Another month gone by and Christmas is on its way! Here are a few things that happened in November:
A round up of other things
Some Favourite Christmas Recipes
With only one month to go until Christmas, the subject of festive food is a hot one. Regardless of your feelings on how soon we should start preparing, it is definitely time to start planning the Christmas lunch, making the edible gifts and booking the Ocado order (I never before realised how quickly the pre-Christmas slots get booked up!) I have a timeline for the next month which includes everything from making the chilli-chocolate truffles that Ollie loves so much to ordering the beef that we will be devouring on Christmas day. For the past few years, I have been on a mission to find the perfect Christmas recipes – the ones that never fail, are easy to prepare and taste delicious. Here are a few that I would like to share with you:
The Christmas Pudding
In my family it is only the women (my mum, my aunt, my grandma and myself) that like a Christmas pudding, so I always make a chocolate dessert for the men. For me, there is only one Christmas pudding recipe that I intend to make for the rest of my life and that is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet – it contains the perfect mixture of fruit, spices, treacle and nuts, along with a generous slosh of ale (never a bad thing!) It tastes just like the old fashioned Christmas puddings my Nan used to bring to the table when we were children. It can be made up to a month before Christmas day, but I always make it roughly two weeks before. The recipe claims to serve six to eight but, with my greedy lot, it just about goes around four. Serve with clotted cream or extra-thick double cream.
A Simple Christmas Pudding can be found on page 434 of Short and Sweet, available to order from Amazon here.
When we spend time with Ollie’s family over Christmas, there is always the Annual Thomas Family Monopoly Championships that takes place after the meal we have together on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Forget any images of brothers playing happily together by the light of the Christmas tree, this is a fiercely fought battle in which no dirty tactics are off limits. It is also traditional that cocktails and Ollie’s Dad’s famous cheeseboard accompany this game, which is often played long into the night. Last year, I added a jar of candied nuts into the mix to provide that much-needed sugar boost for those of us still in the game. These are a mixture of nuts – I used walnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews – coated in a crunch of sugar, smoked paprika and cinnamon. They take no time at all to make and are perfect with a gin and tonic.
The Recipe for Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts can be found on the Smitten Kitchen blog here.
The Mince Pies
Another shout for Short and Sweet. I usually try out different mince pies each year to keep things interesting – this year is going to be something a little more experimental, and I’m not sure yet whether it will work. If it does not, Dan Lepard’s Extra Rich Mince Pies are the ultimate go-to recipe. These are possibly the most luxurious mince pies I have ever made – the pastry contains cream cheese and butter and egg and ground almonds. Drooling yet? They are also deep, deep fill, so one of them is like a small meal. You can fill them with any mincemeat you like, but of course I like to use the Dark Rich Mincemeat recipe from the same book (page 345) – two batches of this will usually last me the entire festive season. Last year, I added some marshmallow fluff for the ultimate in filth food – not recommended unless you have a very, very sweet tooth!
Extra Rich Mince Pies can be found on page 385, and Dark Rich Mincemeat on page 345, of Short and Sweet (ordering details above).
This is another one I like to mix up each year. This year I am working on a recipe for a spiced red onion marmalade, which I am hoping will be delicious with the enormous amount of cheese I am planning to buy and consume. Last year, I went to Brockley Market and bought as many plums as I could fit in my bike basket – with them I made a deliciously spiced plum chutney, which was a welcome accompaniment to the table of cold cuts and cheeses.
The recipe for Spiced Plum Chutney can be found on the BBC Good Food website here.
The Edible Gifts
Ricciarelli are traditionally given as Christmas gifts in Italy – they are beautiful, delicate little almond biscuits and very easy to make. The best version I have ever seen were made by my friend and fellow Band of Bakers member Juliet for our feature in delicious. magazine last year. I am planning to whip up a few batches of these to add to some Christmas hampers. The best way to present them is stacked delicately in tall glass jars tied with a festive ribbon.
The recipe for Juliet’s Ricciarelli can be found on the delicious. website here.
