Friday, 21 December 2012

Gifts - good enough to eat...

I'm just about to finish a week-long bake/cook-off marathon - which included four birthday cakes for my daughter (carrot and chocolate cakes of course - but this time all in a heart-shaped mould from IKEA) - both Mary (Berry) and "lovely" Paul (Hollywood) would surely be proud of me! And I've just potted/bagged up the last of my edible goodies to give away to friends/family/teachers. I often use this as an excuse to try out new recipes, but this year I've gone with three of my all-time oldies but goldies (BUT with one fantastic newcomer as well).

Tomato-chili jam with ginger and lemongrass...

This fantastic recipe was given to me years ago by my friend Emma - the ultimate and undisputed queen of chutneys and jams (her "preserves cupboard" is a cornucopia of shelf after shelf of jewel-coloured jars in front of which grown (wo)men have been known to weep...). This is simply stunning - and so so easy (and can be eaten straightaway):

1 kg ripe tomatoes
1 - 8 long red chilies*
6 garlic cloves
2 stems of lemongrass
2 thumb-sized pieces ginger, peeled
6 star anise
200 ml red wine vinegar
300g golden caster sugar

Finely dice half of the tomatoes (with skins and seeds).
Roughly chop the other half of the tomatoes, the chillies, garlic, lemongrass and ginger and put into a blender/food processor. Blend until smooth.
Tip into a large wide pan and add the sugar, vinegar and the star anise. Cook over medium heat, stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.
Add the diced tomatoes and reduce the heat. Simmer for about an hour until it has reduced and thickened. To test if it's set, pop a saucer into the freezer for a couple of minutes. Spoon a little jam onto it, cool, then run your finger through it - the surface will wrinkle if the jam is at setting point. Divide the hot jam among sterilised jars, seal and set aside to cool. 

* I am a complete wimp when it comes to chilies, so 2/3 of 1 (deseeded) is enough for me...

There is no need to sterilise your jars - just put them (on their own)  through the highest temperature wash of your dishwasher and let them dry completely.

This makes enough for exactly three 200g jars, but I always double the amount - the only extra work is dicing the tomatoes!

... and savoury rosemary and walnut shortbread

I devised this recipe as an hommage - and perfect accomplishment - to the tomato-chili jam recipe. These melt-in-the-mouth biscuits are SO delicious and unusual - and, of course, a doddle to make (and the dough behaves beautifully). And as they are so small, you can (according to Marjorie Dawes) "eat double the amount!":

225g plain flour
50g cornflour
50g polenta
200g salted butter
1 tbs sugar

2 tbs rosemary, finely chopped
60g walnuts/pecan nuts, chopped
1 egg yolk

Pre-heat the oven to 180°/fan 160°.
Put the flour, cornflour, polenta, butter and sugar into a food processor and whizz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Add the egg yolk, rosemary and walnuts and whizz to a dough.
Tip on to a work surface and shape into two logs about 6 cm across. 
Wrap in cling film and chill for 1 hour.
Slice the dough into biscuits ca 0,5 - 1 cm thick and put on a lined baking sheet.
Bake for 20 mins and cool completely before handling.

If you don't have polenta (but I think every kitchen has a bag hiding somewhere...), use 25g of cornflour and 25g of plain flour instead.
If you don't have salted butter, add just under 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) of salt to the dough.

Apricot and white chocolate cookies

The ingredients may sound unusual (cream cheese??), but they produce the most utterly divine biscuits: soft yet meltingly crispy around the edges with a perfectly balanced sweetness - you just have to try them to know what I mean:

100g butter
100g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
75g plain flour
50g chopped dried apricots
65g white chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the flour and fold in the apricots and chocolate. Drop the mixture by heaped tbs onto non stick or lined baking sheets, leaving lots of space between each cookie, and bake in the oven for about 10 - 15mins or until lightly golden. Allow to cool and harden for a few mins before removing them from the baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack.

I always double the amount of dough because these cookies don't even see the biscuit tin in their time...

Chocolate and pistachio fudge

This is a recipe straight from the wonderful Nigella Lawson I saw it last week on her Christmas special from a few years ago. It couldn't be any easier - and it does make A LOT of dark, lovely fudge to give away (these bags above were just 1/4 of the whole lot):

350g dark chocolate (70% minimum)
397g condensed milk
30g butter
1 pinch of salt
150g pistachio nuts

Put the chocolate, condensed milk, butter and salt into a large microwaveable bowl. 
Microwave on medium heat for ca 2 mins (checking/stirring every 30 secs) until melted.
Put the nuts into a ziplock bag and bash with a rolling pin.
Add the nuts to the chocolate mix and stir well to mix.
Pour the mixture into a lined tin ca 23cm square and smooth the top. 
Let cool and refridgerate until set. Then cut into small pieces (ca. 2 x 2.5 cm)

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