For the past two weeks Tuesday night has become my Asda night. Not for shopping, that would be far too simple for me; I usually choose to go mid afternoon on a Saturday or a Monday evening when the rest of the world also descends instead. I’m not organised enough to think a Tuesday might actually be the perfect night for an Asda night as it’s probably fairly quiet and low-key and would give ample time for browsability! I LOVE supermarket shopping – seriously, I do and could spend hours but these past two Asda Tuesdays have not been to shop, instead they’ve been to see the guys who choose the food and wine and sample a little of the delights they have in store for us this yule! Last week I wrote about the wine tasting I was lucky enough to be invited to and how I now know exactly what I’ll be buying for the table at my in-laws this Christmas. Last night was all about the food and as well as getting to eat and drink some of the fantastic nibbles they have sourced for the party season I was invited to make some festive treats from scratch (recipes linked at the bottom of this post) myself! Yes, me, in the kitchen! Not something which happens terribly often but I had such a good time last night perhaps it will be a more regular occurrence from now on! So I left Jonny and the children eating frozen chicken nuggets (I do usually do a bit better than that but I had to be out early you see) and whisked myself off to the Leiths School of Food and Wine who are the collaborators with Asda for their ‘Extra Special’ ranges.
First up we were welcomed (with food, mulled wine and ‘Extra Special’ Prosecco) by Kerri Fidler, the in-store Cake Product Manager who explained to us that Christmas starts well before the event for Asda. Indeed they are already onto Christmas 2014 for some items that’s how far in advance they are. This time last year the team were in Asia sourcing some of the Oriental nibbles for this Christmas and the puddings, needing months of maturing, by this point are long in the past for the making and are now ready for the buying and trying! (All the better for us then)! She told us a little about her job (sounds fab – she’s trying 400 different types of mince pies today!) and invited us to join her, Asda and the Leiths team (who Asda work alongside all year just for Christmas pudding alone – let alone the rest of the delicious ‘Extra Special’ range) to get involved and celebrate the tradition of Stir-Up Sunday. The tradition, which always falls on the last Sunday before Advent hails from the Book of Common Prayer, which was first published as far back as 1549. The book features a prayer including the line ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…’ and it was this prayer that was read out in churches on that Sunday before Advent to remind the flock it was time to start stirring up their puddings which need to be made in advance to mature and allow the flavours to develop. Cooks and servants would hear the words in church and that would let them know it was time. As each pudding was stirred in the direction from East to West , in honour of the Three Wise Men who visited baby Jesus, each family member would take a turn and make a wish as they stirred. The tradition is still celebrated widely today and even after centuries the Christmas pudding is still the fireworks of the feast for most of us enjoying Christmas lunch with our families. It was fascinating learning about how it is traditionally made and even more so learning how to make one myself!
For me, it is the first time I have followed the tradition! Christmas pudding is not something that would spring to mind as something within my realms to make and when Asda do such good ones there’s not really any need as such but it was really good fun (and fairly easy actually) but I’ll come to the making in a bit! First up for the evening, after the nibbles of course (I have to say my faves are ‘Extra Special’ Chicken in Pandan Leaf – just delish, ‘Extra Special’ Dim Sum Selection – lightly steamed and not in the slightest bit greasy as some can be and from the ‘Chosen By You’ range I just loved the juicy Olives and Prosciutto ham – I could have been on a sun drenched island in July so fresh tasted the olives!) we got to do a bit of blind tasting of Christmas puddings! One was recently made, the second had been maturing for 6 months and the third for 18 whole months long! Me with my child’s palette preferred the youngest pud as I couldn’t taste the alcohol as much. To me the more mature, the stronger the brandy flavour so it seemed and I inevitably didn’t end up picking the one considered most ready but there we are – that’s just me! And honestly, they all tasted pretty good! We also got to taste the fabulous looking ‘Extra Special’ Jeweled Yule Pudding which as well as tasting amazing, looks show stopping and very appealing for the children to get stuck in and try Christmas pudding for perhaps the first time! Can you still flambe it like a traditional pud? Oh yes, Leiths, who pop a tip on the side of every ‘Extra Special’ product, say to do just that and serve with Brandy cream – yum!
