Now is the time of the year when Navel oranges appear in the shops, these are those wonderful juicy oranges that so many of us will remember being a festive treat.
Making a fresh jelly from them is a delightful way of adding their rich sweet flavour to the Christmas table.
You will need:
6 navel oranges
115g caster sugar
35 g gelatine powder (1 packet)
2 tspns of Cointreau (optional but nice)
1 extra orange peeled and sliced fine for garnish.
Dissolve the gelatine in 60 mls cold water
Squeeze the oranges and mix the juice with the sugar
Place juice and sugar into a pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Add 340 mls water, also the gelatine mix and stir in the Cointreau if using
Strain into containers of your choice, decorating with thin slices of orange.
Why not cook up your Christmas gifts this year? A gift you have cooked yourself with the best ingredients possible is better than anything that can be purchased in the shops.
I use a tried and tested Christmas cake recipe which I have baked for decades, adding a little more brandy than the recipe suggests just for good measure - my friends love it. Rather than give them a large round cake, I cook them in 1lb loaf tins, which seems just the right size. (This recipe makes two).
It’s not too late to get the mixing bowl out and make a few too, and if you have a drop of brandy over when the cakes are finished you can always drink it yourself, raising your glass to the approaching festive season and the friends you will be sharing it with.
You will need:
9oz (225g) plain flour
¼ tspn salt
1 tspn ground mixed spice
8oz (200g) soft butter
8oz (200g) soft dark brown sugar
2 tbspns black treacle
½ tspn vanilla essence
2oz (50g) ground almonds
4 free range eggs - lightly beaten
4oz (100g) chopped mixed peel
2lb (800g) mixed dried fruit
6oz glace cherries, halved
2 1lb loaf tins and paper cake liner
To garnish an assortment of nuts and glacé cherries
2 tblspns redcurrant jelly to glaze when cooked.
Set the oven to 150°C / 300°F or gas mark 2 and line the two tins with paper liners.
Cream the butter, sugar, treacle and vanilla essence together until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and beat well.
Sift in the flour, ground mixed spice, salt and ground almonds and stir well, then add the dried fruit and all other ingredients except the brandy.
Divide the mixture between the two loaf tins, smooth over the top, then decorate as illustrated using assorted nuts and glacé cherries.
Bake for approximately 2¾ to 3 hours until an inserted skewer comes out clean when dipped into the middle.
Leave to settle for a while, then dribble brandy over the cake: a couple of tablespoons will do but a few more won’t do any harm.
When cool melt the redcurrant jelly with a little water and brush over the topping until it shines.
Wrap in greaseproof paper, then festive paper, tie with a ribbon and distribute among your friends just before Christmas.
The classic Scottish shortbread usually calls for the addition of rice flour but my friend, Oxford cake maker extraordinaire Geraldene Holt, ignores the rice flour and gives half a dozen extra flavour suggestions instead in her latest book, Cakes (Prospect Press, £18.00) - read more >>
The result is a delicious assortment of biscuits that can adorn the New Year table. Taking her idea one stage further, I tried adding craisins, to the mix. They are dried cranberries, which give the biscuits a festive feel.
To make about 20 biscuits you will need:
4oz (120g) butter
2oz (60g) caster sugar
6oz (175g) plain flour
1 tsp caster sugar for dusting when cooked
A small handful of craisins.
In a warmed mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft, add the sugar and cream together.
Gradually add the sifted flour and Craisins and continue beating until the mixture binds together in a lump.
On a floured board, roll out the dough until 5mm (1/4 inch thick)
Use a 6mm (2 ½ inch) fluted pastry cutter to cut rounds of dough.
Place on a buttered baking sheet and prick each biscuit a couple of times with a fork.
Bake in a preheated oven (160°C/325°F or gas mark 3) until the biscuits begin changing colour at the edges. Do not overcook or the subtle buttery flavour will be lost.
Cool on the baking tin for 3 minutes then transfer to a wire rack and sprinkle with extra caster sugar.
Orange shortbread biscuits - add ½ tspn finely grated zest of orange and/or 1oz (30gm) finely grated candied orange peel to the sieved flour.
Lemon shortbread biscuits - add ½ tspn grated zest of lemon or finely grated candied lemon or citron peel to sifted flour. Ginger shortbread biscuits - add 1 ½ oz finely chopped preserved ir candied ginger to sifted flour.
