Sunday, December 23, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Rachael Johns

Well, it's finally here -- not Christmas! Well, not quite. No, it's the last post in the magic that has been:

The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravaganza! 

My final guest on TDoCFaRBE is the amazing Rachael Johns. Rachael writes cracking contemporary romance and while Christmas is always a wonderful time, especially when you have three little heroes-in-training running around the house as Rachael does, I'm sure she can't wait for January when she has two new books hitting the shelves! (See details after Rachel's divine recipe.)

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the gorgeous authors who've taken the time to be part of TDoCFaRBE. This started as a last-minute, over-excited idea when I began thinking of what sort of cooking I needed to do for Christmas. And I couldn't be more thrilled with the enthusiasm and contributions from everyone I invited to take part. Now, take it it away, Rachael!

White Christmas Crackles (Kid-friendly) 
by Rachael Johns

Thank you Emmie for inviting me to take part in your lovely Christmas blog series. I must admit I love Christmas – for a number of reasons but especially for the excuse to eat a whole host of delicious food. Ooh, my stomach is rumbling just thinking about it.

Saying that, I would much prefer other people cook the main Christmas meal. I used to be quite a good cook but over the course of the last few years, I’ve sadly gotten worse and worse. NOTHING seems to work for me at the moment. So, you can imagine my stress when the last week of school I was told I needed to make kid-friendly White Christmas crackles for a school function. As I said, my cooking leaves much to be desired lately but when it’s for something important, it always fails. So I decided not to follow a recipe but to make up something and just hope for the best.

I have three fussy boys and I wanted something they would actually eat as well. So, I decided to forgo the partly-healthy White Christmas recipes I saw on the net (with dried fruit and nuts in) and go for something all out naughty! The end result was surprisingly delicious and the process really easy. Even the adults enjoyed them, so I would recommend this recipe for anyone needing to make something yummy that looks good but is really simple and quick to make.

Rach’s White Christmas Crackles

·         1 packet of white chocolate cooking melts
·         2 T of copha
·         1 cup of Coco Pops
·         3 cups of Rice Bubbles
·         1/3 cup of 100s and 1000s
·         ½ cup of raspberry lollies (chopped into small pieces)

Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix. 
Melt white chocolate and copha together over low heat. 
Pour white chocolate mixture into dry ingredient and stir till combined.
Spoon generous amount of mixture into muffin-size patty pans – I made about 15 but you can alter the size of the crackles to make more or less. 
Place in the fridge for half an hour! 
Ta-dah!! It’s that easy!

As you can see this is the simplest recipe ever but it tastes and looks really good. So, if you’re not much of a cook (sadly like me now), then this is a fabulous treat to make when you need to take a plate to that Christmas party.

N.B You can alter what you put in to make these more adult-friendly. I’d like to try it with some nuts one day J

You can find Rachel on the web at the following places:  

STAND IN STAR – January 7thst 2013, Carina Press
As an anthropologist, Holly McCartney is more comfortable in a museum than shopping on Rodeo Drive. She isn’t prepared for the media frenzy on her arrival in L.A. to accept a posthumous acting award for her late sister….or for her sister’s gorgeous friend Nate Devlin to come to her rescue. Though he resents her for some reason, she can’t fight their irresistible chemistry—especially when the paparazzi force her to stay at his mansion.

Photographer Nate only agrees to help Holly survive Hollywood for her sister’s sake, but she soon gets under his skin in a way no other woman has. The more time he spends with her, the more his attraction grows and he finds himself opening up to her in ways he never expected. But will ghosts of the past stand in the way of their perfect Hollywood ending?

Buy links:

Man Drought – January 1st 2013, Harlequin Australia

Imogen Bates moved to the small rural town of Gibson’s Find to start a new life for herself after the death of her husband. Tired of being haunted by the painful memories of her old life, Imogen set her last remaining hopes on the little town and, in particular, pouring her heart and savings into restoring The Majestic Hotel to its former glory. But while the female-starved town might be glad to see a young woman move in, not everyone is happy about Imogen’s arrival.

