Edible Christmas presents

Making edible goodies for Christmas gifts is a lovely and gratifying thing to do, but it's good to plan ahead. Although the silly season is still months away, now is the time to start thinking about what to make and how many jars to sterilise.

Preserved lemons are easy to prepare, look great and can be personalised by using your own blend of aromatic spices. In three months, the lemons will be soft and mellow. They are the gift that keeps on giving, as a little goes a long way and they last for ages once opened, if they are stored in the fridge.

Australian tamarillos are arriving on the market now and make rich, fragrant chutneys and jams. The following recipe has Asian ingredients that give it a lift from the average chutney but this version is still the perfect condiment for leftover ham and turkey sandwiches.

Last but not least is the ultimate Christmas treat, a freshly baked fruit mince pie. If you prepare the fruit mixture now, it gets better and better the longer it has to marinate in brandy and spices. Make the pies when you're ready to give them - homemade pastry takes patience and care and has good wishes written all over it.

Jane Strode

Tamarillo chutney

CAPTION

Serve this tangy chutney with eggs, hard cheese, seafood and Asian-style curries.

600g tamarillos
30g fresh ginger, grated
120g spanish onion, finely chopped
3 small red chillis, chopped
250ml rice wine vinegar
150g brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves

Blanch tamarillos in boiling water for one minute. Refresh in iced water and remove skin. Roughly chop and place in a heavy-based saucepan with remaining ingredients. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring regularly, until chutney has thickened, about 30 minutes.

While still really hot, place chutney in sterilised jars. Secure lids firmly and turn jars upside down - this creates a seal. Leave upside down until cool. Store in the cupboard for three months before using as gifts.

Makes two 300ml-capacity jars.

Tip

To sterilise jars, put through the dishwasher on a hot cycle or wash well in hot soapy water, rinse then place in a pre-heated oven on 150C for 10 minutes.

Chicken and preserved lemons

CAPTION

Spices that can be used to add flavour to preserved lemons are cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, coriander seeds, star anise, bay leaves, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and cardamom.

1kg thick-skinned lemons, washed
150g table salt
600ml lemon juice
Vegetable oil
4 chicken thighs and drumsticks, 8 pieces in total
Salt and pepper
100ml olive oil
3 small spanish onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1.2kg tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
10 thyme sprigs
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup green olives
50g feta
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped coriander
1 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon rind

For preserved lemons, cut lemons into quarters without cutting all the way to the bottom. Spoon about a teaspoon of salt into centre of lemons. Squash into sterilised jars, fitting in as many lemons as possible. Cut lemons in half to fill jars if needed. Top with remaining salt, lemon juice and spices of your choice so jars are full. Secure lids and store in a dark place until lemons are soft, about three months.

For chicken, heat a little vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Season chicken pieces and fry on both sides to brown. Remove from heat and reserve. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over a medium heat and add onion, garlic, chilli, paprika and coriander. Season and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, sugar and thyme. Simmer for 20 minutes to reduce. Add fried chicken and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. Add chickpeas and olives. Sprinkle with feta, herbs and preserved lemon before serving.

Serves 4-6

Mince pies

Leftover fruit mince can be used the following year or added to Christmas pudding and cake recipes.

500g mixed fruit
230g slivered almonds
100g dried apricots, chopped
250g golden syrup
75g brown sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
1 tbsp grated orange rind
1 1/2 tbsp mixed spice
250ml brandy
450g butter, cold and cut into 1cm pieces
165g castor sugar
600g plain flour
1 tsp salt
150ml water

Place fruit, almonds, apricots, golden syrup, brown sugar, rinds, spice and brandy in a large bowl and stir to combine well. Place in a container with a lid that seals in aromas and store in the fridge for three months. Turn fruit over every so often - if it looks dry add a little more brandy.

For pastry, place butter, sugar, flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse to make a coarse crumb. Add water and process until pastry just comes together. Wrap well in cling film and rest in fridge overnight or for at least two hours. Roll out in between two layers grease-proof paper to ½-centimetre thickness. Rest for one hour. Pre-heat oven to 160C.

Line small tart shells with pastry rounds that come about ½-centimetre over the edge. Fill with fruit mince mix and top with pastry cut into large star shapes. Bake until pastry is cooked through and golden, about 30 minutes. Cool, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Makes 24 with some mince left over

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