Cherry shortbread biscuits - add 1 ½ oz chopped dried cherries to sieved flour - glace cherries can be used, but they are rather sweet. Rosemary shortbread biscuits - add ½ tspn chopped fresh young rosemary leaves to the butter.
There are loads of stories linked with mince pies, which were originally created from a mix of chopped meats such as mutton and beef, to which a mix of suet, cloves, mace, pepper, saffron raisins, currants and prunes were added. Later chopped apples and a little brandy or wine was added too, then later still a mix of spices and more dried fruits, flavoured with brandy, were combined to the mix and stored in a jar. Hence the mincemeat we know and use today.
The pastry used by our ancestors was questionable, and certainly unlike anything we can create today. Today’s cooks often use lard to make the pastry for their mince pies, which will provide a lovely crumbly texture. A mix of lard and butter works well too. But remember that if you have vegetarians among your guests, this pastry wouldn’t be suitable.
I added grated orange rind to my festive pastry this year, the result is particularly tasty, especially if you squeeze a little orange juice into the mincemeat too.
For the orange pastry you will need:
6 oz (175g) plain flour
1 teaspoon of grated orange rind
1 oz lard (30g)
2oz (55g) soft butter
Beaten egg for egg wash
Caster sugar to garnish.
Using your finger tips, rub together all the ingredients until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.
Now add enough iced water to create a firm dough. Be careful not to add too much water, for although a moist dough is easier to roll out, you will obtain a far better and more crumbly pastry by being cautious when adding water.
Once made, wrap the raw pastry in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes. Allowing the pastry to chill before rolling out applies to all pastry recipes, as it allows the flour to relax before baking.
Roll out gently, taking care not to overwork the pastry as it will become tough.
When the mince pies are formed, bake in a moderate oven , having brushed the raw pastry with egg yolk or milk and scattered a little caster sugar over the tops.
NOTE: You can make lemon pastry instead by adding grated lemon rather than orange.
You can buy excellent bottles of mulled wine ready-made, but you can also make your own - if you want the house to be filled with a spicy festive fragrance, then making your own is the order of the day.
Besides, continually tasting it as it heats up, until you are convinced you have got the flavour right, is great fun and certainly gets you in the mood for a festive meal or party.
For a really tasty mulled wine you will need:
One bottle of robust red wine
Juice from a couple of oranges
Couple of oranges - sliced
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
A handful sultanas
Brandy or an orange liqueur to add final flavour (The amount used depends on your taste buds).
There are two tricks to brewing up a good pot of mulled wine, the first is never allow the liquid to boil, or you will loose its alcohol content. The second is to make it several hours before it is needed so that the flavours can fuse together.
Tip wine and orange juice into the pot, with the orange slices cinnamon sticks and sultanas.
Tie the cloves in a small cloth so that they can be retrieved before you serve the mulled wine.
Simmer over a low heat until the house begins to fill with the fragrance of spice, and taste. If you are happy with the basic taste, now add a dash (or two of brandy or an orange liqueur, taste and add a little more if you feel it is needed).
Now let it stand in a corner somewhere safe for as long as possible, before gently heating it up again and serving in mugs or heat-proof glasses, having removed the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
Note: Some people add brown sugar to their mulled wine while it heats up - this is an optional extra and something that can be added in the end if you want to sweeten it up.
Filo tartlets are not only easy to make, but can be made days before you need them, and stored in an airtight tin. They can then be filled and used as either sweet or savoury canapés for a festive party. For an unusual, but festive flavour, try serving them with a small glass of Luxardo’s Sambuca flavoured with spiced apple, which has a powerful star anise base.
This recipe makes approximately 20 (depending on size)
For the cases you will need:
Two 12-cup mini muffin trays
2½ oz (75g) ready made filo pastry
2 dspns butter – melted
For the spiced apple filling:
Aprox 6oz apple purée which was cooked with a star anise.
Sugar to flavour the apple purée
¼ pt double cream - whipped
Few pinches mixed spice
20 thin slices of an eating apple for garnish
Turn the oven to 180°C / 350°F or Gas mark 4
Unwrap the filo, remove one sheet and cover the rest with a clean cloth to prevent it drying up as you work.
