Archive for December, 2010

So Christmas was a success, more or less anyway. Creamy Pea Soup and Prawn Cocktail with melba toast to start, one Citrus Butter Turkey and all the trimmings, and finally boozy (and I do mean boozy) Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse topped with Spicy Cocoa Biscuits. All prepared and served to guinea pig family with no adverse effects (besides the adverse effects of eating a three course meal only a few hours after polishing off a proper salmon and scrambled egg breakfast, several Bucks fizz and an Apricot Queen), although I was still disappointed that despite all my efforts of butter under its skin and a white wine bath it was still on the dry side so that will need some tweaking and practising but not bad for a first attempt.

Its a little late to share all the recipes with you as I’m sure you need 12 months to recover before you even contemplate another Christmas dinner but since the theme of this post is a little break from all the decadence before new year finishes us off, I decided I would give you the pea soup recipe (at the end of this post) as it was definitely a keeper. It works really well as a little side with a prawn cocktail but a big bowl and some crusty soup would be just as good as a simple healthy meal on its own. The creaminess comes from adding half a can of coconut milk which isn’t exactly low fat (I did use the light version though) but definitely feels lighter than cream and has a much fresher, less cloying taste. You could add chilli or different spices as well but I quite like the full and unadorned pea flavour and brilliant green colour.

Despite a brief pea soup respite, after three days of drinking and eating I had to give my poor body a chance to get back on the band wagon before I bludgeon it over the head with a bottle or six of champagne so this week  I raided the healthy end of the store cupboard and made up a couple of new granola recipes in an attempt to restore normality.

Dark chocolate and chilli granola might not sound like normality but trust me it works. I got the most brilliant cookbook for my last birthday, The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. It gives you suggestions for flavour combinations by grouping ingredients into flavour families and it’s so useful when you are trying to come up with a recipe or use up ingredients and cant decide what to pair them with. Some of the pairings like chilli and chocolate are more common but I’ve learnt some unlikely new ones or finally found an explanation for why some things work together. This granola recipe is great because apart from barely requiring any cooking at all, you can add anything you want to the basic granola to make different versions and you can actually try the raw ingredients rather than having to cook them first and hope for the best.  I developed these combinations by tasting bits of fruit, chocolate and spices before I started to see what works the best. I was originally going to put cinnamon in with the white chocolate and cranberry but nutmeg was just perfect because the nutmeg adds a fresh balance to the extreme sweetness of white chocolate (think about what it does for a creamy white sauce). The ginger in the dark chocolate version is another classic pairing which adds a second gentle heat behind the chilli and brings out the orange flavour from the zest grated into the oats.

Anyway I’m getting a bit scientific about granola. Here are the recipes, enjoy the rest of your holidays and I hope you have a wonderful New Year!


Dark Chocolate and Chilli Granola

If you are making both of these at the same time then you can half the ingredients but I’ve given amounts for a full batch of each.

  • 250g rolled oats (preferably jumbo)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g butter (if I am halving the recipe then I use 30g butter)
  • 6 tbsp runny honey
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • a large handful of dark chocolate chips (or as much as you like)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the oats, nuts, seeds and spices in a large bowl. Melt the butter with the honey and add the grated orange zest. Stir into the oat mixture until the oats are properly coated. Spread over a baking tray lined with tin foil and bake for 15-20 min, stirring every 5 to 10 min so that the oats brown evenly. When toasted, remove the granola from the oven and allow it to cool completely before adding the chocolate chips and storing in an airtight container.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Granola

  • 250g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g butter (if I am halving the recipe then I use 30g butter)
  • 6 tbsp runny honey
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • a large handful of white chocolate chips

Repeat as above, adding the white chocolate and cranberries once the granola has cooled.

Creamy Pea Soup

This recipe makes enough to serve 4 as a light meal or at least 6 as a starter, depending on how much you serve. You can make it ahead and freeze as well if you are pushed for time.

  • 1/2 a leek, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock
  • 50g butter
  • 750g frozen or fresh peas
  • 200ml coconut milk

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onions and celery over a low heat until soft (do not brown). Add the leeks and fry for another 2 min. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the peas (I run the frozen peas under water for a bit before I add them to get rid of some of the ice). Boil the peas for about 4 min until just cooked and then add the coconut milk. Allow the soup to stand for a couple of minutes before blending in batches. You can now store in the fridge or freezer (defrost before you try to heat it) or put it back on the heat straight away to warm slightly. Just avoid boiling at length at any stage or the peas will lose their bright green colour and fresh flavour.

