Monday, 26 November 2012


We have set about creating the perfect English Christmas for ourselves.
Living in Romania, it isn't always easy to find those 'little' things that you can miss when you are having a special occasion like Christmas lunch.
There is actually very little that we really do miss from the UK on a day to day basis, but definitely good tea bags top that list! (see for my ravings on that subject!).
We did look online at some online Expat supermarkets, but by the time everything is shipped to us it works out to be so expensive! Certainly more than we can afford at the moment.
However, Christmas is a special time and we are all used to the way we have celebrated it for so many years with our families back in the UK, and naturally, we would like to do our best to create it.
Last year, without even really trying, we did a pretty good job of it, even if it was only by buying the very last and tiniest Turkey you have ever seen from our local supermarket, because our kitten ate the big one we bought!
So, this year we have decided to prepare for it.
In my family, Christmas dinner consists of turkey, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, chipolata sausages for pigs in blankets, cabbage or peas, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, sage and onion stuffing, chestnut stuffing, and Cranberry sauce.....I think that's it!
Turkey, we have arranged to buy one freshly killed from a neighbour, but this is Romania, and it may not arrive two days before Christmas as has been arranged, so we have bought a 4kg frozen one, just in case! Not enormous I know, but it's enough for us, and will give us some left overs for the dogs, who we mustn't forget! After all it is their Christmas too!
That's tucked away sleeping in in the freezer in readiness to come out and defrost a couple of days before the big day. If the fresh one does arrive, that will be plucked, cleaned, trimmed and frozen to wait for Easter.
Potatoes, obviously no problem, but substitute pig fat instead of duck or goose fat which we can't get.
Brussels Sprouts, peas, them or can get them when we need them.
Yorkshire pudding...the other 'alf makes a beautiful light Yorkshire pudding from scratch so no problem.
We also have a safe brand new jar of Cranberry sauce which we saved from last year, still 'in date' and stored in a nice cool place in readiness.
That leaves chipolatas (English style mini sausages) for the pigs in blankets. Bacon we can get, even if it is a bit thin (so two rashers around each to make sure), but the sausages, ah now there is another problem. Last year we used Bavarian Beer sausages. They are very nice eaten cold with a beer or three, but they aren't quite English Christmas lunch fare. So, this year we have the meat grinder, sausage attachment, pork shoulder, sage and onion, as well as Leek for a little variety, to make the perfect 'English' sausages.
Sage and onion and chestnut stuffing is also not a problem. We made stuffing last year but without a mincer it was a little coarse. This year though we have the right tools for the job so I am confident that we will make an even better job of our stuffings this time.
We even have a Christmas pudding in the pantry which was a 'spare' from last year. We can also make a really good custard from scratch if we want to, but also by buying a local pudding mix and making it a little thinner than instructed. I know it sounds odd, but it works well.
Cream, we can't get, but we won't miss it, and as for brandy butter, well I've never really been a fan anyway.
So that's Christmas Day sorted out without too much hassle (as long as I can actually make the sausages that is! I will report back later on that endeavour)
So, now for Boxing Day. The Boxing Day meal has always been my favourite Christmas meal, since I was a child. In  my family it means the cold turkey left over from the day before, with some slices of good ham, served with mashed potatoes and cold pickles with bread and butter.
Meat, potatoes, bread, butter........all no problem, but pickles, ah pickles, there is another question.
I know that in so many parts of the world 'pickles' just means large green pickled Dills , but English pickles come in so many varieties and with so many different subtle flavours. These are the highlight of the proper English Boxing Day meal, and we can't buy them here in Romania. So? We're going to make them! From scratch!
We have already made some very good chutneys, which are just waiting in their jars to be opened when we need them, but we still need pickled onions, and of course Picalilli!
No Boxing Day meal is complete without the colour, flavour and crispiness of a good Picalilli!
For the uninitiated reader, Picalilli is a preserve with a variety of almost raw fresh vegetables pickled in a mixture of mustard and vinegar.
May not sound good, but believe me it tastes delicious!
So that has been today's task. Making Picalilli so that it has exactly four weeks to mature in the jars before we open at Christmas, and have some for afterwards too.
First, find your recipe.

