How do we keep the magic of Christmas alive at a time in history when we are all being mercilessly manipulated by commercial interests. Resentment is mounting, particularly among Mná na h’Éireann, the mothers, grandmothers, aunties who are feeling intense pressure to deliver on the unrealistic expectations built up by constant advertising and clever marketing. Several people recently told me that they have to resist the urge to run and hide “until it’s all over” and what they are really looking forward to most is that delicious moment after Christmas when they can punch the air and say, Hooray- thank goodness that’s over for another year – how sad is that – but hardly surprising that we feel completely frazzled instead of festive.
Some feel like screaming when they hear, yet again, the words “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday”. How many more shopping days to Christmas …such pressure, we can’t stop the clock or halt the relentless advertising.
We all know shopping doesn’t do it….so let’s just snuggle up together, make some lists and start to cook some yummy things that we can share with family and friends. It’s really is a good feeling to know that much of the preparation is done and tucked neatly into the freezer or preserved in bottles and jars, ready for the off. I love to have lots of soup in the freezer to defrost at a moment’s notice or to give as pressies. So I’ve chosen a variety of recipes that can be used as gifts or to enhance you and your family’s Christmas.
Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)
This unusual jam is super delicious with ham or roast pork.
600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots
500g (18oz/2 1/4 cups) caster sugar
zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips
freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon
6 cardamom pods, split
Trim and scrape the carrots. Grate on a medium sized grater. Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick.
Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly.
Pear or Nashi Chutney with Lemon Verbena
Makes 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
2 large onions, chopped
1 organic lemon, quartered and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fennel seed
175g (6oz) sugar
2 cloves garlic, chopped
200ml (7fl oz) white wine vinegar
6 Conference or Nashi pears (700g/1 1/2lb) peeled and diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)
60g (2 1/2oz) sultanas
1 tablespoon lemon verbena
Put the onions into a stainless steel saucepan, add the lemon, fennel seed, sugar, garlic and white wine vinegar.
Peel, core and chop pears and add to the saucepan with the sultanas.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently stirring occasionally for 25 minutes approximately until reduced by more than half its original volume. Add the lemon verbena and continue to cook for a further 4-5 minutes.
Pour into sterilized jars and cover.
Allow to mellow for 2 weeks before serving. Keeps for 6 months or more.
Marie and Gustav Mandelmann’s Green Tomato Marmalade with Chilli
You may not have green tomatoes at this time of year but this recipe transforms the under-ripe Winter tomatoes into something totally delicious. We always have masses of green tomatoes at the end of the season when it becomes colder in the Autumn and the tomatoes ripen more slowly. Really good with cold meats and pâté.
1 kg (2¼ lbs) green tomatoes
3 organic lemons
500 g (18 oz) sugar
Blend the tomatoes roughly, slice the lemons thinly and finely chop the chilli. Mix all the ingredients and stir in the sugar. Leave overnight. The next day bring it to the boil until it is the perfect consistency, approximately 1 hour. Put into clean sterilise jars.
Red Pepper and Tomato Chutney
Good with spiced beef, cold meats and coarse pâtes and terrines.
Makes 3 – 5 jars depending on size
8oz (225g) onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1lb (450g) very ripe red peppers, seeded and chopped into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4oz (110g) raisins
1 clove garlic, chopped
7oz (200g) white sugar
5fl oz (150ml) white wine vinegar
Sweat the onions in the olive oil in a tall narrow stainless steel saucepan, add the chopped peppers, salt and spices. After 10 minutes, add the tomatoes, raisins, chopped garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 1 1/3 hours or until it looks thickish. Pour into small sterilized glass jars and store in a cool dry place.
Pot into tiny pots and label creatively
Makes about 175ml (6fl oz)
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1 dessert brown mustard seeds (optional)
175ml (6fl oz) boiling water
1-2 teaspoons freshly chopped herbs: dill, tarragon, chives, parsley, chervil or a combination
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Grind the mustard seeds in a spice grinder or a food processor until fine. Put into a small heavy bottomed saucepan with the boiling water, stir well over a low heat and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes. It will thicken gradually.
Remove to a bowl, add the herb, seasoning and vinegar to taste. Store in glass jars with screw tops. Allow to mature for a few days before using.
Cheese Sablées with Sesame Seeds
A brilliant recipe for using up left over bits of cheese, add a little blue cheese if available.
Any bits of left over cheese eg. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyére, Coolea, Cashel Blue … a little soft cheese may also be added but you will need some hard cheese to balance the flavour.
Weigh cheese then use equal amounts of butter and plain white flour.
Grate the cheese – rinds and all. Dice the butter. Cream the butter and stir in the flour and grated cheese, form into a roll like a long sausage, about 4cm (1 1/2 inches) thick.
Roll in sesame seeds to coat the exterior.
Alternatively whizz in a food processor until it forms a dough, shape using a little flour if necessary. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 -2 hours until solid.
Slice into rounds – about 7mm (1/3 inch) thick. Arrange on a baking tray, cook in a preheated oven 250ºC/475ºF/regulo 9 for approximately 5 minutes until golden brown.
