Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Catering for everyone

I love watching food programmes on TV and thumbing through foodie magazines. It is particularly fun at Christmas time when there are so many delightful foods on offer and the perfect excuse to make them. I find myself thinking I'd like to make this or give that a go and then I have to rein in my enthusiasm as I remember what Christmas is really like and how I have to cater for everyone's needs. And what a mix of needs I have to cater for.

Firstly, there is the minor issue of my dairy intolerance. I say minor because I can have some dairy and also because there is such a huge range of non-dairy alternatives on the market that it is bearly a problem... apart from cheese, which I love and for which there is no decent alternative. I do find myself squirming uncomfortably about half way through a Delia recipe, when just as I was thinking it was going to be nice she tips half a pint of cream into the dish!

My girls have their own finicky likes and dislikes. My youngest would be quite happy with a plate of vegetables at Christmas and is very enthusiastic about Brussel sprouts. My eldest has a more restricted range of favourites when it comes to fruit and vegetables but will eat raw carrots and frozen peas (still frozen). But this is easy to arrange as long as I remember to leave a portion of carrots uncooked.

Then there is my mother-in-law who, when once faced with 150 flavours of ice-cream, chose vanilla. She likes her food traditional, simple and bland. No spice, no garlic and nothing with mayonnaise. She also lifts the salt pot before her fork! And while I'm on the in-laws, there is my sister-in-law who is diabetic so can't have too much sugar. She also happens to not care for potatoes. No, I'm not making this up!

But all this pales into insignificance when my step-daughter arrives, for she is a vegan. On the surface of it Christmas and veganism seem completely incompatible with the central bird, the sausagemeat and the streaky bacon. Then there are the puddings, pies and cakes containing butter, eggs and drowned in custard and cream. Actually, it is worse then you might imagine. I remember the first Christmas after her conversion when her puzzled gran asked her whether she could eat things like oranges. Of course she can, I thought to myself only to hear her reply "It depends whether they have a coating of beeswax on them." Oh, that put me in my place... better whip the orange out of the stocking then! But I'm not one to panic and with some thought and preparation it is no bigger an inconvenience than anyone else's needs.

I saved the walnuts harvested from the autumn for my step-daughter's Christmas main dish - Mushroom and walnut rolls. These can be made well in advance, frozen raw and cooked from frozen on the day - as easy as cooking sausage rolls. Surprisingly, because readymade puff pastry is made with vegetable oil it is vegan-friendly, as long as you avoid the "all butter" ones of course. I serve the rolls with the same vegetables as everyone else, potatoes roasted in a separate dish (in sunflower oil rather than goose fat), sage and onion stuffing and gravy made using a vegetable stock cube. I have to say that when served it looks like a decent meal rather than a poor vegetarian option after thought. It must be OK because she has had this dish for 4 Christmas's in a row and takes home the uncooked spare ones.

Mushroom and Walnut Rolls (makes 12)
1 small onion or shallot
1 cloves of garlic (optional)
2 oz (55g) mushrooms
1/2 oz (15g) walnut pieces
A little oil
1/2 oz wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 dessert spoon cornflour, mixed with water
A little fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
8 oz (225g) fresh puff pastry

Place the onion, garlic (if using), mushroom and walnuts in the food processor and blitz. Heat the oil in a frying plan and gently cook this mixture for about five minutes until soft. Tip the mixture into a bowl and mix in the breadcrumbs, parsley, seasoning and cornflour. Roll out the pastry into a rectangle and cut into two long strips. Place the filling along the strips and brush the edge of the pastry with soya milk before rolling the pastry over the filling. Glaze with more soya milk then cut into suitable lengths. Freeze. Cook on a baking tray at 220°C, gas 7 for 10 minutes from thawed or 25 minutes from frozen.

