on Zoom?
The answer is in the lap of the Godâ€™s at present so letâ€™s use the intervening weeks having fun, making edible Christmas gifts. If necessary they can be beautifully ribboned and wrapped and couriered a few days ahead.
There are so many options, I could write five or six columns without running out of ideas. Thereâ€™s still time to make lots of chutneys, pickles and relishes. I particularly love this Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney.
The last of the Summer tomatoes refuse to ripen as the days get dramatically shorter so we have lots of green under ripe tomatoes, canâ€™t bear to waste even one. Weâ€™ve been really enjoying them sliced and fried in a corn meal coating as they do in the US, with a dollop of Remoulade sauce but for the purpose of this article how about the more unusual and super delicious Janeâ€™s Green Tomato Jam as opposed to the more predictable chutney. Itâ€™s equally great with goats cheese, cold meat or slathered on scones.
This Beetroot and Ginger Relish is another winner. Particularly good with pateâ€™s or coarse terrines as is Confiture dâ€™oignons or Onion Marmalade. All of these keep for months. Iâ€™d pot them in small rather than large glass jars or better still keep an eye on local charity and junk shops for earthen ware jars which add an extra dimension to your pressies.
Weâ€™re bang in the middle of the citrus fruit season. Kumquats are back in the shops, time to make a few jars of luxurious Kumquat Marmalade, the most delicious of all.
I found some Bergamots on Rebel Organics stall at the Midleton Farmerâ€™s Market last week so we made a batch of Bergamot marmalade, deliciously tart and bitter. I also found green Verdelli lemons, a new one on me so Iâ€™ll experiment with those during the week.
Sweet sauces also make great little pressies. Why not try, Dark Chocolate sauce, a Butterscotch sauce and a Salted Caramel â€“ now wouldnâ€™t those three make a cute little hamper and maybe add an Irish Whiskey Sauce for good measure.
Thatâ€™s probably enough to keep you and your family having fun in the kitchen for this week. The less than enthusiastic cooks can help with the labelling and wrapping, perhaps they can source some ribbons and pretty twines. Jar covers, can be as simple as newspaper, parchment or fancy wrapping paper. Sprigs of rosemary tucked into the twine look great and last well. Keep a good look out for little baskets and containers to pack your goodies into. More ideas next week. Meanwhile, have funâ€¦
Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney
Makes 3â€“5 jars, depending on size
225g (8oz) onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
450g (1lb) very ripe red peppers, seeded and diced
1â„2 teaspoon salt
1â„2 teaspoon allspice
1â„2 teaspoon mace
1â„2 teaspoon nutmeg
1â„2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
1 stalk of lemongrass, finely chopped
450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
110g (4oz) raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
225g (8oz) white sugar
150ml (1â„4 pint) white wine vinegar
Sweat the onions in the olive oil in a stainless-steel saucepan. Add the peppers, salt, spices, grated ginger and lemongrass. After 10 minutes, add the tomatoes, raisins, garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 11â„2 hours, until it looks thickish. Pour into sterilised glass jars, cover with non-reactive lids and store in a cool, dry place.
Janieâ€™s Green Tomato Jam
A change from Green Tomato Chutney, delicious on toast as well as drizzled on goats cheese or mozzarella.
Makes 2 small jars
500g (18oz) green tomatoes
450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) water
300g (10oz/1 1/4 cups) 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 and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.
Boil rapidly for 10 â€“12 minutes or until setting point is reached.
Beetroot and Ginger Relish
Serve with coarse terrines, pÃ¢tÃ©s and cheese.
Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately)
Serves 8 â€“ 20 depending on how itâ€™s served
225g (8oz) onion, chopped
45g (1 1/2oz) butter
3 tablespoons sugar
450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar
120ml (4 1/2fl oz) red wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft. Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes. Serve cold.
This relish is best eaten within 6 months.
Onion Marmalade – Confiture dâ€™Oignons
Once again, delicious with pÃ¢tÃ©s and terrines.
Makes 450ml (16fl oz)
675g (1 1/2lb) onions
50g (2oz) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
150g (5oz) castor sugar
7 tablespoons sherry vinegar
250ml (9fl oz) full bodied red wine
2 tablespoons crÃ¨me de cassis
Peel and slice the onions thinly. Melt the butter in the sautÃ© pan and hold your nerve until it becomes a deep nut brown colour – this will give the onions a delicious rich flavour but be careful not to let it burn. Toss in the onions and sugar, add the salt and freshly ground pepper and stir well. Cover the saucepan and cook for 30 minutes over a gentle heat, keeping an eye on the onions and stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula.
Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and crÃ¨me de cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. This onion jam must cook very gently (but don’t let it reduce too much).
A read luxury, my favourite marmalade of all.
Makes 3 x 400g pots
1 kg kumquats
1Â¾ litres (56fl oz) water
1Â¾ kg (3 lb 1oz) sugar
Slice kumquats thinly crossways. Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml (8fl oz) of the water, allow to stand overnight. Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.
Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.
Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender.
Add the warm sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes. Test for a set, put a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold saucer, it should barely wrinkle when pressed with a finger.
Remove the pan from the heat while testing.
Pour into hot sterilised jars. Cover and seal and store in a cool dry place.
Pamâ€™s Bergamot Lemon Marmalade
6 â€“ 8 pots
1kg (2.4lb) un-waxed Bergamot lemons
1 3kgs (3lb/6 cups) granulated sugar
2 1/2 litres (4 1/4 pints/generous 10 1/2 cups) cold water
Scrub the skin of the lemons in warm water with a soft brush. Put into a deep stainless steel saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 hours until the lemons are soft and tender.
Remove the lemons and allow to cool. Bring back the liquid to the boil and reduce the liquid to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups).
Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180Â°C/350Â°F/Mark 4 for 10 to 15 minutes.
Cut the lemons in half, save the pips and tie with the soft membrane in a little muslin bag. Chop the peel and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the reduced juice, liquid and the bag of pips. Put back on the heat, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook to a setting point â€“ 15-20 minutes. Test for a set in the usual way.
Allow to cool in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Pot into sterilised jars, cool and store in a dark dry cupboard.
Dark Chocolate Sauce
Brilliant to have some chocolate sauce to drizzle over ice cream, profiteroles or on crÃ©pes.
Makes 16fl ozs (450mls) â€“ 2 â€“ 3 small jars
8ozs (225g) best quality dark chocolate (semi sweet or bittersweet)
8fl oz (225ml) cream
1 tablespoon dark rum or orange liqueur or strong coffee or Â½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)
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. It will seem curdled at first but donâ€™t worry, keep on stirring and it will become smooth and glossy. Add the chosen flavouring if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 12 approximately.
This delicious sauce keeps for months, can be served with any ice-cream, crÃ©pes or over sticky toffee pudding.
4oz (110g) butter
5oz (150g) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)
3oz (75g) granulated sugar
10oz (285g) golden syrup
8fl oz (225ml) cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt gently on a low heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract. Put back in the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth.
Serve hot or cold.
Note: This sauce will keep for several weeks stored in a screw-top jar in the fridge.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Once again, salted caramel sauce is irresistible drizzled over crÃ©pes, ice cream or bananas and keeps for weeks in a jar in the fridge.
600ml (3x 200g jars)
450g (16oz) caster sugar
125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted whole butter (diced)
250ml (9fl oz) double cream
10g (1/2oz) Fleur de Sel from Brittany (literally flower of the salt, the very mineral and not too salty top layer) or Irish Sea salt
Put the caster sugar into a large pan over a medium heat and stir continuously until it turns into a rich caramel. You need to do this by eye, but aim for a dark mahogany colour. If it is too light, the butter and cream will dilute any caramel flavour and it will lack that slightly burnt sugar taste that makes this sauce so good.
When you are happy with the caramel, very carefully whisk in the cream to stop the cooking. Be really careful not to do it too quickly as the caramel has a tendency to spit. When you have whisked in the cream, add the butter bit by bit until itâ€™s all incorporated and you have a smooth rich caramel.
Allow to cool to 37Â°C and then stir in the fleur de sel and mix so you get an even distribution. Ed says it is very important to allow the caramel to cool before doing this so that the salt crystals do not dissolve and you then get that lovely crunch.
Irish Whiskey Sauce
We love this sauce to serve with glazed ham or bacon chop, as well as drizzled over crÃ©pes or ice cream.
Makes 1 small jar of 230ml (8fl oz)
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water
3- 4 tablespoon Irish whiskey
4fl ozs (120ml) hot water
Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a nice chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish whiskey. Serve hot or cold.