Category Archives: dinners

Another Great Dinner with Eggs as the Star!(serves 4)

Sometimes I wish I was one of those women I see in the supermarket (sometimes men, but truly not very often) pushing those giant shopping carts overflowing with a week’s worth of groceries. They usually have a big list and a pen and industrially check off whatever it is they tip into the basket as they go. Why can’t I plan ahead like that?

This is not me!

Well I just can’t because it is not me.  And now I know that it is ok and that my spontaneity when it comes to cooking a dish is why it is good. If I did plan a week ahead, would I lose that excitement about cooking? I don’t know for sure, but this particular dish would not have been made if my cupboard was overflowing with ingredients for my set menu plan. And that would be a tragedy because, this delicious feast was born out of happy desperation and was amazing!

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My Lovely spontaneous Dinner

The desperation was that I only had protein in the form of eggs and three thin slices of bacon, and cilantro was my green vegetable (actually the only vegetable, besides garlic, which I view more as a condiment so it is always on hand in my kitchen, much like salt). The only other thing I can safely bet on always having in my pantry is pasta of one kind or another. In this case it was spaghetti.

So, if you only have eggs in your fridge and you have to make dinner, try this, and breathe a sign of relief as you whizz by the supermarket on your way home!

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If you have Parmesan cheese, that is an added bonus!

You will need:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive oil (5-6 tablespoons)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped(as much as you like really. If you adore garlic, use more!)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro OR Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped (the bundle you get in the supermarket is good but if you have less, use whatever you have on hand)
  • 3-4 slices bacon, cut into pieces (optional). If it is very fatty, trim it a little
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional, but amazing addition)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3/4 lb pasta..so not the entire box (spaghetti works best but penne or any other pasta you have will work)

Method:

boiling spaghetti

Put pasta on to cook first (see Instruction 1. below)

1.Put pasta water on to boil and cook pasta according to instructions while you continue with the rest of the dish (the pasta should be ready right when everything else is done if you time it right. So take into consideration how long the water takes to boil and how long the pasta will take to cook and use that to gauge when you think you will have completed the rest of the dish. This is ready in 20 mins from start to finish if you are efficient)DSC_0353

2. Put big saute pan on stove top on medium heat and let it warm up for a minute. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and after it warms add the and cook until it begins to get a little crispy. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and swirl everything together. Cook for about a  2 minutes before adding the chopped cilantro. Saute until the cilantro wilts into everything. Turn heat down to low and set aside.

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3. While the pasta is cooking and the rest of the dish is waiting in the big pan, start frying the eggs sunny side up in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to start (for two eggs) and add more as needed (it should be a generous amount  – look at photo above. My eggs are swimming in lovely oil!)

4. In the meantime, when the pasta is cooked, drain (do not rinse!) and toss directly into the saute pan with the garlic mixture. Toss everything together adding a little more extra-virgin olive oil if you like. Taste at this point for salt and pepper. Divide into bowls and as the eggs are done, place on top of the pasta and serve. If you have fresh Parmesan cheese: Splendid! You may drizzle with more oil or toss some fresh cilantro on top and a sprinkle of finishing salt

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Total Yumminess

 

 

Time To Make & Steam The Christmas Pudding. Nov. 12, 2017🎄

It’s time for you to get your Christmas Pudding made and steamed if you want it to taste luscious on December 25th! This has been a fun little process of building up to the actual making of the pudding (check out this and this and this and this).

chocolate toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce

Christmas Pudding with rum butter sauce and Fresh Cream

This is what I did yesterday at about 5pm. It is totally easy (even though the list of ingredients and instructions look crazily daunting!) and requires only that you stick around as it steams. I made dinner (and ate dinner) while hanging around the stove last night.

The recipe is below and it has some options. I decided to be a little adventurous and added an element of chocolate to my pudding mixture this year. I have no idea how that will turn out but it’s chocolate: how can I go wrong!

