Tuesday, 29 December 2015

That Festive Feeling

The lead up to Christmas can get exhausting - running, preparing food, writing cards, wrapping presents and trying to dodge the festive bugs flooring several people around me.  I was hoping that the former would help me from succumbing to the latter, but no, I found myself starting with that tell-tale sore throat last Wednesday and spent Christmas Eve dosing myself with honey Lemsip in the vain hope I could ward off the impending cold. For once the cold actually never came to very much - after preparing myself to feel ill for at lease a couple of days, it never come to much more than a bit of sneezing and a slightly runny nose. Something of a result!

It was also a bonus to have the weekend before Christmas free of races or anywhere else I had to be, so it meant I could get some unhurried time in the kitchen to do some preparation for the meal on Christmas Day,as working on Christmas Eve meant I wouldn't have a lot of time in hand the day before.  I must admit, I still hadn't decided on the main course at this stage, but my other half always votes for something in pastry, so I made a large batch of flaky pastry. Some people look at me as if I'm mad when I say I make my own  - they may be right - but I would always advocate making a large amount - if you are going to the time and effort, you might as well make plenty, then cut it into useable portions, wrap and freeze for another day. A spiced parsnip soup was made and popped in the freezer, as were fruit puddings after steaming and cooling, oh, and a toffee sauce - a bit of an afterthought, but I thought it would go well with the puddings.  I made some small rolls to open freeze after proving, so they could just be popped in the oven and served. I used a Paul Hollywood recipe for breakfast rolls from "How to Bake", but substituted his filling with a sundried tomato pesto.  Just to make sure the recipe worked out, I made a small loaf along the same lines to test out, ie. flattening out the dough, spreading it with the pesto, then rolling up to give a spiral effect through the loaf. It was fairly nice, so I was feeling quite positive about the rolls.

My other baking over the weekend was my favourite biscuit recipe - chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate chip and peanut biscuits - the very name lets you know they are certainly not the low-calorie option, but they are fabulous, coming from the aptly named "Death by Chocolate" by Marcel Desaulniers (formerly) of the Trellis Restaurant in Willliamsburg, Virginia. This book was published in 1992 and given to me on my 30th birthday that year by three friends - one who sadly passed away two years later - I still have the gift tag tucked into the cover of the book, not that I would ever forget who gave me it and when. I don't think many Christmases have passed where I haven't made these biscuits.

I made some chocolates too - I don't make as many as I used to, but I like to make a few to package up for other people (and obviously keep some back for quality control purposes of course). My ever thoughtful husband purchased Miss Hope and Mr Greenwood's book "Sweets Made Simple" for me last year - I suspect an ulterior motive - their recipes for gin and lime truffles as well as limoncello truffles have become favourites.  I also made an old favourite, brandy truffles and a newcomer, tested out in the summer after enjoying prosecco on holiday - prosecco truffles topped with a little popping candy.
A little production line.

The hoped for early finish on Christmas Eve didn't happen - watching some people getting their coats on and leaving the office before time was tough going - but it was still a nice feeling when 4:00 came round, knowing I could start my holiday.  I had made up my mind about the main course - a pastry with a layer of aubergine and mushroom, then spinach, then tomato and onion - all made relatively quickly, with the final assemblage done on Christmas morning, plus a white chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate case was made with the help of some acetate strips to form the dark chocolate case, oh, and Michel Roux (senior) whose recipe I used! I was quite pleased that I got so much done in advance - it meant less rushing about on Christmas Day and more time spent with our guests.

A great winter soup from Nigel Slater
Because there's got to be pastry!
Guess who had to have the chocolate dessert?

So, I didn't collapse in an exhausted heap and am still enjoying the relaxed mood of a holiday over the festive period. I'm largely enjoying the running, though the weather on Boxing Day resulted in me being horribly cold and wet, other days have been fairly nice for getting out and about. There is, of course, plenty of excuses for activity in the kitchen - leisurely breakfasts being one. I've made crumpets for the first time, which were quite enjoyable to make, though I seem to be back with Paul Hollywood - "Bread" this time. Paul's claim that once you've tried making your own, you'll not want shop-bought ones again is probably about right - the nice, soft texture was rather a departure from the usual rubbery things from the supermarket. Only possessing two crumpet rings though (ah, that's what they are) meant that the baking bit took twice as long, but as they were so good, that was no big deal - though I will be hunting out another couple the next time I hit the shops. Still a few days of the old year left to try out some more new recipes.  Happy New Year!

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