Then, a few years ago, I made a departure from going back to Adelaide for the season. Instead, I took myself off to Thailand and found myself riding elephants on Christmas Day. That was pretty good.
Since then, I've only been back to Adelaide for Christmas once. My immediate family aren't big Christmas people, and there is far less stress if I go over just after the season, or sometime in early the new year. It takes the pressure off for all concerned - most of all me. Best of all, I don't get the perceived "Oh, poor Pandy, maiden aunt" treatment which, looking back, was the thing I hated most about spending Christmas with my sister's in-laws. Nice people, but they belong to my sister - not me. I don't feel the need to be around them.
Much more pleasant to spend Christmas with people you want to spent Christmas with - friends.
I was over at Blarney's last night starting to help with the preparations. Washing glasses, sweeping floors, making sure the cat was placated. The last job was a bit hard. It appears the lad's allergies are back and he's been scratching himself until he bleeds. To counteract this, they put a jumper on him.
A pink, poodle's jumper.
Oh, the inhumanity.
So the weekend has been spent cooking.
The cassata was finished.
From the last blog, you would have seen be start the cassata.
This turned out to be a most enjoyable experience to make. Auntie Gaye would be rubbing her hands with glee.
After the brandied fruit was frozen, it was time to get out the big guns.
The chocolate is melted down and mixed with half of the ice cream like so.
This mix is then placed on top of the brandied cherries and cream and frozen.
There is also another important step at this point.
It is impossible to make cassata without licking out a bowl or two.
Once the next layer is set, there are a few things to do.
Toast up what feels like a squillion almonds. These need to have their skins removed, halved, toasted in the oven and sorted into two piles - pretty and ugly.
The pretty almonds (These are the nicely shaped ones) will go on top.
The ugly ones will be combined with a hard crack toffee. This is easy to make - just boil up some sugar and a little water and test until you get the mix to snap when dropped into ice water (and when it goes a golden brown.) The toffee is poured over the ugly almonds and left to cool.
Once cool, the toffee is broken, placed in a plastic bag and then beaten like a red headed stepchild until it's pulverised nicely. I like using a hammer to do this. A rolling pin works just as well.
The crushed up toffee is then combined with the rest of the ice cream and placed on top of the chocolate layer, allowed to set, then decorated with the pretty almonds.
We have had many a family fight over the cassata - having tiffs over who has the last bit. Mind you, I soup up the original recipe that was in the Australian Woman's Weekly Dinner Party Cook Book some thirty years ago. There is nothing about almond toffee in the top layer - nor is there a need to use 70% proof chocolate in the second layer - or using the good ice cream, rather than the generic supermarket brand stuff. I was tempted to use this wonderful salted caramel infused vanilla ice cream that you can find at the moment in the top layer.
But that would be just decadent.... we can't have that -can we?
(For the original recipe go here - the souping up part - the almond toffee, the not so cheap chocolate and top end ice cream - that is up to you.)
I've also made some Pandora-ised bread and butter pudding.
Blarney send out a list of things needed for our multi-cultural Christmas and nobody came back wanting to do a hot dessert. So thinking outside of the box, and not willing to do a fill Christmas pudding, this was the compromise.
Using a cardiac ward full of cream and eggs, fruit loaf rather than bread, some of my home made plum jam instead of marmalade and soaking the sultanas in brandy, it sort of tastes a bit like a lighter, creamier version of Christmas pudding.
The test one I made in a ramekin tasted bloody marvellous.
Out of the egg whites left over from the pudding's custard, I've also made a batch of meringues. They're cooling in the over at the moment.
Thinking about it, I think I'm enjoying this Christmas because I'm allowed to cook. I don't get to cook when I go back to Adelaide. My mum and sister don't like me in their kitchens preferring to do it all themselves.
I like it when I get to unleash my inner Nigella.
They don't know what they're missing back in Adelaide.
Now to wrap the last of the presents, pack my bag for tomorrow night because I'm staying out at Blarney and Barney's for the night so I can help put up the trampoline (if they finally found one that fits in the back yard), help with the turkey (of they've sourced another one that will fit in the oven) and watch the boys open their presents in the morning.
Just have to put a few hours in at work tomorrow and we're done with work for the year.
So with that. And to all a good night.