Christmas

Venison and Cranberry Casserole with Red Wine and Chocolate

Rich, festive and indulgent – what a fabulous casserole this is – the venison, so tasty, is cooked so that it falls off the fork, melting in the mouth; and the sweet cranberries provide a perfect foil to the meat, with no hint of their original tartness. The last minute addition of dark chocolate gives the sauce a glossy finish and that little something extra! Enjoy – it’s wholesome and indulgent all at the same time!

Serves 6 – 8

What you need…

250g rindless smoked back bacon, chopped

3 tablespoons plain flour

Sea salt and black pepper

1.5kg lean venison, diced

2 – 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil

16 whole baby onions

3 fat garlic cloves, chopped

250g button mushrooms, cleaned

1 bay leaf and 1 small bunch parsley, tied together

1 x bottle robust red wine

225g cranberries

2 tablespoons soft light brown sugar

300ml beef gravy

50g dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa solids)

What to do…

Start the day before you want to enjoy your casserole. In a large saucepan, dry-fry the bacon over a moderate heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen paper. Tip the flour into a plastic bag, season well and then throw in the venison, tossing the bag around so that the all the venison gets covered in the seasoned flour.

Into the saucepan, heat half the rapeseed oil and cook the venison in batches until browned, adding more rapeseed oil as required. Using your slotted spoon, remove the venison as it browns and set aside.

Tip the onions and garlic into the pan, stirring and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for a further 5 minutes.

Return the venison and bacon to the pan and add the herbs and red wine. Slowly bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Leave to cool, then pop in the fridge overnight.

The next day, add the cranberries, sugar and gravy, season and mix well. Partially cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the cranberries are soft. Break up the chocolate and stir in until it’s all melted and evenly distributed. Taste your casserole – you may need to add a little more sugar to counter the tartness of the cranberries.

Serve this lovely rich, festive and heartwarming casserole with buttery mashed potato and some greenery!

Inspired by…

Woman and Home magazine

How easy…

Not difficult, but quite time consuming on day one. Absolutely worth it though and I like the fact that you get all the messy and ‘arduous’ stuff done the day before you’re going to enjoy this lovely casserole.

 

 

Spiced Hot Toddy Cake

This is such a lovely, festive cake. The ground almonds and the syrup absorbed by the sponge ensure that it’s gorgeously moist and the spices are so Christmassy. Then, you get the icing, which delivers a deliciously intoxicating whisky kick! I’d never seen a recipe like this before but we’ll definitely be having this one again – yummy!

Serves 12

What you need…

1 x 2.4 litre bundt/savarin baking tin, liberally buttered

250g unsalted butter, softened

250g soft light brown sugar

5 happy eggs

150g ground almonds

100g self raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Seeds from 5 cardamom pods, crushed

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

Pinch ground cloves

for the syrup

100ml whisky

30ml runny honey

Juice 1 lemon

for the whisky icing

120g icing sugar

40ml whisky

What to do…

Heat your oven to 180° / 350°f / gas 4.

Into your food processor tip the butter and sugar and whizz until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, use a balloon whisk to gently beat your eggs together in a jug.

Gradually pour the eggs into the mixture, ensure that each bit is fully incorporated into the mixture before you pour any more in.

Tip in the almonds, flour, baking powder and spices and whizz to mix evenly.

Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the syrup, in a small bowl use your balloon whisk again to mix together the whisky, honey and lemon. Use a skewer to poke holes all of the cake and then drizzle over the syrup until it is all absorbed.

To make the whisky icing, use another bowl and mix together the icing sugar and whisky to form a smooth, slightly runny icing and then drizzle it all over the cake. Leave to harden slightly and then tuck in with a nice cup of tea, a wee dram or just all by itself: behold a little (or large) slice of Christmas spice – it’s Christmas – have another slice!

 Inspired by…

Delicious magazine

 How easy…

Very little effort for a very lovely outcome

Brandy Ice Cream

Do you think it’s possible to adopt Mary Berry? Even just for a little while: not only is she a national treasure but she’s a heroine in this kitchen. This no-churn (I don’t churn – too much of a faff) brandy ice cream is stupendously easy and spectacularly gorgeous! I made the first lot with the intention of indulging in it over Christmas with Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies. Not a chance – it’ll be gone waaaaaay before then. Another batch has been scheduled – it’s that good! Eat it with festive treats, as part of an Affogato (dollop of ice cream topped with an espresso shot and a little dribble of brandy in this case) or just straight from the tub with a spoon: all to yourself!

 Serves 8 supposedly!

What you need…

 4 happy eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

300ml double cream

2 tablespoons brandy

What to do…

Using your handheld electric whisk, beat the egg whites until light and stiff and then, whilst still beating at high speed, gradually add the sugar, a little a time, until the mixture is a thick and glossy meringue. Gently whisk together the egg yolks and then fold them into the meringue.

