Christmas food that can go the distance
August 8, 2014 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I need some gifty/snacky/delicious food ideas that hold up to serious environmental issues.

I'm doing my usual trip to my favourite Christmas thing and as usual want to take a dish. However, this year, I'm going to be coming from a holiday house five hours drive away. I have no idea what resources I'll have at the house and let's just assume I'm going to be bug-fucking-nuts and incapable of cooking properly there anyway. So I need a dish I can prepare at home before I go to the holiday house, can keep there for a few days until I go to the Christmas party, that will cope with the following:

ten+ hours driving on different days (aircon in the car, but not great)
three days storage (probably a fridge, maybe an esky)
high heat and humidity (during the creation, transport and consumption thereof)

Now, dish is fairly loose - in previous years we've done little chocolates (melted but tasty), most of the other guests cook something at the party, there's seafood as far as the eye can see, a drink is good, no allergies around the place that I need to be wary of, everybody is adventurous as far as taste goes and are going to want to know how to make it. My grandma has the pudding sorted, and the locals tend to have actual food items well under control.

We're talking the northern parts of Australia as well, so when I say hot and humid I mean it, and hot chocolate is so unwelcome as to be risible. Bread goes mouldy in a day or two, biscuits too, and everything else melts. Technically these aren't gifts, but individual versions of things go well. I really do enjoy cooking, so complex is fine, but I'm aware that Christmas is a difficult time and I don't want to over-extend myself too close to crunch time. It's important to me to bring something though, which is why I'm trying to work it out now rather than later.

I've been thinking about the following: some sort of cordial/syrup that I can mix with soda water or alcohol to make a cocktail, some sort of candy (I find the humidity is an issue for everything from hard candy to chocolate), or a non-food thing. Anyone have any recipes along those lines, or other suggestions? I've got some experience with jam-making and so on. I'm happy to buy as well, will probably buy some fancy tea anyway.

Plus, if I ask now, most of you are in the throes of summer so it'll be easy to think of 'now, if someone came over with a batch of this I'd be happy as hell'!
posted by geek anachronism to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What about an American classic, Chex Mix? You can find a million different recipes, some variously holiday themed, some sweet some savory and all steps in between, or just stick with the original (which is mostly a combination of store-bought stuff + a little seasoning, which you might not have access to.) If you don't have Chex, any kind of mostly unsweetened cereal should do. The key is to mix it up, let it come to room temperature and really dry, and then pack it in airtight containers. The one regular ingredient to Chex Mix that might be a little iffy for you is that normally it involves nuts, which might go off in your high heat. But if you caramelized them, the sugar should seal them well enough, I think, and make it fancier, to boot! You could do a few different batches with different flavor profiles (sweet, salty, spicy?) to make it more special and less monotonous. Chex Mix is sort of a traditional holiday thing but it's just great for times when people are mingling and want something not overwhelming but with variety to nibble on.
posted by Mizu at 11:35 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

What about things in jars or bottles, as you suggest? I had a relative who made chili mango chutney for years, and it was stunning, but what about syrups for either drinking (lavender cordial? ginger cordial?) or for pouring over icecream (chocolate? raspberry? lychee?)?
posted by thylacinthine at 11:55 PM on August 8, 2014

I've found these truffles to be almost indestructible (and yummy). Pomegranate sparklers are nice and festive, if you can find an out-of-season pomegranate (the seeds bounce up and down with the bubbles).
posted by superfish at 12:06 AM on August 9, 2014

Best answer: Anzac biscuits aren't seasonal, but they were conceived to deal with difficult storage conditions. I love them and welcome any opportunity to eat them long after ANZAC day.
posted by third word on a random page at 12:43 AM on August 9, 2014

What is this, mid-August? You just about have enough time to start an Irish Christmas Cake if you bake it in the next two weeks. It will survive a nuclear war, so it will survive your two drives no problem. You can ice it on-site if you want to ice it.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:42 AM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in Atlanta and our go to food for these weather circumstances (although not at Xmas) is cheese straws. Tons of easy recipes online.... Make and take a few varieties. Always a big hit.
posted by pearlybob at 3:45 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The cordial idea is great, and what about some bramble gin? It tastes amazing, is good either warm or over ice as a liqueur, and you could bottle up a few mini-bottles as gifts as well.
posted by tinkletown at 3:56 AM on August 9, 2014

Best answer: Last night I drank tequila that had been soaking for a month with blueberries, lime rinds and cherry peppers. It was awesome and a pretty bright purple color. So I vote for some kind of infused spirit. The alcohol will keep it and the longer it sits the better.
posted by Katine at 4:42 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Buy silica gel packets in bulk and keep whatever you do in good airtight containers.

