Before you all shout “it’s much too early to think about Christmas”, I agree with you. Except when it comes to cooking. There are things you can prepare to get ahead and things you simply must make weeks, or even months, beforehand.
For me the Christmas/New Year period is not really a time for trying out new recipes. It gets so busy with the house full and lots of comings and goings that I prefer to stick to tried and tested recipes. We all have our traditions and my family is no exception; our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals do not vary much from year to year. Then for a few days after that most meals comprise leftovers in some form or other. During the whole Christmas period last year there were never fewer than 5 of us in the house and most days we were 7 or 8 with a maximum of 12 of us sitting round the table for the Christmas turkey. In recent years we’ve also stayed at home on New Year’s Eve instead of going to a party and I’ve cooked a special dinner. One year I splashed out on a whole beef fillet which was so popular it has now become our traditional New Year’s Eve meal.
Last year I told you about my Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and I wrote a post about the Norwegian apple cake we always have on Christmas Eve. In the coming weeks I plan to write up a few more of my Christmas recipes and tell you how I’ve adapted them for Aga cooking. I’m starting with braised red cabbage because it’s a delicious accompaniment to many winter dishes and there’s no reason you shouldn’t cook and enjoy it right now. It also freezes brilliantly: I nearly always do this and then defrost it and zap it in the microwave on the day I plan to serve it. This recipe is based on one by Delia Smith.
Braised Red Cabbage
(Pre-heat conventional oven to 150ºC)
- 1 red cabbage
- 1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- About ¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated
- About ¼ tsp ground cinnammon (optional)
- About ¼ tsp ground cloves (optional)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 10 g butter
- Salt and pepper
- Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, quarter it and remove the hard stalk
- Shred each quarter but not too finely
- Place the cabbage in a casserole and mix in the apple, onion, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, nutmeg and other spices if using.
- Pour over the wine vinegar and dot with the butter
- Cover with a lid and place it in the simmering oven for at least four hours; as ever though, it will come to no harm in your Aga if left for longer than that. (Conventional oven: 1½ to 2 hours.)
- Take it out and give it a stir every now and then. It is done when it is tender
Take one red cabbage
And a cooking apple, garlic, onion, nutmeg…
Cut in half then quarter
Add spices, seasoning, apple, onion, garlic, sugar, red wine vinegar
Dot with butter
Four hours later…
It’s that time of year again. I always resist the commercial pressure to start Christmas shopping in September. It infuriates me that Christmas cards and decorations start appearing in the shops in August, throwing everyone into panic, and the more I’m urged to prepare, the less inclined I am to do so. Oh, and no mince pies are allowed in my house until December. But there are some things which it has always been necessary to do a few weeks or months ahead of the event and one of those is baking the Christmas cake. The same goes for the pudding but I must be honest and say I do not always make my own pudding. I’ve found there are excellent ones you can buy. For the last two years I’ve bought a pudding from Bertinet’s in Bath and they’ve gone down well with my family. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about pudding this year; I might try Richard Bertinet’s recipe which is to be found online here. But the Christmas cake has to be homemade and I am always happy to set aside the time to make it.
Since owning my Aga I’ve used the Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe in The Aga Book. It’s delicious and I see no reason to change. She gives quantities for many different cake sizes, square and round. My usual size is the 10″/25cm round cake and that is what I have made this year. As with all fruit cakes, it is best when baked slowly in the simmering oven. I made mine in the afternoon and it was happy to wait in the tin and be placed in the oven at bedtime. This year it took nine hours and last year ten. Am not sure why the timings were different but it’s nothing to worry about.
Here’s the recipe for those of you who haven’t got The Aga Book.
Mary Berry’s Aga Christmas Cake (with a few modifications by me)
You will need a 10″/25cm loose bottomed or springform sturdy cake tin, greased and the base and sides lined (I used bake-o-glide)
- 675g currants
- 450g sultanas
- 225g raisins
- 450g glacé cherries
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- 300ml sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
- 350g butter, softened
- 350g dark brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 100g self-raising flour
- 225 plain flour
- 100g blanched, chopped almonds
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- Rinse, dry and quarter the cherries
- Put all the fruit and orange zest in a container, pour over the sherry and give it a stir
- Cover with a lid or a couple of layers of tightly sealed clingfilm and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily
- Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and chopped almonds into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid) and beat well
- Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended
- Stir in the soaked fruit and sherry
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level out evenly
- Bake in the simmering oven for about 9 hours, but keep an eye on it at the 8 hour point. It is done when a warm skewer comes out clean
- Leave to cool in the tin then turn it out, feed it (see below) and wrap it. I like using parchment lined foil for this (from Lakeland)
On a weekly basis from now on you are going to need to feed your cake: take a darning needle and pierce the cake all over, top and bottom; drizzle over a couple of teaspoons of sherry, let it sink in and then turn the cake over and do the same on the other side. Then wrap the cake and place it inside a (large!) airtight container.
About a week before Christmas I ice my cake with marzipan. I usually buy it but have been known to make my own; homemade is definitely better but sometimes I go for the quicker option. Once the almond icing has dried out, after a few days, I place the final layer of icing on my cake; invariably on Christmas Eve. For this I use ready-to-roll fondant icing. I do not make my own.
My husband took photos and I added captions to some to indicate the different stages.
First soak your fruit for three days
Grease and line your tin
In your bowl put butter…
Add flours, mixed spice and mix
and black treacle
until it looks like this
Fold in the fruit…
Turn mixture into your prepared tin
It’s done. Leave to cool
Turn it out and place on foil like this
Pierce all over
Feed then wrap
And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December:
Just a quick post today to tell you about my scrumptious spinach soup. I have an autumnal cold and while I’m not feeling particularly unwell, it is nevertheless uncomfortable and annoying. At 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon I realised I was hungry but had not planned anything for lunch. Some hot, soothing soup was all I could think about but did not have any in the house. Anyway, I really don’t like shop-bought soups: I find they’re over-flavoured, mainly of onion, and that this flavour lingers at the back of the mouth for hours afterwards.
So I made spinach soup. First, I took a medium-sized potato, peeled and diced it and sweated it in butter for about 15 minutes (simmering oven). Then I added 450g frozen spinach (I didn’t happen to have any fresh spinach in the house; this soup was not planned) and lots of salt and pepper and let this cook for another 10 minutes or so before adding 500ml of chicken stock. It was fortuitous that I’d made lots of stock the previous day, but I expect a stock cube or some Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder would have done the job too. I grated in some nutmeg, brought it all to simmering point and let it cook (in the simmering oven) for another 15 minutes. I took it out and let it cool for a few minutes before blending it in the pan using my handheld blender. I then checked the seasoning and temperature and ladled some into a mug, drizzled on a little cream and voilà.
One of the reasons I haven’t blogged much lately is that I’m unhappy with the photos I’ve taken of what I’ve cooked. I read so many beautiful blogs and food websites that I’m sometimes embarrassed to include my pathetic iPhone camera efforts. Since I’m not particularly interested in photography (unless someone else is taking the photos), I might just have to overcome the shame and carry on regardless.
My next post will probably be about Christmas cake. Too early, you might say, but you’d be wrong.