Happy eating! ♥

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Only 4 sleeps til Christmas day! I’ve been so busy planning and preparing my Christmas recipes that I havent left myself enough time to blog about them all. I’m also keeping the special ones as a surprise for family so I have to keep them a secret you see. By now its also too late to share useful recipes for the main event as you will have already made your own plans so I decided to write a quick post with some ideas that might still come in handy and share some of the delicious things I have seen on other blogs that I’m planning to get to over the rest of the holidays.

Firstly, more biscuit ideas! I know I’ve just made Christmas biscuits which were the subject of my last post but although they were perfect for making edible decorations, I thought they could be topped when it comes to a biscuit to accompany a desert or fill a goody bag in someone’s stocking. So I fiddled with the basic biscuit dough to inject a bit more spice and made these little stars to add to my Yuletide arsenal. They arent the most indulgent biscuit you’ve ever eaten but they are meant to complement a richer recipe rather than be the star of the show and they have a lovely warm, spicy cocoa flavour. It was snowing when I made these so it was  a bit dark in my kitchen for taking photos but hopefully you can see the cinnamon sugar dusting which adds a little extra sparkle.

Spicy Cocoa Biscuits

  • 50g castor sugar plus extra for dusting
  • 50g softened butter
  • 15g cocoa powder
  • 110g plain flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon plus extra for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon, then beat in the syrup. Sift in the flour, cocoa, spices and bicarbonate of soda together and mix into a sandy dough. Slowly add the egg (you wont need all of it) until the dough comes together. Roll out onto a well floured surface into a rectangular shape about 5mm thick. Cut out with a star shaped cutter and place onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Mix extra cinnamon and sugar together and dust over the biscuits. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Not content with sugar biscuits I’ve been scouring the net for something else with a little more flair and I keep coming back to french macarons. I’ve never made them before but if I can pull them off without any mishaps then I’m planning to use these blogs for inspiration and create my own version of red velvet macrons. If you fancy trying your hand then I reccommend you start here:

Photo from Mowielicious.

  • Mowielicious – he has some of the most delicious macaron recipes I’ve seen and if his photos don’t make you salivate (exhibit A to the right) then your brain is broken.
  • Daydreamer Deserts – has a great post on demystifying french macarons with a useful video for those of us that need visuals to work out whether we are on the right track…

… Now if you have managed to find your way back to this post after getting side tracked for an hour browsing all Mowie’s photos and recipes then let me get your attention back with these… Christmas cocktails!

I cant take credit for the photos as I wont be making these until Saturday (well friday night at least, I will probably need a drink by the time I’m finished all the last minute preparations) but having researched a thousand different holiday tipples these two are going to be my poison of choice so I thought I would share the links with you now in case you want to make a last minute adjustment to your shopping list.

The first one is an Apricot Queen which I have made before and can definitely recommend. I first made it because I somehow landed up with a bottle of apricot brandy that doesn’t really lend itself to the standard spirit + mixer combination. Never one to leave a perfectly good bottle of alcohol lying around I went hunting for cocktail ideas and came across this little gem which combines it with white rum, sugar and lemon. It does use raw egg white so do be careful who you serve it to (not that you should be pressing alcohol on your pregnant friends and small children but still). I’m not a fan of super sweet fish-bowl size things that leave you feeling nauseous after one or two so this is my ideal type of drink – short and fruity with a kick.

My second choice is this Cranberry cider margarita posted by the ladies at Haute Apple Pie. With the flavours of cranberry and orange its perfectly Christmassy and the cider will stop it being too sweet for my taste buds. I plan to make it with vodka instead of tequila but that’s up to you of course. As soon as I’ve tried it out I’ll put up some pictures of my own but I’m pretty sure its going to be good!

Photo from Haute Apple Pie.

Right so I better get back to writing up my final shopping list but I still have a week between Christmas and New Year to spend experimenting and its Christmas which means the calories dont count so if you have any recipes you think I should know about, you know where I am!

