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Holiday Food

No-bake chocolate, fig and date slice

I adore slices, or as they say in New Zealand and England, “traybakes” There are so many easy recipes for them, and many of them like this one, are no-cook recipes. This is another one that reminds me of Christmas, and is especially nice as it is chocolatey as well as fruity.
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1lb dried figs
3/4 lb (12 oz) good plump, moist Medjool dates, preferably pitted
4 oz pitted prunes (or in the US they call them dried plums)
1 orange, grated zest and juiced
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
1 tbsp liquid honey
8 oz good quality dark chocolate, 72% or over
4 oz roasted hazelnuts, skins removed and halved (or buy them already toasted)
Cocoa powder for dusting at the end

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment, making sure there is an overlap so it’s easy to remove the slice.
Thinly slice the figs. Pit the dates and slice the flesh, then slice the pitted prunes.
Place these in a large bowl with the orange zest, juice, Grand Marnier and honey.
Cover and leave to stand in a cool place for at least one hour.

Place the chocolate pieces in a small bowl over simmering water or in the top of a double boiler, ensuring the bottom of the bowl the chocolate is in does not touch the simmering water below.
Allow the chocolate to melt, Take it off the heat when almost melted (there will be a few lumps still in it) then gently stir until it’s completely smooth.

Stir the hazelnuts and melted chocolate into the fruit mixture and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the lines tin and spread, leaving the mixture at about 1 inch thickness. (You may not fill the tin)
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to firm up.

To serve, cut into about 40 small squares and dust with cocoa.
This slice will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week – if you are lucky!

White chocolate, cranberry and pistachio fudge

This is so pretty and tastes even better than it looks.

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16 oz. good white chocolate, chopped (chips will work, too)
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
2/3 cup chopped dried cranberries, divided
1/2 cup dry roasted, unsalted pistachio pieces, divided

Line an 8″ square baking dish with parchment or wax paper.
Combine the white chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler or a glass/stainless bowl over some simmering water.

Heat until the mixture melts together, whisking occasionally. Stir in the vanilla extract and remove from the heat.
Add all but about 2 Tbsp. each of the cranberries and pistachios to the white chocolate mixture, stirring to combine.
Spread the mixture into the baking dish in an even layer. Top with the remaining pistachios and cranberries, pressing them in slightly with a spatula if necessary.
Allow the fudge to set in the fridge and then cut into 1.5″ squares.

Baked butternut squash, ricotta and spinach

Although I’m not a vegetarian, I am always attracted to non-meat dishes and this one, given it’s December and has me making soups, stews and baked dishes, this really attracted me. It’s from the wonderful British website and food magazine, Delicious.

Baked butternut squash, ricotta and spinach

Serves 4

1 large butternut squash, halved lengthways (about 2.5 – 3lbs in weight)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp crushed red chillies
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil
4 oz baby spinach
1lb ricotta cheese
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese,(not the pre-grated stuff) plus extra to serve
1 large egg, plus an extra egg yolk
A bunch of fresh sage leaves

Heat the oven to 400F
Scoop out and discard the seeds from the squash. Sit the squash halves cut-side up in a roasting tin. Score flesh in a crosshatch pattern with a knife and season.
Scatter over the caraway seeds, chillies and whole garlic cloves, then drizzle with the olive oil.
Cover with foil and roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until soft.

When cooked, set the garlic cloves aside, then scoop all but 2 tbsp of the squash flesh into a bowl, keeping it in pieces. Gently stir through the spinach and season.Leave to cool.

Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins into a large bowl and mash into the remaining 2 tbsp squash using a fork. Add the ricotta, Parmesan and some seasoning. Add the whole egg and extra egg yolk, stir then gently stir through the spinach and squash mixture.

Spoon into 4 x 6 oz individual gratin dishes.Top with Parmesan, scatter with extra caraway seeds and the sage leaves, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately

Bacon, sausage and cheese muffins

Well, as it gets towards Christmas, I start thinking of lovely cozy breakfasts in front of the fire. Yes, even in Southern California we have fireplaces and use them a lot. These are steamy bites of savory goodness and are very addictive, so make double what you think you’ll need.

