All 2 entries tagged Christmas
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December 08, 2012
For the past three years, we've put on a Winter Wonderland event for our Cryfield and Redfern students, with Christmas music, plenty mulled wine and mince pies to get them into the festive spirit. Of course, the first year we ran this, I realised how gauche I was about how one went around making mulled wine. My previous experiences of making mulled wine consisted of using a cheap bottle of red wine and dropping one of those mulled wine sachets into it. You know the kind I'm talking about right? The schwartz mulled wine spice bag.
So, that first year, I was marshalled into the mulled wine making army. We were inside this tiny kitchen, mixing vast quantities of homemade mulled wine syrup with bottles and bottles of red wine, adding sugar and dropping oranges into stock pots. Passing vats of the stuff outside to the thirsty punters, without making too much a mess, proved one step too far. Cleanliness was sacrificed for speed. I'm not sure that the redfern subwarden's kitchen ever survived it.
It's an understatement to say that it was somewhat of a revelation on how to make mulled wine. But you know what? That mulled wine tasted sweetly spiced wine with the tanginess of oranges, more akin to glühwein, and far superior than my previous homemade mulled wine. And that was even when we were doing it in bulk! The experience revolutionised my approach to making mulled wine.
The following year, I volunteered to make the mulled wine. A bit of research and arithmetic later, I began to compose my email to our deputy warden and organise my mulled wine making team.
For the next few days, I couldn't quite get over the fact that I had ordered 50 bottles of wine!
Pinar and Rumana came round the evening before to make the mulled wine syrup with me, studding oranges with cloves, peeling lemons...
2 hours and plenty of chatter later, we produced about 7.5 litres of mulled wine syrup. Later that night, I got the calculator out again to work out the mulled wine syrup to wine ratio.
This is what happened on the night.
We had 47 bottles of red wine to mull and 2 hours to do it. I'd printed off the instructions in the morning and stuck it up on a cupboard.
For 500-550ml of mulled wine syrup, add 3 bottles of wine and 2 oranges. Heat it on a gentle heat so that all the alcohol doesn't burn off. Empty the pan and start again :)
Rumana and Jue took charge of the mulling of the wine, whilst the rest of us began putting up decorations and heating up the pies. They were super-efficient and had it all done before 7pm before our first punters arrived. Shortly after the event began, I nipped off to a friend's birthday party, confident that my job had been done.
I guess it's becoming a tradition now to make the mulled wine from scratch for this annual event because this year I find that I'm initiating the new Cryfield team recruits into the art of making mulled wine syrup for the masses. We follow the success of last year and make the syrup a few nights before. Sarah needs a plaster when her finger exchanges sharp words with a vegetable peeler and Rumana shows off her skill for removing citrus peel. Glugs of orange juice and red wine are added into the pans by Dan. The good old calculator comes out as I work out the amount of spices that's going into each stock pan and the ratio of syrup to wine when it comes to mulling.
But this time, it's all happening out of my Redfern kitchen and I'm in charge of organising the whole event. What a difference a year makes!
So there you have it. Mulled wine for 300. Rather simple with a bit of organisation, preparation and a team of hardworking, happy helpers.
October 26, 2012
I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say 'another' because it isn't the first time that I've improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman...
The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.
Have you ever come across - ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that's like a Christmas cake? You'll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do :) *giggle* I would welcome them.
While I'm asking - do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don't know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?
So... a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I'm very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there's always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.
So, I did with Nigella's and Deb's (from Smitten Kitchen).
According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), '[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it's fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.'Well that sold it to me... as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen's Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella's and it is just a tad easier to make. I'll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella's banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.
Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)
- 100g currants.
- 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
- 150g plain flour
- 25g cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 125g unsalted butter, melted
- 90-100g soft brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
- 60g chopped walnuts
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I'm rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.
2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don't get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.
4. Melt the butter. I've used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don't seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.
6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don't worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You'll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it's warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.
Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I've made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you'll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won't dry out... if it lasts that long!
Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.