In case I dont manage to write again until after I’ve recovered from death by turkey and trimmings, have a lovely Christmas and good luck with your own cooking exploits! ♥

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Yesterday I made cut out biscuits for the first time and turned them into edible Christmas tree decorations which was also a first attempt (as is blatantly obvious by the somewhat dodgy icing job). I have been dying to try this and some other festive baking ideas so I planned a day of Christmas baking and enlisted a partner in crime, my friend Dawn (the same one that introduced me to Nigella’s Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and is the only person I know who gets quite as over excited about these things as I do).

Well after baking and icing something like 50 biscuits, giggling our way through the entire process and getting side tracked making mulled wine along the way, we didn’t get around to any of the other recipes besides a rather unsuccessful attempt at hokey pokey (Nigella’s honey comb recipe). I’m going to have to give that another go before I can share any useful information as ours turned out as a tasty but never-ending  jaw snapping creation rather than something like the crisp centre of a Crunchie bar. Having scoured the internet to pin down our mistake the only advice we could find was perhaps our sugar mixture wasn’t hot enough or we added too much golden syrup but if there’s anyone reading this who has perfected the art of honey comb please feel free to make suggestions as I dont think my jaw can cope with another failed attempt.

Back to the biscuits. We used a Nigella recipe from my December copy of Delicious magazine (this post is unintentionally turning to into an ode to Nigella) but made a few minor tweaks. We omitted the black pepper as we werent trying to deter small children from nicking them off the tree and added a few other spices for extra christmas-ness. We also made our own royal icing as we didnt have the ready made kind which Nigella suggests you use. I got my Christmas biscuit cutters from Amazon for pennies and a very handy squeezy piping bottle from Lakeland which I would definitely recommend as a handy tool (alternatively you could use a piping bag).

I have to say its not easy work making these and you need to make sure you have plenty of time to do all the icing (a partner for moral support makes it less of a chore) but you can’t get prettier decorations. They’re so Christmassy I’m going to enter them into the Most Wanted Yule-blog Bake Off just for fun. I doubt they will win any prizes for professional baking but I quite like the fact that they look so home made. Now I just have to resist the urge to keep wandering up and nibbling my Christmas tree!

Christmas Tree Biscuits

Adapted from recipe by Nigella Lawson. Makes roughly 50 biscuits depending on cutter size.

  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp of runny honey


  • 1 egg whites
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • silver balls and any other decorations you want to use

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Add the butter and sugar, and mix into a sand like texture. Then, slowly add the beaten eggs and honey – don’t use all of this liquid if the pastry has come together before it’s used up. This is important, we used all of it because we didn’t read to the end and then had to add loads of flour to get the dough back to the right consistency. If you do the same thing, add more flour but don’t work for too long or you will warm up the butter and make it even less firm. Chilling will make a big difference.

Form 2 fat discs and place in the fridge or freezer for about 20 minutes until chilled. Leave the second one in the fridge while you prepare the first. In the meantime I recommend getting the mulled wine on the go!

Preheat the oven to 150°C and line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Dust a work surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to about 5mm and cut out your Christmas decorations with cutters of your choice. Then place them on the baking sheets.

Re-roll and cut out some more and then put the left over dough back in the fridge and combine with the left over from the second disc at the end to stop it getting too warm. Once all the biscuits are cut out and the dough is used up take a small icing nozzle and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each biscuit (to thread ribbon through later).

Place in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them, the smaller shapes might be ready after 15 min. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Make up the instant royal icing by beating the eggs and lemon juice together and then beating in the icing sugar to the required consistency (thick enough that it wont dribble off your biscuits). If you want different colours divide it up and then add food colouring.

Carefully ice the cold decorations and when the icing is set, thread ribbon through the holes for hanging on the tree.

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Anyone who knows me wont be surprised that my Christmas tree has been up for a week already. I haven’t always been this obsessed with Christmas. I think it started when I moved to Scotland because in South Africa its usually too hot to contemplate the effort required to wiggle your lilo over to the edge of the swimming pool for another drink, never mind trying to eat a tableful of turkey and all the trimmings.

