Tuesday, 20 December 2011

mulled wine, poicamole and christmas drinks

our little christmas tree
it was mulled wine and mince pies at thirty-two on saturday seventeenth of december, as kbt and i hosted our first ever christmas drinks. i have always loved entertaining and it's because my parents have always loved it too. mama and i used to love hosting tea and as a family we hosted lots of lunches and dinners. it was a time when our family of four would pitch in and do things together. i've also been very lucky to learn the ropes of entertaining in pakistan and abroad and yes, there is a difference. domestic help in pakistan means that you'll have helping hands for washing and cleaning-up afterwards. in places like the uk you're left to clean-up yourself which is why it's much easier to get party plates, napkins and disposable glasses. fortunately, john lewis had really nice disposable/reusable wine and champagne glasses as i don't relish the idea of drinking wine out of plastic cups. i bought some recycled napkins with a holly pattern to add a little brightness, and got kbt to bring home a long branch of winterholly with clusters of berries to use as a centre piece for the table.
i wanted to keep the menu simple with a couple of home-made spreads to slather onto crackers and bread. christmas is never complete without cheese so i got four different rounds of hard cheese (a spicy and chive cheddar and a cranberry and apricot wensleydale). also included were the usual suspects like nuts and crisps and i got some cocktail sausages for those wanting some meat. the something sweet was traditional shortcrust mince pies, and on mama's suggestion i had an alternative of chocolate crinkles for those who are mince pie averse. for drinks there was home-made mulled wine and a crisp cava. 

the mulled wine was a big hit and i was glad for the extra bottles of red that came along as most of them were used to top-up the mulled wine. i've had mulled wine almost every winter since i've been in london but had never made it myself. the drinking however comes in handy for note-taking and perfecting a recipe. in the last fortnight i've looked through the classic delia recipe, moving onto my modern favourite 'perfectionist' felicity cloake whose instructions on 'how to make perfect mulled wine' is distilled from experimentation. these notes were my starting point and then recalling a recent conversation with dishoom bar-wallah carl anthony brown, i decided that my mulled wine would have to be syrup based to coax the full flavour of spices such as whole cinnamon and cloves. in hindsight this was such as good idea because it meant i could prepare the base and add the wine shortly before our friends arrived. i am not very confident at choosing wine so was very pleased to be helped out by majestic in recommending the cuvée de richard red, pgi pays de l'hérault which incidentally was on the list of 20 great french wines for under £20

the syrup base for the mulled wine
1 orange studded with cloves
1 orange freshly squeezed
1 lemon (peel strips of the skin avoiding the pith and then juice)
three tablespoons golden sugar
three tablespoons runny honey (don't waste exotic honey on this)
one long cinnamon stick
a generous pinch of nutmeg
100 ml water
 200 ml ginger wine
2 bottles of a fruity wine   

place the clove studded orange, the juice of the orange and lemon, lemon peel, sugar and honey, spices and water in a heavy bottomed pan (i used a large le crueset casserole). heat the contents of the pan gently until the sugar dissolves at which point the heat should be turned up to bring the contents to a furious boil. add 100 ml of the ginger wine and let it continue to boil rapidly for two minutes after which the heat needs to be turned off. let the syrup sit for an hour or two. when you are ready to serve add the two bottles of wine and the remaining ginger wine and heat gently. i have a ceramic hob and kept the heat at a steady number three through the evening. as as the evening went along i added more orange juice, wine, honey and sugar as required. 

whole roasted garlic with rosemary
for the spreads i made my staple roast-garlic and cream-cheese, an adventurous peacamole and a classic white bean and rosemary dip. ever since mama introduced me to roasting whole heads of garlic i have always kept it handy in the fridge. i've been known to eat it as is spread thick on toasted brown bread. roasting garlic tames its aggression by bringing out its caramel notes. whilst pulling out the bulbs of garlic from the vegetable drawer i discovered two forlorn leeks. i hate wasting food and so trimmed the sad bits, sauteed the leeks in olive oil and butter, pureed them and added them to the roasted garlic cream-cheese. the final spread turned out to be a rich and buttery concoction. if you are new to roasting garlic have a look at my post on how to do it. wait for the bulbs to cool before you squeeze them to reveal the garlic. 

to make roasted garlic and leek cream-cheese you will need two tubs of full fat cream-cheese. i know that most people buy philly cheese but i much prefer the waitrose kind that doesn't have that slightly gummy aftertaste that philly does. along with that you will need three bulbs of roasted garlic and two leeks which have been pureed after being caramelised in a knob of butter and some olive oil. when all the ingredients are cool whisk them together. i do like to whisk the cream-cheese a fair bit as it gives it a lightness and makes sure that all the ingredients blend evenly.

clockwise from top right: roasted garlic and leek cream-cheese,
poicamole & lemon-rosemary white bean dip
the rosemary-lemon white bean dip is a mark bittman recipe and is olive oil thirsty. i would urge you to use a good quality olive oil for this one as it's a good dip to showcase a fruity olive oil. the lemon zest really brightens up the dip. i replaced the raw garlic with some of the roasted one and also added a squeeze of lemon juice to up the citrus factor. i did think of retaining a bit of texture in the dip but found that it doesn't work well with this one. you want this dip to be incredibly smooth.

i have to say though that i had the most fun making and eating the poicamole. the english version of this dip is called peacamole (green pea cilantro spread) and doesn't sound half as delightful as poicamole (caviar de petits pois à la coriandre). the recipe comes from clotilde dusoulier who writes the famous chocolate and zucchini. if i remember correctly her's was one of the first food blogs i had ever read. i've had the poicamole bookmarked for a very long time as it brings together all of my favourite ingredients: sweet peas, almonds and coriander. i would have liked to try the essential oil because i suspect it would make the dip more aromatic as well but i didn't have time to go out and get it. i followed the recipe almost to a tee substituting the raw garlic with two roasted garlic cloves. this to me was really the best dip that evening. there was a little bit left over that i had on thinly sliced toasted rye bread. the tabasco adds a gentle kick to the the sweetness of the peas and the earthy nuttiness of whole almond butter. poicamole is best eaten at room temperature to allow the flavour of the almond butter to come through fully.      

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