SEASONAL FOOD – 1
As far as our beloved retail stores are concerned, Christmas is imminent. So, I suppose, thoughts must soon turn to the catering aspect. Turkey has become “Bird of Choice” – the only problem for me is that it seems to last for weeks! If you are making traditional things like Christmas cakes or puddings, now’s the time and a classic cake recipe follows. To detract thoughts of the catering to come, or delay them, I begin with a simple and very tasty lunch dish. Some chefs serve this as a starter. It’s one of a few delicious things you can do with our excellent fresh chicken livers. 1. Remove any gristle or choggy bits from the chicken livers. 2. Marinate the chicken livers in the milk for two hours, then remove and drain them. Discard the milk.
3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken livers, on medium heat turning from time to time until they are pink but cooked through (around 10-12 minutes). Watch out for spitting livers, though! 4. Mix Commandaria with corn-flour until smooth. 5. Add herbs, salt and pepper, lower heat of pan and stir. 6. Finally stir in the Commandaria mixture and let simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce thickens reasonably.
7. Serve on a bed of rocket leaves.
For those desirous of putting off the moment when you have to consider Christmas cooking still further, here is a lovely dish for a wet or cold winter’s night.
1. Lightly poach the fish in milk for about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from pan on to a serving dish or large plate, and separate flakes to remove any bones, skin etc. Keep the juice and aside. 2. In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter; add the flour and stir into a roux. 3. Add a little milk, stirring into a smooth thinnish paste. Add the rest of the milk, including the juice from poaching the fish, and return to the heat. Stir continuously, (I recommend a plastic spatula for best results) otherwise your sauce will go lumpy. After as few minutes or so the sauce will begin to thicken.
4. Reduce the heat and continue stirring until the liquid is fairly thick, then remove from heat. 5. Fold in gently the fish and hard boiled eggs, shelled and roughly cut into chunks. 6. Stir and pour into an ovenproof dish. 7. Put in the oven at low temperature to keep warm. 8. Boil the potatoes until cooked through (around 11 minutes), drain and dry on heat 9. Add black pepper, half a cup (125ml) of milk and a good knob of butter and mash well until smooth.
10. Gently spoon the mashed potato over the fish mixture, brush with some melted butter, then “corrugate” the top with a fork, making the surface quite crumbly. As an alternative joy, instead of melted butter at the finish, mix together some finely grated hard cheese and bread crumbs and sprinkle them over the top and gently fork over (see my picture). Put under a hot grill until golden, or, better still, in the top of a very hot oven, until the top is crisp and golden and the sides are beginning to bubble.
Serve with a crisp green winter vegetable: cabbage, sprouts, broccoli or curly kale.
Last year, about this time, I offered you the recipe for a very rich Christmas cake. This year, I am offering the recipe for a decidedly festive cake which is not quite as rich. Ice it, decorate how you will, or just serve it with some sliced almonds on the top, it makes a lovely seasonal bite. It also makes a good dessert, accompanied by some vanilla ice-cream.
For this handsome and delicious cake you will need a 20 cm / 8 inch diameter round cake tin (one with a removable base is best). You will also need grease-proof paper or baking parchment. Getting it ready takes about half and hour and baking it requires three hours or so in an oven heated to 150C (300F).
1. Grease with butter the insides and base of the cake tin.
2. Cut two pieces of grease-proof paper: a circle for the base and a long straight piece to fit around the inside of the tin.
3. Spread soft butter thinly with a spatula or pallet knife on both sides of the paper pieces. 4. Line the tin with the paper. 5. Sift together the flour and salt. 6. In a bowl or you food processor, beat the butter until soft and creamy. 7. Then add the sugar and cream until light and fluffy. 8. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well. 9. Now steadily put in the flour. 10. When well mixed fold in the sultanas, currants, peel, cherries and lemon rind. 11. Chop half of the almonds and add to the cake mixture. 12. Mix for the last time and then spoon the mixture into the tin. With your spatula or knife smooth the top to make it evenly flat.
13. Split the remaining almonds lengthways, and arrange them, rounded side up, over the levelled cake surface.
Bake just below the centre of an oven for about two hours. If the cake shows signs of browning too quickly, cover the top with a sheet of damp greaseproof paper, and reduce the heat to 140C/275F for the last hour. Remove the cake from the oven when a skewer comes away clean from the cake.
Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack. Wrap the cake in foil, leaving the greaseproof paper in place. Put into a storage tin or cake keeper. Ideally, the cake should “rest” for a good week before serving. It will keep a month or more months stored this way, even after slices have been taken from it. In our house, though, it doesn’t last that long.