If the recession has taught us anything, it might be that real wealth comes, not in the form of the accumulation of things, but in the preparation and sharing of meals and celebrations with family and friends. Nigella Lawson brings us Nigella Christmas: Food Family Friends Festivities, a beautiful and cheerful compendium of Christmas meats, sweets and treats and a few yummy cocktails with the old-fashioned feel of Christmas times gone by.
For those people of a certain age who remember the simpler times of Christmases past, before the surge of our overly styled modern Christmases made popular in the 1990s by home improvement gurus and over-the-top consumerism, this book is sure to delight. Leafing through, one can actually feel the past: those days when our mothers, decked out in their Christmas greens and reds, would gather up the vintage tree ornaments, decorate the windows with adornments from the five and dime and hand dye the table sugar with food coloring as a simple embellishment for the Christmas cookies.
Christmas past was filled with the aroma of feasts, the mixture of colors and sounds and traditional rituals of the season. In fact, Nigella writes on the importance of rituals in the history of Christmas celebrations, some that hearken back to times before the birth of Christ, precisely, the Roman Festival of Saturnalia (a time of “merrymaking, excess and misrule” in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and plenty) and the Winter Solstice promising the return of light from the depths of the dark winter. Lucky for us, the birth of Christ fell somewhere in the general vicinity of these ancient winter festivals from which many of our Christmas traditions originated. Like the ancient festivals, the Christmas we celebrate in the home, according to Nigella, is an indulgence, a celebration of being alive and an affirmation of the most important things in life: food, family friends and festivities. While Nigella admits to the stress factor in Christmas preparations, she also offers solutions, for example, a cocktail named the Poinsettia with a fizz of Prosecco or “Prozacco” as she calls it for its mood-enhancing properties.
The book is divided into sections covering any and every possible scenario you may find yourself to be in during the season, whether you plan to cater a cocktail party, cook a sit down dinner or a host a dessert buffet full of surprises that could include, amongst other treats, Chocolate Fruit Cake, Sticky Gingerbread, Christmas Cornflake Wreaths or Girdlebuster Pie (graham crackers, coffee ice cream, bittersweet chocolate, bourbon and heavy cream – you do the math). Help also appears in the form of a Christmas lunch menu for 10-16 people with a detailed (to the minute) countdown of all preparations.
Though the book retails for the hefty price of $35, it’s more of an investment, something you’ll refer to year after year with around 150 spectacular recipes and beautiful enough to double as a coffee table book. The photographs, by photographer Lis Parsons, capture the spirit and colors of the season complete with reindeer-emblazoned tableware, bejeweled treats and the teeniest, most darling decorative reindeer atop the sweets (available from www.fancyflours.com). Before attempting the holiday feast, take some time to fix yourself a Hot Schnocolate (hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps, pg 262) and sit back for a couple of relaxing hours to read through this Christmas manual, well worth the investment of time and money.
One of the most beautiful, mouth-watering and family friendly recipes is this one for Christmas Rocky Road.
Christmas Rocky Road
(Makes 24 big bite-sized bars)
1¼ cups (8 oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips
¾ cups (6 oz) milk chocolate, chopped or chips
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) soft butter
¼ cup golden syrup, such as Lyle’s or light corn syrup
Approximately 4 cups (7 oz) amaretti cookies (not the soft ones)
1 cup shelled Brazil nuts
2/3 cup candied or glazed cherries
2½ cups mini marshmallows
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Edible glitter (optional)
Put both chocolates into a heavy-based pan to melt the butter and syrup over gentle heat.
Put the cookies into a freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin to get big- and little-sized crumbs; you want some pieces to crunch and some sandy rubble.
Put the Brazil nuts into another freezer bag and bash them so you get different-sized nut rubble.
Take the pan off the heat and add the crushed cookies and nuts, whole candied cherries and mini marshmallows. Turn carefully to coat everything with syrupy chocolate.
Tip into an aluminum foil pan (Nigella uses 9¼ x 12 inches), smoothing the top as best you can, although it will look bumpy.
Refrigerate until firm enough to cut, which will take about 1½ – 2 hours. Then, take the set block of Rocky Road out of the pan ready to cut.
Put the confectioners’ sugar through a small strainer to dust the top of the Rocky Road. Then, if you like, add a sprinkling of edible glitter for some festive sparkle.
With the long side in front of you, cut it into 6 slices down and 4 across, so that you have 24 almost squares.