Pudding on the Ritz
Preparation is key to making classy, scrumptious food for Christmas. So make that list, and check it twice, writes Katy McGuinness
If the prospect of cooking Christmas dinner for the family is already making you nervous, relax - it's not as hard as it looks. But it does take a bit of preparation. And even though you can buy everything ready-made, it's lovely to have some home-made bits and pieces that don't come out of a packet.
If you're not the one in charge of getting the turkey and ham on the table, it's great to be able to offer to bring some element of the meal to whoever is your host, be it parents, friends or relations. Just think how impressed they'll be when you nonchalantly say, "Would you like me to bring pudding? I already have it made." This Christmas pudding recipe comes from Peter Ward of Country Choice in Nenagh and is as simple to make as it is delicious to eat. Really.
But if Christmas pudding is not your thing, then consider putting aside an hour over the next couple of weeks to make some mincemeat. The homemade version is always going to be more delicious than the one you buy in the shop, and you'll be able to use it not just for mince pies (no, you don't have to make the pastry as well, just pick up some packets of the M&S all butter one to keep in the freezer) but also for a mince meat tart that you can knock up in minutes at any point over the holidays.
A jar of mincemeat is a fine gift to bring with you to anyone's house, so if you're going to make the effort, you might as well make it in quantity. If you don't have preserving jars, just save up glass jars and sterilise them in the dishwasher before filling them, when they're still warm and completely dry, with the mincemeat. This recipe doesn't contain any suet and is suitable for vegetarians.
Chutney is another thing that's handy to have on hand at home at Christmas. This one - which comes from a Diana Henry recipe that I've been using for years - goes beautifully with leftover ham, or cheese, or in a turkey sandwich, and is another good instant gift and store-cupboard saviour.
I've assumed that you have a few basic ingredients, but be sure to check the cupboard before you go to the shops, particularly for spices.
300g quality assorted raisins
45g quality assorted candied fruits, such as pitted apricots, cherries, melon, and citrus peel, cut into thin strips
5 tbsp. cold beef suet or butter, diced
200g fine day-old bread crumbs
125g ground almonds
40g dark muscovado sugar
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp. finely grated peeled carrot
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. dark treacle or molasses
80ml Guinness stout
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
3/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Macerate the raisins in brandy for 1 hour. Drain, reserving 80ml of the brandy. Preheat the oven to 230°C.
Put the raisins, candied fruits, suet or butter, bread crumbs, ground almonds, sugar, flour, coconut, carrots, zests, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a large bowl and stir well.
Combine egg and treacle or molasses in another bowl. Stir in beer, juices, and reserved brandy, add to fruit mixture, and mix until evenly moist.
Pack half the batter into each of two greased pudding bowls (about 3" deep X 5" wide). Cover each bowl with two layers each waxed paper, then foil; secure with twine.
Put bowls on a rack set in a wide deep pot. Add boiling water to pot to reach 2" up sides of bowls. Cover pot and steam puddings in oven, replenishing water as necessary, for 41⁄2 hours.
Remove bowls from pot and leave to cool. Store in a cool, dark, dry spot (or refrigerate) for at least one day and up to two years. If storing for longer than one day, replace covers.
Reheat puddings by steaming them, still covered, for one hour. Turn out onto plates.
Makes about 2.75kg of mincemeat
450g cooking apples, unpeeled, cored and chopped small
225g grated cold butter
225g mixed peel, finely chopped
350g soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed oranges
grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
100g slivered almonds
4 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
6 tsp brandy
Combine all the ingredients except the brandy in a large bowl and leave in a cool place overnight.
Pre-heat the oven to 110°C and place the bowl, covered with tin foil, in the oven for about three hours. Stir the mixture from time to time until it cools, and when it is completely cool, add the brandy.
Spoon the mixture into sterilised jars, cover with waxed discs and seal. The mincemeat will keep happily for a couple of years.
Enough for 3 x 500g jars
100g dried cranberries
100g fresh cranberries
100g dried sour cherries
100g dates, chopped
175g no soak prunes, chopped
450g apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
275g onion, finely chopped
475ml apple cider vinegar
500g soft light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
3 tbsp brandy or port
Put all the ingredients except the brandy in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to the boil and stir to help the sugar dissolve.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook it slowly for about two hours.
When you scrape a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, it shouldn't immediately fill up with vinegar. That's how you know it's done. (You don't want it too dry either.)
Add the port or brandy to the hot chutney, and put the mixture immediately into warm, dry, sterilised jars. Cover with waxed paper lids and seal with vinegar-proof lids. This will keep for a year.
Taste test: Budget Smoked Salmon
We're heading into peak smoked salmon season, so it seems like a good time to test some of the entry-level options available in the supermarkets. The price of smoked salmon varies enormously, and you'll pay more for wild and organic fish, for those produced in artisan smokehouses, and for fish of Irish origin.
Next time we'll look at some of the more expensive ones on the market, which you might consider for a Christmas dinner starter, but here we're tasting the smoked salmon that you might think about using for a party, or when you have a lot of mouths to feed.
OceanSea Norwegian Smoked Salmon, LIdl, 200g, €3.29 8/10
Smoky, salty and tasty, this version from LIdl delivers plenty of flavour for a modest price. The colour is pale, but the slices have a regular, neat shape and look presentable. Pity it's not Irish, but you can't have everything.
Dunnes Stores Family Favourites Sliced Smoked Salmon, 200g, €3.29 6/10
A bit on the bland side, and some people might find the amount of visible brown salmon off-putting, but it tastes fine. This is farmed in Scotland.
Supervalu Smoked Salmon, 40g, €2 6/10
This one is a little bland too, and the slices include too much visible brown salmon. It's not smoky enough for our taste, but pleasant enough. Smoked in Ireland, using farmed Atlantic salmon from Scotland.
Everyday Value Smoked Salmon,
Tesco, 200g, €3.29 5/10
Too salty, but a pleasant appearance. The packet says 'different shapes, different smokes' but that wasn't a problem. This is Scottish too.
Dunns of Dublin Smoked Salmon, 100g, €4 4/10
Too-thick slices and too much brown salmon, we thought this one lacked flavour. Disappointing, considering the price is more than double some of the others. It's smoked in Ireland, using Farmed Atlantic Salmon.