Well, it’s nearly December now, and in the coming weeks, likely you’ll be seeing more visitors than usual; preparing special foods for family and friends over the holidays, and it’s good to get the jump on things by preparing whatever you can ahead of time.
It’s also a good time to be thinking of special gifts for those on your Christmas list who like to cook, or who do cook anyway. I love books, but cookbooks especially, so my first suggestion would be to look up some of the great offerings in your local bookstore and see if you can match the perfect book to everyone on your list.
New out this fall is a book chock full of modernized recipes for Portuguese comfort foods, called Pimentos and Piri Piri, by Carla Azevedo, published by Whitecap Books.
She seems to have achieved the impossible by re-creating the flavours of traditional Portuguese recipes, but using ingredients and cooking methods that will be more familiar to Canadian cooks.
And, some of those flavours are simply scrumptious.
They range from such recipes as Peas and Eggs in Tomato and Red Peppers to Trout Wrapped in Prosciutto with Pine Nut Sauce, from appetizers and soups, to seafood, poultry, meats and vegetables, ending with breads and desserts.
For a book that’s a little less exotic, consider picking up a copy of my book, Jude’s Kitchen, with about 200 recipes for every time of day and every season of the year, based on what’s available fresh and local, each season.
Christmas Fig Cake
Author Carla Azevedo advises that this cake can be made a month ahead of time, kept in the refrigerator, brushed with Aguardente or brandy once a week, so it’s something you can make up now, all ready for the holiday season.
2 tbsp. (30 ml) liquid honey
1/4 c. (60 ml) rye whisky
1/4 c. (60 ml) port
1/4 c. (60 ml) cherry liqueur
1/4 c. (60 ml) Aguardente
1 c. (250 ml) chopped dried figs
1 c. (250 ml) raisins
1 c. (250 ml) chopped candied fruit
1 c. (250 ml) chopped walnuts
2 2/3 c. (660 ml) sugar
1 1/3 c. (330 ml) butter
2 2/3 c. (660 ml) flour
1 tbsp. (15 ml) baking powder
2 tsp. (10 ml) fresh-grated nutmeg
sifted icing sugar
In a pot over medium-high heat, bring the honey, whisky port, cherry liqueur and Aguardente or brandy to a boil, then add the figs, raisins, candied fruit and walnuts. Simmer gently for five minutes.
Remove from heat and cool completely.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and cool.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and butter until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Continue beating until the mixture is pale in colour and slightly thickened.
In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and nutmeg.
Beat the flour mixture into the batter until it is blended. Add the fruit mixture and mix well.
Spoon into a greased and parchment paper-lined nine-inch tube pan.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for one hour and 15 or 20 minutes or until the top is firm and brown and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Tent the cake with foil if it is browning too quickly.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When cool, wrap well in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up two two weeks.
Just before serving, dust with icing sugar.
Veal Scallopini in Madeira Sauce
This is simply delicious and elegant enough to serve guests with a topping of sauteed mushrooms and onions, over a bed of wild rice and brown rice, with some fresh green beans alongside.
We used a veal scalloppini which had been run through a delicator, but you can pound your own veal too.
1 1/2 lb. (750 g) thinly-sliced veal
1/2 c. (125 ml) flour
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) fine salt
pinch of coarsely-ground black pepper
1 tbsp. (15 ml) butter
1 tbsp. (15 ml) oil
1/3 c. (80 ml) boiling water
1/3 c. (80 ml) Madeira
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 c. (60 ml) fresh parsley
Place the veal between two sheets of waxed paper. Using either the flat edge of a cleaver or the bottom of a frypan, flatten the veal to a 1/8th inch thickness.
In a shallow dish, add the flour and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the veal lightly in the seasoned flour and discard the remainder.
In a large frypan, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Cook the veal, in atches, for about two to three minutes a side, just until cooked through and the edges are browned, adding more butter and oil, if necessary.
Transfer the veal to a dish and keep warm.
To the same pan, add boiling water, Madeira and 2 tbsp. fresh parsley. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the veal, and cook, covered, for two or three minutes, until the meat is warmed through, turning once to coat with the sauce.
Season with salt and pepper, to tast.
Arrange on a serving plate and top with the remainder of the chopped parsley.
Serves 4 to 6.