I didn't mean to take a week off blogging but after the excitement of seeing family last Friday, the fun of working Saturdays and Sundays, and then the sheer joy of coming home on a Sunday night to find that careless upstairs neighbours had comprehensively blocked our shared soil pipe so I couldn't use my kitchen sink or washing machine. After that, I ran away to my mothers with a load of washing and spent some quality time with her dog. It's all left me feeling a bit wrung out so since then I've mostly been working or sleeping, but at least the water seems to be draining okay again and I've been able to do some kitchen things today.
I saw fresh cranberries for sale yesterday so nabbed a pack of them to make Diana Henry's Christmas chutney with. I only had cooking apples and it's been both too wet and cold to want to venture out today so I went a little bit off recipe, but the results smell good and had a nice consistency so I'm happy. The time spent making cakes, puddings, chutney and mincemeat are amongst my favourite parts of Christmas. I could buy all of these things, but there's a mindful aspect in doing it from scratch that balances the craziness, commercialism, and inevitable disappointments of Christmas.
The chutney recipe is in 'Salt Sugar Smoke' which remains my favourite and most used Diana Henry book. It's also my favourite preserving book. If you want to start preserving things it's the perfect place to start - full of things you want to try, have easy to follow recipes, and aren't available in every supermarket you pass.
Anja Dunk's 'Advent' looks set to become a similar favourite. This is partly because of the way it invites you to make all of December a celebration of advent rather than focusing in just one day towards the end of it, partly because I love biscuits, and again because it's the encouragement to make and share. So far I've concentrated on the Christmas Schnapps - which unusually for my has turned out well.
Flavoured vodka is normally a disaster in my hands, but this orange, coffee, vanilla, and cinnamon infused beauty has broken my long run of bad luck to produce something I really want to drink. It's great as a reviving shot after a cold walk, and I'm looking forward to playing about with it in a couple of cocktails.
I've also finally cracked the Cinnamon roast almonds (Gebrannte Mandeln) recipe. These worked out really well the first time I made them, and then I properly messed up my second attempt, built on that failure the 3rd time, and a lot of almonds later worked it out this morning. It helped that nothing (like the sink) broke down on me whilst I was making them, which gave me time to really consider how sugar behaves.
As disasters go it could have been worse - I ended up with almond brittle which doesn't really qualify as a disaster although it's an object lesson in what heat does to see and taste the difference between the 2 sets of nuts.
To make the almonds you need a large heavy-bottomed frying pan, 150g of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, quarter of a teaspoon of fine salt, 75ml of water, and 200g of whole almonds. Put some greaseproof baking parchment on a baking tray and leave to one side.
Put everything except the almonds into the pan, turn the heat up to a high medium and stir until the sugar melts and it all starts to bubble. Add the almonds stir in, turn the heat down to medium (you still want the sugar to bubble rapidly, but not to burn) and watch for 3 minutes. Stir again once, and continue to watch - sometime after about 6-8 minutes the sugar will start to crystallise. Turn the heat to a low medium, give another stir and let them cook for another couple of minutes, you want most of the liquid to have evaporated. Now remove from the heat and stir continuously to help the rest of the sugar crystallise. If you carry on doing this over heat it gets more liquid as the sugar stops wanting to crystallise. I probably over stirred my almonds as the sugar mix was turning into something like fudge, but it makes it appealingly un-sticky to handle and tastes delicious - so again, I'm happy.