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 I chopped 4oz of a good quality dark chocolate bar in my food processor

I also used a sherry I never tried before ( pedro Ximénez) and as one of my dried fruits, I used blueberries. 

I cannot wait to see how it turns out and I love and hate that I will not know the answer to that question until I bite into my dessert on December 25th! I will be sure to write about it and let you know!

Walnut-Nutella Torte for Christmas Party

Totally tacky and wonderful Reindeer!

 

You will need:

  • 3  cups dried fruit of your choice: I used 1 cup each of dried blueberries, cherries and currants. But you can also use, figs (cut up), prunes (cut up), raisins etc
  • 1/2 cup of liquor such as good quality sweet sherry or golden rum
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • t tbsp unsweetened cocoa (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp All spice or mixed spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice mix
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (you don’t have to go out and buy breadcrumbs. simple toss a slice of bread in your food processor and blitz into crumbs or great the bread by hand with a cheese grater)
  • 1 medium apple – peeled (grate into mixing bowl when instructed below)
  • zest of an orange (zest the orange straight into the mixing bowl when it’s time to add it)
  • 4 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa), crumbled in a food processor and chopped into little pieces (Optional)
  • 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp brown sugar (dark brown sugar is best, but don’t go buying it if you have the lighter version)
  • 10 tbsp (5oz) vegetable shortening (such as Crisco) OR Beef Suet
  • 3 large eggs, beaten in a separate bowl (just beat together with a fork)
  • Vodka (about a 1/2 cup but you only need this on the day you serve the pudding  – it is to flambé to serve)

Method

Soak the fruit in the liquor overnight but for up to a week. cover the bowl and store in a dark cool spot. (look here if you want more detailed instructions on this)

Dried Fruit for Pudding

Enter a caption

  1. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon or a hand whisk (flour, baking powder, breadcrumbs, spices, sugar, salt, cocoa powder (if using), chocolate bits (if using)
  2. grate in the apple and zest the orange into the mixture and mix

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    Add the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients

  3. mix in the shortening in little blobs, along with the eggs into the bowl. Stir everything together really well

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    I asked my daughter to stir the ingredients together just so she was part of this grand event.  And she, like most young people think this pudding is disgusting. Ah…they have a lot to learn about true deliciousness

  4. Butter the inside of your pudding basin/tin and add the pudding.
  5. cover the top of the pudding with some wax paper (I cut a bigger round than the diameter of the top of my pudding tin and made a fold in the middle and it also went up the sides a bit. Put the pudding lid on securely.

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    Cover pudding with Wax paper before adding lid

  6. Cover the pudding basin with tin foil to seal it completely.
  7. Place a large pot on the stove top  (big enough to hold the pudding basin with about an inch to spare at the top) and put the pudding basin into the pot. Add water until it comes about 1/3 way up the pudding basin( a little higher is fine too) and turn heat to high until the water comes to a boil.
  8. cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and turn heat down until water is at a gentle steady boil.

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    Cover pudding basin with foil and place in pot, top with pot lid and boil gently for 4 hours

  9. Boil for 4 hours, topping up the water level as needed. You will need to keep checking this and add water at least every hour.
  10. Turn off heat and remove pudding basin from water and when it has cooled completely, unwrap the foil and remove the wax paper. Put the lid back on and store in a cool dark spot until Christmas day.CHRISTMAS+PUDDING

ON CHRISTMAS DAY YOU WILL NEED TO DO THE FOLLOWING (about 5 hours or more before serving):

  1. Re-steam the pudding for three hours – look above for steaming instructions, as a reminder (it is not as stressful as it seems as it needs no real attention).
  2. When it has steamed again, let it cool and then remove it to your serving plate.
  3. Right before serving, pour about a 1/2 cup of vodka into a pot and bring to a low boil. when it is boiling, set it alight and when it is flaming, pour it over your pudding.

It will be lit up and you need to rush it to the table so everyone can see its grand entrance!

