domingo, 20 de diciembre de 2009

Dickens, six pence and a London pudding

Christmas pudding has that special Dickensian” touch that takes you back to old England, although there are reports coming as far back as the xv century. Legend has it that on the last Sunday before the beginning of the Advent, families returning from church started to make the Christmas pudding as it follows, they used t take turns to stir, and make a wish while ding it, that’s why it’s called “stir-up Sunday” They used to “bury” a sixpence coin in the pudding for the one who found would be lucky for a year.

One of the things I like the most of the English Christmas is the Christmas crackers, (we don't have these in Spain) like a beautiful candy wrapped beautiful packet that you and the person sitting next to you at the Christmas table have to pull to open it up, you then hear the cracker and an array of presents comes from inside, there is usually a paper hat (and yes, you HAVE to wear it) a quiz or a joke and a small present (how it is it ends on how much money you spent in the Christmas crackers) If you can't find the suet in the recipe, you can use butter.

Christmas in England is very different from the one in Spain, firstly and on the night of the 24th we gather and celebrate (with food, of course). This is called Nochebuena, or Goodnight, and is like a preparation of what it’s coming ahead of us. The 25this the unwrapping of the presents as well, and more food to celebrate Christmas Day, the 26th is a St Stephen and we celebrate this, as well as the night of the 31st, (big time of course) when after the meal, we sit with a bowl containing 12 grapes, and at midnight and with every stroke of the clock we eat one, after another, very focused, and thinking about what will next year bring and making a wish with every grape, 12 grapes, 12 months, and these are called the Lucky grapes. Everybody in Spain does this, and we can’t imagine a New Year’s Eve without them...


300g fresh white breadcrumbs

100g self-raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ whole nutmeg, very finely grated

350g raisins

100g mixed peel

50g flaked almonds

250g suet

225g demerara sugar

225g sultanas

225g currants

2 carrots, peeled and very finely grated

2 cooking apples, peeled and very finely grated

Wet ingredients

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 small wine glass of brandy

2 tbsp black treacle

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Fort the brandy butter

150 g softened butter

150 icing sugar

4 0r 5 tablespoons brandy


Put the breadcrumbs in the biggest mixing bowl you can find. sieve the flour into the bowl with the mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then add the remaining dry ingredients, up to and including the grated apples. Combine all the wet ingredients in a jug. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and mix together, from east to west, with a big wooden spoon. Take it in turns to give it a stir, close your eyes and make a wish.

    Cover the bowl with a clean, damp cloth and leave overnight. . Butter 2 x 1.2-litre pudding basins and spoon the mix into them. Place a disc of baking paper on top of the puddings, then seal with a big sheet of baking paper with a central pleat, to allow expansion. Cover with a cotton or muslin cloth and tie with string or foil. Steam for 6 hours in steamers, or in pans with simmering water that reaches two-thirds up the sides of the basins – be sure to keep the water topped up. Remove and allow to cool.

      When cool, re-cover the basins and store in a cool, dry place. On Christmas day, or the day you’re going to eat the puddings, steam for another 1-2 hours. Turn the pudding onto a plate, then pour 75ml of brandy into a ladle and carefully warm over a low heat for 1 minute or so. Light the brandy using a long match and tip over the pudding just before serving. Serve with the brandy butter or custard.

        And happy Christmas everyone...

        martes, 15 de diciembre de 2009

        Cranberry and fig loaf, of course, it's Christmas!

        Ina Garten is one of my favourite cookery authors, and not because of what she cooks and her recipes, but because how she cooks it, with such elegance and charm. I even like the way she arranges a table centre piece, this woman knows what she does, and even more after quitting her job at the White House and focus in her food related career. She enjoys spoiling her guests, same here, she absolutely adores French cuisine, me too, she has a huge and impressive house...not me.

        This recipe is called “Cranberry harvest muffins” and comes from one of her books, but I converted it into a cake. Cranberries acidity is gracefully offset by the mix of the castor and brown sugar and it gives the cake that spice and lovely touch.

        You can find cranberries everywhere in the USA and England at this time of the year, but if you can’t wherever you live, just use some raspberries, blueberries, or even blackberries. The glaze is optional but I really love the shiny finish and sweet looks.


        3 cups all-purpose flour
        1 tablespoon baking powder
        1/2 teaspoon baking soda
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
        2 teaspoons ground ginger
        1 1/4 cups whole milk
        2 extra-large eggs
        1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
        1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
        1/2 cup medium-diced figs
        3/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
        3/4 cup brown sugar
        3/4 cup granulated sugar


        Preheat the oven to 180degrees.Grease and flour a 30x12cms rectangular cake tin.
        Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the milk, eggs, and melted butter. Stir quickly just to combine. Add the cranberries, figs, hazelnuts, and both sugars and stir just to distribute the fruits, nuts, and sugar evenly throughout the batter.
        Spoon the batter into he cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned on the top and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before placing in a cooling rack. Best served the next day, so the flavours develop.

        martes, 8 de diciembre de 2009

        Humitas from the bottom of the earth

        It’s not the first time I praise Latin American food and all its qualities, for its flavour, delicious ingredients and colours. If you think about it, we couldn’t live without all the ingredients that Latina America has given us, and still is, like the tomato, the chilli, the potato, vanilla, turkey, avocado, beans, pumpkin, custard apple, quinoa, pineapple, peanuts, achiote, and of course, chocolate! Thanks so much, Mexico!

        I tried Humitas on my first trip to Chile, and was gob smacked by its simplicity, and yet lovely flavour and presence. It’s presented as a firm closed little parcel.
        There is a different version for each country the one I am presenting here is the Chilean one, but you have Humitas in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. The noun “Humitas” derives from quechua, the language if the Incas. Tamales are related to Humitas and they are lovely and delicious as well. You can serve Humitas with a salad or a homemade tomato sauce.

        I don’t like to process the sweetcorn that much, I like to see some of the pieces, but you can ground them as much as like. The husks are perfect for wrapping the filling, if you cant get hold of them, you can use the ones they sell for the tamales ( you will have to previously soak them in water) , or even kitchen foil, it’s not the same, but it helps...
        The filing is made out from ground sweetcorn and a mixture of onion and basil surrounds you with a lovely smell, then there’s no way back, you fall in love with these little ones, and want to eat them, devour them and learn to make them.


        6 pieces of corn in husks
        1 tablespoon turmeric
        2 tablespoon olive oil or lard
        2 small chillies chopped (optional)
        1 cup of milk
        Small bunch fresh basil, chopped
        1 onion finely chopped
        Salt and pepper


        Remove the kernels of the corn with a knife and reserve the husks.
        Fry the onion in the oil or lard until translucent, add the chillies if you are using them, the basil the salt and pepper.

        Place the sweetcorn in a food processor, and put them in a saucepan, add the onion and basil mixture and the cup of milk. Cook this over a low heat until it thickens. If you see it doesn’t add more milk.

        Now we need to make the parcels, to do this place to husks overlapped and place two tablespoons of the mixture in the middle. For the packet by folding the bottom, the sides and the top, tie with a cooking string or a husk strip.

        Half fill a saucepan with salted water and place the humitas when it boils, close with a lid and cook for an hour. Place them in a sieve and let them rest for 5 minutes to drain the excess liquid. Serve with scissors...