Sunday 23 November 2014

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto for Stir Up Sunday

Today is Stir Up Sunday – the official day to stir together a delicious mix of dried fruits and spices to make your Christmas pudding. Every year the Sunday before the last Sunday in November, the last Sunday before the start of advent, is the official day to make your xmas pud. It is a tradition that has been going on for decades, possibly centuries, and one I hope continues for many more to come. I love the thought that today people all over the country are today making a pudding for their friends and relatives to eat and enjoy on Christmas day. It’s the kind of unity and homely food based tradition that I love. I expect many people buy their Christmas puddings from supermarkets these days, but for me its more than the enjoyment of eating the pud, it’s the time, care and love that went into making it, knowing its something special to be shared by the whole family that forms part of my enjoyment of it. Especially as they are eaten but once a year.

In years gone by all the family would gather together around the bowl and take it in turns to give the ingredients a stir, while making a wish. In some households, people put coins in the pudding mix and allow children to find them, and it was believed that finding a coin brings wealth, health, happiness for the coming year. The coin traditionally used was a silver sixpence. This isn’t something we tend to do now, but I like the idea. I can image the health and safety police did away with it for fear of people choking on their coins!

Christmas pudding is not too dissimilar to Christmas cake. Your soak your fruits in alcohol before using them, like a Christmas cake, but then combine this glossy boozy fruity mixture with a mix of spices, breadcrumbs and traditionally suet. I love how the often dried and wizened fruits become so plump and glossy after their boozy soaking session and the aroma of boozy soaked fruit with fresh citrus and spices is intoxicating.

I always made my own breadcrumbs from crumbling up some gluten free bread and use frozen grated butter in place of the suet (which is usually coated in wheat flour). This fruity, spicy mixture is placed into a pudding basin and part boiled, part steamed for several hours to create a densely fruited, rich, spicy and incredibly moist fruit pudding. It has all the flavours of Christmas cake only in a squishier, softer and more intense form. The pudding mix doesn’t look all that appetising before it’s steamed, but just look at the fabulously dark and succulent sticky pudding it transforms into after its steaming session. You get the added bonus of it filling the house with a fabulous rich and spicy Christmas scent as it happily simmers away.

Like Christmas Cake, the pudding is kept for several weeks to allow the flavour to mature and develop. Then on Christmas day the pudding is heated, doused in Brandy and set alight! The lights are quickly turned down and people ‘ohhh’ and ‘awww’ as wispy blue flames dance around the pudding creating a spectacular end to the Christmas meal. There can’t be many foods that people look forward to intentionally setting on fire! The only other one I can think of is Baked Alaska and that’s more of a gentle torching rather than dousing it in a flammable liquid and setting it alight! However, the actual flames last mere seconds, so no harm comes to the pudding itself, its too moist to get scorched or burnt.

The pudding requires 5 hours of boiling/steaming, but don’t let that put you off. As long as you check the water level a couple of times during cooking, it can be left to its own devises. It’s quite relaxing pottering around the house and listening to it gently simmering, filling the kitchen with the warm spicy note of Christmas. I always like to line the base of the pan I steam it in with paper. This protects the pudding from the direct base heat of the pan and stops it making too much noise from the pudding basin hitting the base of the pan as it simmers. It’s a great way to make use of some of the tedious junk mail and unwanted catalogues that always get pushed through the letterbox at this time of year.

I actually steamed mine yesterday, so right now it’s wrapped up tight and awaiting its final steam on Christmas day. You still have time to make your own and you can add whatever fruits and spices you like to it. You can also replace the alcohol with orange juice or non alcoholic wine if you wish. Go stir up a pudding – its stir up Sunday!

Oh and if you want to make a Christmas cake too, click to see the recipes I use most – traditional or gingerspiced.

Gluten Free Fruity Christmas Pudding with Amaretto
200g raisins
120g sultanas
50g chopped dates
60g glace cherries (check they are GF)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
100ml Amaretto (or Brandy)
20g chopped pecans (optional)
50g grated frozen butter
30g gluten free fresh breadcrumbs (crumbled from some GF bread)
45g rice flour
5g tapioca starch
90g dark soft brown sugar*
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground star anise (or clove)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

* I was out of dark brown sugar so used 70g light soft brown sugar & 20g black treacle

