Weâ€™re determined not to do doom and gloom. So, on the basis that a yummy little treat can cheer up even the grimmest day, weâ€™re having lots of fun these days experimenting and making delicious Christmas presents for all our friends. With the current mood for all things thrifty and creative, some of our offerings are cheap and cheerful, others use indulgent ingredients and take some time to develop and mature. All can be packed in recycled jars, bottles, tin cans, biscuit boxesâ€¦ Once you start to think about it there are a myriad of possibilities from home made jam, chutneys, relishes & pickles to cookies, sweeties and cordials, ratafias, drinks and spiced nuts.
Less fancy but practical everyday food can also make a welcome present. How lovely it would be to get a big pot of stew, a casserole, or a dish of shepherds pie with a little roll of garlic butter to melt into the top.
A few cartons of home-made soup, tarted up with tinsel, ribbons and a sprig of rosemary or holly will bring a warm glow to a busy friend or can be tucked into the freezer for another occasion.
Once you begin to think about it there are all kinds of possibilities both everyday and festive, a little homemade Christmas cake, plum pudding, a few jars of mincemeat or any of the Christmas sauces or accompaniments are of course welcome and save time in the run up to the frenzied Christmas rush. Good cookbooks with reliable well tested recipes are a present that can bring more pleasure. Weâ€™ve been enjoying Gifts from the Kitchen by Annie Rigg â€“ published by Kyle Cathie.
Itâ€™s got 100 irresistible and imaginative recipes for home-made gifts. Weâ€™ve tested several with delicious results.
Annie also offers lots of suggestions for creative packaging to give your gift an elegant twist that will be remembered long after the contents have been devoured.
How could you not get a â€˜ooopsâ€™ in your tummy when you are presented with a box of deliciously decadent chocolate truffles, a jar of piquant chutney or a bottle of raspberry cordial, all beautifully packaged with hand-written labels. If there are kids about they too can become involved in the chopping and stirring and the art work on the labels. Here are a few suggestions to get you started but Annie â€“ an experienced freelance food stylist and writer has over 100 imaginative and completely yummy ideas for youâ€¦
Annie Riggâ€™s Raspberry and Rose Chocolate Wafers
A box of these chocolate wafers would make an ideal gift for Motherâ€™s Day â€“ they are easy enough for little hands to make as the only cooking required is to melt the chocolate.
Freeze-dried raspberries are available on-line or from good health food shops. As an alternative you could top the chocolate wafers with candied stem ginger or chopped dried fruits and nuts.
Makes about 24 wafers
150g (5oz) best-quality dark chocolate (72% cocoa solids)
150g (5oz) best-quality white chocolate
3â€“4 tablespoons (approx. 25g) freeze-dried raspberry crispies
3â€“4 tablespoons (approx. 25g) crystallized rose petals
3â€“4 tablespoons (approx. 25g) pink sugared rose chips or sugar sprinkles
Line 2 large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.
Break the dark and white chocolate into pieces and melt separately in heatproof bowls set over pans of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth, remove from the heat and cool slightly. Spoon heaped teaspoonfuls of melted chocolate on to the prepared baking sheets,
spreading the chocolate into discs with the back of the spoon. Scatter with the raspberry crispies, rose petals and rose chips or sugar sprinkles.
Set aside to cool and harden completely before removing from the parchment with a palette knife.
*Stored in an airtight container, these will keep for 4â€“5 days.
Annie Riggâ€™s Sea-salted Caramels
You really do need a sugar thermometer for making caramels and toffees, but it wonâ€™t be a wasted investment â€“ once youâ€™ve tried these caramels youâ€™ll be hooked. The saltiness is just enough to cut through the intense caramel sweetness, making them dangerously moreish. Wrap each caramel in a twist of non-stick baking parchment.
Makes about 20 caramels
150g (5oz) caster sugar
150g (5oz) light muscovado sugar
100g (3Â½ oz) unsalted butter
200ml double cream
3 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
Grease a 15â€“17cm square tin with sunflower oil. Place the caster sugar in a deep pan with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Set the pan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and continue to cook until the sugar has turned to a deep amber-coloured caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.
Return the pan to the heat and bring back to the boil. Continue to cook until the caramel reaches 130Â°C/250Â°F on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat, leave to settle for 30 seconds, then pour into the prepared tin and leave until cold before turning out of the tin and breaking into pieces.