Using a pastry brush dipped into the melted butter, paint the butter all over the sheet, and then place a second sheet on top of the first and butter this one too and then repeat once more.
Using a sharp knife cut the buttered filo into 2 inch squares (5 x 5 cm)
Gently fix it into the muffin tin, pressing it down, and if necessary arranging the filo so that it looks attractive.
Bake to a light golden brown which will take approx 7 minutes.
Remove from muffin tin and allow to cool.
Fill with tspn whipped cream.
Remove the star anise from the apple purée, and place a tspn of this mix on top of the cream. Garnish with a small slice of eating apple, scatter a very small pinch of mixed spice on the top and serve with a small glass of Luxardo’s Sambuca flavoured with spiced apple.
This is not a recipe as such, rather a list of suggestions if you have mashed potatoes and any other mashed vegetables - celeriac or swede - that need using up. Mashed vegetables can be packed in a plastic bag and frozen until needed.
Essentially these little canapés - that are best served straight from the fat fryer or frying pan - are created from seasoned mashed potatoes, mixed with a little beaten egg (but not so much that they become too soft), then rolled into small balls. Now roll them in beaten egg yolk, followed by jumbo oats.
This is rather a messy job, but well worth the effort as you will discover when they emerge from the frying pan.
The other great thing about these canapés is that they are very inexpensive to produce if you are using leftovers and can be prepared ready to fry in hot fat just before serving.
To add flavour:
Insert a small knob of cheese, chicken, ham, crispy bacon or even a hard-boiled quail’s egg in the centre, before rolling into a ball.
Try adding chopped herbs, a little tomato paste, curry powder and / or finely chopped garlic to the potato.
Blend the mashed vegetables together for extra flavour.
Serve with a spicy tomato dip.
Serve with a chilled glass of champagne.
This is more of a reminder than a recipe, for those who have an open fire.
Hot roast chestnuts have been linked with festive feasting for centuries, they are a delicious extra that can be eaten after the Christmas lunch, or during the evening when you fancy something to nibble but can’t face anything too rich.
Unfortunately they have gone out of fashion recently because many find them to difficult to peel. Yes - I accept that they are not the easiest nuts to crack, but that delicious taste you get having finally rid them of their tough skins encapsulates Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future.
How do you roast them?
This is best done when the flames of the fire have died down leaving red hot embers.
Pierce each chestnut with a knife cutting a cross in the skin - if you fail to do this they will explode when exposed to heat. Place on a metal chestnut roasting spoon if you have one, if not a thick bottomed pan, and rest over the embers, turning when they begin to darken and the cut skin begins to curl.
Remove from the heat and carefully peel off the skin when cool enough to handle.
Roasting chestnuts in the oven
Prepare by cutting a cross in each chestnut, place in roasting pan and cook at 200°C / 400°For gas mark 6 for about 25 minutes or until the skin begins to curl and the flesh is tender.
(Serves 4 if served in a soup bowl and at least a dozen if served in a shot glass).
I wish I could claim this recipe is mine, but it’s not. It was one of several festive dishes that celebrity cook Rachel Green demonstrated during a cookery day school I attended at Denman College, Marcham.
It was so delicious I asked her if I could share it with the residents of Eynsham.
By serving it in little shot glasses, Rachel showed how it could make a perfect edition to the canapés served at a festive party.
You will need:
4 heads of garlic
2 tsp olive oil
2 onions - peeled and roughly chopped
1 kg frozen peas
1 ltr vegetable stock
55g crème fraîche
1 tsp chives - chopped fine
Sea salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to season.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F or Gas Mark 4.
Cut the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle with the olive oil.
Wrap the garlic heads in foil, place on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes, until completely soft.
While the garlic is cooking melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onions. Cover and cook over a gentle heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the frozen peas and stir so that the peas are coated in the butter and onion mixture.
Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes.
Remove the garlic from the oven and when cool enough to handle, squeeze the flesh from the roasted garlic cloves into the pan.
Purée with a hand blender and season to taste.
Serve in warmed shot glasses and garnished with a spoonful crème fraîche and a few chopped chives.
This is one of those dishes that can be served hot or cold. It requires just a bit of effort and a really sharp little knife to create an attractive pattern on the pear - but this is the time of the year when it is worth putting yourself out to ensure the food you serve not only tastes great, but looks good too.