Sheep and crop farmer Gibson Black once dreamed of having the kind of family his grandfather reminisces about, but he’s learnt not to dream anymore. Living in the mostly male town suits Gibson down to the ground...and he won’t have anyone — least of all a hot redhead from the city — change a thing.

Imogen has never been one to back down from a challenge, especially when it concerns her last chance at happiness. She’s determined to rebuild the pub and create a future for the little town. But can she create a future for Gibson and herself, too?

Buy: Amazon

And the last day of TDoCFaRBE brings my last reminder about undertaking a Random Act of Kindness this festive season, as prompted by  Random Acts.  

A new idea from Random Acts is to think about adding someone extra to your Christmas card list. It could be a soldier overseas or simply a friend or family member you haven't spoken to in a while.  

And you can always send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Cathryn Hein

I can't believe it, but today is our second-to-last post in this wonderful feature! It's Day Eleven of:
The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravaganza!

And my very special guest today is the wonderful Cathryn Hein. Cathryn is the author of amazing Australian romance fiction. If you're a fan of sexy rural men and strong determined women, Cathryn's books are for you! Like me, Cathryn has family spread across Australia and often travels to celebrate and isn't often called upon to play host. But she's sharing with us the amazing creation she made that I'm sure make her family long for her to do duty again soon! The photo of her cake looks so delicious I practically want to lick my computer screen...

Christmas with Gusto!
by Cathryn Hein

Thanks, Emmie. I'm super excited to be part of your 12 Days of Christmas fun. Food and romance - what a way to my heart!

I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a disappointment that I rarely get to do any Christmas cooking. With only two of us and with family spread between far north Queensland and the depths of south-east South Australia, Jim and I usually travel and someone else takes care of the sustenance side of Christmas. One part of me says this is a good thing. Think of all that stress I miss out on! But I can't help feeling a bit sad about it too. I adore cooking. I love all that planning and imagining, the delight of finding ingredients and turning them into something interesting and enticing, the whole process of creating something that people will savour and enjoy.

One Christmas, about five or so years ago, we decided not to travel. Jim and I were going to flop about in our backyard in Newcastle with a whopping great platter of seafood, some excellent wine and the stereo crooning. Then Mum and Dad announced they'd come to us, my girlfriend in Sydney thought she and her partner might drive up to keep us company, and two other girlfriends decided to join the fun. Before I knew it, the backyard was going to be full and for once I had a Christmas cooking challenge on my hands. Believe me, I went at it with gusto!

We still did the seafood thing. There were prawns, wok-tossed blue swimmer crabs and baked snapper, but I also deboned and stuffed an entire forequarter of lamb and roasted it on the Weber, plus made two different kinds of bread, all sorts of dips and nibbles, salads and lots of other things that I can't recall but which kept me occupied for days.

But the pièce de résistance was a white chocolate cheesecake topped with festive fruit and coulis. A complete pain in the bum to make but, oh, was it worth it. Smooth, rich, creamy and very pretty to look at. Not the traditional pud, admittedly, but still a great way to finish an indulgent Christmas meal with family and good friends.

White Chocolate Decadence
You'll need to make this recipe at least a day ahead. Try two or three days ahead to save fuss. It'll keep fine in the fridge.

450g cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup caster sugar
3 teaspoons cornflour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups sour cream
1 cup thickened cream
240g block of good quality white chocolate, melted then cooled to lukewarm. I use Lindt.
Fresh seasonal fruit and fruit puree to serve

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Grease a 20cm loose bottomed cake pan (I've also used a 23cm tin with no ill-effects, so this is flexible) and line base and sides with baking paper. Wrap the outside of the tin tightly in a several layers of foil. It's very important to make sure that it's well sealed or water will leak into the tin during cooking and spoil the cake.

Whiz cheese and sugar in a mixmaster or with beaters until smooth. With the motor running, add cornflour, then eggs one at a time, making sure they're well combined into the mix. Add vanilla, zest and creams, and ¼ teaspoon salt, and beat until just mixed. Add chocolate and beat some more until smooth. Pour mixture into the lined tin, then sit the tin on a teatowel in a large roasting dish (the teatowel prevents the tin slipping around). Pour boiling water into the dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the cake tin.