With the main meal sorted I spent today organising the desserts. I started with raspberry trifle - not in the least bit vegan or diabetic but just plain yummy! This I made with 8 oz of raspberries from the freezer following my usual trifle recipe. Next I set about making mince pies. I already had 3 different flavours of mincemeat in my cupboard, made as the fruit was available - plum and orange mincemeat made in August, apple and cider mincemeat made in September, and figgy pear mincemeat made in November. So my daughter and I made 12 pies, 4 each of each flavour, adding a different shaped piece of pastry on top of each pie to indicate the flavour. As it happens by using Trex as the fat in the pastry and soya milk to glaze these are vegan too, not that that matters as my step-daughter to top it all doesn't like raisins! Still, the apple and cider mincepies are suitable for diabetics if the sugar is left out of the pastry.
Figgy Pear Mincemeat
My personal favourite and something you can’t buy in the shops so even if everyone has already eaten lots of mince pies this Christmas they will enjoy these for their different flavour.

Makes 4-5 jars
1½ to 2 lb (680 – 900g) pears
2 lb 4 oz (1 kg) mixed dried fruit
9 oz (250g) dried figs
1 lb (454g) Demerara sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 fl oz (150ml) sherry

Put the mixed fruit in a non-metallic bowl, grate in the pear and use scissors to snip in the figs. Add the remaining ingredients, stir well, cover and leave overnight. Heat in a preserving pan until boiling then simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer into warmed jars and seal immediately.

Plum & Orange Mincemeat

Makes 5 jars
3 lb (1350g) plums
2 large oranges
8 oz (225g) sultanas
8 oz (225g) raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1½ lb (680g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brandy

Wash, stone and finely chop the plums and place in a non-metallic bowl. Grate the rind off the oranges then peel the orange and chop the flesh. Add the dried fruit, spices, sugar and brandy to the bowl. Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight. Tip the mix into a preserving pan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour until thick. Pour into warmed jars and seal.

2 lb (900g) mixed dried fruit
1 lb (454g) apples
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
1 pint (660ml) cider
2 tablespoons brandy

Peel and grate the apples and place them in a preserving pan with the mixed dried fruit. Add the spice and cider and cook for 10 minutes until the apple is soft and the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the brandy and pack into warmed jars and seal immediately.

For the Mince pies:
7 oz (200g) of plain flour
1 oz (25g) wholemeal flour (or a total of 8 oz, 225g plain flour)
4 oz (110g) margarine or butter
2 oz (55g) caster sugar (adjust this quantity according to taste preference)
A little milk

To make the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl and add the margarine (or butter). Rub the two together until it looks and feels like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix in. Add a little bit of cold water at a time and start to bind the pastry. The pastry should form a ball that is not too sticky or likely to crack. Wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate for about half an hour.

Preheat an oven to 220°C (gas 7). Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until about 5 mm thick. Use two pastry cutters to cut out bases and lids to fit your tin/cases. Place the base pieces in the tin/case then fill three quarters full with mincemeat (do not overfill or it will leak out when cooking). Use a pastry brush to brush milk around the rim of the base then press the lid on top. Make air holes in the lid then glaze with milk. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

After all that my daughter was still keen to keep on baking so we made some gingerbread stars, also vegan with the use of vegan margarine, and a vegan chocolate log, using vinegar instead of egg. Then after a break for lunch we made popcorn. Believe it or not we grew the popcorn too! And what's more it was pink! I have grown a variety of sweetcorn for a few years now with the intention of making popcorn. It is a variety called "Strawberry" and it grows large, strawberry shaped cobs of hard red kernels. It is a bit tedious pushing the kernels from the cob but once done it can be popped like any other pop corn. It is nice, however, that once popped it retains some of its red colour. Once again, totally vegan and diabetic friendly.

I wrapped a gingerbread star and some popcorn in cellophane bags, tied them with some red and silver curling ribbon and popped them into her stocking. Better than an orange any day.

A final job was to put the remaining walnuts in a star shaped container that I saved from last year, along with some other nuts and dried fruits. Surely everyone should find something they like in there.

No comments:

Post a Comment