12:09 AM, December 17, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:53 PM, December 16, 2013


I love celebrations – of any kind, on any occasion. There should just be enough colours, food and laughter. And I love December too. For obvious reasons December is the month of festivities and celebrations. And I celebrate December especially for Christmas. To add to my love list, I love to cook and bake. I could all day, if I was given the chance. Thus I bake whenever I can. This year I think I have improved my baking skills; hence Christmas has got to be more fun.

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I intend to invite my friends over for a Christmas Eve celebration and a sleep over movie night. I want to keep it very traditional. So, the conventional Christmas fruit cake is on my must list. Along with that, of course sugar cookies with red and green royal icing and whipped cream with fruits.
For savoury items I will opt for easy things, like a beef steak and spinach mushroom quiche. And for the kid-friendly drink I will make some cranberry-orange punch. The Christmas fruit cake will be covered in whipped cream snow and decorated with topping that I saved from last year's store brought ginger bread. I couldn't thank myself enough for the non-edible toppings I smartly saved for a year.
There is nothing more fun than having a home-made celebration. Everything you do has your special touch and most of all the final sprinkle of love you add to it. All these recipes have been adapted from original sources and modified to my own preference and availability of ingredients.
The Christmas fruit cake
200g butter, softened to room temperature, (I used homemade)
200g sugar (mix dark brown sugar and hard molasses, or “akher gur”; half and half)
200g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
50g ground almonds
50ml vanilla essence (I didn't have sherry so I substituted it with vanilla essence and apple cider, 20ml apple cider with 30ml vanilla essence is my version of home made sherry)
85g fresh orange peel (don't bother if you don't have it, your cake will still taste good)
85g cherries, roughly chopped
250g raisins
250g currants/sultanas
100g nuts, broken into big pieces (I used almonds -- half broken and walnuts)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ tsp mixed spice (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg)
½ tsp baking powder
Heat oven to 160C/fan. Line the base and sides of an 8 inch round cake pan, spring form is the best.
Beat the butter and sugar until absolutely creamy and pale. Stir in 1/3 of the flour, and then stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg and the rest of the flour and the eggs alternately, until well combined. Stir in the ground almonds.
Mix in the vanilla and apple cider (don't worry if you don't have apple cider, just use the vanilla or if you are lucky to have the sherry use 100ml of it), then add the orange peel, cherries, raisins, currants, nuts, lemon zest and spice. Beat well to mix and then stir in the baking powder. Here I candidly added a little bit of almond essence (1/2 tea spoon) but you can comfortably skip that.
Spoon mixture into the tin and smooth the top, it will be very dense and heavy. Bake for 30-40 minutes, then lower temperature to 150 degree C and bake a further 1-2 hrs, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Don't forget to check frequently, while baking cake, always make sure the bottom heat is on only, don't heat it from the top. Leave to cool in the tin. I like to keep it in fridge overnight. Next morning when completely cold, decorate. I used simple whipped cream and some toppings.
Sugar cookies
Ingredients: For roughly 30 cookies
140g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
250g butter, cut into small cubes
375g plain flour, sieved
Royal Icing --
1 egg white
200g sifted icing sugar
Food colour
Painting brush (thin ones)
Put the icing sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolk and butter into a mixing bowl, then stir together until well combined, get messy and use your hands feel the texture as it changes or use an electric beater.
Add the flour and mix to one firm dough. Roll the dough between cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour or so. Meanwhile heat oven to 200C/fan and line a baking tray with baking paper. Heat from both sides top and bottom. Bring out the dough, get it out from the cling film wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface to a big circle about the thickness of two 5 taka coins. Cut out Christmassy shapes (use a cutter as I did and save energy) and place on the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Lift the biscuits onto a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, beat 1 egg white until forms semi stiff peaks (stiffer than soft peaks and before stiff speaks) mix 200g icing sugar slowly (250g sugar for the borders) and add red and green food colour. I suggest after making the icing separate some for borders and thicken it with more sugar to your preference. And for flooding separate it to half in two bowls and add in the colours. I use the Foster Clarks liquid colouring and painting brush to spread and icing pipe for the borders. Spread it over the cooled biscuits; decorate with edible balls and sprinklers and toppings. I used sugar balls, stars, snow flakes and sugar crystals.

Whipped cream in fresh fruits:
Ingredients: For 1 person
80g whipped cream
2 tbsp pomegranate
2 tbsp cherries
4 tsp strawberry syrup
A wine glass to serve
For each person take a wine glass, put pomegranate seeds and chopped cherries, top with 40g of whipped cream and two tea spoon of strawberry syrup and repeat. Serve chilled.
Use any fruit, specially the ones that belong to the tangy, citrus family like orange, grapefruit or just grapes, kiwi, passion fruit, mango. Change the syrup according to the fruit. Use maple syrup or honey if you are using mango, kiwi or oranges.
Rosemary beef steak
Ingredients: For 1 person
250–300g of beef chunk about ½ inch thick and 5-6 inch long and 2-3 inch broad.
Salt and sugar 1 tsp each
1 tsp dry rosemary
1 tsp molasses
1 tea spoon Dijon mustard or freshly grounded white mustard.
Aluminum foil paper
Don't wash the beef, take a hard fork and pierce the beef very well so that the spices can get into it. Rub the salt, sugar and rosemary and fridge it overnight. Again do the piercing, and bring it to room temperature in the morning. Or you can brine it with rosemary infused water. People say beef don't get brined well, but I beg to disagree with them. If you do the piercing well and let it brine for 24 hours, the salt and sugar gets deep inside the meat, leaving it tender and juicy.
To brine, boil 1 litre of water with 3 table spoon of sugar, 1 tea spoon of salt and 1 tea spoon of dry rosemary and shrink it down to 750ml. Allow to cool and bring it to room temperature and drown the meat so that it gets under water. You fridge it overnight. In the morning just throw the water and pat dry the meat with kitchen tissue.
Rub the molasses and mustard and marinade for 15 – 20 minutes. Then fry the meat until it turns deep brown on both sides with little butter in a non-stick pan on low heat for 40 minutes.
In the meanwhile pre-heat oven to 150C for 20 minutes and put the meat in the baking tray and very loosely cover with aluminum foil and roast for 90 minutes for well done beef steak. Serve hot with boiled vegetables. The molasses and mustard will turn into thick sauce, cut horizontally and devour.
Mushroom spinach mini quiche
Ingredients: Makes 6 cup cakes
10 big button mushrooms
300g of fresh baby spinach
3 egg yolks
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar or mozzarella)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
A pinch of ground nutmeg to cut down the egg smell
Cut the mushroom length wise, slice each into 4 pieces. Wash and pat dry the spinach and beat the eggs.
Pre-heat the oven in 180C. In a non-stick pan fry the mushrooms until golden in olive oil. Boil water in shallow pan and wilt the spinaches for 2/3 minutes and get them out of water using a tong and roughly dry them by putting them on a sieve.
Take a big bowl and mix all the ingredients but don't over mix. Take your muffin tin, grease or put baking paper and divide into 6 equal parts, bake for 10-15 minutes or until done. I served it with béchamel sauce widely known as white sauce.
Serve it warm with salad, béchamel, thousand island sauces, Dijon mustard paste or just as it is. However for heaven's sake don't have it with tomato sauce.
Cranberry orange punch
Ingredients: Makes 6 glasses
2½ glasses of Cranberry juice
2½ glasses of Orange / grapefruit juice
4 tsp lemon juice
1 glass of soda water (if you are using)
Put all the ingredients into a shakers or blender shake well and serve immediately with ice.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Food prepared for Star Lifestyle by Aziza Ahmed

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