Somehow, it’s almost Christmas and it’s time to start thinking about long summer days, celebrations and relaxing for a little while.
And perhaps relaxing ought to be the most important thing to think about in the run-up to Christmas. The commercial frenzy can be avoided by family consent, and the obsession with cooking for a small army, when you know there’s only going to be you, the kids, grandma and grandad and the cousins from Invercargill, needs some serious thought before you commit yourself to hours in front of the stove and lots of panicking about table settings and home decorating. Celebrations are mostly about the people rather than the trappings, and the people tend to be a lot happier about the whole thing if they aren’t feeling stressed and put-upon.
So, how do you go about having a low-stress festive season? Start with the bank balance if that’s the biggest stress point, and just as an example, decide to do utterly silly presents with a $10 limit for purchase or construction. You can make voucher books for your nearest and dearest, entitling them to things like “One lazy day when requested: all cooking and cleaning taken care of, no obligations to fulfill, to be redeemed at any time of need before next Christmas” or “One trip to the park to play silly games and fly kites, on request”… You’ll know the kinds of things that make your family and friends smile! If you sew or knit, make someone a toy or a scarf, or a tea-cosy, or anything small that they might enjoy. If you can paint or do calligraphy, make them a picture and buy an op-shop frame for it. If you’re a gardener, make them a planter box with pretty flower seedlings or a range of salad veges.
Once you’ve got the gifts dealt with, how about the food? We still seem to have failed to realise it’s summer here at Christmas time and quite likely many families would be delighted not to wade through roast anything, or steamed puddings. The nicest option, if you have a wider family, might be a pot-luck Christmas dinner, eaten outside if it’s fine or under any available shelter if it’s not. Just make sure you organise the contributions ever so slightly into sweet and savoury beforehand so you don’t find yourself with fifteen salads and a trifle and nothing else… Of course if you’re possessed of a barbecue and a keen barbecue cook, let them go for it and sort the meaty parts, while everyone else deals with the trimmings and desserts. And if you and your family genuinely enjoy the traditional Christmas feast then make the most of it: just see if you can divide up the labour so everyone gets a turn stirring things in the kitchen rather than having the chief cook emerge frazzled and grumpy after hours of dealing with far too many things at once. And maybe consider limiting the alcohol. New Zealand celebrations often turn to fiascos as someone forgets how much damage they can do both verbally and physically when they overstep their alcohol tolerance. It’s a great place to cut back the expense if you are on a tight budget, and if you’ve got good food and good company, a glass of wine or a beer is going to be quite adequate – you don’t need the whole bottle or a crate all of your own. And there are non-alcoholic alternatives that taste really good and will appeal to children as well.
So to finish, here are a few easy festive season recipes that might go well on a relaxed, sunny day with your friends and family.
Chocolate mousse without the raw eggs! This is very nice indeed.
- 1 ½ cups cream
- 110g chocolate, chopped
- 30ml boiling water
- 1 tsp instant coffee
- ½ Tbsp gelatine
- 40ml (2 ½ Tbsp) sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
Combine ½ cup cream and the chocolate in a saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until smooth.
Remove from heat.
In a bowl, stir the instant coffee into the boiling water until dissolved, then add the gelatine and stir until dissolved.
Stir the coffee mix into the chocolate mix until smooth.
Cool to room temperature.
Beat remaining 1 cup of cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff.
Stir about ½ cup of the whipped cream into the chocolate mix to lighten it.
Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Raspberry Cordial (Anne of Green Gables)
This is wonderful stuff and worth growing a raspberry patch for. It comes from an Internet cookery page and hails originally from The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate MacDonald
- 500g raspberries, fresh if possible but frozen will do
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 4 cups boiling water
- 2 lemons
In a saucepan add sugar to raspberries and cook until soft and the sugar is dissolved.
Mash the mixture thoroughly, then add the strained juice of two lemons and add the 4 cups of boiling water.
Strain through cheesecloth in a sieve. The mix will need further dilution for drinking but can be stored frozen in its current state, then thawed as needed and diluted.
This is a very wicked version of the old melted chocolate and broken biscuits thing that everyone made at school. But it’s better and full of all sorts of naughty tasty things.
- 200g broken biscuits (you can make it gluten free by using gluten free biscuits).
- 180g dark chocolate
- 20g butter
- 1/3 cup crystallized ginger
- 1/3 cup sultanas
- 1/3 cup dried apricots
- Finely grated rind of one orange or tangelo
- 1 cup dessert almonds
- 1 Tbsp sherry or other alcohol of your choice (optional)
Put the biscuits, apricots, ginger and sultanas in the food processor and chop until fine.
Add the citrus rind and nuts and chop. There should still be nut lumps visible.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
Add the biscuit mix to the melted chocolate mix and stir well.
If adding sherry or other alcohols, add now, and mix well.
Place in a round spring form pan (about 20 to 23 cm is good) and press down very firmly all over (use the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass).
Place in the fridge until set, then remove the springform side. The flat chocolate slab can be prised gently off the base and presented as you see fit. Cut into VERY thin slices and serve with coffee or tea. It is extremely rich but very enjoyable.
For those of you with long memories, you might just recognise this as a rather drastic modification of “Sri Wasano’s Infamous Rice Salad” from the Moosewood Cookbook of old. The original quantities of oil have been severely reduced and some other quantities have also been modified, but it still has a lovely flavour!
