Low-stress but special holiday bites
While summer holidays = Christmas and New Year for most people and the associated rich dishes that come with it, for me it has never been about C-day. Not to say I’m a Chrsitmas day hater per se, but the lead up to Christmas has often been tinged with more stress than happy anticipation, and now that I am working all the way up to Christmas eve this year, stress levels peaked. I’m calmer now thanks to the many food bloggers out there who have already posted gift ideas. After about an hour of sheer panic earlier the obvious sunk in and I knew what I was going to do as Christmas gifts to all those people I needed to do the present thing for. Thankfully my friends (I think…!) mutually agreed to no presents this year, and instead we’ll be spending New Years together and with some luck I’ll try to organise a picnic post boxing day. So now that I’m de-stressed, here’s my contribution to the blogosphere.
First up, a potato salad that ROCKS without requiring a buttload of extra effort, and which has a healthy dose of good fats and greens that actually complement each other rather than being obligatorily thrown in. I know, you’re rolling your eyes, but this beats every mayo-based potato salad I’ve had, ever. It’s creamy and delicious without being overtly rich, and everything is in season – a real New Zealand potato salad, just with less heart-attack factor. Being mayo-free it is also vegan-friendly Plus it beats roast potatoes simply because it doesn’t require the oven being on for an hour (which in summer is not the first thing you want). Not to say that I wouldn’t scoff down roast potatoes any time of day or year, but this will definitely be more welcome on a hot day.
To satisfy that sweet craving, a fruit cake that everyone will actually like: caramelised fruit cake, with none of those dried fruit bits in. This is very versatile, so there’s no need to panic if you don’t have the rhubarb that I used, and you can strip it down so it doesn’t include ginger or lemon zest.
Sadly I can’t take credit for the cake, which is in fact from Gourmet Traveller’s Italian Cookbook (the “Rhubarb budino” or pudding for those who have it). The method is a little finickier for the cake part but it does make an important difference the next day, in that the cake stays soft and fluffy yet not dry.
Pair it all up with a roast chicken/turkey, or some ham, or whatever your favourite vegetarian/vegan alternative is, and that’s Christmas dinner sorted! The salad can of course be made beforehand (on the day, or the night before) and the longer the flavours have to sit together and make friends the better really, although I’d add the greens at the last minute. Obviously the cake can be made beforehand as well (night before sort of thing, or morning of). I envision it as the sort of Christmas dinner or lunch that is so simple you could pull it off all by yourself, claim (genuinely) that everything is made from scratch, and still have time to enjoy pre-dinner family/friend gossip. That and the torrential wave of lovely compliments you will receive about not serving everyone Ernest Adams fruit cake. You could even make the ice cream from scratch with Stonesoup’s ice-cream-maker-free ice cream – again, make that in advance (like, now would be good!).
Lemon, mustard and avocado potato salad
serves two as a side
- 1 overflowing handful of new potatoes, scrubbed. Use the freshest ones you can find!
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt + freshly ground black pepper
- twice as much extra virgin olive oil as lemon juice (best oil you can get – it should come out green-yellow. It won’t taste olive-y in the final dish still)
- 1/2 tsp mustard (dijon or wholegrain)
- optional but highly recommended: 1 “leaf?” spring onion (the green bit), very finely chopped
- 1 small ripe avocado
- 1 handful of baby spinach and arugula/rocket, or mesclun mix. Arugula is wickedly good in this.
Chop potatoes into even sizes, so that no side is longer than 3cm (about 1 1/4″). Cover with cold water in an appropriately sized pot and put on medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let simmer at least 5 minutes or until a small sharp knife inserted receives very little resistance (if when you knife the potato it has to push other potatoes out of the way, you’re definitely not done yet!). Drain and immerse in cold water for a minute before draining again and letting potatoes dry out for minute (leave pot uncovered).
While potatoes are cooking, whisk all other ingredients except avocado and salad greens together in your serving bowl (with a whisk or fork). It should thicken and the oil should be totally incorporated with the lemon juice. Halve avocado, scoop out chunks of the flesh and stir into the dressing. The avocado doesn’t have to keep its shape. Add the dried potatoes to the bowl along with the salad greens (or add at the last minute if leaving overnight) and stir everything together. Cover and refrigerate if serving later.
Caramelised fruit cake (loaf)
makes one 9×4″ loaf (standard loaf tin size)
- 55g light brown, raw or white sugar (about 1/4c)
- 20g unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs water
- 300g rhubarb, or cored peeled and sliced apple, or halved plum, or sliced peach, or banana
- 120g unsalted butter, cubed and softened (you should be able to make peak with it if you swish a fork through)
- 220g (1c) caster sugar (raw or white)
- zest of 1 orange or lemon
- 3 eggs, which will be separated (don’t worry, no leftover bits)
- 150g plain white flour (1 sifted cup)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 2 tsp ground ginger (optional)
- 60ml orange or lemon juice (dilute lemon juice slightly with water or a light syrup)
- Mascarpone, plain unsweetened yogurt, creme fraiche or ice cream to serve (optional)
Grease and lightly flour the sides of your loaf tin. Preheat oven to 175C (350F), with a rack centred. In a small saucepan, heat first 3 ingredients on medium heat until sugar dissolves (stirring spoon should not feel any grainy bits when pushed up against the side of the pan). Remove from heat, and pour caramel into loaf pan. Cut rhubarb to fit the base of your loaf tin snugly, and place on a single layer on the caramel. If using other fruits, cut 2cm thick and place on a single layer over the caramel. Set aside.
In a medium bowl beat softened butter, sugar, and zest until paler and fluffy. Separate out egg white into a deep but small bowl, then put egg yolk into the butter mixture. Beat until fully incorporated before proceeding with the next egg. Alternatively you could separate them out beforehand in two bowls, but I like to minimise dishes.
Sift dry ingredients together and stir in to butter/yolk mix, alternating with the orange juice. Do this in two batches. Once just incorporated, set aside.
Beat eggwhites until stiff peaks form (when you lift the whisk/beaters out, the little spikes should keep their shape, not fall back over themselves) – you will need very fast beaters for this. Fold in to butter mixture in two batches, trying not to knock out too much air as you go. Keep folding until the batter is JUST incorporated, then scrape it out over the fruit. Level the top and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out with a crumb or two still attached. Cool on a rack for ten minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the cake and turn out onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a dollop of mascarpone or ice cream etc. I cut mine into slices but it will look prettier if cut into squares with the fruit on top.
Hope you don’t let Christmas stress get the better of you, and remember that these holidays are about relaxing with people you love! Have a fantastic 25th or a wondrously chilled out week.