Christmas confetti salad

There have been two unexpected spin-offs from my post about delegating when entertaining over the festive season. First, two of the guests we were expecting for dinner on Saturday night cancelled their appearance. They claimed to be stuck in New York and unable to get back, but I have my doubts. Was it the email I sent suggesting they bring something?

Then, a few days ago, my mother-in-law sent me an email about Christmas. In the middle of what my colleague calls ‘a compliment sandwich’ (that’s when you disarm someone by saying something nice, stick the knife in, then say something nice again) she cleverly outsourced the cooking of the turkey and the dreaming up of some salad ideas. To me.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I’d been outplayed. Friends, I have so much to learn. But, after a weekend of thinking deeply about what to make, I’ve come up with something fresh, festive and extremely easy. Now I just have to delegate the making of it to my father-in-law.

Christmas Confetti Salad With Peppers And Pomegranate Seeds Recipe/Image Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Christmas Confetti Salad
Making this salad is the sort of job you can give someone who walks into the kitchen and says ‘what can I do to help?’ – on the basis that a) they have basic knife skills and b) you have delegated out all the other jobs, like washing dishes, setting the table and corralling the children/elderly relatives. As long as you’re not having to do all those other things, or have had a glass of festive bubbles, it’s quite soothing to stand still and do a bit of chopping. It’s great with ham and turkey and tastes great the next day when you need something cold and refreshing to eat. You could also pile little mounds of it into avocado halves for a appropriately red, white and green starter.

2 pomegranates
2 red peppers
1 small red onion
4-6 small radishes
half a telegraph cucumber
a small bunch of mint, finely shredded

a clove of garlic, smashed
a good pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sumac

First, make the dressing. Crush the garlic and salt together with a knife until it forms a paste. Scrape this into a small screwtop jar, then add the lemon juice, sugar and sumac. Shake together until well mixed, then add the oil and shake again. Taste for sharpness – add more oil or lemon juice as necessary. Set aside.
Cut the pomegranates in half and scoop out the seeds. The Ottolenghi-endorsed way to do this is to bang them with a wooden spoon, but I find this squirts juice everywhere. My preferred method is to winkle the seeds out with a knife.
Chop the rest of the vegetables into pomegranate seed-sized dice. Tip everything into a bowl. Pour over the dressing, scatter over the shredded mint and stir gently to combine. Serves eight as a side dish.

For more herby, salad-y goodness, you might like to check out Karen’s Cooking With Herbs round-up for December. If there’s ever a time of year to eat your greens, this is it!

Cooking with Herbs

Do you delegate out parts of your Christmas dinner preparations, or do you prefer to be in sole charge?

Treat me: Boozy figs

If you were beamed to earth from another planet at the moment you’d think all humans did was eat, drink and be merry. While the period between mid-November and early January is fairly intense on that scale, it’s pretty much always the season of entertaining at our house. And I love it, I really do, except for perhaps that tense 15 minutes just before the entertainees arrive and I feel in a state of complete chaos.

This year, with two fairly major entertaining events scheduled chez nous in the next fortnight, I’ve decided to take control. Firstly, I’m going to delegate a lot more (sorry, invitees, I understand if you want to pull out now) and secondly, I’m going to have something up my sleeve that I prepared earlier.

These boozy figs are an excellent do-ahead option at this time of year, whether you’re holding a soiree or you’ve been invited to one by someone like me who wants you to cross town with dessert in your handbag. The recipe is of unknown provenance – it’s out of one of my mum’s notebooks – and it is very simple. I’ve a hunch it is just the thing for this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by the ever-lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage (with able support from Kate at What Kate Baked) – in which dried fruit is the theme.

Boozy figs
You can whip these mulled figs together in five minutes before you go to work, then when you come home they’ll be all plump and juicy. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, serve them warm over a slab of posh vanilla ice cream., if you’re in the southern, add strawberries. If you’re really, really organised, put them in a lidded jar in the fridge and they’ll be good for several weeks.

400g dried figs, cut in half (use scissors)
500ml fruity red wine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 small orange, washed and halved
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled (optional)

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and let bubble away for five minutes. Take off the heat and let cool. Then, either transfer to a bowl or jar, cover and put in the fridge. Or, if you’re planning to eat them in a few hours, add the strawberries before putting in the fridge. Serves six.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tea Time Treats

Lucy’s guide to festive baking

Last week I got a press release about Valentine’s Day. Seriously. It happened the day after I’d walked through Auckland Airport, mentally shaking my fist at the large Christmas tree in the arrivals hall. I anticipate Easter eggs popping up on Pinterest any minute now. Shall we just fast forward to Christmas 2014 and be done with it?

Christmas Mazurka – a hot favourite in 2012 (hence the baker’s twine)

This week, I feel differently. That’s because yesterday I realised there are just 29 more sleeps until The Big Day. Now I understand why Christmas things are appearing on blogs and on Instagram (I don’t count magazines, because everyone knows they operate in a kind of hyper-reality). Now I understand why a friend was so keen to seek my counsel (not to mention my copy of Nigella Christmas and my 20cm square cake tin) in order to make her first-ever Christmas cake.

This week, I am in no position to do anything Christmassy. I have a new job (which is consuming all my mental energy) and we’re in the start-up phase of a house makeover (which is consuming mental energy, time and money). And the Small Girl is rehearsing for a ballet recital, so if I hear Baby Love by the Supremes ONE more time before breakfast, I may go insane.