I love the worldwide's the recipe, thank you to The Cottage Smallholder

OK so that's it is it? You find a recipe, follow it, and tell us how wonderful you are? 
Well yes, I am wonderful, and I also know that my best feature is my modesty, but it is never just a simple matter of 'following the recipe' here in Romania. You have to adapt to use the ingredients that you can get instead of the ones that you can't.

Recipe ingredients;

50g of calabrese florets (broccoli)
250g of green tomatoes (or hard red ones) chopped
300g of cucumbers sliced lengthwise and then sliced into half centimetre half moons
250g of French beans topped and tailed and chopped in half (if you are making this in summer – use your own fresh runner beans)
225g of courgettes chopped
1500g of cauliflower florets
320g of carrots chopped

1 head of celery (destring and slice)
2 red Romano peppers (deseed and chop into 3 cm lengths)
300g of small pickling or baby onions or shallots (skinned and cut in half if they are chunky
100g of salt

Of these we had to use slightly soft large red tomatoes, so they weren't blanched, only chopped and added to the final hot mixture before bottling.
No courgettes either so we used a 'local' alternative called 'Dovleci', (but they are still small white marrows)
The vegetables, all chopped, and soaked in salt water
No fresh Runner Beans, so we added in frozen Green Beans.
The vegetables were all chopped, (which only took and hour and a half, this is not a 'quick' job!) and then left overnight in salted water.

This morning the real task started. 
Those same vegetables after blanching for two minutes
and draining
The vegetables had to be drained and rinsed and then blanched for two minutes in boiling water, before being immediately rinsed in cold water to stop them going soft. As I had to do this in very small batches in a sieve it seemed to take ages but when I had finished, all of the fresh vegetables in the strainer looked delicious.

Next the pickling mixture. The recipe asks for;

375g of light soft brown sugar
1.5 litres of cider vinegar
80g of mustard powder
1 tsp of celery salt
2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
3 tablespoons of turmeric powder

120g of plain flour

The initial 'dry' paste mix

We had the forethought to bring many Indian spices with us when we moved here from England, as we do love our Curries made from scratch, so Turmeric we have.
Last year, all we could get was mustard powder, this year we couldn't see any! So, thinks, what can we use?
The final 'smooth' paste mix before adding to the
vinegar and sugar mix
There, amongst, the many different mustards they had on the shelves was a special offer on French Whole Grain Mustard in jars, as well as a special offer on good old fashioned strong English Mustard during a special 'English Food' promotion at another supermarket. That'll do! We decided and bought two jars of each (We like English Mustard anyway in ham sandwiches)
Celery salt? Huh! Ask a Romanian shopkeeper if they have Celery Salt....
"You mean salt?......made from celery?.......Mad English people.....go away!!!) 
OK, we can do without, we decided retreating sheepishly.

Starting to add the vegetables to the
pickling mixture

So here we go with the pickling mixture.
In went the flour, mustard seeds, turmeric, a teaspoon of ordinary salt, followed by the contents of one jar of whole-grain mustard. The mustard that comes in the jars is already a paste so it was easy to start mixing the ingredients in to a dry paste, by adding the second jar this became a nice smooth paste and two dinner spoons full of English mustard finished it perfectly, as well as adding a little 'tartness' to the flavour, without the need for adding vinegar. 

The finished mix of all of the vegetables and the pickling
mixture, hot and ready for bottling

When  I gradually mixed it with the hot vinegar and sugar mixture, it went in so smoothly, no lumps at all, a bit of a dream for an amateur like me.
I then had a wonderfully smooth pickling mixture to add the vegetables to, and as I did so, Picalilli appeared, almost as if it was by magic.
The jars and lids went into the dishwasher for that last clean and final sterilisation and then we spooned the hot mixture into the jars, but not before tasting it!
We have it!
Great Picalilli!

 I know that it will be perfect in four weeks and will be just right with our cold meats, mash and pickles.
We finished by sitting all of the the jars in our jam maker/preserver in a bath of hot water to give them that final finish and also to ensure that the lids seal as they cool slowly.
As you can see from the variety of shapes and sizes we also believe in recycling!
Can't wait to open the first one on Boxing Day.

If I can make Picalilli.....anyone can!

Now for pickled onions!!!

First step towards our perfect expat Christmas!


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