For me the flavours and smells of Christmas are essential to get me in the mood for the festive season. Cinnamon, cloves, and sweet citrus scents are just some of the aromas which have passed through my kitchen the last fortnight.
Every year, I try to make or bake at least some of my gifts for the family. Not only is this a great way of saving money and avoiding the madness of the city shoppers, but people really appreciate the extra effort.
My glistening chili jam, or rather Nigella’s, has become a staple part of my Christmas, and always plays a part in a hamper for the parents.
You will need: 150g red peppers, 150g red chilies de-seeded 600ml cider vinegar, 1kg jam sugar and roughly 5 empty, sterilised jam jars.
Start by: chopping the peppers and chilies into chunks, then place them in a food processor and blitz into small, red shards. Dissolve the jam sugar in the cider vinegar in a large pan on a low heat. Do not stir the sugar.
Then: When the sugar is dissolved, add the chili and pepper mix to the pan and bring to the boil. Allow the mixture to boil vigorously for ten minutes, before turning down to a low heat and leaving to simmer for 40 minutes. It’s important not to stir the jam as the flecks of red will evenly distribute themselves in the pan.
Tips: - Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow the jam to cool and set further.
- You may find a thin layer of red froth settles on top of the jam, which I skim off with a wide spoon as it can ruin the look and texture of the jam.
- Sterilise your jam jars by putting them through the dishwasher and decorate the lids for that added touch.
- The jam can be used to accompany a variety of foods included cooked meats, cheese boards and prawn and avocado salads.
- Put the filled jars of jam in the fridge for a few days before giving out to friends so that it has time to set a little more.
My recycled jars are still in need of a little decoration at this point.
This time of year, there are certain ingredients which I favour specifically for their Christmas connotations. Several years ago I partook in the cliché that is chestnuts roasting on an open fire. What the song doesn't mention is that they are ticking time bombs, ready and waiting to explode at any moment! From now on, I score a cross in my chestnuts and place them on a baking tray in a ‘closed’ oven at 200 ‘C for 10-15 minutes.
More recently, I was introduced to the magic of mulled wine. I have never been a fan of red wine, but heated through with some mulling syrup and I will be straight to the front of the queue, poised with a mug. This has become a core component of my house mate’s diet and the alcoholic fumes, emanating from the cauldron like pan, fill the house nightly with festive giggles and hiccups.
The last Christmas before I left for university, I took control of the kitchen and made it my mission to deliver a Christmas dinner where the vegetables were the stars of the show. After watching Delia, Jamie, Nigella and Gordon do it their way, I devised a schedule for the big day and spent the morning chopping, marinating, boiling and roasting all the usual vegetables you expect to see alongside your turkey or nut roast. My sprouts were oven cooked in a honey mustard sauce, the carrots were roasted with orange and thyme and the peas had a minty finish. But my favourite side dish and one which I now regularly make in the winter months is my braised red cabbage with apples and balsamic.
Everyone seems to have their own way of making this dish and even my version has gone through adaptations.
To make a hefty batch that will feed at least four people, you will need:
1 red cabbages chopped, 3 braeburn apples peeled and diced, 1red onion diced, a good handful of sultanas, 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp mixed spice.
Start by: Softening the red onion and cabbage in a large, heavy bottomed pan in the hot oil on a high heat. Stir continuously for several minutes before adding the chopped apple and stirring a while longer.
Then: Reduce the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, mixed spice, sultanas and sugar and mix well. Cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer on a low heat for roughly an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s worth tasting the dish a couple of times whilst it cooks, in case you want to add a little more vinegar, sugar or spice to suit your tastes.
Once the cabbage is soft, the dish is ready to serve and makes a great accompaniment to a typical roast dinner. Although, I have been known to happily eat it on its own. The delicious balance of sweet and savoury with a slight tang makes it a filling and comforting dish which is sure to convert any cabbage haters.