Bake for 45 minutes, then leave the cake in the switched-off oven with the door closed for one hour. Remove tin from roasting dish, remove foil and cool cake completely on a rack (leaving it in its tin). Cover and chill overnight.

Turn out onto a plate or cake stand. Remove baking paper, top with fruit then drizzle with fruit puree. Slice using a hot, dry knife.

Thanks Cathryn! Don't forget to visit Cathryn online or click on the book covers above to learn more. 

And  here's my usual reminder about Random Acts. As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. 

The latest hint from Random Acts is about helping our four-legged friends this festive season and making sure that those pets who are yet to find forever homes have a happy and comfortable Christmas. 

And you can also simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Robin Covington

Done all your Christmas shopping yet? Baking? I've just done my last batch of shortbread (which turned out very well, if I do say so myself) and so now it's time to swap the rolling pin for my keyboard and get on with bringing you all Day Ten of:
The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravanganza! 

My awesome guest today is Robin Covington. Robin is the author of hot and spicy romances and I've had the blessed good fortune to have her as a CP for the past little while. We've both made the leap into being published around the same time, and she has been an invaluable sounding board for me. Not to mention the fact that I love reading her books! You must definitely check out "A Night of Southern Comfort". The hero, Jackson, is drop-dead sexy. (And when you get to the end, you need to turn the page to the dedication, where *ahem* you might just see my name...! Still so totally chuffed about that.)

Robin has dug into her family vault for another treasured recipe -- this time something I've never heard of! But I'm thinking I want her to whip me up a batch of Divinity and send it my way!!

My Mama’s Divinity Candy Recipe
by Robin Covington

Thanks Emmie for having me today! 

In my house we are in full on Christmas mode and my kiddos are eagerly waiting for Santa to come bearing gifts of Legos, Barbies and Nintendo games.  Once I am off work on Thursday we will start baking, making Gingerbread houses, and making divinity candy for the holiday. 
The stunning decorations at Robin's house! 
If you’ve never had divinity candy – it is a sweet, airy confection – that melts in your mouth.  (If you don’t want to make it, I recommend ordering it from Savannah Candy

My Mama made the candy when I was growing up but only at Christmas so it was a special treat that signaled the beginning of the holiday.  We would then spend the weeks leading up to the big day sneaking pieces out of the tins in the kitchen and hoping we didn’t get caught. (It’s a miracle we didn’t end up on the naughty list!)

Divinity is a southern tradition – like collard greens and corn bread – and I am proud to carry it on. This year my daughter is seven and I will have her help me with it and we’ll make our own memories. I am so glad that I have the family recipe to pass down to her and I look forward to sharing stories with her as we create the yummy treats.

Happy Holidays  and Peace in the New Year to you and yours!

2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
3   egg whites
3/4 cup cold water
1 cup white corn syrup
4 cup sugar

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Stir only until sugar has dissolved. Do not stir after this point. Cook syrup mixture until it reaches 255 degrees on a candy thermometer, bringing it to a hard ball stage.

While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Once the sugar mixture reaches 255 degrees, carefully pour a slow steady stream of syrup into the stiffly beaten egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until mixture holds its shape, approximately 5 minutes.  Stir in pecans.

Using two spoons, drop the divinity onto waxed paper, using one spoon to push the candy off the other.  This may take a little practice because the technique is to twirl the pushing spoon, making the candy look like the top of a soft serve ice cream.  If the candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water.  You will need to work fast when making this type of candy.

Let sit for 30 minutes and serve.

The very best news from Robin is that she has a new book out! Just in time for Christmas, you can sample  her new wonderfully hot and romantic novella - Secret Santa Baby

Whoa! That cover!! Pass me the brandy custard, please, I've got some things I need to, uh, discuss, with "Santa"... 

And  don't forget my challenge to you all! As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. To make it super-easy, you can simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Monday, December 17, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Hayley Cafarella

Wow, is time whizzing past, or is it just me? It's already the Nine Ladies Dancing Day of:

The 12 Days of Christmas
Romance & Food
Blogging Extravaganza

We have something a little different here on TDoCRaFBE today! The lovely Hayley Cafarella isn't a romance author. She's a blogger, who blogs intelligently, humorously and bravely about her life with a chronic pain condition called CRPS. She's also recently discovered a love of cooking and food -- particularly in ways it can be healing and nurturing for your health.