 

 

Christmas Dinner Prep Nov. 2, 2017. Time to Soak the Dried Fruit for the Christmas Pudding. Please make this. It is easy and amazing, and…there is still time!

Christmas Pudding has the reputation for being stodgy, heavy and full of unappealing dried fruit, and in general, it is true. When I was growing up I tasted many truly terrible puddings. We would be dragged to relatives houses over Christmas and sure enough a cup of tea with a slice of pudding would be set in front of me. There were the aridly dry ones that would crumble in your mouth and I would need to drink two or more cups of tea to help wash them down. Next most awful were the  puddings that were chock full of candied mixed fruit peel. The luminous artificial dye in the peel would run into the cake part and the taste was tinny and chewy in a very unpleasant way. Horrible pudding memories!

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This lovely pudding was made by Darina Allen, an amazing Irish chef, food writer and founder of the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland

I steered clear of making Christmas pudding for years, but, when one year I decided to try my hand at making one, I realized that Christmas pudding didn’t have to be heavy, stodgy and unpleasant. My pudding was rich and intensely flavorful but with a wonderful sticky pudding moisture that was addictive. Yes I am praising my own pudding, but my effort came with lots of help from taking a large portion of my mother’s Christmas spirit and combining it with the things I liked and a hefty dose of advice from various cookbooks and cooking gurus. 

Pedro Ximénez Sherry (sweet sherry is used to soak the dried fruit for your pudding)

My pudding is a little different every year and the main difference is I change the liquor I used to soak the dried fruit and, I change-up the dried fruit I use. I have used conventional fruits like currents and prunes to things like dried blueberries and figs in my pudding. This year I want to try a sherry that Nigella Lawson swears by for her pudding and use dried cherries as one of my fruits. I also think I want to add something from the chocolate family, be it cocoa powder or actual dark chocolate pieces…I haven’t decided yet.

soaking fruit for christmas pudding

I don’t always use sherry to soak my fruit. One year I used rum and it was amazing too (so don’t run out and buy sherry if you have something else that might work in your liquor cabinet that has sweet notes)

Today all I am going to do is get my fruit soaking for a few day (up to a week), in some delicious sweet sherry and make my mind up over the next few days.

If you are going to try your hand at this pudding along with me, you will also need to soak your fruit. For this stage you will need:

  • 1 cup Good Quality Sweet Sherry. If you know nothing about sherry, just get a recommendation from where you buy it. (I am using Nigella Lawson’s recommendation of Pedro Ximenez Sherry. She waxed on about it, so I believe it must be good. It is also used by Darina Allen for her pudding so I don’t think you can go wrong here. It is expensive though…close to $30 for a bottle, so if you plan on buying this, just know that it is great for sipping and can be added to plenty of other desserts).
  • 3 1/2 cups GOOD QUALITY dried fruit (choose 3 or 4 that you like…such as: currants, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, figs (chopped), prunes (Chopped).

Method for Soaking Fruit:

Put fruit in a bowl and add the sherry. Stir. Cover and place on a shelf or cupboard somewhere for a few days. Give the mixture a quick stir every day (if you remember).

Dried Fruit for Pudding

This year I am using currants, dried cherries and dried blueberries

IN A FEW DAYS YOU CAN MAKE THE PUDDING!

*And if you are just discovering this recipe or feel in the mood to try this, you will also need a Pudding Basin*

 

 

 

 

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

I am reposting my most searched recipe as I have updated it with a little more information on this curious cut of flavorful meat, (as well as tweaking the recipe). Hopefully this will prompt you to try it out now that the weather is getting colder and we are craving more luscious comforting food.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew

The picture of this dish says it all. Just looking at it makes me want to run to the butcher shop for some luscious Irish lamb chops! I may be bias, but at this moment I have to announce that there is absolutely no better lamb in the world.

The Most Beautiful Train Trip Ever

Fields and fields of sheep with their lambs. They can be seen everywhere munching down on the famous green grass in Ireland. (Woolly sheep happily grazing in County Wexford)

I grew up eating the best lamb stew in the world and only realized that fact when I moved away and could not find lamb that equalled it anywhere.