I’m sure the novelty will eventually wear off but until it does I’ll spend every November and December getting slightly over excited about tree decorations, wrapping presents and most importantly, delicious food with a festive theme. I am making Christmas lunch this year for the family and for the first time so I’m a little more maniacal than usual, trying out different elements before the day to make sure they work (so far there don’t seem to be any complaints from Ross who is ‘forced’ to eat them all).

To celebrate the start of Christmas in our house I cooked this chilli glazed gammon with braised red cabbage and crunchy roast potatoes and it turned out to be a recipe worth sharing. Since you probably arent as over eager as I am in the tree department you can still probably use it to celebrate the occasion as well if the flavours appeal to your taste buds. Otherwise its a nice twist on the classic Christmas gammon if you havent chosen your menu yet.

The chilli is chilli jam rather than fresh chilli and it gives a lovely sweet hot flavour to the glaze and a bit of kick to the red cabbage without clashing or overpowering. You could make any veg you feel like to go with it but the cabbage goes perfectly and is suitably festive in colour and the crunch of the roast potatoes balances the other softer textures. Hope you like it.

P.s. I am planning to make another gammon this week because I’ve gone a bit gammon crazy at the moment so if you have any different ideas for a glaze or side dishes please let me know!

Chilli Glazed Gammon

Serves 4.

  • 900g unsmoked gammon
  • 2-3 strips of orange skin
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick (you can re-use this for the cabbage as well)
  • 1 onion halved (I used 2 shallots instead because I had some left over)
  • 1 bay leaf


  • 2 tbsp chilli jam
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp english mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 20 cloves (or enough to stud the gammon)

Put the gammon into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, drain and rinse under the tap (this is to remove the saltiness, alternatively you can soak overnight but this is much quicker).

Put the gammon back in the saucepan and cover with cold water again. Add all the other ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. If your gammon is smaller or bigger, calculate the cooking time as 20 min per 450g plus 20 min and half this for the boiling time. When ready, drain the ham and cool enough to handle. You can keep the stock for making soup instead of throwing it away.

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the gammon in a roasting pan lined with foil, slice off the top layer of fat, score with a knife in a diamond pattern and stud with cloves. Put the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until you have a sticky glaze that is thick enough not to slide straight off into the pan. Drizzle this over the gammon, covering the fat and place in the oven for 30 min (or the other half of your cooking time) to crisp up the fat and heat through.  If you have cooked a larger gammon and/or let it cool completely then you may need to start on a lower heat and cook for longer. Just turn up the oven for the last 30 min if you do to crisp the fat.

Festive Braised Red Cabbage

  • 1 red cabbage, core removed and shredded
  • 75g butter
  • 275 ml red wine or 200ml chicken stock
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 2 tbsp cherry jam
  • 3 tbsp chilli jam
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the cabbage and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the red wine or stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until the liquid has reduced slightly. Add the other ingredients, bring back to a simmer, cover and cook for 40-50min until tender.

Remove the lid and cook for 5-10 min over a high heat until the liquid has evapourated.


Crispy Roast Potatoes

  • 5 roasting potatoes
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp semolina

Preheat the ovewn to 250°C. Pour about 1 cm of vegetable oil into a roasting pan and place it in the oven to heat up for at least 10 min. In the meantime, par boil the potatoes for 5 min, drain and bash around in the pan to break up the edges. Sprinkle over the semolina, toss to coat and place carefully into the roasting pan. Turn to coat with oil and place in the oven for 40-50 min, turning over half way through. When ready, remove from the oven onto kitchen towel to absorb the oil and then serve. Keep in the oven until you are ready to serve to keep them crispy.

If you are making these dishes together then carry out the steps in this order:

  • prepare the gammon and then boil it with the infusing ingredients
  • prepare it for the oven and set aside
  • prepare the cabbage and put it on to simmer for 45 min (pre heat the oven for the potatoes)
  • par boil the potatoes and put them in the oven for 50min
  • with 30min to go, turn the oven down to 220°C and put the gammon in
  • if you turn down the heat on the cabbage after 40min it will bubble away fine for another 10 min if the gammon and potatoes are still in the ovwn and you will just have less juices to cook off at the end
  • Finally cook off the cabbage juices while you get the gammon out of the oven
  • Let the gammon rest for 5-10 min while you are getting the potatoes out and then carve into slices and serve everything

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    Inside Out Snow Cakes

    I have lived in Scotland for six years and before that I had only seen snow as a texture-less white cap on very far away mountains… so in snow years I am only six years old.