If you need a really sharp knife that will tackle this job easily, go and speak to Corin at the Emporium, she’s got some great little knives in stock at the moment. They even come in Christmas colours!
For 4 people you will need:
4 firm, even-sized pears
½ pint (300ml) red wine
4oz (125g) caster sugar
One cinnamon stick
Grated rind of one orange
Small piece of ginger the size of a walnut, grated fine
Generous dash brandy (optional but nice).
Find a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears standing upright and fill it with the wine, caster sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, grated orange rind and grated ginger.
Bring the wine slowly to a reasonably high heat to dissolve the sugar, then let it simmer gently for about five minutes while you peel the pears.
First make a mark on each pear to show where the decoration should be (as pictured), then carefully cut away the rest of the skin. Leave the stalk on, but take just a sliver of pear from the bottom to enable it to stand firm.
Place the pears carefully into the wine mixture, check that they are all standing upright, place a lid on the pan and allow to cook gently for at least half an hour.
The cooking time for pears can vary a great deal, depending on how firm they were in the first place, so at this point check they are done by inserting a skewer into one of the pears to see if they are soft enough.
Take the pears out of the pot using a slotted spoon and place in serving bowl.
Raise the heat of the wine and allow it to boil rapidly without a lid until it begins to thicken a little and is reduced in volume by at least two thirds.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, adding a little brandy for extra taste if you are feeling festive.
Pour the sauce over the pears or serve them with a little of the sauce (as pictured) placing the rest in a jug so that people can add more if they wish.
Cranberries make an interesting seasonal addition to a basic home made cake, which can be baked as a Christmas gift for someone who seldom bakes for themselves.
You will need:
5oz / 125g soft butter
5oz / 125g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
2 free range eggs - beaten
5 tbsp milk
8oz/250g self raising flour
Cup of fresh cranberries
Turn the oven to 180°C / 350°F or gas mark 4.
Prepare a 6 inch cake tin by greasing it with butter and shaking flour over it, to prevent sticking, or use cake paper.
Beat together butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, add the eggs and beat again.
Stir in the flour and salt and mix in gently, then add enough milk to create a soft dropping consistency.
Add the cranberries and transfer into the oven.
Bake for an hour, or until firm to the touch and a delicious golden brown.
I used chicken breasts from Eynsham’s family butcher Richard Golsby for this recipe as he is always quite happy to mince items such as chicken breasts while I wait, and for no extra charge. However, the meat balls can be made from minced turkey too.
The size you make your meat balls is up to you, I made 12 medium sized balls from 2 minced chicken breasts. Should you wish to use them as nibbles at a drinks party, then make them really small and place only one cranberry in each.
To serve 4 people you will need:
2 chicken breasts - minced
2 small onions - chopped really fine
1 clove garlic - chopped fine
4 sage leaves - chopped fine
2 rashers of bacon - chopped fine
I handful fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg - beaten
Flour to dust
Oil to fry meat balls
1 carton of fresh cranberries - 300g
Juice of one orange to cook cranberries
Salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to season.
Place all the ingredients except oil and cranberries into a large bowl, and using your fingers, gently squeeze all the ingredients together until they are evenly mixed.
Season and mix again.
If the mix appears a little too moist, add a little flour to stiffen it.
Decide what size you wish to make the meat balls and divide the mixture accordingly.
Take each portion, flatten it out in your hand, place three fresh cranberries in the middle, then work the mix into a ball, taking care to seal the edges together.
Roll the balls in a little flour and cook them over a gentle heat in a large pan, using just enough oil to moisten the bottom.
Fry slowly until golden on all sides. (Should you wish to make small meat balls and serve them as nibbles with a cranberry sauce dip, they can be placed in a deep fat fryer and cooked - but do ensure they are well sealed or the hot oil will react to any cranberry juice that leaks out.)
Serve with cranberry sauce that you make by tipping the rest of the cranberries into a pan along with the juice of one lemon.
Cook until the cranberries burst and the mix thickens - this does not take long.
Mash the sauce with a potato masher once the cranberries are cooked, add a little water if the mix appears too thick, and use the sauce as a dip or sauce to serve with the meatballs.
Once you have made and tasted freshly cooked cranberry sauce you will never be tempted to reach for a bottle of commercially made cranberry sauce again. It is so easy to make it can be done just moments before carving the turkey, but tastes just as good if cooked on Christmas eve.
