Proper Old-Fashioned Christmas Tree Shortbread

Utterly delicious, delectable and delightful is this recipe for buttery, sweet shortbread! And also, they are a doddle to make and take only 10 minutes to cook. First batch was made on Sunday with the grand kids and I feel that we will be on at least our third batch by the end of week!

Makes 8 – 12 slices in a 23cm tin or numerous Christmas trees or stars!

What you need…

175g plain flour

125g butter, cubes and at room temperature

50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

A good pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

Christmas tree or star-shaped cookie cutters and a lightly buttered baking sheet (or 1 x 23cm lightly buttered tart tin for more traditional shortbread slices)

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 190˚c / 375˚f / gas 5.

Chuck all the ingredients into your food processor and pulse until a dough is formed. Roll out and cut your chosen shapes out. Roll out again and repeat (you can probably only roll out twice as you don’t want to be fiddling around with the dough). Alternatively, roll it out to fit the tart tin, press the mixture in and fork the edges.

For the shortbread biscuits, bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until they are just starting to turn golden at the edges. If your cooking the big one in the tart tin, bake for 30 – 35 minutes and then cut it into 8 – 12 segments as soon as it comes of out the oven.

When cool, sprinkle with caster sugar (or spray with edible gold in Sophia’s case!)

That’s it! Enjoy with a hot cup of tea or just by themselves – seriously yummy!

 

Festive Jerusalem Artichoke and Pea Soup

I love this soup: warming, smooth and creamy but with a little flash of festive flavouring just to finish it off – it’s also minimal effort – a lovely gift of a lunch or starter.

What you need…

1 litre hot water from the kettle

2 chicken stock pots (I use Knorr)

500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chunked

400g frozen peas

10g tarragon, finely chopped

20g parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

to garnish (optional)

3 tablespoons cranberry and port sauce (M&S do a good one)

3 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons fresh cranberries

12 vacuum-packed chestnuts

2 tablespoons butter

A splash of olive oil

What to do…

First, make a litre of chicken stock by dissolving the stock pots into the kettle water – a balloon whisk makes this very easy. Pour the stock into a large saucepan and tip in the Jerusalem artichoke chunks. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat and let them cook, gently bubbling for 25 minutes or until very soft. Go off and do something else (in my case – a quick whizz around the block with the dog).

Cook the peas from frozen in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain them and refresh them by pouring cold tap water over them (retains their bright green colour).

Into your blender tip the artichokes and their cooking stock together with the herbs, salt and pepper drained peas – you’ll need to do this in batches – whizz until smooth. Return the soup to its saucepan and keep warm on a low heat.

In a wee saucepan, gently heat the cranberry and port sauce with the water and cranberries until they start to pop.

In a little frying pan, melt the butter with the oil and then gently sauté the chestnuts for a couple of minutes, until they are sweet and fragrant.

Serve your vibrant soup into deep bowls and then spoon a little of the cranberry mixture into the middle, topping with 3 chestnuts per person: warming, smooth, creamy and so comforting with that little flash of festive flavouring on the top.

Tip…

Once you’ve peeled each knobbly chunk of Jerusalem artichoke, chuck it into a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice – prevents browning.

Inspired by…

Nigel Slater

How easy…

Low maintenance – it pretty much cooks itself and then you just need to whizz. The finishing touches create a bit of washing up but they’re worth it!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Anglo Italian Trifle

No Christmas is complete without a little (or a lot) of trifle. I’ve tried many different recipes over the years but this one – inspired by Nigella, is my absolute favourite. And now for confession time: once the bowls are cleared and the left over trifle returned to the fridge, it will be seen complete with a sundae spoon…so I can just go in and have a large rounded spoonful on a whim! Disgusting habit, I know!!!!

If one could describe a dessert as voluptuous in flavour and totally indulgent, this would be it! Amaretti and sweetened mascarpone rather than cream give this trifle an Italian twist, something which is emphasised by the Limoncello that it is laced with. Definitely naughty but difficult to say no to a second helping. This Anglo Italian Trifle is best enjoyed with a group of rowdy, hedonistic friends after a dribbly lunch or dinner or as the perfect alternative (or addition) to Christmas Pudding.

Serves 12

What you need…

1 x pretty, 2-litre glass trifle bowl

8 trifle sponges

1 jar of blackcurrant jam

100g Amaretti biscuits, plus a handful for the topping

300ml Limoncello

600g frozen fruits, defrosted: summer fruits work well

2 eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

750g mascarpone cheese

What to do…

Split the trifle sponges and make into sandwiches with the jam; then wodge them into your trifle bowl. Crush the Amaretti biscuits in your hand and sprinkle them all over the trifle sponges then pour over 180ml Limoncello.

Tip the fruit over the sponges and Amaretti, perhaps arranging the bigger attractive fruit around the edges – for presentation purposes – you’ll be able to see them through the glass.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Put to one side.