Instagram: October 2013
I love the Instagram round-ups on the fabulous Lauren Bakes blog, so decided to create one of my own:
Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ Event, 24 October
Last night was our Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event and if, like me, autumnal fruit and veg is your thing, the opportunity to try 30 or so bakes containing them is something akin to Nirvana. Of course, it is almost impossible to try all of the bakes (although some brave souls have tried), but I did manage quite a wide selection. We were treated to cakes, biscuits, pies and tarts containing some beautiful autumn fruits: pears, plums, figs, blackberries and quince; and some delicious autumn vegetables, including parsnips, beetroot and squash. The ratio of savoury to sweet was slightly higher than usual so we could all indulge under the collective pretence that we were eating a balanced meal. In fact, my two favourite bakes of the night were savouries: a black pudding scotch egg by Jon and a pulled pork slider with apple sauce by Sym.
It was our first event at the lovely Anderson & Co cafe in Peckham and we were very well looked after by Lisa, who kept us in local beer, great coffee and Sipsmith gin.
The recipe for my fig, ginger and spelt cake can be found here.
Below is a small selection of photographs from the event.
Band of Bakers ‘Short and Sweet’ Event, 26 September
This was a very special Band of Bakers event as it was organised to launch Dan Lepard’s incomparable baking book, Short and Sweet in the Netherlands. As well as our 23 wonderful bakers, we were joined at Bambuni by five Dutch journalists and publishers, all intrigued by the set-up of our little south-east London baking club.
The plan was simple: each baker chose their favourite recipe from Short and Sweet and we all had the opportunity to try as many as possible whilst knocking back some rather good wine. Below is a selection of the goods on offer:
Being both an avid fan of social media and photo-sharing sites and a keen cook, a lot of the food I create and consume ends up online. I am not alone in this, for many of my news feeds contain pictures of food in all its forms. I would even hazard a guess that food pictures are among the most commonly shared, after selfies and endless pictures of people’s children, of course. Looking at endless pictures of food can be wonderful when seeking some inspiration in the kitchen or complete torture when stuck on a bus, in traffic, on the Old Kent Road with nothing but a packet of mints for nourishment.
I started to think about why we are all so keen to share pictures of our food online, after all, we all eat, we all cook (to some degree) and we all enjoy eating out, whether the local fast food joint or a three Michelin star restaurant. If, as it has been claimed, the recession has made foodies of us all, why do we need to constantly tell others what we eat? One explanation harks back to the old saying You Are What You Eat. Many take this phrase and use it from a health perspective – that the healthier your food is, the healthier you yourself will be. Of course, scientific research has proved this to be true, however there is another meaning to the saying that goes to explain our obsession with sharing, and that is the idea of food as an indicator of social status. As with many things, food is often used to indicate wealth and taste – the recent comments made by Jamie Oliver about the consumption of ready meals among the lower classes not only indicates that there are many people living on food deemed a risk to their health, but also highlighted the level of food snobbery that simmers beneath the health concerns. Putting out pictures of food is a way of creating a window into your lifestyle and opening this window for others. A snapshot of a dish in a hyped, impossible-to-get-a-booking restaurant in the first week of opening is bound to earn you some kind of kudos, as is a picture of a perfectly crafted layer cake with the kind of pipework, sugarcraft and palette knife skills that the rest of us could only aspire to.
It has been a while since I noticed that, whilst food photo-sharing is on the up, people are becoming as selective about what they share as they are about which Facebook photos they are tagged in, which backs up my theory about food being an extension of a person’s self-image. It is rare that you would see a plate with sauce splashed over the side, a collapsed tart or an elbow in a perfectly piped swirl or buttercream – these creations go unrecorded or condemned to a corner of iPhoto, never to be seen again. Despite this, the most talked about and most enjoyed parts of reality cooking shows such as Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off are the parts when things go horribly wrong – a dropped cake, a sunken souffle or a burnt fillet cause the most excitement. In cooking, as with many things, it is the mistakes and the disasters, both our own and that of others, that cause the most improvement. In our quest to portray the image of a perfect cook, we are neglecting that vital part of knowledge sharing – what went wrong. By confessing our mistakes, we open ourselves to the wisdom of others and, in turn, can impart our wisdom to help somebody else. I’m not suggesting that every failed experiment be exposed online for all to see, simply that we instead all stop trying to be experts showcasing only our perfection and sometimes show a few of our flaws.