Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh, for Christmas' Sake!

The people of this world can be divided up by those who can roll their tongues, and those who cannot. (There are also those anomalies that have no tongue, though I suppose they would fall into the “can’t roll their tongue” category). Likewise, there are also those jovial folk who “do” Christmas, and the grinches who despise it. I sadly fall into the latter of both categories - hours of my childhood were wasted before the mirror, forcing my tongue into all imaginable shapes with my fingers before realising I was one of the condemned, born without an acrobatic oral muscle. While I may have given up on the contortionist training, my poor tongue is still put under stress at the end of each year, when it is forced – many times daily it seems in the lead up to Christmas – to utter those dreadful words: “I’m not really doing Christmas this year”.

Much to the horror of my peers and colleagues, my idea of a perfect Yuletide is to be in some godforsaken place where no one can reach me, to hopefully be forgotten by the world. This year I am doing just that, and escaping to a powerless hut in the middle of the Maniototo. It will be sheer bliss.

As far as the gift giving bit goes, my perfect gift is something that can be consumed, and I recently cottoned on to the fact that many others agree with me. So my festive phobias will be soothed this year by the fact that my presents will all be made in my kitchen. In fact the only Christmas shopping to be done this year will be a trip to the supermarket to stock up on baking gear, dark chocolate, liquors and seasonal fruit. I will then lock myself in my house to concoct gastronomic delights, and package them up in swathes of sparkly paper. I admit this is an event I am looking forward to, and so I suppose that I’m finding a way to navigate through Christmas, thus on my way to becoming cured of my Grinchey ways. If so, I may have to believe that anything is possible. I’ll head back to the mirror and re-attempt my tongue roll.

Here are some of my favourite recipes for Christmas gifts. Wrap them with as much flounce and flair as humanely possible. Just don’t give them to the same people that I do.

Decadent Chocolate Tart

400g short pastry
1 ½ cups cream
½ cup milk
½ cup sugar
300g dark chocolate
1 egg

Roll out the pastry and line a shallow tart case. Cover with a sheet of baking paper topped with baking beads, and bake the case blind for 15 minutes at 150°C.

Heat the cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan until boiling. Add chocolate, broken into chunks, and mix till blended. Allow to cool, then whisk in the egg. Pour chocolate mixture into the cooked tart case and bake for 20-25 minutes or until set. Dust with icing sugar – or, if you are really festive, place a cardboard Christmas tree stencil over before dusting to get a little picture on top of the tart.

Poached Apricots in Dessert Wine

This is lovely served warm with ice-cream, yoghurt, or lumped over simple cakes.

12 ripe apricots
¼ cup sugar
A third of a cup of cup water
1 ½ cups dessert wine
1 vanilla bean

Place apricots in a bowl of boiling water and stand for 4 minutes. Drain water and peel apricots. Make a slit in their tummies and remove the pips. Place sugar and water in a saucepan on low until sugar has dissolved. Bring the heat up to simmer, and then add wine and vanilla bean. Simmer for 5 minutes before putting in the apricots, and simmer for a further 5 minutes until soft. Ladle into sterilized jars and seal. Tell your loved ones to refrigerate after opening.

Orange Biscotti

1 ½ cups raw whole almonds
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup castor sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbsp orange rind
1 tsp orange juice

Dry roast the almonds in a 180°C oven for about 7 minutes, tossing occasionally. Be careful not to burn them. In a bowl, sift the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange rind and orange juice. Add to dry ingredients and mix until a dough forms. Add the whole almonds, turn out onto a floured surface and give it a bit of a kneading. Shape dough into sausages about 3cm across, and flatten a bit with your hand. Bake the sausages at 160°C for 30 minutes until set. Allow to cool, and then cut into 1cm slices. Return to oven and cook for about 5 minutes on each side until toasted.

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