In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth . Still whisking, slowly add 60ml of Limoncello, creating a light, moussey mixture. Whisk in the mascarpone until everything is smoothly combined. Add the remaining Limoncello and give the mixture a final whiz with the electric whisk. Tip in the egg white and fold in with a balloon whisk – this makes the mascarpone ‘cream’ lovely and airily light.

Dollop the mascarpone ‘cream’ on top of the fruit and gently, spread it a little, creating little soft peaks.

Cover the trifle and and pop in the fridge overnight, allowing all the flavours to gather and the Limoncello to permeate the fruit, sponges and Amaretti, mingling with the fruit to create sheer yumminess.

About one hour before you want to plunge the spoon into your delectable dessert, take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Just before serving, crush the remaining Amaretti biscuits and scatter over the top of the trifle. (We have also decorated our with birthday candles and made it a very special birthday cake). Your Anglo Italian Trifle is now ready to be demolished! Just gorgeous!

Tips…

Change the fruit to reflect the season.

Keep tasting the mascarpone cream as you add the Limoncello – I like my trifles quite boozy – you may want a little less alcohol….or perhaps a tad more!

Inspired by…

Nigella Lawson

How easy…

Dead easy: no cooking, more of an assembly job with a bit of whisking but it looks and tastes spectacular!

Black Pudding and Baked Apples with Celeriac and Mustard Mash

A rather unusual and gorgeous combination this! Creamy mash providing the perfect foil for the rich black pudding and luscious apple – a great little supper dish of comfort and joy…. and so very easy!

Serves 4

What you need…

750g celeriac, peeled and chunked

Squeeze of lemon

350g potatoes, peeled and chunked

3 bay leaves

4 small, firm dessert apples

60g butter, plus a few extra knobs

500g black pudding, cut into four thick slices

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard

Sea salt and black pepper

A small handful of parsley, chopped finely, to garnish (optional)

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180˚c / 350˚f / gas 4.

Chuck the celeriac pieces into a large saucepan of salted water and add a squeeze of lemon to stop them discolouring. Add the potato chunks and bring to the boil. Throw in the bay leaves and season with a pinch of salt, lower the heat and leave to cook, bubbling gently for about 20 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, score the apples around the middle, cutting just under the skin. Place them on a baking tray, top each with a knob of butter and pop them in the oven for 15 minutes. Place the black pudding slices on the same tray, dot with butter and pop back in the oven for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the black pudding is sizzling and the apples are fluffed up.

Drain the vegetables and tip them into your food processor with the 60g butter. Whizz until smooth, light and creamy. Fold in the mustard and a good grinding of black pepper.

For each lucky person, serve generous scoops of mash onto warmed plates; top with a thick slice of sizzling black pudding and crown with a lovely hot, sweet apple. Enjoy a little of each element on every forkful – comfort and joy!

Inspired by…

Nigel Slater

How easy…

Dead easy!

 

Vanilla and Amaretti Cheesecakes with Balsamic-Infused Strawberries (Revisited)

Right then, for reasons unknown, there are some people (Ben) who don’t like Christmas Pudding so I feel that this year, an alternative little delectable pud needs to be offered. These little darlings are the perfect solution. Firstly, they can be made one month in advance and frozen, with just the finishing touches required at the festive feast. And secondly, they are completely wow!

The rich, smooth creaminess of the cheesecakes are perfectly contrasted by the warm, sweet, lusciousness of the strawberries: their flavour emphasised by sweetened balsamic vinegar (most unexpected). They look fabulous, are so easy to make and taste out of this world! Only problem is, I might have to have one of these AND Christmas pudding…

Serves 4

What you need…

8 x chefs’ rings (like tall cookie cutters), 5.5cm diametre x 6cm deep (easily available online)

10 Amaretti biscuits

250g full fat cream cheese

125g caster sugar

125g crème fraiche

240ml double cream

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

for the strawberries

200g strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

What to do…

In a large bowl, tip in your cream cheese, caster sugar, crème fraiche, double cream and vanilla seeds. Whisk until smooth and thickened up so that the whisks leave a distinct trail.

Place the chefs’ rings on a flat plate, lined with Bake O Glide or parchment paper. Spoon the cheesecake mixture into each ring, pushing the mixture down to make sure there are no gaps and filling the rings to about half way up (this recipe makes for quite little cheesecakes but in my view, they are perfectly proportioned).

Pop them in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.

If you are having friends around for dinner, you can do this bit in the morning and leave the rest until you are about ready to serve.

If you are preparing them for waaaaay in advance, cover them with cling film and pop in the freezer until the day you want to indulge and then place them in the fridge to defrost slowly.

Just before you are ready to serve, pop your Amaretti biscuits into a plastic zip-lock bag and using a rolling pin, crush them inside the bag to create a dusting.

Remove the cheesecakes from the fridge and set aside at room temperature for 5 minutes.

Place the Amaretti crumbs on a plate and then dip each of the cheesecakes in their chefs’ rings into the crumbs, 2 – 3 times if necessary – to make sure that the bottom is thoroughly covered. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of each one as well.

