I have a slightly dichotomic view of cinnamon, nutmeg and their spicy, Wintery bedfellows - I suppose I quite like the novelty value afforded in small doses but probably wouldn't want them in my food all year round.
As an example, this time last year I cooked a festive beef stew (essentially 'mulled beef'), which was interesting and very seasonal, but I haven't been tempted to make it since.
And at this time of year a hot steaming glass of mulled wine full of cloves and fruit is just the ticket, but by January I suspect I shall probably not want any more. (Indeed a couple of Januarys ago I concocted mulled white wine as an alternative).
Bring us in good ale
It's the very best time of year for novelty beers too, of varying spiciness and drinkability. There have even been beers brewed with gold, frankincense and/or myrrh, which take the novelty to ridiculous extremes.
These beers divide my opinion too. I'm not a reinheitsgebot-sucking purist and I don't mind sensible quantities of judiciously selected adjuncts in a strong old ale, brewed specifically for the purpose, and with ideally relatively few hops to avoid horrible flavour clashes. A Vanilla stout is also often very pleasant.
But when a brewery just adds a ton of cinnamon to their standard best bitter, sticks a reindeer- or snow-related name on the cask and thinks 'that'll do for the Christmas market', the result is often fairly poor and indeed can completely fuck-up otherwise reasonable ales, particularly hoppy ones.
This year I've tried a bunch of festive ales - as I always do, being a beer ticker, obviously - and none of them have particularly wowed me.
Greene King 'Rocking Rudolph' (reduced in strength a couple of times since first brewed by Hardy & Hansons several years ago and now a distinctly unseasonal 4.2%) and Welton's 'Heat was in the very sod' (4.9%) were particularly uninspiring, though I appreciated the name of the latter.
I'm not sure if it counts as a Christmas beer or not, but the beefed up 9% version of Thornbridge 'St Petersburg' has a lot more going for it, and without a clove in sight.
'Tis the SeasoningBeing of a vaguely philosophical bent, this season of goodwill and adding stuff to things has also got me thinking in the opposite direction.
|No unrequired cloves here!|
But what if I could create a recipe that was still packed with deliciousness without using anything other than the core ingredients? No additional herbs or flavourings or salt or pepper or even any cooking oil.
I was surprised to discover that it could be done and the result was very tasty - and the key is in the chorizo which took a starring role in my Euro 2012 final dish this Summer. Yeah, maybe it's a cheat because the ingredient is generally full of it's own spiciness, but that's not really the point and I don't fucking care.
Is it Christmassey? No, probably not, but you might feel like something like this when you've grown weary of all the nutmeg and cloves...
Minimalist Chorizo wrapsThis quick and simple dish uses no seasoning whatsoever, with all the salt, spices and cooking fat coming from the Chorizo. A strongly flavoured, good quality chorizo will add more flavour than a mild version.
|Wrap it up - like a Christmas present|
Chorizo, one ring, cut into big chunks then quartered
Red onion, 2-3, sliced
Green/Red pepper, one of each, cut into strips
Tomatoes, 3-4, quartered
Mature Cheddar, grated
Dry fry the chorizo chunks until the juice and fat seeps out and lubricates the pan.
Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, then add the peppers and tomatoes.
Keep on the heat for a few more minutes, but you don't want to overcook. The tomatoes should be softened but not mushy, and the peppers should still have a bit of bite.
When it's done, whack a dollop of the mixture in a tortilla wrap, sprinkle on some grated cheddar and you're good to go.
(And if you use a little less chorizo, wholemeal wraps and hold the cheese, it's actually a pretty healthy meal too - probably about 350 calories per wrap.)