 

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1 cup cooked, chopped bacon
1 cup cooked crumbled sausage meat. I use mild Italian.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup grated sharp or mature cheddar cheese
1/2 small yellow onion (diced)
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon. Chop into small-medium bits. Set aside. Using the same skillet, cook the crumbled sausage meat. Set aside.
Chop the onion (you can use other veggies if you choose).
Grease tin cups in a 12 muffin tin pan with butter or shortening.
Whisk together the eggs and milk, a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in the bread crumbs, cheese, sausage, onion and bacon, leaving just a handful of bacon and cheese for the topping.
Fill the muffin tip cups evenly with the mixture. Sprinkle the remaining bacon and cheese atop of the egg mixture for presentation purposes!
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, eggs should be completely cooked through (you can test with toothpick). To remove the muffins, run a small butter knife around the cups to loosen and pull up. Serve warm.

Italian Panforte for Christmas

This is so Christmassy, stuffed full of fruits, nuts, chocolate and spices.  Again, so easy to make, and will transport you straight to Italy.

 

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1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (unblanched is also fine)
3/4 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted
3/4 cup whole walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup dried figs coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups dried mixed fruit (the type used for Christmas cake)
3/4 cup plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tbsp water
1/3 cup runny honey
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Grease and line with baking parchment, a large rectangular or 2 round baking tins.
Mix the nuts, figs, mixed fruit, flour, cocoa powder, ground cloves, pepper, cinnamon and coriander together in a large bowl.
Place the water, honey and sugar in a pot and slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Pout the syrup into the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly.
Place in the prepared tin and flatten with wet hands. The mixture should be no more than 1 inch 9approx) thick.
If there is some mixture over, then place into another tin.
Bake for 35 minutes. Cut into squares when cool

Kiwi Christmas jello squares

This is an old favorite Christmas recipe from New Zealand. It is such fun to make, is really pretty and Christmassy served on a platter and everyone loves it, especially the children.
There is no need for measurements as it’s just a matter of making up three things. Red jello, green jello and a white creamy jello made from sweetened condensed milk and dissolved gelatine. You can change it up and add more layers or colors if you like. Go for it!!

 

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All you do is separately make up a batch of green jello and red jello, and dissolve some gelatine in hot water and add sweetened condensed milk to the gelatine mixture.
You now have three pitchers of different color liquids. Pour half the red jello in the bottom of a square glass dish, then put in the fridge to set.
When it’s pretty set, pour over half of the white liquid (condensed milk) and put back in the fridge to set, then half the green jello etc etc.
Refrigerate the whole thing until set.
Cut into small square pieces and top with either whipped cream, mint leaves, red candles and cherries.

Wild rice salad with cranberries and roasted nuts

We had this salad for Thanksgiving as a side, and it was definitely everyone’s favorite dish. Not only is it healthy, it tastes clean, fresh and divine and only gets better with sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. I adapted this from a recipe from the great food blog, View from a Great Island.

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Serves 6-8

1 cup wild rice, rinsed
1/3 cup raw pecan halves
1/3 cup whole raw cashews
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 small red onion
several small inner stalks of celery, peeled and chopped (I used 5 good sized stalks)
5 to 6 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp of your favorite vinegar, I used Sherry
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
1 heaped tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

This first soaking step is optional, but will help keep your wild rice from splitting as much, which I think makes a prettier salad. If you have the time, soak the rice in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight. Then drain and continue the recipe.

Bring a quart of water and a teaspoon of salt to boil in a saucepan and add the rice. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and cook for about 30-40 minutes, or just until the rice is tender. Wild rice will always have a little bite to it, so don’t try to cook it until completely soft.

While the rice is cooking, put the pecans and cashews in a large skillet and toast, over medium heat, until you smell them and they start to turn slightly brown. Take them off the heat and let them cool before giving them a rough chop.
Drain the rice and put in a bowl.
Toss the warm rice with the rest of the ingredients.

Whisk together the dressing in a small jar. If you put the top on and shake it vigorously, it should emulsify. Taste it to adjust the amount of vinegar or seasonings. Toss the salad with half of the dressing, and then refrigerate until completely chilled.
When ready to serve, add more dressing and toss well.

Pumpkin banana mousse tart

This is delectable and well worth trying, especially for Thanksgiving. Thanks to Ina Garten for this gorgeous and easy recipePumpkin banana mousse tart

For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 extra-large egg yolks
1 package (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 ripe banana, finely mashed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
For the decoration:
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Orange zest, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter in a bowl and mix well. Pour into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press evenly into the sides and then the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes and then cool to room temperature.

For the filling, heat the half-and-half, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until hot, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in another bowl, stir some of the hot pumpkin into the egg yolks to heat them, then pour the egg-pumpkin mixture back into the double boiler and stir well. Heat the mixture over the simmering water for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. You don’t want the eggs to scramble. Remove from the heat.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the dissolved gelatin, banana, and orange zest to the pumpkin mixture and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture and pour it into the cooled tart shell. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

For the decoration, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Pipe or spoon the whipped cream decoratively on the tart and sprinkle, if desired, with orange zest. Serve chilled.

