Christmas Gingerbread

Gingerbread House

I do love Christmas traditions.  I am also partial to a bit of kitsch and childish glee. Ticking all those boxes is the gingerbread house and gingerbread cookies for the tree I made this week.  The rustic charm of the house is due in no small part to a few subsidence problems due to my royal icing not setting quickly enough and my gingerbread being a bit wonky – but hey, curlywurlys came into their own as a roof ridge and hiding the gap where the top of the roof didn’t meet properly and jam jars make wonderful scaffolding till all is firm enough to hold its own. Start another Christmas tradition by having a mulled wine whilst you wait then your gingerbread roof will all seem a lot straighter!  Continue reading

Chloe’s Ratatouille

I am absolutely stuck as to what to call this. There is nothing that I can think of that does it justice  My mother would have probably called it a melange, you could call it a stew – I’ve called it a ratatouille because it’s based on an Ottolenghi recipe called Tamara’s Ratatouille

I made this for Chloe (hence the use of her name in this recipe instead) and I was stuck for vegan recipes   I tailored the original to her tastes and I think this version is even better  Chloe hates courgettes – I swear she can smell one at 100m so there is no point putting any in as she wouldn’t eat them.  However,  she loves olives, a bit of spice and those tomatoey arabica sauces so that’s all been adjusted from the original too   What I haven’t changed is the final roasting of the ratatouille right at the end which elevates this into the most delicious intensely flavoured dish of vegetables you can imagine – until you try it you have no idea how good it is




Serve it as it is for a vegan meal, it’s lovely with toast and a poached or fried egg on top (try cracking the eggs directly in the tray on top of the veg for the last 5 mins of roasting = much less hassle). Ideal for meatless Monday’s.  Or for meat lovers use the Ratatouille as the side dish to roasted chicken or lamb   Yum!

PS leftovers are great for a packed lunch or salad the next day or blitz it with some water and heat it up to make a veggie soup (though perhaps eat the olives first and remove bay leaves)

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Red Cabbage with Apples and Cranberries

We always have this on Christmas Eve with Ham and Stuffed Potato Skins.  Many people have it as part of their Christmas Lunch and very tasty it is too.  It’s just such a versatile dish.  The sweet/sour tang cuts through any rich foods such as turkey, ham or goose, and it’s jewel ruby-red colour it seems made for for the festive table.  If you add to that the fact it can be made in advance and sit either in your fridge or freezer quite happily until it is reheated it’s a winner of a dish.  It feels really good to get ahead and this dish enables you to do just that.

This recipe is a classic one so there is nothing very new here.  I have just tweaked it a little with some red currant jelly and a few dried cranberries but that’s just my personal preference. Continue reading

Chocolate Chestnut Roulade

I always make this for my birthday – I love it that much.  The very chocolately sponge is filled with softly whipped cream,  luscious chestnut spread and studded with crumbled Maron glacé is a real indulgence.  It freezes so, if you don’t have a Birthday so close to Christmas as I do, you can make it in advance and whip it out on Christmas Eve as a Buche de Noel – perhaps covering it in yet more cream and chocolate to make it more log like like the French do.

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Mince Pies with Orange Pastry

My husband takes the tradition of eating 12 mince pies between Christmas and New Year very seriously.  This apparently ensures a full twelve months of happiness in the year ahead.  In fact my husband likes to have a few more under his belt (so to speak) just to be sure – and then, of course, he needs to practise getting up to full mince pie eating capacity so he likes to have a few in the run up to Christmas   Basically he loves mincepies!

With all this demand, I always like to have a stash of mince pies in the freezer so I don’t have to be rolling out pastry all the time.  I freeze them raw in the trays and – once they are frozen – pop them out and store them in freezer bags.  That way when I want them I just return them to the patty tray and cook them from frozen for 20 mins at 175c. Really easy for when guests drop in, or you just feel a bit peckish but don’t want to put in much last minute effort, or even (heaven forbid) when you realise Oct-Dec next year are not going to be good months unless you eat three more mincepies on New Years Eve.