When I asked Hayley to take part, I wasn't sure what angle she might take, but I didn't expect her to become a romance author. I should have known to expect the unexpected -- because that's exactly what she's done! A romance with a twist -- a romance with a pudding. Yep, you heard it right. Take it away, Hayley...

The Very Special Christmas Pudding: A Love Story
by Hayley Cafarella

This is the story of a very special Christmas Pudding. He is a pudding that captivates all who cross his path, teasing noses with his enticing scent and tantalising the tastebuds on every tongue he’s ever met. When he arrives, dripping with brandy custard and holiday happiness, hearts flutter and stomachs cry out in craving. Dark and mysterious, he’ll draw you in. Delightful and warm, he’ll fill you up. He is a pudding that has never once left a stomach, or a soul, unsatisfied.

His sugars and spices are shrouded in secret, the mystery as alluring as his flavour. Only one person holds the key to his locked heart of goodness. One very special person, for let us not forget, he is a very special Christmas pudding. She is my grandma, of course, grandmothers are the most magical of people.

I’ve known this special pudding for all of my life. Year after year, we’ve shared a sweet, Summer romance. I’ve dreamt about him in Aprils and Mays, longed for him in Julys and Augusts, spent Novembers bubbling in anticipation and Januarys grieving his absence. In spite of my yearning, he only ever visits on that one day in December and is gone in a flash, occasionally lingering until Boxing Day, but rarely beyond that.

Until now.

We all must grow up eventually and when we do, torches are passed, preparing us for the day when we must carry traditions towards future generations ourselves. This is the year that the secrets of the very special Christmas pudding have been whispered lovingly in my ear.

I knelt as the sword was placed gently on each of my shoulders, and as I stood, I felt the heavy pressure of expectation from the bellies of my extended family.

Could I really summon such a special pudding all by myself? Could I satisfy the people who love him so dearly, who longingly await his arrival every year? Could it be possible to get that magic into the recipe when I don’t even have children, let alone grandchildren?!

Armed with Grandma’s pudding bowl and handwritten recipe, I prepared to practise as many times as it might take to reach pudding perfection. I called on my very limited experience in dessert making, some helpful friends, and my Googling prowess to muster up the skill set that I needed. I visualised him, that delectable pudding prince and I vowed to cook with all of the passion that he stirs up, deep down inside me.

It takes a lot of special pieces to put together such a very special Christmas pudding. With a long list, including ingredients that I’d never before encountered, I hunted through the supermarket until I’d gathered all of the things I would need.

I bought my first bottle of Brandy that day, choosing her carefully from amongst her sisters on the shelf. Later on, I poured her over a bowl full of dried fruits, mixing them gently and leaving the sugary lovers to spend the night soaking in their combined state.

When I returned the following day to finish the job, my knees jangled with nerves. I agonised over every detail in the recipe, fitting the pieces into place in my mind and making sure I knew what I was doing.

No, there isn’t cream in the pudding, that’s the method it’s telling you to use on the sugar and butter...but, yay! Now there’s cream to serve it with.

I measured and grated, microplaned and mixed. I made bread crumbs from fresh bread and whipped up a sweet bowl of batter. I added juices and spice and everything nice. One by one, I worked through all the secrets of the very special Christmas pudding. He smelled so tempting as I introduced the soaked fruits and completed the mixing part of pudding creation.

With the mixture sitting pretty in the heirloom pudding bowl, the time had come for the trickiest part. I needed to tie a foil top onto the bowl. No gaps would be tolerated, no tears or lazy knots. Grandma had warned me that this would be difficult and grandmothers never lie. Getting this right took two people and about an hour.

For five and a half hours, he steamed in a stockpot on the stove. It’s such a secretive method of cooking, with no windows into how he was doing in there. I’d never cooked any pudding before, let alone one this special, and it was all I could do to contain myself as I tried to be patient.

Finally, it was time to pull him from the pot. This also took two people, but only a couple of minutes. Quite surprisingly, neither of the people were burnt in the process.