*These will keep for 4â€“5 days in an airtight box or wrapped in non-stick paper in a jar.
Annie Riggâ€™s Spiced Nuts
Fill homemade paper cones with spoonfuls of these mixed spiced nuts. Theyâ€™re the perfect little package to give to the cocktail enthusiast in your life.
Makes 8 paper cones
750g (1lb 10oz) mixed nuts (Brazils, walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, peanuts and macadamias)
50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds
50g (2oz) sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons clear honey
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, coarsely ground
11/2 teaspoons paprika
1 rounded teaspoon celery salt
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/gas mark 4.
Tip all the nuts and seeds into a large bowl and drizzle over the olive oil and honey. Add the salt and spices and a generous grinding of black pepper. Mix well to evenly coat the nuts in the spices. Tip the mixture out on to a large baking tray and spread level.
Roast on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, stirring the mixture regularly so that it browns evenly. When the nuts are golden, remove from the oven and allow to cool before packaging into paper cones to serve.
*These nuts will keep for 3 days in an airtight box.
Annie Riggâ€™s Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
A grown-up version of a childhood favourite, this is delicious when spread thickly onto toast, inbetween cake layers or when sandwiched in the middle of cookies â€“ or if no-oneâ€™s looking straight from the jar with a big spoon…
Makes 1 x 450g Jar
75g (3oz) blanched hazelnuts
100g (3Â½oz) dark chocolate
(72% cocoa solids), chopped
100ml (3Â½fl oz) condensed milk
1â€“2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
pinch of salt
3â€“4 tablespoons hot water
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/gas mark 4. Tip the hazelnuts on to a baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven for about 5â€“7 minutes, until pale golden. Remove the nuts from the oven and cool slightly. Tip the warm hazelnuts into a food processor and chop until they become an almost smooth paste.
Gently melt the chocolate, condensed milk and hazelnut oil in a small pan over a low heat. Stir until smooth and add to the hazelnut paste in the food processor. Add a pinch of salt and blend, then add the hot water and blend again until the mixture has a thick, spreadable consistency.
Spoon into a pretty sterilised jar and leave to cool. Cover with a lid and label when cold.
*It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Homemade sweets and candies are always a pleasure to make and to receive. A box of
sugar-dusted, rose-scented Turkish Delight is something we often associate with Christmas but would make a perfect Valentineâ€™s or Motherâ€™s Day gift packed into a box lined with waxed paper.
You could al so try adding pure lemon extract and a drop of yellow food colour in place of the rosewater and pink colouring.
Annie Riggâ€™s Fortune Cookies
Fill each of these cookies with a personalised message of goodwill and give them to your family and friends at New Year or any other significant event. Bake the cookies in small quantities, as you have to work very quickly to fill and shape them once they come out of the oven before the delicate mixture becomes dry, brittle and impossible to fold.
Makes about 12
100g (3Â½oz) plain flour
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
100g (3Â½oz) icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Preheat the oven to 150Â°C/300Â°F/gas mark 2 and line 2 solid baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.
Sift together the flour, ground ginger and salt. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients, then add the melted butter and mix until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Draw 2 x 10cm circles on each sheet of baking parchment and spoon 1 tablespoon of the mixture on to each circle. Using either the back of a spoon or a palette knife, spread the mixture in an even layer to fill the circles. Bake 1 sheet on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and the other on the shelf below for about 6â€“8minutes, until the cookies are starting to turn golden at the edges.
Working quickly, remove one sheet of baking parchment from the oven at a time, leaving the other baking tray inside and, using a palette knife, carefully and quickly lift the cookies off the parchment. Flip the cookie over, lay your fortune message in the middle and fold the cookie over it in half. Bring the points of the cookie together to make the fortune cookie curl and leave to cool in a muffin tin (this will help them to keep their shape). Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Once you have used up all of the mixture and all of your cookies are baked and shaped, slide the muffin tin into the oven for a further minute to brown them evenly.
*Leave to cool in the tins before packaging in takeaway boxes. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for up to 3 days.
Annie Riggâ€™s Lemon and Passion Fruit Curd
Thereâ€™s nothing quite like homemade lemon curd. And when you add passionfruit to the mix, youâ€˜re on to something really special. Serve it with freshly baked scones (or shortcakes), hot buttered English muffins, or spread between vanilla sponge cake layers with lashings of whipped cream and fresh berries.