My favourite pastry for the mince pies is a very buttery shortcrust flavoured with orange zest and bound together with the juice   It’s absolutely amazing if I say so myself – and the smell when they come out the oven …… yum. It’s  made in the food processor so it’s ridiculously easy to do.  Just remember because the pastry is so crumbly and butter rich to leave the cooked mince pies in the tins for 5 mins after cooking before taking them out and putting on a rack to cool  or they will fall apart Continue reading

Christmas Figgy Pudding

This is a Christmas Pudding without suet or added refined sugar.   It uses butter and date syrup/molasses instead   To be honest I don’t think that this makes Christmas Pudding more healthy but it tastes delicious and maybe you will feel these tweaks make it better for you   I alternate between my grandmothers recipe (which has suet and added sugar)  – Stir-up Sunday Part One Christmas Pudding and this one.  This year we will have two people round the table who are diabetic so maybe this recipe will allow them to have a little bit without feeling too guilty.

This recipe has the figs so often left out nowadays and always reminds me of the song, We wish you a merry Christmas, and in particular the verse “So bring out the figgy pudding”  To add to the old-fashioned feel I always add charms and, this year an old threepence and silver sixpence (washed and wrapped in baking parchment).  It adds to the excitement I think, for grown-ups and youngsters alike!    I make a variety of different sizes of puddings as so often a small homemade pudding is a great gift for couples or for those who go away to family/friends for lunch on the day and have no leftovers.  Cold pudding is wonderful fried up in lot of butter for Boxing Day breakfast or crumbled into softened icecream to make Christmas Icecream Continue reading

Quince and Cardamon Mincemeat

Last year I posted a recipe for Home-made Christmas Mincemeat and was asked whether it was possible to make mincemeat without using suet.  At the time I suggested replacing suet with butter which works very well.    Last week I was reading Nigel Slater’s recently published “The Christmas Chronicles” (a great book and a wonderful Christmas gift idea for anyone interested in cooking) when I came across a recipe for quince mincemeat jumped out at me.  It doesn’t use suet – or any fat at all – so not only would it be ideal for those who don’t want to use suet but it would be great for vegans too.  I have to admit that I have poached the quince differently to that in Mr Slater’s recipe as I think using spices in the poaching liquid gives a better flavour and allows you to use the cooked quinces in many different ways but, other than that, the rest is the same. The recipe for my  Poached Quinces is here

It is true that this recipe doesn’t result in a traditional mincemeat in so far as it’s more the consistency of a conserve.  There is a real plus if you make this though, as you can not only use it as a filling for mince pies but it also works well as an accompaniment to cheese and cold cuts Continue reading

Dundee Cake

This Dundee cake is filled with raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries and apricots plump from having been soaked in a mix of sloe gin, sherry and whisky. Don’t by the way worry about the alcohol in this cake as once cooked it’s perfectly ok to drive afterwards or give to kids.  This is a light fruit cake but wonderfully moist and slightly crumbly. Continue reading

Stir-up Sunday Part Two Christmas Cake

I never have room for Christmas Cake on the day itself but it is an essential treat for the rest of the Christmas holidays and looks wonderful and inviting on the sideboard when you just fancy a little “something”.   It wouldn’t feel like Christmas without it.  The decoration of the cake can be completely personal and fit with your own style of Christmas. You can use different types of icing and make it either completely traditional or modern and contemporary.  Or even no icing at all and use marzipan and glacé fruits.  It’s completely up to you.  My friend Rachel has brilliant ideas each year for decorating her cakes (see below) – and her kids all join in too so it becomes a real family event Continue reading

Stir-up Sunday Part One Christmas Pudding

Its the last Sunday before Advent and tradition has it that this is the day when the Christmas pudding is made or “stirred up” and wishes made.   If you have ever wondered where the name “Stir-up Sunday” came from it is because the Collect for the Sunday before Advent in the Book of Common Prayer starts with “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”.  And, of course, making the pudding about now gives the perfect amount of time for it to mature for Christmas. Once done, I keep my pudding in the fridge till Christmas Day ( and that way feel enormously self satisfied every time I open the fridge door) but any cool dark place will do – my mother kept hers under the spare bedroom bed  She also kept Christmas presents under there as my brother and I quickly discovered but that’s by the by and don’t ask how we knew!!!  Let’s just we weren’t top of Santa’s good children list that year! Continue reading