WITH CHRISTMAS just a few short weeks away, now is the time to start thinking about those festive menus for gatherings of family and friends. Sit in front of the fire and organise your winter feasts.
Planning is the key to success to ensure that all ingredients are sourced or ordered in advance, to avoid a last minute rush at the butchers for example, as well as to help stick to your budget.
Here I have included some alternative seasonal dishes as well as an Algarve twist to the traditional cranberry sauce and a spicy treat for those with a sweet tooth.
This spicy Italian fruit cake, sourced from one of my favourite books, Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, is beautiful and similar to Portugal’s traditional Christmas crystallised fruit cake Bolo Rei, but much tastier!
30ml Marsala (white Port will do)
350g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g clear honey
150g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp anise or fennel seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium sized sharp green apples
200g blanched almonds chopped coarsely
50g pine nuts
75g bitter chocolate
75g walnuts, chopped
Suggestions for decorating
4 tbsp apricot jam to glaze
Natural coloured glace cherries, chestnuts and other fruits
Blanched whole almonds, pecan halves etc.
Soak the raisins in the Marsala for 20 minutes and preheat the oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4. Place bicarbonate of soda and flour into a bowl. Heat the honey, sugar, butter and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves, before adding the anise or fennel seeds and cinnamon. Pour this mixture over the flour and stir to combine.
Mix in all the other ingredients, not forgetting the soaked raisins and their liquid, then spoon into the tin and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. If extra time is needed, cover the cake with foil to stop it catching. When cool, heat the apricot jam and brush it onto the cake to give a sticky surface for the glace fruits and nuts to stick to. Use the rest of the jam to glaze over cake when it has been decorated.
Aromatic wild boar with orange peel
In celebration of the winter solstice on December 21, wild boars were sacrificed to the Norse god of fertility, Freyr, and have remained a festive winter food since pagan times. Talk to your local butcher to source this meat as a tasty alternative this Christmas. (Serves 6)
1.5 kg diced wild boar
6 tbsp of dark soy sauce
10 tbsp of sunflower oil
6 tbsp of water
2 tbsp of sugar
4 tbsp of Chinese red wine
25g fresh ginger peeled and finely grated
5 – 6 strips of dried orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon Sichuan
peppercorn, dry roasted and ground
First put the diced wild boar into bowl with soy sauce and mix well together before leaving to rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 160°C / gas mark 3.
Heat the oil in a medium sized oven proof casserole dish to 190°C / 375°F.
Next, deep fry the wild boar in batches, turning it until nicely brown.
Discard the cooking oil, return the wild boar to the casserole dish and add the remaining soy sauce and all the other ingredients.
Finally cover with a well fitting lid and cook in the oven for 1½ hours, until the meat is really tender.
Cranberry and orange sauce
Serve the turkey or other roasted meat with an extra special cranberry sauce this Christmas, by adding some freshly squeezed Algarve orange juice and aromatic thyme. (Serves 6-8)
The juice of 2 oranges 225g unrefined light muscovado sugar
450g fresh or frozen cranberries
The leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Dissolve the orange juice and muscovado sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, before boiling rapidly for 2-3 minutes. Add the cranberries, bring the sauce to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the fruits have softened. Stir in the leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and then set aside to cool and thicken. This sauce will keep covered in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Nutty vegetarian roast
I found this hearty winter recipe in a magazine called Delicious, which is the ideal word to describe the finished dish. (Serves 4)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
100g of freshly ground mixed white nuts e.g. macadamia, pine and Brazil nuts
1 garlic clove, crushed
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
50g fresh breadcrumbs
400g can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed well and roughly chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage, plus 4 extra leaves
1 egg white
800g sweet potatoes cut into chunks
3 leeks, cut into chunks and washed
2 red onions cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ fan180°C/gas 6. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion for 5-6 minutes, stirring, until softened but not browned. Add the nuts, garlic, lemon zest and juice, breadcrumbs and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the sage and egg white. Stir to mix well.
Next, tip the mixture into the centre of a large sheet of baking paper and shape into a fat sausage, packing tightly. Scatter over four sage leaves, then wrap it tightly in the paper and put into a roasting tin. Put the prepared vegetables around the parcel and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Then roast for 20 minutes, before unwrapping the paper around the nut roast, so it can brown in the oven. Turn the vegetables and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.