Tag Archives: dried cherries

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*

 

 

 

 

Time to Make The Christmas Pudding!

vintage christmas postcard

There is no getting away from the fact that Christmas is definitely coming! Everywhere I turn I am bombarded with reminders, starting with the twinkle-y sea of every iconic symbol of Christmas covering the entire lawn of my neighbour’s house, and ending with even the meat in the grocery store bound up in shiny cellophane and strung with red ribbons like some special present to be placed under the tree. To mention everything in-between would be an exercise in how poetic and tacky I could be at the same time. I may write something about this a little later, but for now I am really excited to talk about Christmas Pudding and share the recipe

I love any holiday or celebration that involves food, and Christmas dinner is the ultimate feast as far as I’m concerned. So yes, even though this one meal is one month away, I am already planning the menu and soaking the dried fruit for my Christmas pudding as we speak.

soaking the fruit, an important step in making a great pudding

Depending on what part of the world you are reading my blog from, you are either salivating at the thought of a slice of warm fruity pudding smothered in equally warm custard or brandy butter, or, you are puzzled as to why I would make a pudding a month before eating it! If the former, I suggest you get started, if the latter, it’s time to be exposed to a deliciousness enjoyed on Christmas day in most Irish and English households (and I suspect in strongly transplanted countries like Australia, India and North America).

Well, this deeply rich, dense steamed pudding, bejeweled with all sorts of dried fruits, came into its own in Victorian England (although apparently has existed in less evolved forms from the 15th century). It is traditionally made about 5 weeks before Christmas and used to be the highlight of the Christmas feast eaten on December 25th. In the early 19th century the most precious ingredients were spices and fruits, and this pudding was deemed special enough to have it all. The fruit most commonly used was raisins, but today people like to add their own particular favorites.

The recipe for this pudding varies greatly from household to household, region to region, and like every Italian “Mama” who is adamant that the best red sauce must have onions, (or absolutely not have onions), the serious pudding makers have strong opinions too! I am more the go-with-the-flow type and use what I like, and what is available in my supermarket on the day I take upon myself to buy the ingredients.

Rum-soaked fruit

The one step that is of the utmost importance is to let the dried fruits soak in alcohol before being mixed into the batter. Then the pudding needs to be steamed for hours, stored for a month, and then steamed again before finally being served. The reason that this pudding is worth all the trouble is to witness it’s grand entrance to the dinner table. It is served flambeed in alcohol amidst the hopefully cheering and applauding guests. There is nothing like a little indoor fire to get the party started.

 I am not a culinary traditionalist by any stretch, and my sinful admission is that I hardly ever make a Christmas pudding! My Christmas desserts have ranged from trifles to cheesecake, to a wild assortment of handmade chocolates. My problem is I never remember in time enough to let the pudding age before it is eaten. The only reason I remembered in sufficient time this year is because I was thinking about my mother’s traditional dessert for this special day, a christmas cake (next year perhaps?) while also walking by a shelf with a bottle of rum on it collecting dust, which she gave me several years earlier.

Christmas table (at my friend Tom’s last year)

She brought it over on one of her visits and we never opened it. When she died I swore to only break the seal if it was for a special reason, and, as I was thinking of how she went “all out” for Christmas I decided it was time to use it as a loving remembrance. That’s when dried fruit soaked in alcohol popped into my head, followed by the thought of a flaming Christmas pudding.

This pudding is a snap to make and you can pretty much bind any kind of fruit into bread crumbs, flour and eggs and it will work. The only inconvenience is that it steams for hours so you are more or less held captive in your kitchen and surrounding area until it is done (great time to read, or clean the bathrooms!).

I encourage you write down my list of ingredients below (take note of the bowl you will need for the pudding to cook in) and make this wonderful fruity, festive dessert for the big day next month. I will be sure to post pictures of my pudding (in full flame) soon after Christmas!

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*The pudding needs to be steamed in a “pudding basin” which is essentially a strong plastic bowl with a fitted lid, or a thin metal “plum pudding mold” which also has a lid. (I could not for the life of me find a pudding bowl anywhere close to me, and in fact got lots of funny looks from shop assistants when I asked. I did manage to find a metal mold which I have never used before, but am confident it will do the job. do not use a mold with a hole in the center.)*

my new metal pudding steamer

*One more point: If you do not want to flambe your pudding, that is totally fine. The process has nothing to do with flavor. It’s all about being dramatic!*

You will need:

1 cup mixture dark raisins, golden raisins & dried cranberries

1/3 cup dried cherries

1/3 cup chopped dried prunes (pitted)

1/3 cup chopped dried dates (pitted)

3/4 cup rum or brandy (I used Bacardi Gold, but any rum will do)

1/2 cup self-raising flour

3/4 cup fine white bread crumbs

1/2 cup, plus 2 tbs vegetable shortening

1 medium apple, peeled and grated

1/2 cup, plus 2 tbs dark brown sugar

zest of 1 orange or lemon (or some of both)

1/2 tsp all-spice

1/4 tsp salt

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup vodka or brandy (to flambe before serving)

decoration for the top (holly, berries or some non-flammable ornament)

Equipment: 1 pudding bowl or mold (see note above in red ) to hold about 4 cups of batter.