The minutes slowed down as my first attempt at cooking the very special Christmas pudding sat cooling on the bench. I was so nervous and excited that I bounced around as I waited.

Now I know why you have pudding at Christmas! Because it’s a surprise! Look, it’s all wrapped up and I have NO IDEA if what’s inside is any good. The pudding is a Christmas food AND a Christmas present!!
With my eyes watering and my jaw clenched, I steeled myself towards the moment of truth. I took scissors to that painstakingly placed string. I tore back the foil to find out whether or not I remained worthy of my place in my family.

And there he was. It was really him.

He's HERE!
The very special Christmas pudding sat right there on my bench, beaming brightly with his powers of attraction. I wanted him immediately and in his entirety. I wanted to shove delicious chunks of him into my mouth until I could swallow no more.

The first bite was heaven in a mouthful. The perfection of such a very special Christmas pudding, combined with sweet relief and overwhelming nostalgia, created that certain feeling that Christmas is all about.

Mmmmm, Christmas spirit.

The very best thing about a practice pudding working out perfectly is being absolutely allowed to eat as much of it as you like! There are no family members to battle for it and no extra Christmas dinner guests trying to get their slice. He’s all mine, this very special Christmas pudding.

All mine at last.

My next venture into pudding cooking won’t be a rehearsal. Come Christmas day, I still have to convince the rest of the family that I’m up to the task of annually preparing such a very special Christmas pudding.

Will they still love him as much as I do? Only time will tell...

But for now, it’s just me and my practise pudding. My dark, delightful and delicious, practise pudding. Just as happy as a human and a pudding could ever be.

Oh goodness, is it just me, or does everyone want a slice of pudding now? Don't forget to visit Hayley's blog to learn more about CRPS and all sorts of health-related topics. 

And  here's my usual reminder about Random Acts. As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. 

The latest hint from Random Acts is about all the pesky change that collects in purses and wallets at this time of year. Why not start a collection and dump it all into a jar or bag? 
Then, when it gets to a suitable size, drop it off at your favourite charity! 

Or you can simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Alison Stuart

It's Day Eight here at:
The 12 Days of Christmas
Romance and Food
Blogging Extravaganza! 

I have another wonderful author and another wonderful recipe for you today! Alison Stuart is an award winning published author of historical novels with romance...and the odd ghost...and a bit of time travel. If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you'll love her latest release, Gather The Bones. As befits a historical author, today Alison has delved into the family vaults to bring us an absolutely delicious looking family recipe!

Aunty Hetty's Famous Mince Pies
by Alison Stuart

Every family has a legendary cook and in my mother’s family that person was “Aunty Hetty”  (Or Aunty Etty as I knew her) – my great aunt.

Auntie Hetty was my grandfather’s eldest sister.  Typical of life in the north of England, especially in large families, where they were used to living in confined accommodation,  when she married she and her husband, Horace, moved into the family home in Salterforth with her parents.  They were allocated the front bedroom.  My greatgrandparents had the back bedroom and Auntie Eva, who never married, a  small front bedroom,  whilst the attic housed two double beds and the bachelor brothers slept there. 

Eva always did the ironing and the two girls were the ones who did the laundry.  They all worked in the local cotton weaving mill, where Horace was an ‘overseer’.  He checked the cloth for any faults and marked the fabric accordingly. Hetty was resigned to the fact that there were no children. In her late 40s, she thought it was the change of life, not suspecting she was pregnant.  She was always on the plump side, so her pregnancy didn’t show and apparently she had no other symptoms, like morning sickness.  She gave birth to a daughter.

Typical of the family hierarchy, Great Granny was head cook and Hetty learned all her skills from her mother. There was no cook books, the recipes were just passed down by word of mouth.  Great Granny never used scales to measure ingredients so her recipes have come down with measurements such as a “tea cup” and a “dessert spoon”.

Hetty inherited her mother’s caring and loving personality  and was adored by nephews and nieces .
As a child I had met Aunty Etty but she was indistinguishable from the rest of the “prickly aunts”, of which my mother seemed to have many.  In the early 80s, at the age of 21, I made my first big overseas trip by myself and in a chilly December I went to stay with my mother’s brother in Lytham St-Annes.  My mother’s family are a close knit bunch even now and even then  it was quite usual for several generations to share the small terrace houses that still line the streets of the old mill towns.