The day before (or up to 3 days before), add the raisins, sultanas and chopped dates into a bowl. Chop the cherries in half and add to bowl. Grate the orange and lemon zest over the top and pour in the Amaretto. Give everything a good stir, cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours (or up to 3 days) to allow the fruits to plump up and absorb the alcohol.
The next day, place all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Add the soaked fruits, scraping in any leftover juices. Fold everything together with a spatula until everything is evenly combined, it may look a little dry at first but keep mixing.
Place a small disc of parchment paper in the base of a 1½ pint pudding basin. Fill the basin with the pudding mix, pressing down lightly. Place another disc of parchment on top and cover the top of the basin with a sheet of foil that you have folded a pleat into the middle of, to allow the pudding to rise during steaming.
Tie a long strip of string around the top rim of the pudding and then secure it over the top of the basin from one side to the other to form a string handle. (This will help you retrieve the pudding from the pan later without burning yourself).
Lay sheets of newspaper (or junk mail) in the base of a large saucepan. (This protects the base of the pudding from the direct heat from the stove and stops it rattling around inside your pan.) Place the pudding on the papers before filling the pan with boiling water from the kettle, until it reaches halfway up the side of the pudding basin.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to the merest of simmers, cover with the lid and leave to simmer gently for 5 hours. It should be barely bubbling. Leave the pan half off the heat of the flame if your hob doesn’t go low enough.
Every 2 hours lift the lid of the pan to check the water level. Add more boiling water if it’s looking low.
Once the 5 hours is up, lift the pudding out of the pan with the help of the string handle. Place on a cooling rack and leave until cool. Leave it in the basin and with the parchment disc still on top. Once cooled, remove the foil top and wrap the whole pudding, still in the basin, tightly in clingfilm and store in a cool dark place until required, the longer the better.
On Christmas Day, steam the pudding again for 2 hours to heat through thoroughly. When hot, run a knife around the edge of the pudding and turn out onto a serving plate that has a rim. Carefully warm a ladleful of Brandy, then set light to it with a match or lighter and quickly pour it over the pudding to flambé. Serve with Brandy butter, Brandy cream or custard once the flames have extinguished. 
Makes 1 pudding, to serve 6 – 10 people

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing

It’s official, its cold dark, wet and wintery outside and Christmas is on the way. I’ve tried to avoid it for a few weeks, rolling my eyes in despair when advent calendars appeared in mid October, but on my last food shop I couldn’t resist picking up a stalk of brussel sprouts. I know they are the food of the devil for some people, but I love them. If you are not a fan then try turning them into bubble and squeak (mashed potato and cooked cabbage formed into patties and fired) or my personal favourite, cooked, cooled and eaten with houmous – delicious!

Anyway…I was feeling a little under the weather and wanted to make a fresh healthy salad to perk myself up. I’ve recently discovered that roasting brussel sprouts drizzled in lemon juice before putting them in the oven transforms them into the most delicious sticky, tangy, smoky, earthy sprouts you can imagine. The lemon keeps its zing, but looses its sourness becoming sweet and sticky.

To add an extra colour and wellbeing vitamins I also included some roasted beetroot and then shredded raw carrot. My brother gave me a very snazzy peeler on my last birthday, that instead of peeling off strips from veg, the blade has a row of sharp jagged teeth that shred your chosen veg into long thin strips. Very cool!

To mix with my melody of colourful veg I included brown rice and chickpeas and then finished everything off with a fresh tasting tahini yoghurt dressing which added a little nuttiness and creaminess.

The finished salad was delicious. Packed with a great assortment of textures, colours, flavours and of course cold fighting vitamins. I love combining a mix of roasted and raw veg together, it really changes their flavours and textures. The long thin shreds of carrot were almost like shreds of spaghetti that I could twirl round my fork and the zing of sweet lemon was lovely.

I know some people may not be happy with the idea of salad when feeling under the weather but I’ve eaten this for the past 3 days and I swear I’m the only healthy one left in the office! Plus, who says you can’t have your healthy salad and a bit of cake. Best of both worlds.

Lemon Roasted Sprout & Beetroot Brown Rice Salad with Tahini Dressing
300g brussel sprouts
300g cooked beetroot (not vinegared)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp oil
Freshly ground black pepper
80g brown rice
2 large carrots
A few fresh mint leaves
200g canned chickpeas, drained
1 heaped tsp tahini
2 tbsp thick natural yoghurt
2-3 tsp milk, as needed

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Remove any dirty or damaged outer leaves from the brussel sprouts and cut them in half, through the stalk, so they remain intact. Arrange them cut side up on the baking tray. Slice the beetroot into wedges and place on the baking tray also.
Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into a small bowl and stir in the oil. Mix together and then drizzle the whole lot over the top of the sprouts and beetroot.
Grind over a little freshly grated pepper and place in the oven to roast for 15 minutes.
Then, rotate the tray and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the sprouts are lightly golden and tinged around the edges.
Meanwhile, cook the brown rice according to pack instructions, then drain under cold water and place into a large bowl.
Slice or peel the carrot into very fine long shreds. (I had a special peeler to do this, but you could grate it or use a food processor with a similar attachment)
Thinly slice the mint and add to the rice along with the carrot and chickpeas. When slightly cooled, add the sprouts, beetroot and a little extra lemon juice. Mix together well.
In a small bowl, mix the tahini into the natural yoghurt, thinning it down with a few teaspoons of milk until you have a mixture that will drizzle nicely off the end of a spoon.
Serve mounds of the salad and drizzle over some of the tahini dressing.
Eat and enjoy.

Keep the dressing and salad separately in the fridge and dress just before eating each time. Eat within 3 days