Leave to cool for a couple of seconds then transfer to a wire rack. Best eaten warm on the day they are made as they soften quite quickly.
Charlotte’s Swedish Seed Crackers
Delicious, just with butter, cheese or smoked salmon and perfect for a present I pop some into cellophane wrap and tie them with a tartan ribbon and a sprig of holly, alternatively put them in an airtight tin and include it in the present.
Makes 48 approx.
200g (7oz) sunflower seeds
130g (4 1/2oz) pumpkin seeds
70g (2 3/4oz) flax seeds
70g (2 3/4oz) sesame seeds
2 tablespoons psyllium husk
2 tablespoons almond flour
1 teaspoon salt
450ml (15fl oz) water
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Line the two baking trays with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together (should be the consistency of watery porridge).
Divide in half and spread as thinly as possible on parchment paper.
Sprinkle with sea salt and poppy seeds on top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 70 minutes approximately until dry.
Store in pieces in an air-tight tin. Keep dry, pop into a hot oven for a few minutes before serving to crisp them up.
Delicious, just with butter, cheese or smoked salmon.
Lily O’Connell’s Best Ever Plum Pudding with Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce
It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made. The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas. The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.
It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day. Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.
This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.
12oz (350g) raisins
12oz (350g) sultanas
12oz (350g) currants
10oz (300g) soft brown sugar
12oz (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)
12oz (350g) finely-chopped beef suet
4oz (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)
2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated
4oz (110g/) chopped almonds
rind of 1 lemon
3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 fl oz (62ml) Jamaica Rum
Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish! Next day stir again for good measure. Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.
Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours. The water should come half way up the side of the bowl. Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary. After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding. Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper. Store in a cool dry place until required.
On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours. Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite. Serve immediately on very hot plates with
You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire – as well as the pudding! Love to use sparklers too.
Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce
This recipe is so delicious that people ask to have more Plum Pudding just so that they can have an excuse to eat lots of sauce. This makes a large quantity but the base will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can use a little at a time, adding whipped cream to taste.
110g (4oz) butter
200g (7oz) Barbados sugar * (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)
1 organic free-range egg
62ml (2½fl oz) medium sherry
62ml (2½fl oz) port
1.3-1.4litres (2 ¼ -2½pints) lightly whipped cream
Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port. Refrigerate.
When needed, add the lightly whipped cream to taste.
This sauce is also very good with mince pies and other tarts.
Another irresistible present that lasts for months.
Makes 2 cakes
sunflower oil, for greasing
100g (3 1/2oz) blanched almonds – toasted
100g (3 1/2oz) blanched hazelnuts – toasted
100g (3 1/2oz) unsalted shelled pistachios
50g (2oz) whole sour cherries
50g (2oz) Lexia raisins
50g (2oz) Medjool dates, roughly chopped
50g (2oz) figs, roughly chopped
50g (2oz) dried apricots, roughly chopped
50g (2oz) homemade candied peel, chopped (see recipe)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
100g (3 1/2oz/scant 1 cup) plain flour
pinch of salt
200g (7oz) clear honey
200g (7oz) granulated sugar
icing sugar, to serve
2 x 18cm (7 inch) round tins
Line the base of each tin with rice or parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Mix the toasted almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios in a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix together the spices, flour and salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix until thoroughly combined.
Combine the honey and sugar in a medium-sized pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 115°C/240°F on a sugar thermometer.
Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and mix well. Spoon into the prepared tin and spread level.
Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 45–50 minutes, until firm. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin and carefully ease out the panforte. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
*Stored in an airtight container, panforte keeps for weeks even months but gradually gets harder!.
Mead is a honey wine and it’s super easy to make. Use raw local fresh honey.
The process of yeasts fermenting sugars into alcohol is a natural phenomenon. It happens easily with overripe fruits, or in the case of mead, when honey is diluted in water. Use pure water
Makes 1.25 litres (2 pints)
1 part raw honey
4 parts water
Mix the honey with the water in a jar. Stir vigorously creating a vortex in the middle.
Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or a cotton handkerchief to keep out flies and dust. Stir vigorously several times a day. After a few days of frequent stirring, you will notice that the honey water has bubbles on the surface. Keep stirring, on and off, for a few more days until the bubbles increase. After a week or 10 days the bubbling begins to subside. The mead is ready to drink at this stage but it will better at 3 weeks.
The quality of water is very important here so avoid chlorinated tap water. Tap water can be de-chlorinated by simply allowing it to sit uncovered in a wide rimmed bowl overnight.
This dough can be used for all kinds of shapes, round, square, rectangles, stars, hearts, teddy bears, animals, birds……
175g (6oz) flour
75g (3oz) butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1/2 – 1 egg, free-range and organic
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Sieve the flour into a bowl. Rub in the butter, add the caster sugar and mix well. Beat the egg. Mix the dry ingredients to a stiff dough with the beaten egg.
Turn out on to a floured board and roll out to a scant 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness. Cut the biscuits with the cutter of your choice. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes depending on thickness. Cool on a wire rack.
When cold, decorate as desired. Alternatively ice them together with butter cream or jam, or a simple dusting of icing sugar.