Whisk the cream and brandy together until thick. Fold into the meringue.

Freeze in a flat plastic box overnight. Feel free to lick out the preparation bowl but for some reason, it’s not nearly as tasty as the final ice cream – don’t know why, just sayin’.

Share with friends or indulge all by yourself – very yummy!

What to check…

This recipe contains raw eggs, not suitable for all.

Tip…

You can freeze it for up to 1 month but once you know it’s there…that’s most unlikely!

Inspired by…

Mary Berry

How easy…

Spectacularly!

 

Spruced Up Christmas Spice Cake

What a Christmas gift this is!!!! Such a lovely sponge: light and gently spiced with tantalising flavours and scents so very evocative of Christmas. An absolute doddle to do, this will appear on our festive menu more than once I can assure you! Confession time: the wonderful snow-topped mountain appearance cannot be attributed to my baking skills but rather the moulding of this very special ‘Holiday Fir’ baking tin. If you can’t get hold of an exact replica, a bundt tin will do the job nicely although perhaps not quite so festive in appearance. Either way: give the cake a go – its gorgeous!

Serves around 12

What you need…

1 x baking sheet

1 x ‘Holiday Fir’ or 2.5-litre bundt tin, thoroughly buttered

225g butter, softened

300g caster sugar

6 eggs

350g plain flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

¼ teaspoon cloves, ground

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

250g plain yogurt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

A good dousing of icing-sugar for snowy mountaintops!

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4 and pop in your baking sheet.

Tip the butter and caster sugar into your food processor and whizz until pale and fluffy.

Meanwhile, use a balloon whisk to gently beat the eggs together in a jug.

Gradually pour the eggs into the mixture whilst the food processor is still whizzing, incorporating each bit before pouring in the next. Once all the eggs have been added, tip in the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda. Whizz until thoroughly mixed in. Finally, tip in the yogurt and vanilla extract and whizz again to incorporate.

Tip the mixture into your baking tin and then place in the oven on top of the hot baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Let the cake sit in its tin for 15 minutes then gently ease the edges away from the tin with your fingers. Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Find a gorgeous plate to serve your spruced up Christmas spice cake on and then dust liberally with icing sugar, humming a festive tune whilst gazing at the ‘snow’ settling on the sponge mountain tops – a lovely sight followed by a delicious taste (although it is a shame to cut into this most beautiful of things!)

Inspired by…

Nigella Lawson

How easy…

Just a whizz!

Classic Christmas Cake

Over the years, I’ve toyed with other recipes: light versions and chocolate-infused versions to name just two, but I always return to this recipe – Delia’s – and have vowed to stray no longer – why muck about when this recipe is an absolute winner?! It’s moist and quite simply luscious but of course this is only the first stage. Before it can take it’s place at the centre of the table, there will be regular feeding with alcohol and finally, it’ll get all dressed up in home-made marzipan and icing complete with rustic snowy scene – these recipes and photos will follow. In the meantime, fill your home with the fabulous smell of Christmas that only this cake can truly evoke; bring on the sleigh bells!!!!

Serves at least 12 – 16

What you need…

1 x 20cm cake tin, lightly buttered and lined with parchment paper or Bake O Glide

450g currants

175g sultanas

175g raisins

50g glacé cherries, finely chopped

50g candied peel, finely chopped

3 tablespoons brandy

225g plain flour

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon mixed spice

225g unsalted butter

225g soft brown sugar

4 large, happy eggs

50g chopped almonds

1 dessertspoon black treacle

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1 orange

What to do in October/November…

The night before you want to bake your Christmas cake, tip all the dried fruit, cherries and mixed peel into a large mixing bowl, add the brandy and stir to evenly incorporate. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in a cool room.

The next day, preheat your oven to 140°c / 275°f / gas 1.

Smell your marinated fruit – wow – just wonderful. Stop mucking about and add the nuts, treacle, lemon and orange zests to the mix. Stir in and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, salt and spices. Set aside.

In your food processor, whizz the butter and sugar together until light, pale and fluffy. Meanwhile, in a jug whisk together the eggs. Then, gradually pour in the eggs, a little at time, whizzing the whole time to prevent curdling. Tip into the food processor the flour mix and whizz again until thoroughly incorporated.

Turn out the contents of your food processor into the fruit and nut mix and stir together so that all the ingredients are evenly mixed together. Turn the whole lot out into your cake tin, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon.

Cover the cake with double square of parchment paper that you’ve cut a 50p-sized hole in the centre of. Secure the parchment to the tin with string around the side.

