This festive season calls for all types of dishes to suit different occasions. So, as well as a couple of quick and inexpensive foodie gift ideas, I have also included a really trouble free, wholesome cassoulet and a warming mulled cider, perfect for a winter gathering or to welcome you back from a snowy walk. E.L.
Chocolate and Orange Truffles (Makes about 30 truffles)
A Christmas treat that is easy to make and always a pleasure to receive. Present these rich and luscious truffles in individual petit fours cases (available online or from Lakeland) or wrap loosely in a cone of gold tissue paper lined with greaseproof paper and tie with a ribbon.
200ml / 7fl oz double cream
finely grated zest of one orange or clementine
200g / 8 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
a generous pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon brandy, Cointreau or other liqueur
cocoa powder, to finish
Bash the chocolate while it is still in its wrapper then tip the contents into a food processor and blitz until the chocolate is reduced to rubble. Alternatively chop coarsely, by hand. Place the chocolate, zest, sea salt and alcohol in a bowl.
Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil, then pour over the chocolate mixture. Leave for a minute or two, to allow the chocolate to melt, then give it all a couple of stirs so that it is smooth and glossy. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before making the truffles.
To assemble the truffles: Sieve a few tablespoons of cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. Scoop small teaspoons of the truffle mixture and quickly roll between the palms and then in the cocoa powder. (Alternatively leave your truffles rough-edged, they will still look superb after dusting with cocoa.) If the truffle mixture starts to become sticky, return the mixture to the fridge to re-chill it before completing the truffles. Arrange on a dish, or in individual petits fours cases, then chill in the fridge before serving.
Quick Cassoulet (Serves 4)
Otherwise known as ‘posh sausage casserole’ this is a hearty dish that can be put together in moments, using mostly store cupboard ingredients. The quantities in this recipe can easily be increased if you have a large number to feed and once you’ve thrown all the ingredients together, it pretty much looks after itself in a low oven.
1 tblsp olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into wedges
100g / 4oz smoked bacon, diced
8 Toulouse-style sausages
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly crushed
2 -3 sticks celery, cut into chunks
1 fennel bulb, cut into wedges, optional
2 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
150ml / ¼ pint water
½ glass white wine or dry vermouth, optional
½ tsp fennel seeds, optional
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs thyme
Preheat the oven to 140˚ C / Gas 1. Heat the oil in a large flame-proof casserole or saucepan. Add the sausages and brown them on all sides, then lightly fry the onions and bacon. Add the garlic, celery and fennel (if using) and continue cooking over a gentle heat for a few minutes. Tip in the beans, water and wine (if using) and season with pepper (you may not need extra salt because the sausages and bacon may be salty enough). Add the fennel seeds (if using) and the bay leaf and thyme. Stir well then cover and cook for 2 hours. Check the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving in warmed dishes.
This is a filling dish so simply serve with a green salad and a hunk of French bread. I have used Toulouse sausage which has a rich, smoky garlic flavour but you can use any good quality, high meat content pork or duck sausage. I like to keep it simple but it is easy to elaborate on this recipe, adding browned chicken thighs, or duck legs and perhaps a few less sausages. The vegetables and beans can also be varied, use haricot or borlotti beans - or a can of mixed beans - and throw in a few chopped tomatoes, a sliced leek and a diced carrot if that is what you’ve got in the fridge.
Mulled Cider (Makes 2 litres)
1 litre dry cider
1 litre apple juice
8 allspice berries
30-45ml / 2-3 tblsps Demerara sugar
Pour the cider and apple juice into a large saucepan. Using a potato peeler, pare the rind of the oranges thinly and add to the pan. Squeeze the oranges and add the juice to the pan with the cloves, allspice and a generous grating of nutmeg. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves and the spices infuse but do not allow to boil. Test and add more sugar if necessary. Serve warm.
For a non-alcoholic version, use only apple juice and add a squeezed lemon and water to taste. Check not to add too much sugar as the apple juice may be sweet enough.
New York Style Café Nuts
500g / generous 1lb assorted shelled nuts
a knob of butter
1 tblsp dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp sea salt
pinch chilli flakes
2 tblsps coarsely chopped rosemary
Spread the nuts on to a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven (200°C / Gas 6) for approx. 5 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. !! Watch them carefully as they will suddenly go !! Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in all the remaining ingredients. When the nuts are still warm tip them in and stir well to coat in the mixture. Cool and, if giving as a gift, divide between jars or cellphone bags, attaching a gift tag and ribbon to each.
Spiced Carrot Chutney (Makes 8 x 150ml jars)
This chutney looks really festive with its bright jewel-like colour. Small jars make ideal gifts when finished with a label and ribbon.
1kg / 2lbs carrots, peeled and grated
50g / 2oz root ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
2 large red chillies
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 stick cinnamon
2 star anise
2 ½ tsps sea salt
500ml / 18 fl oz cider or white wine vinegar
600g granulated sugar
Place the grated carrots, ginger and garlic in a large, heavy based pan. Depending on how spicy you want to make the chutney, include or discard the seeds, then chop the chilli finely - not too small as you want to be able to see flecks of red chilli in the finished chutney - and add to the pan together with the coriander, cinnamon, star anise, sea salt and vinegar. Cover and set aside overnight or for up to 24 hours.
Prepare the jars, making sure they are scrupulously clean, then warm them ready for the hot chutney. Add the water to the marinated carrot mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cinnamon stick and the star anise, then stir in the sugar and bring to a steady boil. Continue boiling for about 40 minutes, stirring frequently especially towards the end of the cooking time. The chutney will still have some liquid. Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes then stir well to incorporate the liquid and spoon into clean, warm jars. Cover with waxed discs and lids. Store in a cool place.
I think this chutney should have a bit of a kick so I generally use the seeds of at least one chilli and if I want it really peppy I use the seeds from both chillies. Serve with cold turkey, ham and other meats as well as good English cheeses.