Christmas Cake, made by my mother from Granny’s recipe – rich, more-ish and, best of all, still around to enjoy with pots of tea.My aunt’s fabulous Plum Pudding, eaten after Christmas dinner with lots of Brandy Butter and oodles of cream.Black pudding from Hanley’s of Mitchelstown, nicely flecked with oatmeal and hot from the pan with some late homegrown apples cut into segments and caramelised.Greatfood2buy‘s Wild Cranberry and Apple Chutney, with toasted cheese sandwiches (particularly anything involving blue cheese) and, especially, with the aforementioned black pudding.An almost disastrous Stephen’s Day soup – Split Green Pea and Ham this year – which got left on too low a heat during the family’s traditional woodland walk so that the peas almost didn’t disintegrate in time for lunch. Some rapid simmering and cheeseboard distraction saved the day, however!Stollen, toasted under the grill until brown and bubbling, buttered and served with mugs of cinnamon hot chocolate in front of the fire.The traditional family post-Christmas dish: left-over ham and turkey stripped off the bones, heated in a simple Mushroom and White Wine Sauce and dolloped over sourdough toast or steaming heaps of garlicky mash.Savoury tarts made for visiting family – a seasonal combination of broccoli, Cashel Blue, fresh cranberries, chorizo and caramelised onions snuggled together under a custard blanket.Little wooden crates of brightly coloured clementines, heaped under the Christmas tree and eaten in great quantities as the antidote to Christmas excess…
This is the most useful recipe to have in your repertoire. I use it – sometimes with the addition of broccoli, chorizo, bacon or chilli – with gnocchi, pasta, cannelloni and polenta, as a topping for pizza and even when baking pancakes. If you can track down some decent Italian plum tomatoes, it’s all the better for that; if you can’t, just keep tasting and adjusting the flavour with sugar if it’s too bitter, red wine or balsamic vinegar if it’s too sweet, tomato purée if it needs more body, water if it’s too thick. If you have fresh basil, add it at the end to lift the flavour of sauce. I often use thyme – fresh if I have it but sometimes dried – if I want the sauce to have a herby tinge.
Last weekend – the macaroon-making one – I was down home cooking dinner for my mother’s birthday. As we farm beef cattle, roasts are a regular part of life at home so, as the kitchen was in my hands on Saturday, I decided that it was a good opportunity to make something completely different. On Friday night I dug out the cookbooks that haven’t yet made it to Dublin – they’re the ones that got co-opted by my little sister – and started leafing through them, looking for inspiration. One of the Avoca books had an interesting-sounding Beef and Guinness Stew so I bookmarked the recipe for consultation the following day.