Pop the cake into the oven and bake for 4½ hours – enjoy the smell of Christmas as it drifts through the house.

After cooking, cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool down completely.

Use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake, pushing the skewer all the way through the cake. Then ‘feed’ the cake with a couple of tablespoons of brandy.

Wrap in double parchment paper and then foil and then store in an airtight tin.

Put a note in your diary to retrieve this glorious cake every 10 – 14 days to feed with a little more brandy until the week before Christmas – how much you feed it depends on personal preference and how boozy a cake you want! This is a lovely tradition that is such a central part of the build up to Christmas – I do love it so much.

What to do a few days before Christmas…

Marzipan and icing recipes and guidelines to follow, nearer the time! Look out for the final preparations around 20th December – watch this festive space!

Inspired by…

Delia Smith

How easy…

Very easy and a lovely comforting, relaxing recipe to do…

Traditional Christmas Pudding

So, traditionally I make the Christmas mincemeat, Christmas puddings (one for us and one for Brian – you know who you are) and Christmas cake in October. The small matter of a house move has meant that these festive activities are a little behind schedule but there’s still plenty of time. I make these things quite simply because I’ve never found shop-bought alternatives – across the price range – that make the grade. The recipes I adore all belong to Delia although I have tweaked them a tiny bit. If you like Christmas pudding, give this one a go – it spends a lot of time steaming but pretty much looks after itself and is consistently gorgeous!

Makes 2 puddings, each serving 4-6

What you need…

2 x 600ml pudding basins, lightly buttered

110g shredded suet

50g self-raising flour

110g white breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

A good pinch ground ginger

A good pinch ground cinnamon

A good pinch salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

225g soft dark brown sugar

110g sultanas

110g raisins

275g currants

25g ready-chopped mixed candied peel

25g almonds, chopped

25g walnuts, chopped

1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped

½ small carrot, peeled and grated

Grated zest of ½ large orange

Grated zest of ½ large lemon

2 happy eggs

150ml stout

2 tablespoons rum

1 tablespoon black treacle

What to do in October/November…

Begin the day before you want to steam the pudding. In a large mixing bowl, tip the suet, flour, breadcrumbs, spices and sugar. Mix together very thoroughly. Then add the dried fruit, mixed peel, nuts, apple, carrot and the grated orange and lemon zests, stirring thoroughly with the addition of each ingredient.

In a jug, stir together the stout and rum before mixing in the black treacle and eggs. Pour into the other ingredients and then mix the whole lot together.

It is Delia’s recommendation and a tradition that we follow religiously, to now gather the family around and for everyone to take turns giving the mixture a stir and then making a wish. Given modern times, this physical activity now also involves Facetime or Skype to ensure that no one misses out, even if they are only ‘virtually’ stirring!!!!

Cling film the bowl and leave somewhere cool over night.

The next day, pack the mixture tightly into your basins. Cover both with a double layer of parchment paper and then a double layer of foil, creating a pleat in both and securing around the bowl with string.

Place the puddings in a steamer over a saucepan of simmering water, pop on the lid and steam for 8 hours, checking the water level every now and then to see if it needs topping up with boiling water from the kettle.

Remove from the heat when the 8 hours are up, remove the parchment paper and foil, wipe the exterior of the bowl clean and tie on fresh parchment and foil. Store somewhere cool and dry.

That’s it! You’re ready for Christmas Day – just need the turkey and the sprouts!!!

What to do on Christmas Day…

Decide what time you want to indulge in your Christmas pudding and then place the pudding (s) in a steamer over a saucepan of simmering water, pop on the lid and steam for 2¼ hours, again checking the water level every now and then. Don’t stress about the exact timing. I often just switch the heat off and remove the steamer from the pan – the pudding stays hot for ages.

Remove the parchment paper and foil and pop your pudding onto a pretty serving plate. Place a sprig of holly on the top. Heat a ladleful of brandy over a direct heat and, as soon as it’s hot, ask someone else to set light to it. Ladle the gently flaming brandy over your pudding amid gasps of delight and festively fuelled cheering. Enjoy with rum sauce, double cream or custard – savour the very essence of Christmas before retiring to an extremely comfortable sofa for some gentle snoozing or manic game playing, depending on your household!!!

Inspired by…

Delia Smith

How easy…

It’s not hard at all but…gathering and preparing all the ingredients takes some time and you do have to commit to staying in all day (or staying up late) to accommodate the 8-hour steaming but a little organisation is all that’s required and it’s worth it!