You will need:
One 300g pack fresh cranberries
Juice of two oranges
Zest of one orange - grated fine
Place the cranberries into a saucepan along with the orange juice and orange zest, place over a moderate heat and wait for the moment when the cranberries begin to burst.
As more and more cranberries burst the mix will begin to thicken; stir well at this point to avoid burning on the bottom.
When they have all burst, remove from the heat, taste and stir a teaspoonful of sugar, which should be just enough to soften the flavour. However the amount of sugar you add is up to you.
That’s all you have to do, its done now and all ready to serve with the turkey.
Last Christmas I found myself trying to come up with a new way of using up the turkey left overs and the cranberry sauce and came up with this, which went down very well as we just needed a light snack.
This is one of those recipes that can be adapted and changed according to your own taste buds. If you are using up commercially produced cranberry sauce, which is often quite sweet, you may need to add more lemon or lime juice to get the right balance of flavours.
For 4-6 people you will need:
12oz (500g) cooked turkey flesh
3 tbspns cranberry sauce
¼ pt (150ml) olive oil
juice of two limes or one lemon
1 tspn mustard powder
vegetable oil to fry turkey
flour to dust turkey
bag of mixed salad leaves
salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to season.
First make the dip by placing the olive oil, lime juice or lemon, mustard powder and cranberry sauce into a liquidizer with a little salt and freshly ground black peppercorns. Zap for a few moments until you have a smooth purée.
Taste the dip adding more lime/lemon or cranberry sauce according to your own taste and zap again until you are satisfied with the balance of flavours.
Cut the cooked turkey flesh into small bite sized pieces, dust with seasoned flour.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a frying pan to cover the bottom and raise to high heat.
Toss the turkey pieces into the hot fat and fry quickly, turning often until it begins to brown. Remove from the heat and drain on kitchen paper.
Divide the salad leaves onto serving plates, pour a little of the cranberry dip into small containers and place on the plate, then tip the turkey pieces on top of the salad leaves.
When you combine the peppery flavour of watercress, the sharp tangy taste of cranberries and lemon juice with crispy fried strips of chicken breasts, you get a mouth watering mix of tastes and a very satisfying light lunch dish.
To serve 2 people you will need:
2 small chicken breasts - cut into strips
1 handful of fresh cranberries
Piece of fresh ginger the size of a walnut - chopped fine
1 clove garlic - chopped fine
2 oz (50g) button mushrooms, cut into quarters
Aprox 1½ oz (30g) watercress
Juice of half a lemon
Flour to dust chicken strips
Salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to season.
Cut the chicken into strips, chop ginger, garlic, and mushrooms, and wash the watercress.
Toss the chicken meat into seasoned flour and fry until golden brown in a frying pan, with enough olive oil to cover the bottom.
When the chicken begins to brown and go crunchy, toss in the mushrooms, garlic, ginger and cranberries stir until the mushrooms begin to brown, the garlic fills with kitchen with its glorious aroma and the cranberries begin to pop out of their skins.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken, turn off the heat and divide the watercress into two bowls or plates.
Spoon the warm chicken mix over the watercress and serve immediately.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join a day cookery class on game cookery at The Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate, this week.
It is an amazing new establishment which now offers all manner of cookery classes throughout the year. As it is but 15 minutes drive from Burford, and stands in the middle of a beautiful little Cotswold village, this school is well worth a visit.
One of the many dishes we were introduced to by the award winning chef Sebastian Snow, who runs the Swan at Southrop, was a warm game bird salad with pomegranates, which is such a simple recipe I thought it was well worth sharing.
To serve 4 as a starter you will need:
500g selection of game bird breasts and fillets
1 large knob of butter
4 tspn olive oil 1 tspn sherry or red wine vinegar
100g small salad leaves
Salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to season.
Season the game and pan-fry very briefly in the butter so that it stays pink inside, then transfer to a cooking rack over a baking tray.
Keep warm, reserving all the juices.
Make the vinaigrette dressing by whisking the oil, vinegar and hot game juices together then season to taste.
Peel the pomegranate and remove the seeds.
On a large plate, lay out the leaves, then slice the cooked game thinly and scatter over the salad.
Mix the pomegranate kernels in the dressing and pour over the salad.
Serve with warm bread for a delicious starter.