This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.
~ Taylor Caldwell, English novelist
Our entertaining philosophy is thus: I make lots of food (party leftovers the next morning are the best) and stock the bar, and Mike picks lots of music, and if the bathroom gets cleaned before everyone arrives, it’s a bonus.
This year (OK, every year) I become mildly obsessed with the idea of a British Christmas. Perhaps because so much of our Christmas culture has roots there, or maybe Dickens has a lot to do with it. Really, any country that embraces booze-fueled pyrotechnics as a finale to dinner is the kind whose traditions I want to emulate. I’ve recently discovered Fanny Cradock, and plan to spend my holiday in PJs eating shortbread and cheezies and watching her.
Every year the same cookie recipes are trotted out, including my Grandma’s marmalade cookies, which are flat and chewy and which she only made with Robertson’s Thick Cut marmalade (“for that extra zip”) – it’s a smart ingredient, incorporating bits of citrus into your cookies without resorting to glacé mix. (And you can’t argue with anything with that “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen” label. It’s like the original Oprah’s Picks.)
This year, I discovered a line of boozy jams with Champagne! Cointreau! Armagnac! Malt Whisky! How perfectly Fanny! And so in the spirit of Gatherings and Rolling Spoon, and just for fun (isn’t that what it’s all about?), I came up with a UK-inspired party plan, complete with British Christmas song pairings courtesy of M.
Something to eat: Downton Abbey Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter Hard Sauce. If this isn’t classic Christmas, I don’t know what is.
Something to drink: A raspberry-lime martini. With fresh limes or Rose’s Lime Cordial.
Something to eat: Walker’s Shortbread. It’s not cheating – it’s its own thing.
Food: MILK TRAY. Again, endorsed by the Queen.
Something to eat: Irish Soda Bread with Crystallized Ginger & Cardamom
Irish Soda Bread with Crystallized Ginger & Cardamom
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old fashioned (large flake) oats
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cardamom (or substitute cinnamon)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, cut in pieces
2 cups buttermilk (or half buttermilk, half eggnog)
1 large egg
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, oats, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom and salt; add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers until crumbly. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and egg with a fork; pour it into the dry ingredients, add the raisins and stir until you have a stiff dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 3-4 times, shaping it into a slightly flat ball. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and cut two deep slashes across the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until deep golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, with a tea towel draped overtop to keep the crust soft.
Serve warm, in wedges.
Something to eat: Oatcakes! With some good cheddar and Wensleydale.
Something to eat: my Grandma’s marmalade cookies. I’ll let you decipher her handwriting.
Something to eat: Skibo Castle Ginger Crunch! From a Scottish castle, and made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
Skibo Castle Ginger Crunch
from Gourmet, December 1999
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup butter
1 Tbsp. Lyle’s or Roger’s Golden Syrup (British cane sugar syrup)
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 9×13-inch metal baking pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger and salt and blend in the butter, working it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan (it will be thin) and bake until golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.
Just before the shortbread is done, melt the butter in a small saucepan and whisk in the golden syrup, icing sugar, ginger and vanilla. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 seconds.
Remove shortbread from oven and pour topping over, tilting pan and using a spatula to cover it evenly. Cool in the pan, then cut into small rectangles or break into shards.
Makes about 64 pieces.
Hey! Let’s bring back Free Stuff Fridays for Christmas! I have a $50 London Drugs gift card to give away, so one of you can fill up a few stockings or load up on some of the food I mentioned. (And it’s where I go for my small kitchen appliances too.) To enter, let us know what kind of party food you’re stirring up this season!