Method:

1 – Soak fruit in rum or brandy in a covered container overnight, or up to a week.

mix batter

2 – In a big bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients (except the vodka or brandy) together.

add fruit to batter

3 – Add the fruit and mix well.

cover with wax paper

4 – Turn pudding into greased bowl or mold and place a piece of parchment over the top, before putting on the lid.

cover entire bowl with foil

5 – Cover the whole bowl in tin foil and set in a saucepan of gently boiling water (the water should come halfway up the bowl. Put lid on pot and cook, checking every now and then to see if water needs to be topped up, for 3 1/2 hours.

6 – Remove from pot and allow to cool before removing the tin foil. Leave in the container in a cool dark place (not the fridge) for 3 to 5 weeks. *Some people add a little more alcohol to the pudding every week or so, and you can do this if you like (I don’t as I’m not a big fan of alco-tasting desserts)

christmas-pudding-recipe - Picture of Christmas Pudding

On the day you are serving: re-steam the pudding (wrap in foil again) for another 3 hours. If you want to flambe the pudding for presentation purposes, put the brandy or vodka into a pot and place it on medium heat. Just before it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and set it alight. Immediately pour the flaming liquid over the pudding and serve. Serve warm with custard, brandy butter or fresh cream (recipe for custard and brandy butter will be posted before Christmas!)

Curried Chicken With Dried Cherries (serves 4) & More Fun With My Brother

Curried Chicken With Dried Cherries

Last Friday I paid an overnight visit to my brother’s, and I had so much fun that I decided to do it again! This time however I brought my two kids with me. I set off last week with the relishing thought of being away from everyone, but the honest-to-goodness truth is that I missed them. When I am with my son and my daughter they spur me on to do things I wouldn’t do when alone, like looking for frogs at the pond or going out for ice cream after dinner, and perhaps even turning the car stereo up really loud and singing at the top of my lungs (actually, I will admit to doing that last one solo on many occasions!)

My brother’s back porch

We arrived in the afternoon and after dropping in to my brother’s work place to say “ciao” we headed to the house armed with the ingredients for dinner. I put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge to chill and then off we went to catch frogs.

Anyone for late night badminton?

By the time Pascal arrived home, dinner preparations were in full swing, a movie underway and the bottle of prosecco half drained. I love nothing better than a loud kitchen with lots of happy people milling about amidst the wafting aroma of food. It has the magical effect of making you think everything is alright with the world, and if creating that illusion is a simply matter of preparing dinner I’m all for making the effort every evening that I can.

We ended the day with a riveting game of badminton, and although playing in flip-flops is not recommended, don’t let it stop you for a second!

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*This is also a Blood Type A diet Dinner. if you do not want to use the flour (which is neutral), just omit and you will end up with a lovely, but brothier version*

You will need:

4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

4lb cut-up chicken

1 white onion, large dice (yellow or sweet onion will do also)

3 celery ribs, including leaves, sliced

1/2 lb white mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dried cherries

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 sprigs fresh oregano

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 1/2 tbs madras curry powder (or other aromatic variety)

3 tbs all-purpose flour,

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

Method:

Prep all veggies before you start cooking

1 – Place big all-purpose pan (with lid) on medium/high heat and add the oil. When it is hot, sear the chicken in batches until surface is golden brown. Transfer to a plate as you go.

Sear Chicken in batches

2 – Turn heat down to medium/low and add the garlic, onion and celery. Saute for about 5 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.

Saute onions, garlic & celery

3 – Add the mushrooms, cherries, and herbs and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Add cherries, mushrooms & herbs

4 – Add the curry powder (and bouillon cube if using), and stir for a minute, then add the flour and mix well.

Add curry powder, then flour

5 – Add 1 cup of broth/water and stir well. Continue to add water/broth and turn heat to high. When mixture comes to a bubble, add the chicken in an even layer. Turn heat down to low (a simmer) and cover. Simmer gently for 1 hour.Turn off heat and let everything rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Add liquid

Serve alone, or with a pasta, rice or crusty bread. I served our dinner with tagliatelle (egg noodles) and it was really tasty.

