learning the gentle art of giving


chocolate panforte

Christmas in Oz. A time for summer holidays. A time for long balmy evenings sitting outdoors in the dusk sipping on champagne. A time for frantic 24hr trading at the Sydney fish markets. A time for family and feasting. A time for gift giving and receiving.

Now when it comes to buying presents I have to say that I’m not one of those people who naturally knows the perfect thing for the person in question. And while I’m not down the other end of the spectrum either, I do tend to go for the safe option. Something that I definitely know they will like rather than taking a risk with something that has the potential to blow them away.

My gorgeous friend, Missy Helgs on the other hand is one of the most thoughtful gift givers I know. She is an inspiration. One of those people who nails it every time. So when it comes to buying for her I do try and come up with something a bit more creative. Something with a bit more wow factor than just another magazine subscription.

This year I found inspiration from some fellow bloggers. It was sweet Sue from Noodlebowl who left a comment to an article I wrote about dukkah that first got me thinking. She said that she was planning to make dukkah for Christmas gifts this year and that was back in August. Talk about planning ahead. The second source was the engaging Molly from Orangette who announced that apart from books she was planning to only give gifts made by her own hands. A lovely personal thought.

Some delicious panforte at an Italian dinner inspired a batch to be wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with string. A lovely gift on it’s own. But I needed something more substantial and then it came to me. Why not put together a collection of treasures to help with catering for the summer. A holiday survival kit as it were. Perfect.

I had a vague recollection of Missy Helgs mentioning a plan to do a ham this year. So a bottle of my very runny orange and whisky marmalade seemed in order. Along with a recipe for ham glazed with a brilliantly simple combo of marmalade and rosemary. To accompany my own ham I was also planning a batch of spiced pickles cherries. Add them to the list.

As someone with an icecream making addiction, I have had to become more creative in finding ways to use all the eggwhites that I accumulate. While a pavlova is nice every now and then I’ve been getting into making almond bread. An almost savoury biscotti type product, it keeps for ages in an airtight container. It works both as a crunchy contrasting accompaniment to icecreams and as an addition to a cheese board.

Being summer, salads are always on the agenda. So a holiday survival kit would really be incomplete without the makings of a quick and tasty dressing. There are few dressings that can beat the slightly sweet simplicity of the marriage between extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. My current favourite oil, the fresh and grassy Ravida from Tuscany and an authentic 6 year old vinegar from Moderna completed this person yet very practical gift…..all good things.

a holiday survival kit for missy helgs
orange & whisky marmalade (to glaze the ham)
spiced pickled cherries (to eat with the ham)
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
chocolate panforte
maccadamia bread

rosemary and marmalade glazed ham
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s ham in Jamie’s dinners.

While a glazed ham makes a lovely addition to Christmas lunch, the real treasure is having plenty of ham on hand for the summer.

My orange & whisky marmalade was one of those botched things that turned out to be a hidden gem. For some reason my marmalade turned out incredibly runny and useless for eating on toast. But the intense flavours and fine runny texture made it the perfect thing to use on a ham. Unfortunately it was made in my pre blogging days so I no longer have the recipe.

3-6 kg ham
1 jar orange & whisky marmalade
5 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
Extra rosemary, optional
handful cloves

Preheat oven or covered BBQ to 170C. Remove skin from the ham leaving a nice thick layer of fat. Score the fat in a criss cross pattern. Insert a clove in each diamond.

Bake in a preheated BBQ or oven for 20mins. Combine rosemary and marmalade and smear over the ham. Return to the BBQ/oven and cook for 1 hour, basting freequently or until golden & crispy.

spiced pickled cherries
makes approx 5 cups
Adapted from Jared Ingersoll’s Danks Street Depot

The older I get the more I am loving all things pickled.  I have been patiently waiting for the cherry season to be at it’s peak before making a batch of these.

Jared recommends serving them with ham or with roast duck. I also plan to keep some to serve in the winter with bangers and mash when cherry season is a dim distant memory. They will keep in a dark place for months.

1kg cherries, stems attached, rinsed
750mL red wine vinegar
400g brown sugar
6 cloves
6 juniper berries
4 whole allspice
1 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods

Combine all ingredients except cherries in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer 5 mins then add cherries and simmer another 5 mins. Remove from the heat and divide between sterilised jars. Seal while still hot and keep in a cool dark place.

chocolate panforte
makes 3 squares approx 9cmx10cm
Adapted from an Adelaide Lucas recipe in the Dec 06 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

Feel free to double the recipe if you are making for gifts. Serve at the end of a meal with a glass of Rutherglen Tokay or port or as an afternoon tea snack with coffee.

2 sheets confectioner’s rice paper (NOT vietnamese rice papers)
85g plain flour
1T mixed spice
1t ground ginger
150g dried figs, chopped
150g roast hazelnuts, chopped
150g roasted whole almonds, skins on
150g dark chocolate, chopped
150g caster sugar
150g honey

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease and line the base of a 9cm x 30cm loaf tin with rice paper. Combine all ingredients except honey and sugar in a large bowl.

Combine honey & sugar in a small saucepan with 1/4C water and cook over a medium heat stirring until sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and bring to the boil. Cook until the syrup reaches 115C on a sugar thermometer.

Pour hot syrup over dry mix and stir until just combined. Transfer to the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 15mins then allow to cool in the tin. Serve immediately or wrap in baking paper and keep in a cool dry place.

maccadamia bread
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion

4 egg whites
pinch salt
120g caster sugar
120g plain flour
150g maccadamias, roasted

Preheat the oven to 180C. Oil a loaf pan and line with grease proof paper. Whip whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and whip until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Fold in flour, being very gentle and then fold in maccadamias until just combined. Spoon mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45-55mins or until golden brown and firm to touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 120C and cut bread into very thin slices using a bread knife. Place in a single layer on a large baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Bake 45 to 60mins or until completely dry. Cool then store in an airtight container.


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