Then, hold your breath (!) and lightly shake each cheesecake from the chefs’ ring onto its serving plate. Despite your total disbelief, it will gently drop down the ring and then plop out beautifully onto your serving plate – looking gorgeous!

Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over a high heat. Tip in the strawberries and sugar and cook, stirring continually for about 1 minute. Pour over the balsamic and cook for a further 1 minute. Yup, that’s it!!!!

Spoon some of the strawberries onto the plate alongside the cheesecake. Absolutely delicious – the strawberries contrast the cheesecake perfectly, both elements enhancing the flavour of the other. Serve your vanilla and Amaretti cheesecake with balsamic-infused strawberries together with a wee glass of Disaronno Italian liqueur or a lovely little dessert wine to complete the indulgence! An absolute treat to be enjoyed any time of the year, not just at Christmas!!!

Inspired by…

Stuart Gillies, with James Martin on Saturday Kitchen

How easy…

Really easy, the only nervy bit is when you’re watching the cheesecake slowly drop through the chefs’ rings but be patient and it will be fine!

 

Christmas Pud Revisited

Following on from the Christmassy theme started properly yesterday, it’s not too late to rustle up a rather lovely Christmas Pudding to grace your festive table in just over one month. Rich, boozy and another great recipe inspired by Delia Smith (have yet to take a good picture with the flaming brandy – will try again this year!)

For the full recipe, type ‘Christmas’ into the search button in the top right hand corner of my home page.

Spicy Garlic Prawns, Water Chestnuts and Bamboo Shoots with Ginger Pak Choi

A lovely, zinglingly spicy, flavoursome and fragrant Chinese stir fry that’s perfect for a family supper and super fast to throw together. Fabulous!

Serves: 4

What you need…

Splash of rapeseed oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

Large knob of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

½ teaspoon dried crushed chilli

450g raw king prawns, shelled

2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine

1 x 225g can of water chestnuts, drained

1 x 225g can of bamboo shoots, drained

½ teaspoon sriracha chilli sauce (extra hot)

2 tablespoons runny honey

2 tablespoons low-sodium light soy sauce

6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

for the pak choi

Splash of rapeseed oil

1 pinch of flaky sea salt

A few slices of peeled ginger (your preference)

300g pak choi, leaves separated and roughly torn

A tiny splash of Chinese cooking wine

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

What to do…

Heat a wok over a high heat until smokin’ and add the rapeseed oil.

Chuck in the garlic, ginger and chilli and stirfry for a few seconds to release their aroma.

Tip in the tiger prawns and leave to sear and brown for a few seconds, then flip them over and cook for 1 minute. Add the Chinese cooking wine followed by the water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and spring onions. Toss to mix together, then add the sriracha, honey and light soy sauce and toss for a few seconds to incorporate everything together.

Meanwhile, heat a second wok or frying pan over high heat and add the rapeseed oil. Give the oil a swirl.

Add the salt and ginger and stir for 3 seconds before adding the pak choi. Toss for 30 seconds.

Add a drop of Chinese cooking wine to create some steam to help steam-cook the vegetables.

Drizzle in light soy and toasted sesame oil and toss one last time, not overcooking the pak choi.

Tip…

Have someone else cook the pak choi – it all happens so fast and I certainly couldn’t stir and toss both dishes at the same time…might just be me though!!!!

Serving Suggestion…

A little steamed rice completes the dish perfectly

Inspired by…

Ching He Huang

How easy…

Very easy and super fast!

 

Cauliflower and Chestnut Soup

This soup was described as a ‘hug in a bowl’ and I totally agree. Absolutely delicious with the delicate cauliflower flavour being beautifully complemented by the earthiness of the chestnuts and rich decadence of the cream. Simply delightful, comforting and the perfect antedote to a dreary old Autumn day!

Serves 4

What you need…

Splash of olive oil

1 large red onion, chunked

1 large cauliflower, chunked into florets

250ml milk

850ml vegetable/chicken stock

150ml double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

200g vacuum-packed chestnuts

25g Parmesan, shaved

Drizzle of truffle or olive oil, to serve

What to do…

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and chuck in the onion, cooking over a low heat for 10 minutes, until softened. Tip in the cauliflower, milk and stock and bring to a simmer, cooking for a further 15 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Pour in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Chuck in the chestnuts and pour the lot into a blender, whizzing until smooth.

Serve your hug in a bowl topped with Parmesan, black pepper and a drizzle of truffle or olive oil. Simple and gorgeous!

Inspired by…

bbcgoodfood.com

How easy…

Delightfully!

Bonfire Parkin (revisited)

Firstly, oh so yummy – salivating as I think about it. Ahem, so, according to James Martin, his family used to eat this on Bonfire night. We’ve made it an indecent number of times, mainly because 1) it’s dead easy 2) it’s gorgeous the minute it comes out of the oven 3) it’s even better the next day and 4) it gathers and gets better and better over 2- 3 days…if there’s any left!!!! Dark, rich, moist and sinful….xx

 

For the full recipe, type ‘parkin’ into the search box in the top right hand corner of my home page.

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