Tuesday 20 December 2016

Xmas Nibbles!

There have been a number of things that I normally make at xmas that I have not done or plan to do this year, but that hole left has made me want to make things that I have not made recently, to try them out again as an entertaining treat. 

With this in mind, I thought I would try out some edible "straws". I made chocolate straws and pesto straws for a "cousins and cocktails" night a number of years ago and the sweet and savoury treats were a hit. So I thought it was time I tackled the more well known "cheese straws" (of which the chocolate straws and pesto straws are simply a variation). They are easy to make with simple ingredients: cheese (I use a mix of mature cheddar & parmesan), Jus-Roll puff pastry, and a beaten egg for finishing. 

The puff pastry brand I use (Jus-Roll) contains two rolls of ready made pastry (if you make your own from scratch, good on ye, but I am going for party convenience!), which is ideal for making both a sweet and a savoury snack. Roll out according to packet instructions, on a lightly floured surface; here I also include a sprinkling of parmesan to become embedded in the pastry while rolling. Put handfuls of cheese on half the rolled pastry, then fold, roll out again and add another layer of cheese.

With a sharp knife cut the rolled pastry into strips.

Carefully take one strip at a time and twist before placing on a baking sheet, which is already prepared with a surface of parchment or wax paper. The straws always want to move around and untwist on the sheet. Be patient with them; try twisting tighter than you want them to be and you may end up with the twist you want. Actually, it doesn't really matter -- they taste great and each one looks individual when baked. Divide the beaten egg into two dishes so that you can have one specifically for the savoury and the other sweet. To finish the straws, loosely brush on some beaten egg. Sprinkle some more parmesan over the straws before putting in the oven.

Bake in the centre of the oven about 10 minutes at around 180C.  Cool before removing from tray; they can be eaten warm or cold. They also freeze well, though make sure they are in a sturdy container as they are delicate pastry. The yield is pretty good: two and a half dozen at least from the single pastry roll. Tip: only bake one tray at a time for even cooking; prepare the other trays when the first is in the oven -- it is still pretty quick.

The same process is done for making the chocolate straws. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface, spread chocolate on one half of the pastry, fold, repeat, cut into strips, twist. Note: since this is a sweet snack, sprinkle sugar on the surface with the flour so that it gets embedded into the pastry dough while rolling!

Again, brush the straws loosely with beaten egg.

For the finishing touch, sprinkle the straws with more sugar before putting into the oven.

I prefer the savoury straws myself, but anyone who likes sweets will love these!

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Christmas tree!

The xmas tree was picked up this morning, and we'll be decorating it on the weekend, so we are definitely feeling like the season is in full swing. I didn't take any photos of the tree selection process, but thought I would celebrate "tree-ness" by sharing some pix of cards I made in previous years which included a tree in them. I mentioned in previous posts that I had re-discovered a grey box full of small artworks and cards earlier this year, and also a huge selection of cards that my Mum had held on to over the years were returned to me. So these images are from the Grey Box and my Mum's archive. 

This was my card from 1986. The lino print image was printed on different coloured papers. At the time I was living in a bachelor apartment in Toronto, and the image depicts my hanging planter disguised as a xmas tree, my favourite armchair (from my family home) and a squiggle of lights that I had hanging across the window in my room.

Originally I was going to do this as a lino print, but then decided I wanted to use specific colours (gold & green) so made stencils. This card is from 1989 and at the time I was basing a number of paintings on dreams, in which dolphins featured. I stylised the dolphin pair such that their combined inner outlines formed the shape of a tree.

In 2000 I simplified the card by using collage and stencilled elements in my very stylised triangular trees.

In 1994 I was living at Darby's Bridge, Kells Bay, Co. Kerry, and decided to feature the nearby humpback bridge, which gave me my address. It was a Christmas card so I added a tree to my lino block design!

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Xmas cooking - apricot pineapple jam

It's that time of year, when the month is spent in preparation and lots of cooking for one day! (Or in my family, all the preparations are for an ongoing celebration, so it is definitely more than one day,) The first jam I learned to make when I became interested in canning more than 30 years ago, was an easy apricot-pineapple concoction made from dried apricots and canned pineapple. I have tweaked it over the years, and settled on "Apricot-Pineapple Jam with Almonds" as an annual xmas recipe that I have been making for at least 20 years now. My recipe uses two packages of dried apricots, 1 can of pineapple rings, about 100 grams of flaked almonds, lemon juice & zest and about a half kilo of sugar. The apricots need to be rinsed, removing dirt & unwanted blemishes, and soaked overnight. 

Here is what they look like the next day, after soaking up lots of water.

Loosely pre-chop pineapple rings and add to food processor with apricots. You will need to include some of the juice from the apricot soaking in the processor. If there is a lot of this juice, don't waste it but use it instead of or added to water when simmering the lemon zest.

This is what the apricot and pineapple should look like after processing.

Meanwhile, slice lemon zest and simmer with some water till soft before adding mush. Add juice from canned pineapple, and any additional water if it seems to need it (this concoction will happily cook and simmer while other preparations are being taken care of). Juice lemon and set aside. Have sugar in a bowl gently warming in upper oven or beside simmering fruit (sugar is only warming naturally, not cooking). Prepare jars for canning and other utensils. I sterilise jars by heating in the oven at 200 C/400 F minimum of 20 mins, leave in the oven till ready to use with oven turned off; lids are boiled 5 mins, and utensils are in container of boiled water, ready for use.

When all the fruit seems cooked and somewhat thickened, add lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly about 10 mins then add almonds. Stir and simmer a bit more. You may do the "jam test" by putting a small bit of the jam on a saucer which has been in the freezer; as it cools drag your finger through it -- a bit of drag should be apparent signalling that it is ready. However, with this jam you should simply be able to tell that it is the thickness of jam from stirring!

I always put a small amount of the hot jam in the bottom of a jar first, before going back and filling. This way you will know immediately if the jam is too hot for the jar (you will know right away if the jar cracks!).

This is really delicious jam and the yield is pretty good! For many years I have used the flaked almonds as a luxurious addition, but I remember once or twice adding sultanas (make sure they are very clean beforehand and stir the jam well so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot). The zest from an orange or clementine can also be added at the same time as the lemon zest in the initial simmer.