So the festive season is upon us and, with it, has brought its usual gifts of chaos, stress and financial trauma.
Growing up, Christmas was an overblown, ridiculously material affair. With the reflective perspective of age, I suspect the need my parents had to lavish us with an embarrassing amount of...well..stuff, was my Father's way of alleviating some kind of guilt.
The result has been that in future years when it became the responsibility of my Brother and I to return the gifts we had been buried in, we emerged gasping for air, bearing the bruises of too many Transformer figures and ahead of the race Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys that we were reminded could only be bought in the States at that point (my Father travelled a lot for business during my formative years), and feeling an immense amount of pressure to equal the amount of money spent on us.
Add a few more years of cynicism and this year I outright reject this ideal. I have convinced the remaining few family participants to engage in Secret Santa and I completely refuse to be drawn into a spending frenzy (to be honest, I couldn't even if I wanted to!)
Now, before you write me off as a total Ebeneezer, I am not turning Christmas away at the door entirely. Rather, I feel more determined than ever to imbue myself with a bit of festive cheer (which I intend to do with more than just copious amounts of gin).
Taking the advice of my favourite Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson, I am getting busy in the kitchen and spreading a little merriment and good will to all men that way.
I started with my take on the Liddibit Slurtle - a chocolate turtle that is both drunk and very slutty.
My version involves a salted pretzel base, homemade beer caramel using Guinness Stout and lashings of dark chocolate.
Reducing dark brown muscavado sugar with butter, cream and a bottle of stout I made a sticky, wonderfully dark caramel that was sweet with a streak bitterness brought by the stout.
Using sheets of baking parchment, I made little nests of pretzels using one whole pretzel as the foundation before breaking up others to fill the gaps.
When your caramel is ready but still gooey enough to pour, ladle it onto your pretzel beds.
Allow it to cool and get quite firm. Melt your dark chocolate and then cover your drunk turtles to make them slutty. And because I am total skank, I finished them off with a sprinkling of white chocolate chips.
Transfer them onto a tray and leave them in the fridge to set. Be warned, these are sticky little beauties and take some tugging to free them from the parchment. Oh my!
I also conquered Nigella's Chilli Jam, which was actually so easy it's criminal. I managed to score some gorgeously robust kilner jars for a quid a go from Poundland. One handsome jarful went to friends as a Christmas gift and I kept the other one. I can't get enough of it, it's being lavishly spread on everything and I am pretty sure it will make this winter bearable. Plus, it totally glams up my fridge to see a scarlet, glowing jar resting in there every time I open the door. Sexy!
One of my favourite things in the world is a roast chicken and I tried something a bit fruity with it recently. I buttered up a good bird with thyme and salted butter and, after buying it a few drinks, was allowed to shove quarters of lemon, clementine, onion and garlic up its bum. I lined my roasting tray with the remaining fruit quarters but also some very chunky quarters of carrot and parsnip. After seasoning in the normal way, and to temper the citrus, my little twist on all of this was maple syrup. I know that sounds mad but it gave the whole thing a bit of caramelised flavour and really tarted up the carrots and parsnips.
To accompany this (alongside the standard roast potatoes because I couldn't go without) I attempted another little Nigella number - Double Potato and Halloumi Bake.
This is so stupidly simple and gives the traditional roast dinner a bit of a Mediterranean kick. All you do is chop up the following into healthy chunks; sweet potato (bigger chunks for this bitch because she is a total whore and cooks quicker than everything else), regular white potato, red pepper, red onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Bathe the whole lot in around 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of pepper and bung in a hot oven for about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile (at the legion of doom!) very thinly slice some bits of halloumi. For the final 10 minutes of the bake, layer on the cheese and then turn up the oven to full blast and grill it until golden.
This makes a great alternative to bog standard vegetables and it is amazing for lunch the next day, cold, on salad with a generous dollop of chilli jam. Cash back!
Coming up next (and for Christmas) Oreo Truffles, Chicken Stew with homemade savoury biscuits, Salmon Devilled Eggs and Bacon Brownies (and some Brownies without Bacon since my ball and chain isn't convinced...yet). In. Face. Now!
Five by five and seasons greetings... x