Monday, December 21, 2009

Deck the Halls!!

Ok so this was meant to be posted two weeks ago but it obviously didn't happen! Anyway I thought I would still include it as the recipes are still great. Enjoy!......

Another lovely weekend has passed and I’m happy to report that with the passing of the weekend came the arrival of our Christmas tree! Yes, things are starting to feel nice and Christmassy around here. I appreciate for some, getting your Christmas tree on December 5th is pretty early, but considering the size of me it made sense. So on Saturday off we went to pick our Christmas tree and then in a very Canadian spirit cut it down ourselves! I was expecting the process to take a bit of time but we stumbled (literally, after tripping over a few cut tree stubs!) upon a beautiful tree very early in the process. Being as decisive as we are we cut it down there and then and Mr. Vanilla carried it back to the truck which was very quickly filled with the wonderful fresh smell of a newly cut Christmas tree. After the usual fight with the tree stand, victory was ours and the tree is (still!) standing beautifully in the corner of the living room next to the fire.

While Mr. Vanilla ventured out to hang the outside Christmas lights on the house (again another Canadian tradition) I decided to baek a batch of my Cranberry and White Chocolate cookies. They were delicious and as we smugly sat on the couch admiring our beautiful tree, we greedily demolished several cookies each with steaming hot mugs of hot chocolate.

After some much needed relaxation I made a quick batch of my Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Although I make this year round (it’s a great standby for parties) it is particularly welcome in December as it is hot and covered in bubbling, melted cheese. We decorated the tree while devouring the dip and sipping on some Hot Mulled “Cider” (actually apple juice but here that is confusingly also called cider). It was the perfect start to get us into the festive spirit. The countdown to Christmas has begun!

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

1 tin of artichoke hearts
1 clove of garlic, crushed
½ -1 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
3 oz cream cheese (Philadelphia)
5 tbsp sour Cream
2 oz cheddar Cheese or mozzarella, grated
1 oz parmesan Cheese, grated
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM 6.
Drain the artichoke hearts and chop until quite fine (almost like a puree but still retaining some texture). Add to a bowl and mix with the garlic and chilli (if using). Roughly cut the spinach and add to the artichoke mixture, then add the cream cheese and the sour cream. Mix well so that everything is incorporated, then season and add a small handful of the two cheeses (leaving the rest for later). Put into an ovenproof serving dish then top with the remaining cheese. Cook in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until hot and the cheese on top is bubbling. Leave to cool slightly then serve with crackers, toasted pita bread and crudités.

Hot mulled “cider”

6 cups apple juice or dry cider
3 clementines, cut in half
1 apple, thinly sliced (optional)
2 sticks of cinnamon, broken in half
4 whole cloves
2 star anise
1 thin slice of fresh ginger
1 tbsp honey (if using actual cider – not needed if using apple juice)

In a large pan combine all the ingredients together, squeezing some of the juice from the clementines as you add them to the pan. Warm gently to a near boil then reduce the heat and keep warm. If you can try and let the flavours infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain the spices and fruit out of the cider then ladle into heatproof glasses, sip and enjoy.

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