ALL set for Christmas? I hope so but if you’re not, let me cheer you up… neither am I and despite all my good advice, I’m still whizzing around gathering up bits and pieces and trying to wrap some last minute pressies.
It’s the wrapping that usually scuppers me in the end. Once again this brings memories flooding back, Mummy always waited until everyone else had shared their presents on Christmas, then she’d gather up all the wrapping paper and ribbons and disappear to embellish her gifts.
Only two sleeps away now from that ‘phew’ moment when Christmas is over for another year. I love that huge sense of relief that washes over me, when the pressure is off and expectations revert to more or less normal, and better still I get to have fun transforming the leftovers into innovative deliciousness. It’s scary to think that 30% of all the food bought over Christmas is likely to end up in the bin at a time when so many people not far away from any of us are homeless or in need. I don’t want to pile on the guilt but at least we can use up every scrap. There are a million ways to do this, often by adapting familiar recipes. Concentrate on the fresh and perishable foods first. Leftover cranberry sauce keeps for at least several weeks, if not months, fresh berries can of course be frozen, even if they were already frozen (it won’t improve them but they won’t be a health hazard), alternatively throw a fistful in muffins or scones, a pound cake or add to salads.
A Christmas cake, stored in an airtight container will keep for weeks, and if you get fed up of it crumble a bit into vanilla ice-cream or try frying a slice gently in butter, like left over plum pudding. Eat it with a dollop of brandy butter, melting over the top. The latter keeps for ages and is delicious slathered onto warm scones or over mincemeat and Bramley apple tart.
Mincemeat also has a long shelf life so no urgency there either. Wait until a frosty day in February to make a mincemeat bread and butter pudding.
So I’ll concentrate on the non-perishable items that need to be enjoyed within a couple of days and suggest a few comforting dishes.
Sprouts certainly need to be used up and be sure to save the turkey carcass for a fine pot of stock to use for the best turkey broth ever.
Turkey, Ham and Chickpea Stew with Fresh Spices
Drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and cook until tender, this can take anything from 30-60 minutes depending on the quality. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Meanwhile remove the seeds from the chilli and grind to a paste in a pestle and mortar or food processor with the ginger and garlic.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan, sweat the onion until soft but not coloured, add the chilli paste together with the crushed cumin and the coriander seeds. Cook for a minute or two, then add the peeled and chopped or tinned tomatoes, the drained chickpeas and a little of the cooking liquid (save the rest for soup). Simmer gently for about 50 minutes until the flavours have mingled, add the chopped cooked turkey and ham and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes or until hot. Taste, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with lots of freshly chopped coriander and mint and serve immediately.
Delicious served either with plain boiled rice and Tomato, Red Onion and Coriander Salsa or cold with yoghurt, crème fraîche and lots of fresh coriander and mint leaves.
Cranberry Scones and Blue Cheese Butter
Blue Cheese Butter:
A delicious way to use the scraps of blue cheese in your fridge, this blue cheese butter is also great melting over a steak.
Fresh cranberries can also be added to sweet scones but increase the sugar by 25g (1oz).
First fully preheat your oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
To make the blue cheese butter:
Crumble the blue cheese, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends. Chill or freeze until needed.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Add the cranberries. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface. Wash and dry your hands. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1.5in (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Tomato and Coriander Salsa
To make the salsa, mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.
Irresistible Cheese Croquettes
A brilliant way to use the scraps of cheese you find in the drawer of your fridge - you can use a little blue but not too much, cheddar and harder cheese are best. Everyone including the kids will be begging for more, but they are also a huge success when served as a hot and tasty bite at a drinks party.
Makes 25 - 30, depending on size Accompaniment: Ballymaloe Country Relish or the Tomato and Red Pepper and Tomato Chutney from my column last week.
Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time. Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go. Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere. (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less.)
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spread out on a wide plate to cool.
When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx. Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and then in fine breadcrumbs. Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst. Just before serving, heat a deep fry to 150°C/300°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.
Note: Cooked Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.
A posh variation: Cheese and Truffle Croquettes: Add 1-2 tablespoons of white truffle oil to the mixture with the cheese and proceed as above.
Surprise Mac ‘N’ Cheese
Macaroni cheese is a terrific base for extra bits. Here we add smoked mackerel or salmonbut leftover turkey or ham are also delicious added to a bubbly macaroni.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick. Cook until just soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile melt the butter, add the flour and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the macaroni, bring back to the boil, stir in the smoked fish, taste, correct seasoning and serve.
Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked. Turn into a pie dish, sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Reheat in an oven — 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. It is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.
Top Tip: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce. Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.
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