Roasted carrots with cumin yoghurt

This is a gorgeous dish and the little “stubby” carrots roast so well with a really deep flavor. The cumin yoghurt lends a “Middle Eastern” quality and all in all, it’s a must.

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Serves 8

3 lbs Thumbelina or other small carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2″ pieces
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup plus tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro (coriander) leaves with tender stems, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Toss the carrots with the orange juice, thyme, bay leaves and 1/4 cup olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.
Roast,tossing halfway through until golden brown and soft, 30 – 35 minutes; remove bay leaves

Meanwhile, toast the coriander seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, tossing, until fragrant, about 1 minute; transfer to a plate. Repeat with the cumin. Let cool and coarsely chop.

Puree the coriander seeds, cumin, yoghurt,lime juice, 1/4 cup cilantro and remaining 2 tbsp oil in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Serve the carrots topped with the cumin yoghurt, cilantro and sesame seeds

Delia Smith's famous Christmas cake

I realize my fellow Americans are not going to take much notice of this recipe, but in England and New Zealand, (my other two homes) one cannot have Christmas without this cake. My husband, (LA born too) adores this and requests it every year and I have been making this recipe since the mid 1980’s. It is rich, moist as anything and chock-full of dried fruits soaked in brandy. It’s important to make this cake a good month to 2 months before Christmas and “feed” it every week with brandy. Divine!!

 

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1lb (450g) currants
6 oz (175g) golden raisins (sultanas)
6 oz (175g) raisins
2 oz (50g) glace cherries, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
2 oz (50g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped
4 tbsp brandy, plus extra for “feeding”
8 oz (225g) plain flour
1/2 level tsp salt
1/4 level tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 level tsp ground mixed spice (not allspice)
8 oz (225g) unsalted butter
8 oz (225g) soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 oz (50g) almonds, chopped (the skins can be left on)
1 tbsp black treacle. (I have been known to use molasses if I don’t have treacle)
grated zest 1 lemon
grated zest 1 orange
4 oz (110g) whole blanched almonds (only if you don’t intend to ice the cake and want to use these almonds as decoration instead)

* You will need an 8 inch round cake tin or a 7″ square cake tin, preferably with a loose bottom. Grease the tin and line it with baking parchment. Tie a band of brown paper or newspaper around the outside of the tin for extra protection

** Begin this cake the night before you want to cook it. All you do is weigh out the dried fruit and mixed peel, place it in a large mixing bowl and mix in the brandy, stirring, so everything is evenly coated with the brandy. Cover the bowl with a clean tea cloth and leave the fruit aside to absorb the brandy for 12 hours.

Next day, preheat the oven to 275 F. (140 C)

Now measure out all the other ingredients, ticking them off to make sure you don’t miss anything. The treacle will be easier if you dip the spoon in hot water before using it.
Sift the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl, lifting the sieve up high to give the flour a good airing.
Next, in a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until it’s light, pale and fluffy.
Now beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the creamed mixture a tablespoonful at a time: keep the whisk running until all the egg is incorporated. If you add the eggs slowly by degrees like this, the mixture won’t curdle. If it does, don’t worry, any cake full of such beautiful things can’t fail to taste good!
When all the egg has been added, fold in the flour and spices, using gentle movements and not beating at all as you need to keep that precious air in it.
Now fold in the fruit, peel, chopped nuts and treacle and finally the grated lemon and orange zests.
Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon, and, if you don’t intend to ice the cake, lightly drop the blanched almonds in circles or squares all over the surface.
*Alternately, you don’t need to put anything on top of the cake, as my picture shows.
Finally, cover the top of the cake with a double square of parchment paper with a small 1″ diameter hole in the center. (This gives extra protection during the long, slow cooking)

Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 & 1/2 to 4 & 3/4 hours. Sometimes it can take up to 1/2 to 3/4 hour longer than this, but in any case don’t look in the oven till at least 4 hours have passed.
Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling.
When it’s cold, “feed” it – make small holes in the top and base of the cake with a skewer or knitting needle, then spoon over a few tsps of brandy, wrap it in parchment paper secured with an elastic band and either wrap it again with foil or store it in an airtight container.
You can now feed it every week until you want to eat it.
You can make this cake up to 3 months in advance, feeding every week!