As an American living in oz, I can say I've never seen Chex here BUT fancy popcorn is a kinda similar idea: cheese, caramel corn, etc.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:44 AM on August 9, 2014

Along with cordials or alcohol: mango or rose lassi, Thai iced coffee, iced bubble tea...
posted by jrobin276 at 4:48 AM on August 9, 2014

Fruit salad. Get others to help you peel and chop stuff and toss it together once you get there.

It doesn't have to be a pudding/dessert thing. You can make em savoury. One of my aunts used to make a killer watermelon and onion salad for Christmas. I do one with (slightly unripe) pineapple and asian herbs.

And if you wanted to take it beyond simply fruit and veg, you can toss something like tinned or bottle caviar (or truffles, or smoked duck bits, or whatever) through. Another really simple one is unripe star fruit sliced thin, lumpfish roe, fish sauce, chilli, palm sugar and maybe crushed roasted peanuts (if fresh roasted peanuts aren't going to last, thoroughly wash a pack of bar nuts - works for cashews too). It's getting the proportions right in that last one that really make it zing. Try it out, make it to taste.

Worst case scenario, you drink all that lovely stuff people have mentioned up above and forget to make the salad. Then you just hand out the fruit instead.
posted by Ahab at 5:00 AM on August 9, 2014

Best answer: Passionfruit syrup! Or pomegranate syrup. Good for cordial, cocktails or drizzling on ice-cream.
posted by evil_esto at 5:14 AM on August 9, 2014

Rum balls! They get better the longer they sit...
posted by fancyoats at 7:53 AM on August 9, 2014

... prepare at home before I go to the holiday house, can keep there for a few days until I go to the Christmas party...

In similar situations in NZ I have made macerated berry salad. You do want to keep it cold after being made as much as possible but an esky would be fine if you can keep it somewhat stocked with ice or an ice pack. Basically, buy all the types of berries you can or want, throw half into a bowl and squash them a bit, throw the other half in, throw in some caster sugar (about 1/4 cup always seems right somehow) then throw in some dessert wine (ice wine is very good, bubbly works, rose would be nice, anything you like or have) and leave it for a bit (where 'a bit' is anything from two hours to four days). Lots of liquid will come out of the berries so don't get carried away with the wine, again 1/4 cup or so for a big bowl. Since you're squashing and macerating the fruit it doesn't have to be pretty or whatever and being thrown around in transport won't matter. Just make it in an airtight tupperware or similar for transport. Then I make single serve pavlovas on site and serve after the Christmas turkey.

For other ideas, would fancy biscotti type biscuits keep if you can add silica desiccant packs to the container? Going a bit soft is OK, I'm just not sure if they would get mouldy. Hopefully not given how dry they are in the first place? You can get all kinds of carried away with flavourings and ingredients and things if you go that route (plain is nice too). Also, maybe shortbread biscuits would keep too? They're also quite dry and super good at Christmas.

I have also given jars of jam or chutney at Christmas and that goes down well. Buy some cute small jars and print personalised labels for them. I made spicy plum chutney last weekend that is supposed to sit for three months in the jar to mature, so that would be almost right for a Christmas present. I'm not sure what's in season over there now but luckily chutney and relish is just as good with over- or under-ripe ingredients.

Speaking of things that go in jars: cranberry sauce. It's really just a chunky, fresh cranberry jam and will jar up well, keep for several weeks at least, and be a festive addition to the Christmas table. You can make it with dried cranberries if you can't find the fresh ones at that time of year.
posted by shelleycat at 9:47 AM on August 9, 2014

Oh and use the heat to your advantage. Buy some oztops and ferment up some fruit juice. It took me a couple of goes round to get really tasty drinkable products (mango nectar is surprisingly nice by the way) so have some fun practising at home first.
posted by shelleycat at 9:50 AM on August 9, 2014 about a barrel aged cocktail? Then you could just pop the barrel open when you get there!
posted by MrBobinski at 5:25 PM on August 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you! I'm not really going to get a chance to shop really, since the holiday house is in the middle of nowhere so fresh fruit and salads aren't going to work. I think a jam or chutney (not plum season yet but that's going on a list) if I can't find a good cordial/liqueur recipe.

And Anzacs are on the menu!

(I'll be passing the starfruit salad recipe to my sister though, that sounds intriguing)
posted by geek anachronism at 8:01 PM on August 9, 2014

Oh! Something you may be able to get in late winter and that matures nicely: home made pickled onions or gerkins. So good and tasty. They're kind of a pain to prepare, particularly the onions (you need to find small onions for this), but again with nice jars and fancy labels they'll look and taste so much better than the bought ones.
posted by shelleycat at 1:33 AM on August 10, 2014

What about some jars of homemade ice cream sauces: chocolate, butterscotch, salted caramel. Would you have sources for buying ice cream, or better yet ingredients for homemade ice cream at the house?

I usually start with David Lebovitz or Smitten Kitchen.
posted by CathyG at 1:42 PM on August 10, 2014

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