The cut of lamb that I prefer for lamb stew is the gigot chop, and if you can find them, you are on your way to making something fabulous.

What is a Gigot Chop?: It is a cut from the leg of an animal (I usually think of lamb but gigot pork is also a common cut). This chop has a small bone in the center helping provide a wonderful sweet flavor to a dish like a stew or any type of slow braise.

Lamb Gigot Chops

If you cannot find gigot chops, a good alternative is a cut from the shoulder.

Gigot Chop or lamb shoulder chop stew

Yum

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You will need:

3 tbsp extra-virgin or regular olive oil

4 to 6 lamb Gigot chops (if they are large, use 4. If you cannot find gigot chops, use a cut from the shoulder)

coarse sea-salt or kosher salt to season chops (about 2 tsp)

Several grinds of black pepper (optional)

10 small onions, halved

4 medium carrots, cut into thick diagonal slices

4 medium potatoes, washed & quartered

2 parsnips, peeled & thickly sliced

3 or 4 small/medium potatoes, cut into 4 wedges each (I used golden or yellow potatoes as they have a nice creamy sweetness and hold up well to long cooking)

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 tsp coarse sea-salt (I use Maldon sea-salt flakes)

several grinds black pepper (optional)

1 cup white wine

4 cups veggie or chicken broth (or 1 good quality bouillon cube & water)

Method:

Preheat oven 450*

1 – Season the chops with salt (and freshly ground pepper if you like), and sear in large saute pan on high heat in olive oil. Make sure to cook in one layer at a time, adding olive oil as you need it. Transfer to plate as you go and set aside.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

sear chops

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the onions and rosemary and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

saute onions and rosemary

3 – Add carrots and parsnips and continue to saute for another 5 or so minutes, letting them take on a little brown color. Add the flour and stir into veggies. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

add carrots and parsnips

4 – Add the wine and stir to a thick paste. Next, add the broth (or water & bouillon). Turn heat up to high and stir everything together. Let the liquid come to a boil. When it bubbles, turn heat off. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper if it needs it (until you are satisfied)

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

add liquids, next meat and top with layer of quartered potatoes

5 – Add the chops back to the pot in an even layer (meat will overlap slightly and that’s fine). Next scatter the quartered potatoes on top of the lamb. Cover with a lid.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

top with potatoes and cook in hot oven

6 – Place in preheated oven and cook undisturbed for 1 1/4 hours. Remove from oven and leave to cool down and settle for 10 minutes.

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew (serves 6)

serve

Divide chops between six plates or shallow bowls and top with lots of vegetables and broth. You can also serve with other things such as rice, pasta noodles, bread, cooked greens or leafy side salad.

My Easy Dinner: Pizza with a Fried Egg…Seems so Obvious Now

I know its hard to make dinner after a long day, but… if you don’t make it a monumental task, it can be done! I am one of those people who really likes a little activity in the kitchen in the evening. I have to smell something cooking to feel that “Ah, I’m Home” feeling. Last night this is the quickie dinner I came up with. Why didn’t I think about doing this a long time ago.

Pizza Fried Egg

I had the amazing luck to live in Tuscany, Italy a few years ago and obviously fell in love with the food. I finally tasted authentic Italian pizza and one that stood out to me was a pizza topped off with a fried egg. Eggs are poached and fried and featured as a sort of garnish in all sorts of not-so-obvious dishes…in ramen noodle soups, salads, Mexican dishes, middle eastern dishes…the list is endless. So why not Pizza!

