It's been a really busy weekend for us; my parents came to visit and, as we won't see them over Christmas, I wanted to give their stay a bit of festive spirit. We went to Aberystwyth on Saturday afternoon and visited the Christmas market; Mum and I both bought some mutton for the freezer and I also brought home some big slices of Welsh Black braising steak. We nipped into Ultracomida to get some cheese before driving home. I was able to pick up my annual cheese treat, a Vacherin Mont d'Or.
Mulled wine is a Christmas favourite, so a good home recipe is helpful if you want to avoid buying the supermarket alternatives of ready-mulled bottles, or teabag things purporting to be an 'easy option'. If you want to take a shortcut (always useful at this time of year), I would suggest the cloth-tied mulling bundles available from Julian Graves. What I would do without JG at this time of year I really don't know, a big sortie for snack foods and spices is de rigeur. This year we are mostly eating their gorgeous (and very moreish) Garlic and Herb Grissini.
This makes a lot, but you can use half of it for the chicken recipe below (which freezes very well). Nor do you have to drink all of it in one evening (ahem). If you strain it into a jug it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days to be reheated. You can even microwave it by the mugful if you like... Please don't try to use cheap nasty wine for this, you need something halfway decent or it will just be foul.
2x 75cl bottles red wine
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced
inch of root ginger, sliced (no need to peel)
2 cinnamon sticks
pinch of whole cloves
pinch of whole black peppercorns
50g caster sugar, or to taste
Bung everything into a big pan. Bring to boilking point, then turn the heat down and keep the wine just below simmering point for about 20 minutes. Either dole it out straight from the pan, or decant into a punch bowl if you have one (we were lucky enough to be given one as a wedding present). Either way, serve in heatproof glasses or nice chunky mugs. Mulled wine and good cheese is a great combination on a cold winter's night.
This chicken casserole, which we had for dinner on Saturday night, is something that I first made a few years ago when Hubby's parents came to visit just before that Christmas. Most of the work can be done a day or two in advance, then finishing it off takes only about ten minutes of hands-on work and half an hour in the oven, making it ideal if you want to spend time with your guests rather than your stove.
Mulled Wine Chicken
half-quantity of mulled wine recipe above
5 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
6 small onions, quartered
400ml hot chicken stock
6 chicken legs
Boil the mulled wine, reducing the quantity by half, to concentrate the flavour. Heat a knob of butter and a drizzle of oil in a large casserole and fry the bacon and onions until just browning. Add the hot stock and the (strained) wine, bring to the boil, then lay the chicken legs in the liquid. Cover the pan and transfer to a 200°c oven for an hour.
*At this point you can quickly cool and then chill the chicken for two days, or freeze it for up to a month. Defrost thoroughly, bring to the boil and then proceed as below.*
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered.
Stir in the mushrooms and return to the oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve with steamed potatoes or rice and some green vegetables. We had broccoli and sprouts from this week's veg box.
Pudding was another Christmas favourite of ours; Mincemeat Meringue Tart. This is my bastardisation of Michael Barry's 'Mince Pie Royale' from his lovely Radio Times Cookery Year. I make an almond pastry for the base, top it with my homemade mincemeat and then pile on meringue made according to the original recipe in the book. Dust it with icing sugar and serve with dollops of thick cream.