By that time Aunty Etty was living in Morecambe with her daughter and her family. As the slightly exotic Australian member of the family, we went up to take tea with her.  A large afternoon tea was produced, complete with a plate of the famous “mince pies”.

Aunty Etty cocked her head and looked me up and down.
“Well, our Alison,” she said. “How old are thee?”
“Twenty one, Aunty Etty.”
“Twenty one and tha’art not married?” She looked appalled.
“What’s wrong with thee. Aren’t there any nice boys in Orstralia?”

To end this embarrassing conversation, I took a mince pie and bit into it. The sweet pastry melted in my mouth. At last a genuine Aunty Etty mince pie. I told her that her recipe was used faithfully every Christmas and all thoughts about my failure in the marriage stakes were forgotten. She plumped up like a hen and we discussed baking.

Aunty Etty’s mince pie recipe is all about the pastry. You can choose whatever fruit mince you wish.  This year, for the first time I’ve made my own fruit mince. I hope it tastes OK – I took the lid off the jar and my eyes watered from the brandy fumes.

Over the years I have made a small adaptation of my own to her recipe so what follows is my take on that wonderful old lady’s recipe. Enjoy J

250g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
125g sugar
125g butter
I large (or up 2 small) beaten eggs
1/4tsp mixed spice
1 tsp grated lemon rind

Sieve flour and add sugar.
Rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs
Make into dough with egg (my mother says the secret is making the mixture with just one egg and it needs to be really well worked in)
Turn on to floured board and proceed as for normal pastry.
(A mince pie is one that has a covered top/ a mince tart generally just has a bit of decorative pastry on the top)

Alison’s latest release is GATHER THE BONES, a “Downton Abbeyesque” ghost story.  For more information visit Alison at

And another reminder from me about Random Acts of Kindness. The latest hint is one that is very important at this time of year -- car kindness. We're all in a rush and none of us wants to be stuck in traffic. 

This weekend, decide to be the nicest driver you can be: patient and polite. 

And you can also send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Louise Reynolds

It's my merry pleasure to welcome you to day Day Seven of: 

The 12 Days of Christmas
Romance and Food
Blogging Extravaganza! 

My wonderful guest today is Louise Reynolds, who is not only an amazing writer (her first book, Her Italian Aristocrat is out now with Destiny Romance and is a fantastic summer read) but a very lovely friend of mine. 

Louise and her family are going out for their Christmas feast this year. I have to say that my family have done that in the past, especially when we'd relocated and didn't have a lot of family and friends around -- going out to a restaurant seemed more cheery than sitting by ourselves. And it was! I have some very fond memories of Christmases spent in restaurants. And one of the best bits? No dishes to be done when you finish!  

A Different Christmas Dinner
by Louise Reynolds

For the first time, this Christmas we’re having Christmas dinner at a restaurant. I would be feeling really bad about this but as we’re going to Sydney and taking my mother, a restaurant meal is the only possible choice.

But it’s made me think of the Christmases of my childhood. My family circle has dwindled for a number of reasons and of late, come Christmas time, I find myself filling the empty spaces with the production of elaborate meals garnered from the latest cookbooks and magazines.

It wasn’t always like this.

My mother didn’t spend days flicking through food-porn to find the very latest in fashionable food to put before her family and guests. Early in December, a turkey and ham were ordered and a pudding and cake were made. On Christmas morning a kitchen table press-gang peeled mountains of potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato and parsnip. Giblet stock and sage, onion and bacon stuffing were prepared. The ham had been ceremoniously cut days before, my mother using a lethal carving knife with the precision of a surgeon, peeling back the burnished flap of skin, assessing the colour and thickness of the layer of fat with the eye of a connoisseur and then taking the first slice. The ham was invariably pronounced either a disaster or the best ever.

The seriously alcoholic brandy sauce was also eagerly anticipated. Not for the faint hearted, this concoction of cream, brandy and golden syrup was so utterly delicious that I have been known to request ‘just a bowl of sauce, please’.