Pizza in Rome

To see how to do it right, check out my post  Pizza in Rome This pizza is called the Montecarlo and it is from an amazing pizzeria in Rome called La Montecarlo

The one thing that can be frustrating  is ordering a pizza that will satisfy everyone. There is the squabble over meat or veggies, black olives or mushrooms and the person like me who wants onions! I solved that one a long time ago by getting a plain pizza and then adding whatever anyone wanted that happened to be in the fridge or pantry. The ONE THING I always have on hand is pesto. Pesto is as common in my fridge as ketchup or mustard. I make a batch of pesto as soon as it runs out. We use it on toast for breakfast, in sandwiches, quick pasta dishes, and you guessed it, on my plain pizza!

fried egg on pizza

Well last night I brought home a large plain pizza and discovered that besides my trusty jar of pesto, there was not much else to scrounge from? Then I remembered my pizza in Italy and problem solved. I warmed up the pizza, slathered on pesto and topped each slice with a softly fried egg, (the egg can also be poached instead of fried). I drizzled a little good quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of pepper flakes on my egg and it was complete heaven.

Of course you can do what you want. If you have leftover mushroom pizza, or a meat pizza….any pizza can be warmed up and topped with a fried egg and you too can transform the hum-drum into an unctuous delicious meal!

Pizza in Rome

La Montecarlo Pizzeria, Rome

 

Prepping for Christmas October 11, 2017 The Other Not-So-Common-Ingredient for your Christmas Pudding Adventure: BEEF SUET

Atora Shredded Suet 200G

I am in the process of Doing the Work so that the Christmas holidays this year are extra special. It is so true that what you put into a thing is what you get out of it. I have most definitely found out that, hoping for something to happen is very different from, making something happen. I am in the making-things-happen mode of my life right now and one of the things on my list is that Christmas this year isn’t a disappointment. I have control over so much of what happens and food plays a major role. I have experienced all sorts of Christmases, and the ones that were the most fun and memorable were the ones where I worked hard in advance. Some say that happiness can be attained by achieving a goal, but also that the end result is not an isolated type of joyous accomplishment. The joy is elevated by all the things that made what you wanted possible. In other words, the laborious task of say making something like this Christmas Pudding, becomes part of the joy. So my looking on this as a pain-in-the-butt project (and it is a little) will only serve to making me hate the whole process. What’s the point in that? When I think about the joy factor that will come with it (me carrying it beef fat_000017219051_Small.jpglit to the table after our Christmas Dinner feast, and then getting to taste it), I can make this with a very happy heart. Oops, the cornball in me is rearing its ugly head, but no apologies for that whatsoever.

 So, one of the other things you will need, that you almost positively don’t have on hand (along with a Pudding Basin/Mold), is a packet of Beef Suet. Sounds awful right? It is that magical mystery ingredient that is used to make traditional pudding-based foods such as Yorkshire Pudding, soup dumplings, chicken pot pie crust, as well as this Christmas Pudding, moist and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It is an odd-looking and very solid slab of fat. It is unlike the fat from drippings (the fat collected from cooking something such as bacon and can be used to flavor dishes and fry with). Suet is the hard fat that surrounds the kidneys and has a very high melting point. Because of its consistency and chemical make-up, it has so many uses  It is used in products from shaving soap, lubrication for engines, to leather conditioners, as well as making a dynamite shortening for this Christmas Pudding!

chocolate toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce

Chocolate-based Christmas Pudding with Freshly Whipped Cram and Toffee Sauce

When you make your pudding, you will disperse little flakes of it through the batter (as you might use butter to make a flaky pastry). This is why it is best to grate it into the batter OR do what I do: buy it already made into little gravel-y bits that you simple mix into the batter.

You can probably find this in your supermarket (but like shopping for a Pudding Basin in person and not buying it via a website, asking where it might be/or if it is in stock, is 99% pointless. “Hello, can you tell me what aisle the beef suet is in please?”. See what I mean).

You can find Beef Suet on a short list of websites (I know Amazon carries it), but peruse your supermarket next time you are there just in case.

Turkey 1

Turkey: another labor of love at Christmas

So get your pudding basin and beef suet and we can get on with the task of making happiness happen!

 

 

 

Christmas Dinner prep October 10, 2017. What is a Pudding Basin and Where can I get One?