But next weekend, when these other life events are a little more under control (well, at least the first two), I am going to start baking and making in earnest. I’m going to start by buying a bottle of brandy and the best dried fruit I can lay my hands on. Then I’m going to see what happens…

In the meantime, here’s a handy checklist of festive things to make and bake. By next week, I may not be able to find any of these recipes, so this list is as much for me as it is for you. It’s better to give than receive, don’t you know?

Lucy’s Christmas Cheatsheet

Haven’t made your Christmas cake yet? Don’t fret. This one – studded with prunes, apricots and nearly a kilo of dark chocolate – doesn’t need time to mature. Nor does this one, which mixes the wisdom of Alison Holst with a bottle of green ginger wine. Neither need icing, but you could give the second one a pretty glazed topping (instructions found here).

I made so much Christmas mince last year that I’m going to be able to pull the jar out of the cupboard and say, ‘look, here’s one I prepared earlier’. I use this recipe – dead easy, includes caramelised banana – and the pastry is fab too.

Now we head into the ‘things to give away’ territory. My best tip here is to Think Big – making industrial-sized quantities of a couple of things is much easier than a bespoke biscuit here and a steeped vinegar there.

This chutney is always popular and very easy – last year some non-cooking friends requested the recipe so they could make it for Hannukah presents and it went down a treat. 

Beginners will also have fun making vegan biscotti and this chocolate body scrub (also suitable for vegans).

You’ll need a few more skills for my all-time best-ever brownies, but they’re not difficult to whip up and the recipe makes a huge amount. The same goes for these gingerbread Christmas decoration cookies, which taste as good as they look.

If you want to go a little off-piste, try my totally addictive white chocolate rocky road (the hardest thing about making this is not eating it all on the spot) or these luscious apple blondies, with added cranberries for extra festive-ness.

Have you started your Christmas prep yet? Go on, make me feel inadequate. Even better, share your favourite recipe links in the comments below…

Spring berry smoothie

Something a bit embarrassing happens when we have people round. It’s not a problem when the sun is over the yardarm, so to speak, but when they look meaningfully at the kettle and the cupboard where the mugs are, I feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s not that I am ashamed of the tin of instant coffee (it’s for my mother-in-law – she doesn’t drink the other stuff) or our ugly mug selection, but that I’m never sure when to break it to them that we don’t have any milk.
Apart from my great milk-drinking, bechamel-sauce guzzling period (September 2008 until about May 2009), we don’t drink it. I buy some occasionally if a cooking project warrants it, of course, but it does seem rather wasteful to buy milk, keep it in the fridge on the off-chance that we might have a milky tea-drinker crossing the threshold, then end up throwing it away. Perhaps I should invest in those little sachets of milk that you get in hotels. But I think I’d rather look like a bad hostess than one with no taste. What do you think?

Vegan Berry Smoothie

Spring berry smoothie
One of the best things about living a milk-free existence is that you get to make virtuous and vibrant smoothies like this one. One of the best things about coming back to New Zealand after our holiday was drinking water from the tap without gagging – if you live somewhere with disgusting tap water then I’d suggest making these with the bottle sort. Or I suppose you could go all out and use milk, but rest assured, it’s nicer without. If you’re not a fan of berries, try fresh pineapple.

For two large smoothies:

1 1/2 cups frozen berries
1 large banana, cut into chunks (this is a good way to use up frozen bananas, if you have a freezer full)
3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
250ml cold water

Put everything in a blender, or in a large glass jar in which you can fit a stick blender, and whizz until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems very thick. Pour into two glasses and serve.

Treat me: Pears in spiced red wine

It says a lot about the horrors of boarding school food that my co-prisoners and I were cheered up by tinned pears. We had pudding three times a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday lunch – and tinned fruit was a constant. In some ways this was a good thing (our rationale being that if it had come in a tin, the cooks couldn’t have done anything to it) but when you consider that we were in a city ringed by orchards and we never got any nice fresh fruit, it was shameful.
Anyway, we liked tinned pears mostly because they were served with a vat of chocolate custard. This tasted like cheap cocoa and cornflour, but when you’d eschewed a plate of grey meat, frozen corn and mashed potato so firm you could cut it into cubes, it was nothing short of manna from heaven.

Pears in red wine
I never buy tinned pears, but I’ve been buying lots of fresh ones lately and bringing them to ripeness in the fridge. The ones that are slightly firmer get poached in a spiced red wine syrup like this one.

200g (1 cup) lightly packed brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks

The peel of 1 large orange – try to avoid as much of the bitter pith (the white stringy bits) as possible
6 juniper berries, optional
4 star anise
8 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
A 2cm slice of fresh ginger½ cup dark rum (or brandy, or port)
1 x 750ml bottle of fruity red wine (merlot is good)

6 firm but unblemished pears

Heat the oven to 160C. Put everything except the pears in a large lidded, ovenproof casserole dish (like a big Le Creuset, or similar) that will be big enough to take the pears as well. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Carefully peel the pears using a potato peeler. Leave the stems on but cut out the blossom end (at the bottom) to remove the core.
Gently put the pears in the dish – add a little water to make sure they are submerged in the liquid.
Put the lid on and put the dish in the oven. Cook for two to three hours, until the pears are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. When they’re done, you can leave them sitting in the syrup until you’re ready to eat them. I think they’re best at room temperature, with some very cold homemade creme fraiche.
Store any leftover syrup in a lidded jar in the fridge. It can be used again (or warmed up and sipped on a cold, wet night).

Have a great weekend, everyone x