Friday, 16 December 2011

Good things come in small packages

jamon and tarts.jpg

Growing up in England, our end of year excesses were confined to Christmas and the New Year. This year in Chicago, i find myself recovering from a 4 day weekend of lavishness, the crowning glory of which had to be the brined and roasted organic turkey, or was it the sage, sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing, but surely the pecan pie takes first place or perhaps it was the sneaky cheese course.....Regardless, the advent of my first Thanksgiving in Chicago has led me to rekindle some festive childhood memories from afar. There were always an array of salted and sweet snacks, from nuts to hand dipped chocolate gingers which I'd make with mum once school was over, and a centrepiece - a Stilton (with the requisite bottle of Port wine for the adults). Assuming you’ve decked the halls and made some headway into your yuletide preparations, you may be planning on welcoming friends into your home and sharing food and drink: what better way to elevate your spirits.

As we creep towards the end of the year I'm surprised at the collection of treats I have to hand from the garden. As recently as early November I was harvesting tomatoes. Some of the ever abundant cherry variety made it into the oven to be dried and then neatly packed away in olive oil and herbs for later. Herbs reside in the freezer and will be used daily to flavour dishes. Chilli peppers, both red and green, made it into chilli jam perfectly flecked with the colors of Christmas, and make a gloriously spicy accompaniment to cheese. If you don’t have a glowing log fire to warm you from the outside, then the chilli will do the job from the inside.

Thinking of my heritage led me to produce some slightly retro cheesy numbers, moreish mouthfuls to wash down with a glass of festive fizz (try adding pomegranate concentrate to a fizzy white such as Bele Casel Prosecco), or mull some red wine with spices and orange.

Bitesize stitchelton tarts - the blue and gooey affair - a cheat’s pastry basket filled with stichelton dip and baked.

blue cheese tart.jpg
Makes approx 24

12 slices white bread
butter for spreading
6oz stichelton (crumbled)
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
worcestershire sauce

1. Using a rolling pin, flatten out the slices of bread, then butter on both sides. Using a 2 ½” cookie cutter cut out 2 pieces from each slice, and push into a muffin tray (i use individual silicon moulds).
2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and spoon approx 1tspn of the mixture into the bread moulds.
3. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Cheese and Chilli - the warm and spicy one - goats cheese warm from the oven drizzled with homemade jalapeno jelly. Scoop it up on pieces of artisan crackers which stand up to being dipped. You could give remaining jars of jelly as a Christmas gift (or keep it in the fridge all for yourself)

Prairie Fruits Farm chevre frais 6 oz pot
Jalapeno Jelly (see recipe below)

Warm the goats cheese in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove and spoon a generous helping of jelly over the top. Serve immediately with crackers for dipping.

Jalapeno Jelly

Makes approx 5 cups or 5 x ½lb jars

¾ lb jalapeno peppers
2 cups cider vinegar, divided
6 cups sugar
2 (3 ounce) envelopes liquid pectin

1. Remove stems and seeds from jalapenos, puree in food processor with half the cider vinegar
2. Combine puree, remaining cider vinegar, and sugar in large saucepan. Bring
to a boil; boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Stir in liquid pectin. Return to a rolling boil and boil hard 1 minute, stirring
constantly. Remove from heat.
4. Skim foam, if necessary, and stir in a few drops of food coloring, if desired.
5. Ladle hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust 2 piece caps.
If you want to ensure preservation for more than 2 months then process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Parmesan, walnut and rosemary crackers - the nutty, salty one - a twist on an old favourite. Eat by themselves, any leftovers can be used in salads or as croutons in soups.

Makes approx 50

1 cup/4 oz all-purpose flour
4 tbsp/2 oz chilled butter
½ cup/2 oz grated Parmesan (or Podda)
1 cup/4oz toasted walnuts, finely chopped
2 tspn dried rosemary (double the amount if using fresh)
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper
1 egg
milk for brushing

1. Toast the walnuts in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
2. Rub the butter into the flour in a bowl until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the cheese, walnuts, rosemary,salt and pepper and mix. Add the egg and bring the dough together. If it’s too dry add a tspn of cold water. Once the egg is absorbed, knead the dough lightly until it comes together and forms a ball. Shape into logs 1” across, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut into ¼ “ slices. Place on the baking sheet and brush with milk.

5.  Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a rack to cool.

A Mediterranean mouthful - the meaty, fruity choice - Oven dried cherry tomato and slivers of marinated garlic enveloped in Jamon Serrano.

Makes approx 24

8 slices of Jamon Serrano
24 halves oven dried tomatoes (see below for recipe)
3 cloves marinated garlic

Lay out your slices of ham and tear 2” pieces, wrap around an oven dried cherry tomato and a sliver of marinated garlic (optional). Skewer with a small stick of rosemary.

Oven dried tomatoes

Makes one ½ lb jar

Cherry tomatoes (1 small box)
Whole gloves of garlic, unpeeled
Olive oil
Mediterranean herbs

Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each tomato crosswise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside–this could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes.

Use them straight away or pack in a jar with the garlic and herbs, cover with olive oil to jazz up pizza or sandwiches.

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