 

Well, if you live in Ireland, England, Australia, India even, or wherever the English have influenced culture, you probably do not need me to tell you what a Christmas pudding basin is. However, the majority of the United States (where I live now) is pretty much clueless, and that’s not me being mean. It is the cooking pot used to make a dessert made once a year, (literally).  Beyond that, unless you are some pudding-making addict, this object sits in the nether regions of your cupboard until around this time of year (I usually have to hunt for it because I never remember where I stash it).

chocolate toffee pudding

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce), and Fresh Cream

This is a pudding my mother made each and every year when I grew up and it was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never helped her make it. The kitchen was not very big and with six children ( yes, six!) underfoot my mother didn’t have the time or the patience to squeeze in cooking lessons on top of everything else she had to do. But I watched my mother cook for years and when she did let me cook (and it was pretty often after the ripe old age of seven), I had full reign of the kitchen. It was all or nothing: I suppose she rightly figured that two was too many cooks at one time, so she would plant me in our tiny kitchen and walk away.

I would try my hand at anything, and everything I made was my attempt at trying to make things that were staple meals my mother made or I would find a recipe somewhere and follow it to the letter. At that time there was no such thing as computers and I don’t think my mother even owned a cookbook, so I used to find recipes in my mother’s weekly magazine (I think it was called Woman’s Own?) and later I used my Home Economics school book as another source of inspiration and instruction (and in those days only girls were taught that subject, the dark ages indeed)

batter for christmas pudding

Mixing Pudding Batter

But I never got the pudding recipe. This time of the year would roll around and I would see my mother mixing flour with spices and various dried fruits, and there was that sweet smell of cinnamon, mixed with ground cloves and other mysterious sweet things that wafted through the whole house when this laden pudding cooked for hours on the stove. The only hand I had in it was every couple of weeks she would give me a bottle of sherry and I had to pour a little of it over each pudding (since she went to the trouble of making one, she decided it was just as practical to make 3 or 4!) to “cure it”. I didn’t even know what that meant…what was wrong with it that it needed curing?

I wasn’t really in love with Christmas Pudding when I was young. It was thought of as a grown-up dessert. I hated the candied mixed-peel fruit that my mother used in the batter, and the addition of sherry made me winch. No child likes the taste of alcohol and so as far as I was concerned, the sherry was the nail in the coffin. I never bothered to ask how it was made as I never though I would ever want to make it. 

Trifle for  Crappy Kitchen Goes to Italy

Trifle was my favorite Christmas Dessert growing up (this is the version I make)

Well that turned our to be wrong, so a little word of advice here: ask as many questions as you can of your parents and relatives about everything and anything, because one day they will be gone, and like me, there will be moments when you say to yourself, “why didn’t I ask about that when I had all the opportunity in the world?”

Not that I wanted to make my pudding the same way as my mother. I still do not like sherry in desserts and store-bought candied mixed peel is still a tragic way for any fruit to end its life! Suffice is to say that I have been making Christmas pudding for several years now in the spirit of my mother but with my own sensibility.

I will talk about what this pudding consists of  later but first you will need to get yourself a pudding basin! This pudding is steamed and it needs to be in a tight-as-a-drum container and withstand four to five hours of low bubbling in a pot of water, that constantly needs to be topped up. It’s a simple thing but kind of hard to find if you decide to trek around town looking for it. And forget about asking for help as no one will know what you are talking about. 

You are looking for something like this (above is a metal basin. I have this kind and it lasts forever). This one is from Fox Run Craftsmen: Pudding basin/mold

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Or like this. This is a Plastic Pudding Basin and is just as effective.

If you want to make this completely amazing and different Christmas dessert, this is the first step The other thing you will need and is not a common ingredient anymore), is SUET, and I will talk about that next. When you are schooled in these two not-so-common things, we can make our pudding together.

*AND I RECOMMEND A 3 PINT PUDDING BASIN*