A gingerbread Christmas tradition

Cathi Litzenberger has fond memories of her children making gingerbread houses with their cousins at Christmas

Making and decorating a gingerbread house is a fun family activity and an old-fashioned Christmas tradition that kids of all ages still enjoy today.

Three sleeps and Christmas Day will be upon us. With kids home from school it is a great time to sit them down and build gingerbread or candy houses.

In the olden days when I was a young mom, we’d do this on the day we went to chop down our tree. We’d gather with my twin’s family and several other families and head for Rose Mountain with hot cocoa in a thermos where we’d find a roaring fire and a pond cleared off for skating, thanks to Grandpa C., who had the timber rights up there.

When we were done we’d head down to the grandparents’ house where Grandma C. would have her dining room table all set up with little cardboard houses made from empty small milk or cream cartons, one for each child. Every family brought candy to share for the houses. Moms spent time whipping up batch after batch of royal icing to glue the candy on. We all brought a pot luck dish to pop into the oven for dinner, and while the children made their houses, adults that weren’t required to help, set up the grandparents’ tree and helped decorate it. Those trips remains one of my favourite memories from the past.

Today I have a recipe for the royal icing, should you decide to make a few of these little houses, as well as a couple of recipes for using up the inevitable Christmas leftovers.  Merry Christmas to everyone and the very best for the new year.

Royal Icing for Candy

or Gingerbread Houses

4 egg whites (buy carton of egg whites)

4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon lemon extract

Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl with mixer at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and lemon extract. Beat at high speed until thickened.

NOTE: When dry, royal icing is very hard and resistant to damage.

leftover turkey & ham casserole

30g unsalted butter

1/4 cup (35g) plain flour

1 cup (250ml) chicken stock

1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine

1/2 cup (125ml) thickened cream

2 cups (320g) chopped cooked turkey

1/2 cup (90g) chopped leg ham

10g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, chopped (I use 1 cup chopped regular mushrooms)

2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 Tbsp. chopped chives

2 spring onions, finely chopped

375g block frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg yolk, beaten

Cranberry sauce, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute or until mixture bubbles. Add chicken stock and wine, then cook for a further 2-3 minutes, whisking to remove any lumps. Add thickened cream and cook for a further minute or until the mixture boils and thickens. Season to taste, then stir in turkey, ham, chopped porcini, parsley, chives and spring onion.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, roll out pastry on lightly floured surface to form 30cm x 33cm rectangle. Cut in half lengthways to give two 15cm-wide pieces. Place one pastry sheet on lined baking tray and spread with cooled turkey mixture, leaving 2cm border. Fold remaining sheet of pastry in half lengthways and use sharp knife to make cuts in folded side, about 1cm apart and leaving 2cm border on unfolded side. Carefully open pastry back out and place over filling, pressing edges to seal. Trim edges if necessary, then brush all over with beaten egg. Bake 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden. Slice and serve with cranberry sauce.

Thai Turkey salad

200g rice vermicelli noodles

1/3 cup (80 ml) fish sauce

1/4 cup grated palm sugar or brown sugar

2 red chilies, de-seeded, finely chopped

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, chopped

100 ml lime juice (from about 4 limes)

2 cups shredded cooked turkey breast

1 cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, cut into matchsticks

1 carrot, cut into matchsticks

1/4 cup each Thai basil, coriander and mint leaves

2 Tbsp. chopped roasted peanuts

Soak the rice vermicelli noodles in a bowl of boiling water or cook according to packet instructions. Drain, then refresh in cold water and drain again. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the fish sauce and sugar in a saucepan. Simmer over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a blender with the chilies, ginger, garlic and lime juice. Purée until smooth. Set dressing aside.

Place drained noodles, shredded turkey, cucumber, carrot, herbs and peanuts in large bowl. Pour over dressing and toss gently to combine. Divide salad among plates and serve.

crisp prawn and turkey parcels

1 cup finely shredded savoy cabbage

400g cooked prawns, peeled, cleaned, cut into 2cm pieces

1 cup shredded roast turkey or barbecued chicken

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely grated ginger

6 sheets spring roll pastry, thawed

Vegetable oil, to shallow-fry

1 carrot, peeled into ribbons

2 cups bean sprouts

1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped

2 Tbsp. chopped roasted peanuts

Steamed rice (optional), to serve

Vietnamese Dressing

1/2 red bird’s-eye chili, seeded, finely chopped

1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped

3 tsp. caster sugar

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

2 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 lime, zested, juiced

To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients with 2 Tbsp. water in a bowl.

To make parcels, combine cabbage, prawns, turkey, onions and ginger in a bowl. Cut each pastry sheet into 4. Place 1 Tbsp. prawn mixture in the centre, leaving a 2cm border. Brush the border lightly with water. Bring corners into the centre, folding like an envelope, and press edges together to seal. Makes 24.

Fill a large frying pan 2cm deep with oil and heat over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, cook parcels for 1 minute each side or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

To make carrot salad, toss carrot, bean sprouts, coriander and half the dressing in a bowl. Scatter with peanuts.

Place prawn and turkey parcels on tray and serve with remaining dressing, salad and rice, if using.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

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