    If you have ever been in snow more than a foot deep and you haven’t tried running full pelt and launching yourself on to your back or tummy, I seriously recommend it. You can get bored of making snow men but you can’t get bored of the arctic belly flop.

    Having said that, the novelty of wading through it all to try to get to work is wearing off. I baked some inside out fairy cakes on Sunday which I was planning to feed to everyone at work as part of my avoid-eating-them-all-myself tactic but when I opened the front door on Monday and realised that the only way I was going to get to work by car was write to Santa and borrow his reindeer to tow it there, I decided lugging a massive bag full of cake boxes on foot wasn’t such a smart idea. So because I suddenly had a surplus of cake and no means of distributing them I decided to sacrifice a couple in the name of art and take them out into the snow for some pictures.

    As luck would have it Julia Parsons of Slice of Cherry Pie decided to have a Snow Day Bake off at the same time so I’m submitting them to the bake off as well as you cant get more into a theme than this! The cakes are inside out cakes because the icing is on the inside rather than the top. I like the idea that you can add any flavour to the sponge and fill them with anything, depending on the occasion. I flavoured the cakes with coconut and a hint of cinnamon this time because they go so well with strawberry and chocolate. I stuck to butter cream icing and some cherry jam because they needed to keep (and I had strawberry butter cream and chocolate and orange butter cream in the freezer looking for a home) but if I had been serving them straight away I would have tried whipped cream and jam or fruit which I think would be delicious – feel free to try out some ideas and let me know if they work.

    I have also been trying out some tricks to make the cup cakes rise with rounded tops which you do need for this recipe to really work (conversely, flatter tops are better if you are going to pipe icing in a swirl). These are the things I think helped finally produce a suitably voluptuous cup cake:

    • Fill the papers or tin holes 3/4 full so that they have enough surface area to climb up when they are rising
    • Start the oven on 190°C for about 7 min and then turn down and finish at 160°C
    • Don’t over beat the batter (I used a wooden spoon instead of the electric blender this time)
    • Don’t over fill the oven – the baby cup cakes I put on the bottom shelf to finish up the batter didn’t rise anything like the ones on the top

    Overall I think the climbing room is the trick that has the most effect.

    Inside Out Cakes

    Cake sponge

    • 1 and 2/3 cup cake flour (385ml)
    • 250g castor sugar
    • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 2 eggs separated and 1 egg white
    • 1 tsp vanilla essence
    • 1/2 cup butter (114g)
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon


    • roughly 1 cups of strawberry butter cream icing (see my strawberry cupcakes post for a recipe)
    • roughly 1 cup of chocolate butter cream icing (see my chocolate cake post for a recipe)
    • 6 tsp black cherry jam
    • 3 tsp desiccated coconut
    • icing sugar for dusting

    Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease a 12 hole muffin tin (I did this instead of using muffin papers and they seemed to rise better, as long as your tin is deep enough). You might need a second tin depending on the size of yours (I got 6 extra small cupcakes out of my batter which I just iced normally and topped with coconut).

    Beat the butter sugar and vanilla essence with a wooden spoon in a large bowl until creamy (you could use an electric beater for this bit but I was too lazy to wash mine for the egg whites so I just stuck to the spoon, good for the bingo wings too). Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add half the flour then half the milk and gently combine. Repeat with the other half but don’t over beat. Now fold in the cinnamon and coconut or any other flavourings you are adding.

    Beat the egg whites in a separate clean bowl until they form soft peaks and then fold into the batter. Fill the muffin tin holes 3/4 full and place in the oven for 7 min. Then turn the oven down and bake for another 13-18 min until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

    Let the cakes cool completely on a wire rack and then cut the tops off with a bread knife as carefully as you can. Pipe or spread the strawberry icing on to half, sprinkle with coconut and put the lids back on. For the other half, spread with cherry jam, top with the chocolate icing and then replace the lid (if you are trying whipped cream instead then I think cherry jam topped with whipped cream and grated chocolate would be even better). Dust them all with icing sugar and serve!

    Or get your wellies on and go trundling round the garden with them taking pictures in the snow.

    Warning: your  neighbours will look at you very strangely.

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