Buy links here!
My mother laboured over a meal that, if not set in stone, left very little room for negotiation. Not by a single oyster, sweet potato or glacé fruit did her children allow the meal to deviate from the way it was every year. The plum pudding was always turned onto the royal blue and gold Houses of Parliament serving plate and the silver dish that now sits on my dining table always held nuts ready to be cracked. Food, the notion of plenty, was the table decoration, with cut glass bowls of chocolates, nuts in the shell, cherries and glace fruit placed down the centre of the table.

But what I’ll be missing most is the fun. There won’t be any of that gorgeous silliness involved in our Christmas lunch in a 5 star hotel overlooking Sydney Harbour. No one will wear a pair of hinged cherries as earrings. I doubt that we’ll sport cheap paper crowns that slip tipsily to the side as the afternoon wears on. There may be bonbons but they’ll be civilised affairs. And everyone will be wearing shoes. No one will walk barefoot through a tangle of discarded wrapping paper on the living room floor until one of us inevitably steps on an evilly sharp little piece of plastic.       

But it will be Christmas. We’ll be with the people we love. And that’s enough.Merry Christmas, Emmie, and to all your readers. May the year ahead be filled with blessings of every kind.

Thank you, Louise! And  here's my usual reminder about Random Acts. As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. 

My tea-drinking peccadilloes are well-documented on the internet. The latest hint from Random Acts is written for coffee lovers, but it applies to tea lovers too! Why not spot someone their daily cuppa (whether camomile or caffeine!) and make their morning? Or you can simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Sarah Mayberry

Welcome to day six of:

The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravaganza! 

Halfway through! Is your Christmas shopping all done?? No, mine either. But on to happier topics...

My guest today is the absolutely awesome author and (I'm very proud to say) my SuperRomance stablemate, Sarah Mayberry! Sarah's heartwarming (and quite spicy) romances are the stuff of legend and like so many of my wonderful Extravaganza guests, her books are well-represented on my shelves. Sarah has not only brought us a wonderful tale about a family heirloom Christmas pudding, she's even provided the recipe! With all this recipe goodness we're serving up for TDoCFaRBE, there's no excuse not to be straight into the Christmas baking this year...

The Legend  of Nana's Christmas Pudding
by Sarah Mayberry

Before I start waxing poetic about my Nan's pudd, a big thanks to Emmie for inviting me to blog about something so close to my heart (and stomach). With Christmas just days away, I am about to launch into the marathon that is my Day of Pudding Boiling (you'll see why it's a marathon in a moment) so this topic is top of my mind right now.

The legend of my grandmother's Christmas pudding is a bit like Emmie's fruit cake story in that until they've eaten some of my Nan's pudd, many people don't realise they even like plum pudding. In fact, some people might even consider themselves avowed plum pudding haters (poor, deprived fools!). Usually this is because they hate sultanas or currants or some other variety of dried fruit. I must admit, if I was held at gunpoint  with bright lights trained on me, I might also confess to not being the world's greatest sultana lover, too. But all such considerations go out the window when faced with a bowl full of Nan's goodness.  There's something about the boiling process or perhaps it's the sheer simplicity of this recipe that results in a really lovely, rich pudding that isn't overly dried-fruity, even though it's chockas with the stuff. 

Put simply (and, of course, completely objectively) it is The Best Thing Eva. There's no fancy stuff in this recipe - no suet, or glace anything, or nuts or anything vaguely spicy. It's just dried fruit, brandy, eggs, butter, flour and golden syrup. And when it's been boiled for seven hours (six when you make it, one on the day of serving) it's moist and delicious and well worth the "I'm so full I'm going to be sick" feeling that is the inevitable end result of Christmas feasting for so many of us. 

I have no idea where this recipe comes from, but for as long back as I can remember, Christmas day at my maternal grandmother's house was always capped off by Nan unwrapping the pudding, drowning it in brandy sauce and handing it out to a table full of expectant relatives. Usually the pudding had been hanging in her pantry for a few months, maturing to perfection. Even as a child I knew to savor it, because unlike a traditional roast dinner, I knew I was only getting this pudding once a year. Needless to say, there was always  a queue for seconds, and the huge saucepan of brandy sauce never went the distance no matter how much Nan made. 

