Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas Chique 2012 - The Old and the New, the Weird and the Wonderful: Pease Pudding and Persimmons

A quick trip to our local Morrisons supermarket turned out to be longer than expected due to the weird and wonderful new range of exotic fruits and vegetables they had on display. I couldn’t resist having a good look! Apparently Morrisons have been revamping their stores into new 'Fresh Format' stores complete with ice beds and misting technology to keep the fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh and hydrated. Although our local store hasn't been transformed yet it has benefitted from the new range of exotic oddities – including plumegranates (not a cross between a plum and a pomegranate but an almost-black skinned plum with deep scarlet flesh), graffiti aubergines, candy beetroot, dudhi, green mooli, plantain, turia, arbi, cassava and eddoes.

This is quite a change for Morrisons – when I used to shop 'up North' the most unusual item in my trolley from this store was Pease Pudding. Not that Pease Pudding is unusual in the North East – it's very popular - but it was unusual to me as I hadn't tasted it before. It's delicious. Pease Pudding is a very old dish and was once a staple on the British dinner table but fell out of favour in the 1900s. It's also known as Pease Pottage or Pease Porridge and the small village of Pease Pottage in Sussex takes its name from the dish.

Pease Pudding is made from soaked yellow split peas wrapped in a muslin bag dropped into a simmering pot with a hock of ham. The peas turn mushy and look a little bit like hummus. It can be eaten hot or cold and Pease Pudding is perfect with ham which makes it a useful addition to the Christmas table, especially if you haven't tried it before. Although it’s still very popular up North Pease Pudding is hard to find around here and if you'd like to make your own there is a recipe here.

Morrisons foray into exotic fruit and veg follows on from the news that UK sales of more unusual tropical fruits have soared as adventurous Britons develop a taste for new and more exotic groceries. Sales of persimmons - also known as Sharon fruit (named after the Sharon plain in Israel) - have for the first time overtaken sales of mangoes, while sales of pomegranates have rocketed by almost 30%.

Persimmons can vary in colour but the ones we normally see are orange and although they look a little like a tomato they are actually berries from the tree species Diospyros (meaning 'divine fruit' in Greek). The seedless fruit ripens to a sweet, jelly-like meat that remains encased inside a waxy, thin-skinned shell. The flavour is sweet and mild, a little similar to mango or pumpkin.

Originally native to China cultivars of the Persimmon have spread out across the globe and its fruit is thought to have reached European and American tables around 1800. In the USA Persimmon Pudding is a traditional American dessert a little like Christmas Pudding. 

In Indiana it is considered to be one of two local legendary dishes (the other being Sugar Cream Pie) and since 1946 they have held a Persimmon Festival every year. Persimmon Pudding is usually steamed or cooked in a bain-marie and is served with whipped cream or brandy butter. If you fancy trying it as an alternative to our British Christmas Pud the Mitchell Persimmon Festival website has the winning Persimmon Pudding recipes available here.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Chique 2012 - Quick Christmas Appetizers

If you are pushed for time at Christmas and want to add a little panache to your drinks parties or keep your dinner guests happy before the meal I have some quick and easy recipes for appetizers that don't involve slaving over a hot stove!

Stuffed dates and figs are a true Eastern delight and can be as luxurious as you like. In the Middle East they are usually stuffed with nuts but cheese fillings offer a sweet and savoury taste explosion.

Figs with Camembert

250g dried figs
3 tbsp port
125g camembert cheese, diced

Soak the figs in the port overnight. Cut a slit fig and widen the hole with your finger. Fill with camembert cheese.

Fresh Dates with Ginger

250g fresh dates
125g full fat soft cream cheese
1 tbsp chopped glacé ginger
1 tsp grated lemon rind

Remove the stones from the dates. Beat the cream cheese with the ginger and lemon rind. Fill the dates with the mixture.

Celery boats are super finger food and you can stuff celery with salmon or crab mousses, fish pâtés, cream cheeses and nuts. Seafood and chilled, crisp celery are a refreshing combination – especially with a glass of sparkling wine!

Celery Boats with Prawns

300ml thick sour cream
1 tbsp drained capers
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
500g cooked prawns
3 or 4 sticks of celery

Chop the capers and add them to the sour cream. Add the chives and Dijon mustard, stir well. Chill.

Chop the prawns into 2 or 3 pieces. Trim the rib off the celery so that it sits with a flat base and chop into 5 cm lengths. Chill.

Spoon the sour cream mixture into each length of celery and top with the prawns.

Salt beef is a popular choice this Christmas but I prefer smoked beef, especially on the rare side. Paired with rye bread and this unusual but tasty tuna mayonnaise sauce these open sandwiches are very moreish!

Smoked Beef Open Sandwiches

10 slices of dark rye bread
butter for spreading
20 – 30 slices of smoked beef
250ml mayonnaise
125g canned tuna
juice of ½ lemon
freshly cracked black pepper

Cut the rye bread into halves and spread with butter. Arrange the smoked beef slices on top of the rye bread.

Blend the canned tuna (drain it first), mayonnaise, lemon juice and capers in a blender. Spoon the sauce over the smoked beef and garnish with freshly cracked black pepper.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christmas Chique 2012 - Crazy for Coconut

Coconut foods and drinks are big news this Christmas. Coconut Water is apparently the next new trend in soft drinks and is one of the fastest growing beverage categories in both the UK and USA. It has a celebrity following ranging from Madonna to Lady GaGa and is finding favour with sports stars due to its supposed hydrating qualities. It's even popping up in cocktails.

Coconut Oil is also making a comeback and coconut is being used to flavour jams, noodles, soups and sugar. Researchers in Australia have even developed a coconut flavoured pineapple dubbed AusFestival that is due to be commercially available in 2 years’ time!

Coconut has been a popular flavouring in alcoholic drinks for some time – Malibu, the coconut flavoured rum, is launching its newest Limited Edition bottle this winter, Malibu Snowcoco. The coconut flavoured rum has a sprinkling of real coconut flakes so that when swirled in the glass it resembles a snowstorm. There are also coconut flavoured gins (Hoxtons Gin), vodkas (Ciroc and Smirnoff amongst others), brandy (Mendis), liqueurs (Bols, Marie Brizard, Monin's Liqueur de Noix de Coco) and its even used to flavour sake (Ty Ku).

Snowball cakes and lollipops that are covered in desiccated coconut seem to be popular this year and they have reminded me of the old fashioned Coconut Ice squares that we used to make. They were irresistible and are easy to make. 

395g tin of sweetened condensed milk
350g icing sugar
350g desiccated coconut
2-4 drops red food colouring

Sieve the icing sugar to get rid of any lumps. Add the desiccated coconut and condensed milk to the icing sugar and mix together. Divide the mixture into two and add a couple of drops of red food colouring to one half. Press the white mixture into the base of a flat dish and then spread the pink mixture over the top. Press down hard to flatten it. Place in the fridge to harden for a day. Once it has set, cut into small squares. 
You can be as inventive as you like, adding different layers of colours – for a Christmas theme red and white coconut ices look great, simply add more red food colouring to deepen the colour from pink to crimson!