Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Cooking

When I was in London earlier this month, a friend of mine proffered a cake after our dinner at her digs. But this was no ordinary cake; it was a deliciously zesty, damp clementine cake. I came to know that it was one of Nigella’s recipes, precisely this one. So the other day I set to boil my clementines for two hours solid and ended up with my very own cake, one that I dusted with icing sugar and which I am currently enjoying one slice at a time. The good thing about this, and uncharacteristically for Nigella, is that there is no flour and, horror of all horrors, no butter in it. It’s the almonds that make it so moreish and damn tasty and if that makes you feel a tad more virtuous as you tuck in it, all the better.

Next, and seeing that Rick is extremely fond of Costa’s own caramel shortbread, which, quite frankly, I find about as appealing as a slab of polystyrene with a whack of melted sugar on top, I digged out Nigella’s own version from How To Be A Domestic Goddess (which appears right here), and ended up with absolutely delightful shortcakes with perfect caramel and nice, thick dark choco set on top. The recipe is microwave-centric, which means that, not only are you supposed to melt the chocolate in it (still, my double-boiler is no great hardship), but you’re also expected to make the caramel in seven minutes flat.

Well, I live in the middle ages dear friends. I own no microwave. So I proceeded to melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat, then added the can of condensed milk and the four tablespoons of Golden Syrup. Then I tended to the pan which started simmering, barely, half an hour or so later. I then continued to stir very gently and on the lowest heat possible, for another hour and a half. Yes, that’s right, if you haven’t got a microwave oven, it will take two hours to caramelise this concoction of butter, condensed milk and Golden Syrup, but it’s so worth it in the end. Proceed unafraid but know that, although it does start browning after an hour, it won’t be ready until it has thickened considerably, reduced in volume and has cooked for a long time.

As I await to uncork the Cliquot, I’ve been sustaining myself with lots of sugary goodness, from pandoro to chocolate panettone, from caramel shortbreads to clementine cake, from brownies to chocolate biscuits and then some. I fear that, come tomorrow, not even my hairband will fit me any longer. But what the hell, happy 2011 anyway!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning The Leaf

Frosty morning

I’ve never been more skimpy in keeping track of everyday ongoings than this year. Then again, I also run another site about writing where I posted almost two hundred times since February, so I guess that I’ve been writing as normal, really. But, deep down, I do know that I refrained from updating my online diary too often because I didn’t want a permanent memory of what happened in 2010. It was my annus horribilis, no contest, so much so that I threw away the calendars over a week ago and I shall also consign my diary to the recycling bin, something I’ve never done in my entire life.

Fortnum cappuccino with tiny ice-cream

Fortnum Christmas window 2010

Feeding seagulls in Knutsford on Boxing Day

December itself, however, was a pretty good month, as it brought about the changes I had been chasing for a long time and because I was in London for a while, made some new friends, and cooked quite a bit also. In fact, this afternoon I was in the kitchen for four hours solid, during which I produced carrots trifolate, white cabbage in tomato sauce and a rather mouth-watering caramel shortbread that is currently setting in the fridge. Oh and the other day I made a clementine cake that is to die for, as most of Nigella’s recipes are.

At the Natural History Museum, London

Nativity in Beauchamp Place

Harrods Christmas window 2010

Christmas was subdued but on Boxing Day, which also happens to be my nameday, as it is St Stephen’s Day, I went to Knutsford and fed the birds at the moor. How fantastic to see them swarm above my head (and at my feet), hankering after some bread! It was all frozen and they needed food desperately. Talking of frozen, the weather was completely fabulous up until a few days ago when the air turned, the temperature soared way above zero and now it is all foggy and damp and nothing special. I miss the sharp, blue mornings immensely, but I can live in hope that winter will bring more arctic days in the very near future. And I guess that tomorrow I shall post some of the recipes I’ve been doing...

A Crimbo cappuccino

My upside-down Christmas tree
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