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
As I confessed in my recent Christmas Cake post here I don’t always do a homemade Christmas pudding. After writing that, it struck me that this was really very lazy of me. “Call yourself a cook?” I asked myself, and resolved there and then to make one this year and every year. Honestly, it’s so incredibly easy and quick to make and doesn’t involve sophisticated baking skills.
The first thing you need to do is find a recipe. The one I recommend is this one by Bertinet’s in Bath. I’ve also bought Bertinet’s puddings in the past so when I found this recipe I was confident it would be delicious. I’ve also made Delia’s pudding (pretty sure you’ll find it online if you haven’t got her wonderful, and in my case much used, Christmas book) and one by the great Nigel Slater. My preference will always be not to mess about with the recipe and to stick to traditional ingredients, but if you fancy trying something a bit different, there are plenty of suggestions out there. For me, part of the beauty of preparing the Christmas meal is that it is the same (more or less) every year. With all that’s going on at that time of year, and the many tasks that need to be done, it takes the pressure off if you are not having to think up a new, imaginative menu on top of everything else.
So back to my pudding. You will see from the photos that I could not fit all my mixture in the recommended 2 pint basin and ended up with an additional small pudding; I intend to give this as a gift to the hostess of a party we’ve been invited to.
You will need a 2 pint pudding basin (and maybe an additional small basin – see above)
200g seedless raisins
60g glacé cherries
60g chopped candied peel
90g blanched almonds, sliced into slivers
½ cooking apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
½ carrot, peeled and grated
Zest and juice of half an orange
Zest and juice of half a lemon
115g finely chopped suet
115g plain flour
60g white bread or brioche crumbs
115 soft brown sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ nutmeg, grated
½ tsp salt
½ can Guinness
2 tbsps brandy
Put all the ingredients, apart from the orange and lemon juices, brandy, Guinness and eggs, into a large bowl and mix thoroughly
In a separate bowl beat the eggs until frothy and add the orange and lemon juices, Guinness and brandy
Add to the mixture in the other bowl and mix thoroughly until all incorporated
Fill your basin with the mixture and place a circle of greaseproof paper on top
Place in the fridge for at least 12 hours but up to 48 hours
Steaming: one way
Cover the pudding with clingfilm and then take a saucepan which holds the pudding basin and make sure you can fit the lid on
Place the pudding in it and pour in water about half way up the basin
Bring this to the boil on the boiling plate
Check the water level, put the lid on or cover with foil and place in the simmering oven to “steam” for at least 12 hours. Do it overnight and you will wake up to a heavenly Christmas-y aroma
Steaming: another (even easier) way
I recently discovered that even this initial steaming can be done in the Aga simmering oven without using any water at all. This is thanks to Sarah Whitaker, the all round Aga guru. All you do is cover the basin in foil or clingfilm and place it at the back of the simmering oven for 12 hours or overnight
Leave the pudding to cool in its clingfilm
You could then wrap it in muslin and tie it with string as you can see in the photo above. Foil or extra clingfilm would be fine; I just think it looks pretty (and traditional) in the muslin
On Christmas Day all you have to do is put the basin, wrapped in foil, in the simmering oven for four hours. How easy is that?