Blind tasting Christmas puddings at different stages of maturity after already consuming quite a fair amount of ‘Extra Special’ nibbles. Just a little bit spoilt!
And then it was on to the making. Nick, project manager for the Leiths and Asda collaboration and Leiths trained chef was to be my teacher and we chatted about what he likes about the range. He, a top chef, will be serving up the Asda’s ‘Extra Special’ 6 month Matured Luxury Christmas pudding to his own family this Christmas but was very happy to show me how they make one from scratch! We stirred (from East to West and making a wish) by hand all the ingredients (recipe linked at the bottom of the post) and then he showed us how to tie the paper on the top and make a handle for when we steam it at home! The steaming takes 12 hours and I’m not sure they had enough nibbles the rate we were going through them to accommodate us all for that long so I will do mine at the weekend and then it will keep for this Christmas or next, however long I want to mature it for!
Next up were the mince pies… I made pastry from scratch last night and I’m really rather proud of myself. (Again the recipe is linked at the bottom of the post) And then I turned it into mince pies using ‘Extra Special’ mincemeat with orange zest! Smelt amazing and tastes even better even if I do say so myself after making them! I filled mine a little grandly but Nick assured me that no one ever complains about an oozy overfilled mince-pie! Jonny didn’t when I got them home and he doesn’t even like mince pies!
And the last cooking experience of the evening was right up my and Florence’s street! Even better, no baking involved! We melted the most gorgeous dark chocolate from the ‘Extra Special’ range which has orange in it and then we dipped Christmas tree shaped palmier biscuits in the chocolate before decorating them with nuts! The ‘Extra Special’ All-Butter Christmas Trees are divine and with the choc over the top they’re EVEN better! Florence is going to LOVE doing this and they’re only £2 for 18 biscuits, can’t say fairer than that now can you! (A more detailed step-by-step is linked at the bottom of this post).
And when all the cooking was done we retired to the nibble table where we indulged just a little bit more! Well, when the food is so tasty it’d be rude not to right? I don’t actually cook Christmas dinner in our house as we will be at my in-laws with my Mum as well who will then cook on Boxing day but I will be doing a Christmas dinner for just me, Jonny and the children the weekend before we go up to Norwich. I have mentioned that I’m not the worlds best cook so I will be using Asda’s ‘Extra Special’ range for the whole caboodle! It’s really inexpensive and utterly wonderful tasting so why would I do anything else! When we have our own little Christmas at home pre actual Christmas I shall be cooking an ‘Extra Special’ Rack of Pork, with trimmings also from the range like Baby Sprouts and Bacon with Sage Butter, Wensleydale Parsnip Bake and Slow Braised Red Cabbage with Apple and Cranberries. For desert alongside our pudding I think the ‘Extra Special’ Handmade Chocolate Yule Log’ is going to be on the cards!
We are also having a Christmas party where the nibbles on my desire list to serve are all the ones I have tried plus some others that sound divine! All from the ‘Extra Special’ range I think Salmon Skewers with Chilli and Soy Glaze, Scottish Fish Pate Trio and Wensleydale and Sticky Figgy Pudding are going to have to be on the menu! Sound yummy don’t they and that’s all before you see the other cheeses, hams and… well the list could go on, I’m not going to be able to choose!
For the big day itself? Well we’re going to have to take with us a cake for the children and in the ‘Chosen by you’ range the Jolly Santa Cake will make them all smile! Totally love it and there’s a Rudolph the Reindeer one too!
Some of the Christmas food is already in store now and the whole range will be available from December 12th – Can’t wait! I’m sensing a bit of belt loosening in our house! Will have to go for lots of runs to make up for all the yummy Asda treats. I just can’t believe the quality of their food and when you match it with price it’s just astounding!