- Cook 2 cups brown rice (preferably the medium grain calrose sort) in boiling water, rinse and then steam briefly or microwave briefly to reheat when you are preparing the salad.
- 2 Tbsp olive or other good quality cooking oil
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1/3 cup orange or tangelo juice (preferably squeeze your own fresh – it tastes much better!)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 cup crushed pineapple in its own juice
Add the hot rice to the sauce mixture given above. It will look all wet and horrible, but the hot rice soaks up the liquid – honest!
Allow this mix to cool in the fridge (covered), and prior to serving, add whatever you like of:
- 2-3 finely chopped spring onions
- 1 stalk finely chopped celery
- 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup roast nuts
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 finely sliced red or green pepper
- Any other vegetables you enjoy in your salads!
Lemon and Caper Chicken
This really is the ultimate in easiness, and it tastes great. Get the children into the kitchen to do this one!
For 4 serves:
- 2 Tbsp oil plus a small knob of butter, for frying
- 700g chicken tenders or chicken breasts, cut in half to make them thinner
- 4 Tbsp capers
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice
Heat the oil and butter until the butter has melted
Add chicken pieces and cook 3 to 4 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through (test by cutting a piece open with a knife)
Add capers and lemon juice and stir until warmed through.
This goes well with a baked potato, and either a salad or steamed green beans.
This is really, really easy, and delicious.
- ½ cup sherry
- ¼ cup gluten-free soy sauce
- 1 ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 500g chicken breast, skinned, boned and cut into 4cm thick strips
- Vegetable oil to cook
Mix sherry, soy sauce, sugar and ¼ cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
Heat a large, heavy-based frying pan with enough oil to just cover the base. When hot, add chicken pieces and sear quickly on all sides. Reduce heat slightly and cook until meat is done.
Remove meat from pan and add sauce mix to pan. Bring to the boil, then add meat pieces and cook over medium-high heat, turning often, until chicken is well glazed with sauce.
Cut the meat diagonally and serve on white rice with a green salad.
Chicken and Barbeque Sauce
Ideal quick and easy holiday food, which tastes delicious!
To serve 4:
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 25g butter
- 30ml cooking oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 300ml tomato sauce (homemade if you have it, or else use a low-salt commercial one)
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 150ml water
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
Melt the butter with the oil in an electric frypan or a large lidded frying pan
Gently fry the onions for a few minutes.
Add the halved chicken breasts and fry til browned, turning occasionally.
Add all other ingredients, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through (20 to 30 minutes)
For those who still fancy a roast for Christmas, this works a treat with even the cheapest and potentially toughest roasts. The flavourings can be varied according to the meat and your preferences, but the basic technique works with pretty much anything. And you can abandon it in the oven for hours without wrecking it!
As a basic basting mix for any meat, try the following:
- 1 Tbsp butter, melted
- ½ Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp gluten free soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp cooking sherry
Mix these together and pour over your piece of meat in a roasting pan.
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Place the meat, basted, in the oven and frazzle it for 25-30 minutes. Check near the end of the time to make sure you aren’t totally incinerating the juices, but they should be almost dried and quite dark.
Remove from the heat and pour about 200ml of water round the meat into the dish (avoid pouring it over the meat itself).
Cover the roasting dish tightly with aluminium foil and reduce the heat to 130°C.
Cook for several hours (usually 4 to 6) until the meat is very tender. If it was on a bone to start with it should be dropping off it!
Transfer the meat to a dish, cover and keep warm while you prepare the gravy.
Depending on the type of meat there may be a considerable amount of fat which has drained off the meat and into the liquid in the pan. The easiest approach to this is to pour the liquid contents of the pan into a glass jug and wait a minute or two for the fat/oil to rise to the surface. Skim off as much of it as you can using a ladle or similar.
Return the defatted liquid to a saucepan and add a similar quantity of water to it.
Make up a thin paste of 4 Tbsp white rice flour with 2 tsp salt in water. Make sure this is very smooth and well mixed and then add it to the meat juices in the saucepan.
Bring to the boil and allow to thicken. If the sauce is too thick, add more water. If too thin, add a little more rice flour in water.
Serve with roast vegetables and steamed beans or peas or other green vegetables
These are totally gluten-free by nature and are beautiful as gifts. They are also unbelievably simple to make.
- 2 cups ground almonds (almond flour)
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 egg whites
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160-170°C and line two baking trays with BAKING PAPER. This is vital – they will stick otherwise.
Mix the almonds and sugar together in a large bowl.
Lightly whisk together the vanilla and egg whites.
Blend the egg mix into the dry ingredients.
Using a teaspoon, place small mounds of the dough onto the prepared trays, allowing about 3cm space between each heap because they spread during cooking.
Bake at 160 to 170°C on fan bake if possible. If using an electric oven, keep to the lower temperature. Keep a close eye on them the first time you make them because ovens very and you can burn them if the temperature is too high.
Normally it should take 25 to 30 minutes for the biscuits to turn a light golden brown.
Turn the oven off and allow the biscuits to cool in the oven for about an hour. They should be crisp right through when cooled.
Store in an airtight tin for as long as you can manage. They usually disappear fast!