Simmer on stove-top for 1 hour

Another lovely visit

Bread Stuffing with Cherries & Bacon; Maureen & Tess Collaborative (serves 8)

 There are foods that remind us of our childhood, foods that when tasted, make you feel instantly like a little girl or boy again. As I write this I am reminded of the scene from the animated film Ratatouille ( you have to see this, or, if you have, you need to see it again!).

The food critic is being a “food critic” in that he is using his power to either shoot an unknown chef to stardom, or plummet a known chef to the status of “has been”

So, he is presented with the rustic dish, Ratatouille, and is surprised that the restaurant owner would try to impress him with such a lowly entrée, that is, until he tastes it. Hmmmm, when it hits his mouth, he is immediately transported to his grandmother’s house, and he is a seven-year old boy again, and life is good, and he is happy. He becomes sublimely happy, sublimely.

I think of my childhood whenever I attempt to make my mother’s christmas stuffing. She threw it together in a blue basin in our kitchen with such deftness, one would have presumed it was a hum-drum affair. Not so, it was special.

I have never been able to reproduce it, and it is because of this I know that each cook has his or her own special gift, something that comes to them because of how they lived their lives.

She had a touch only she possessed, and I can never capture that taste, no matter how I try.

This Christmas I decided to work with her to make something that involved both of our personalities and experiences. Sadly, she is not here to guide me, but I felt her, every step of the way.

I made her bread stuffing so that my Christmas table would feel familiar to me. I added new ingredients of my own to make something new, something that she would like and approve of, but something that still retained the essence of her recipe.

It was a lovely collaboration, and my kitchen smelled of both of us, the old and the new.

I can see my children puzzling over this recipe in years to come, and perhaps deciding to also add something of themselves to it, something to hand down to their children. I think that would be nice.

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You will need: 6 cups bread crumbs, 2 medium potatoes, 3 tbs unsalted butter, t tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cups milk, 1 cup chicken broth, 1 rib celery, small dice, 1 onion, finely diced, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp Herbes de Provence (this is a mixture of dried thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, lavender, & fennel. It can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets), 1/3 cup dried cherries, 1/2 lb bacon, cut into smaller pieces, 1 tsp sea-salt, freshly cracked black pepper.

Preheat oven 375*

1 – Peel and boil the potatoes until soft. Drain the water and mash with 1 tbs butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 tsp sea-salt, several grinds of black pepper. Set aside.

2 – Fry bacon and set aside.

fry bacon

3 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add 1 tbs butter, and 1 tbs olive oil. Add onions and celery and cook for about 15 minutes, until very soft. Add another tbs of butter, the rest of the milk (1 1/2 cups), chicken broth, herbs and spices, and heat until everything is warm. Add cherries and turn off heat. Set aside.

add milk, herbs & spices

4 – Put breadcrumbs into big bowl and add the cooked potatoes, bacon, and milk mixture. stir it all together (or use your hand, like I did). It should come together into a loose ball. If it is very sticky, add more bread crumbs until you are happy with the consistency. Taste for addition of salt and pepper.

5 – Butter an over proof casserole or pan and add the stuffing. Cover with foil, and bake in oven for 30 minutes.

I presented the stuffing in a beautiful wood-fired bowl by Shawn Ireland

Take out and cool before cutting into triangles or squares. You can also do what I did, and turn the cooked stuffing into a nice dish and set on the table for everyone to help themselves.

*This dish can be made ahead and reheated at 350* for 15 minutes (or until warm). It is also great fried on the pan, and served with eggs or anything else you fancy*

Festive Salad (serves 6-8)

 If you ever panic about having to make salad in a hurry, I am about to rescue you! This is easy, goes with every main dish imaginable, and will look perfectly festive on your dinner table.

Festive Salad

I cheated and bought the greens already mixed, washed and dried. This saved me tons of time, making it possible to put together a salad last minute!

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You will need: 1 lb wild greens (red & green romaine, red & green Chard, baby spinach, radicchio, mustard greens, collards, kale, beet greens, mizuna, frisee…..to name but a few!), roughly chopped into manageable pieces, 1/3  to 1/2 cup dried cherries, 1 1/2 cups diced strong cheddar, (I used a horseradish cheddar which was amazing!), 1 crisp apples, diced (optional), 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tbs good quality balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp sea-salt flakes (I used Maldon), several grinds of freshly cracked black pepper

1 – Put washed and dried salad greens into a bowl and top with cheese, cherries and apples.

2 – Mix oil, balsamic, honey, salt, and pepper together. Taste, and add more balsamic, salt or pepper according to your taste.

Dress salad and toss just before serving.