At a certain point Nan got too old to go through all the fuss of pudding making, so she passed the baton onto my sister, both my mother and my aunt having declared themselves not interested enough in cooking to master the art of the pudding. Once I saw that my sister could replicate my Nan's success, I got in on the act, too, and introduced my husband's family to the joy's of Nan's pudding. Now, every year my sister and I reserve a day to make our pudding. For that day, we are tied to the kitchen, watching our boiling pudding, adding water to the pot, generally fussing around this precious thing until its six hours in the hot seat are up. 

Unlike Nan, I have never tried to make my pudding early and leave it hanging for months to deepen the flavors, or whatever that's about. My sister lost a whole pudding to mold one year, and we both agreed it was too painful a process to risk that kind of attrition. So now we boil our puddings a week or two before Christmas and store them in the fridge. A little less romantic than Nan's way of doing things, I know, but very practical. We have also freelanced from Nan's recipe a little by increasing the amount of brandy we use to soak the fruit. Nan's recipe included only a few tablespoons of the good stuff. My sister and I both decided this was barely enough to dampen the fruit! So we glug a decent amount of brandy over the fruit so that it's got plenty of liquid to soak up and rehydrate with. The recipe below has been adjusted to allow for our heavy-handedness, so feel free to tweak to suit your own tastes. 

So, without further ado, here is Nan's recipe:

Nan Wade's Christmas Pudding
250g currants                           5 eggs
250g raisins                            1 tlbsp golden syrup
250g sultanas                          1 tsp carb soda
125g dates                                250 ml brandy
250g brown sugar                60cm x 60cm unbleached calico, available from most fabric retailers                                     
375g sifted plain flour              kitchen string
250g butter

Cut up raisins and dates so that all pieces are of an even size, about  the size of a sultana.
Mix all the dried fruits together.
  • Pour brandy over fruit, mix well and let soak at least overnight. ( sometimes I let it sit 3 or 4 days as I build up to the big 6 hour boiling day)
  • Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
  • Add the soaked fruit & golden syrup , mix well.
  • Add the flour and carb soda. Fold dry ingredients in.
  • Boil the pudding cloth.  Sift flour over the surface of the pudding cloth to give the pudding a skin.
  • Place ingredients in the centre of the cloth and tie up with kitchen string, looping it tightly around the "neck" of the pudding several times, nice and tight.  Place a saucer on the bottom of a very large stock pot and bring water to the boil. (This stops the pudding from "catching" on the bottom of the pot.) Put the pudding into the rapidly boiling water on top of the saucer, and put the  lid on immediately. The pudding will float, but don't worry about that. I usually use water up to about the string line.  Boil the pudding rapidly for 6 hours.  The water must never go off the boil, so replenish from a boiled kettle if necessary, being careful not to pour water directly over the tied neck of the pudding, as it can get  a bit soggy there if water seeps in. 
  • At the end of the cooking time, lift the pudding from the water and store in the fridge until the day of serving. On the day of serving, boil the pudding for a further hour to heat it. To serve, cut the string and peel the cloth away from the pudding. Cut into wedges and serve with brandy sauce and vanilla ice-cream. 
The brandy sauce we make to accompany this is basically a sweetened white sauce with brandy added - milk thickened with cornflour, sweetened with sugar, and the brandy added to taste. 

If you are tempted to give this a try, I promise you you won't be disappointed - it comes out a gorgeous golden-syrupy color and tastes so rich and delicious. I cannot wait till Christmas day now that I've written this all up - yummm! Sadly, I only have the  one picture of my pudding from last year. This year I will take many more so I can show it off with pictures as well as words next time anyone is foolish enough to ask about my Nan's pudding.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I'm sure Sarah won't mind me book-ending her post with a little reminder about Random Acts. As part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. 

The latest hint from Random Acts is a lovely one -- why not give someone the gift of your time and attention and make a visit to your local nursing home or to an elderly neighbour?  

Or you can simply send Random Acts a donation and wear a smile all day.