Makes 4 small jars
4 large eggs
125g (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
225g (4 1/2 oz) caster sugar
zest and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons
seeds and pulp of 2 passionfruit
Beat the eggs and strain into a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to come into contact with the water or the heat will scramble the eggs.
Stir the mixture constantly until it reaches the consistency of very thick custard. Remove from the heat and stand the bowl in a sink of coldwater to speed up the cooling process, stirring occasionally until cold.
Pour into sterilised jars (see page 168), cover and store in the fridge until needed.
*It will keep, in the fridge, for up to 1 week.
Countdown to Christmas
Ballymaloe Spiced Beef
This year why not make your own spiced beef. There are lots of recipes for this Cork specialty traditionally eaten at Christmas, and many of them corn or brine the beef first. This recipe, which has been handed down in Myrtle Allenâ€™s family, is for dry-spiced beef. Initially, the recipe called for silverside, but I prefer to use flap (also known as flank) a less expensive cut which you can get from your local butcher. The recipe also includes saltpetre, which should only be used in moderation. If you canâ€™t find it, just leave it out. The meat will be slightly more grey in colour rather than the rosy pink that comes from the saltpetre cure. The recipe below makes enough spice to cure five flanks of beef, about 1.8kg (4lb) each in size. Spiced beef keeps for immeasurably longer than ordinary cooked or roast beef. Store the spice mix in a screw-top jar. It will keep for months, so make the full quantity even if it is more than you need at a particular time. To serve, cut it into thin slices and serve in sandwiches or with freshly made salads and homemade chutneys.
1.8kg (4lb) lean flank of beef
Ballymaloe Spice for Beef
225g (8oz) Demerara sugar
350g (12oz) salt
10g (1â„2 oz) saltpetre (potassium nitrate)
75g (3oz) whole black pepper
75g (3oz) whole allspice (pimento, Jamaica pepper)
75g (3oz) whole juniper berries
Grind all the spice ingredients (preferably in a food-processor) until fairly fine.
Remove the bones from the flank and trim away any unnecessary fat. Rub a little spice well over the surface of the beef and into every crevice. Put into an earthenware dish and leave in a fridge or cold larder for 3â€“7 days, turning occasionally. (This is a dry spice, but after a day or two some liquid will come out of the meat.) The longer the meat is left in the spice, the more spicy the flavour and the longer it will last.
Just before cooking, remove the spiced beef from the earthenware dish. The salt and sugar will have extracted some liquid. Discard this spice mixture. Roll and tie the joint neatly with cotton string into a compact shape. Put it into a deep saucepan, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3â€“4 hours or until soft and fully cooked. If it is not to be eaten hot, then press the meat by putting it on a flat tin or into an appropriate sized bread tin and covering with a board and weight. Leave it for 12 hours in a fridge or cold larder. Spiced beef will keep for 3â€“4 weeks in a fridge.
Christmas cheer at the Milk Market – I still havenâ€™t made it but everyone is talking about the new revamped Milk Market in Limerick â€“ open Thursday to Sunday with up to 60 stalls brimming with great produce. Donâ€™t miss Peter Wards mulled wine and the banter at the Country Choice stall www.milkmarket.ie
The Christmas Market in Ballyvaughanâ€™s Community Hall will run on three weekends before Christmas, Saturday and Sunday 4th & 5th December, Saturday and Sunday 11th & 12th December, Saturday and Sunday 18th & 19th December. The Burren Crafts Group will have some stalls too.
Sally and John McKenna of the Bridgestone Guide launched StreetSmart on 22nd November in support of people who are homeless. From now until Christmas Eve, diners at participating StreetSmart restaurants will have the opportunity to donate just â‚¬2 to their bill, or more if they so wish, to help raise funds for people who are homeless. Â StreetSmart this year brings together restaurants across Cork and Dundalk to help raise funds for Cork and Dundalk Simon Communities and Good Shepherd Services. Restaurants can still sign up to StreetSmart through www.streetsmart.ie where a full list of participating restaurants can be found.
Every Thursday until Christmas is Wine Tasting Day at Interior Living on MacCurtain Street in Cork from 5.00pm to 8.OO pm. Stock your pantry for the festive season with gourmet delights â€“ you can even order your Caherbeg Free range ham and localÂ artisan cheeses – 021 4505819.