 

Christmas Mincemeat

I blogged Christmas Mincemeat last year but thought it was worth a reminder and I do so enjoy making it. Immediately after finishing this batch and trying the first mince pies, I resolved to make a second batch: one is simply never going to get us through Christmas! If you like mince pies, I urge you to make this: you will NEVER buy mincemeat from the supermarket again! It is dead easy to make, fills the house with the unique uplifting and festively nostalgic aromas of Christmas and tastes a world apart from anything commercial. My first – but far from last – compliments of the (forthcoming) season! Indulge and enjoy!

What you need…

450g cooking apples, cored, left unpeeled and chopped small

225g suet

350g raisins

225g sultanas

225g currants

150g dried cranberries

225g candied peel, finely chopped

350g soft dark brown sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

50g flaked almonds

4 teaspoons ground mixed spice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ nutmeg, grated

6 tablespoons brandy

What to do…

The evening before you want to cook the mincemeat, combine everything except the brandy in a large casserole, stirring the ingredients in as you add them to make sure that they are thoroughly mixed. Pop the lid on and leave in a cool place overnight to allow the flavours to gather.

The following morning, preheat the oven to 120°c / 225°f / gas ¼.

Pop the casserole, with its lid on, into the oven and cook for 3 hours. (If you leave the house, forgetting to do this, telephone the husband and ask him to do it!!!)

Remove from the oven and over the next few hours, whilst it is cooling, give it a little stir every now and then, just to make sure that the now-melted suet is evenly distributed and coating the other ingredients, rather than being separate claggy lumps.

When it’s cold, stir in the brandy and spoon into clean jars with lids/seals. Keep your Christmas mincemeat in a cool, dark cupboard until you are ready to make your mince pies, which in my case was the day after – I had to check it, after all!

Inspired by…

Delia Smith

How easy…

A little weighing and stirring job before it cooks itself.

 

 

 

 

Stilton Soup

OK, so the final bit of Stilton remained in the fridge from Christmas. It wasn’t actually opened until a good way through January but, if it wasn’t to be wasted, I needed to do something with it and we’d got to the end of the delightful ‘Stilton and crackers, perhaps with a glass of port’ thing. So, I thought I’d give this a bash, even though I wasn’t overly certain whether it would even be pleasant. It’s absolutely lovely: smooth, rich and really, really flavoursome. Delia reckoned that this recipe would serve 4 – 6 people as a starter but I decided to serve it as an ‘amuse bouche’ (defined as ‘a little bit of food which is served before the meal to stimulate the appetite) in tiny cups, simply because it is sooooo rich. It’s a lovely little taster to kick off a dinner! And there’s no problem with the leftovers – having served four, the rest was divided into two polythene bags and frozen, available for a couple of other dinners!

Serves 12 as an Amuse Bouche

What you need…

Splash rapeseed oil

3 shallots, chopped

1 leek, cleaned and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped into chunks

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

570ml water, boiled from the kettle

1 chicken stockpot (I use Knorr)

150 ml dry still cider

110g Stilton cheese, cut into small chunks

275ml milk

1 tablespoon double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, then add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Pop the lid on and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a small balloon whisk, stir the stockpot into the water until it has dissolved. Set aside your stock.

Stir the flour into the vegetables and, when evenly mixed in, gradually add the cider, stirring the whole time. Add the chicken stock, pop the lid back on the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Add the milk and Stilton and increase the heat to high. Stir until the cheese has melted and the soup is just below boiling point. Taste. Season. Taste. When you’re happy with the seasoning, stir in the cream.

Tip the whole lot into your blender and whizz until your Stilton soup is smooth and creamy. Serve – it really is rather delightful and has a definite indulgent feel to it – enjoy!

Stilton Soup 2 w

Inspired by…

Delia Smith,

How easy…

Really, really easy – no effort at all and I love the fact that you can freeze it, ready for future dinners!

Christmas Breakfast Boudins

The original version of this went down an absolute storm in November – lots of friends tried it and loved it; so last night when I found a packet of pigs in blankets lurking in the fridge, my son suggested this version of the popular Breakfast Boudins. We made them this morning and they were absolutely delightful!

 Makes 6

 What you need…

1 x muffin tin, lightly buttered

1 x small baking tin, lightly buttered/oiled

1 x cookie cutter

3 slices bread

6 rashers back bacon

6 pigs in blankets

6 eggs

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Preheat oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Pop the pigs in blankets into the baking tin and then into the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, choose a cookie cutter that is the same size as the bottom of your muffin tin holes and cut six circles from your bread slices, nestling them snugly into the bottom of six of the holes.

Dry-fry the bacon so that it’s only just cooked and remove from the pan, setting aside until it’s cool enough to handle. Wrap each rasher around the edge of each muffin hole.

Remove the pigs in blankets from the oven and pop one in each muffin hole. Then break an egg into each one.

Season with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve your Christmas Breakfast Boudins with steaming mugs of tea or coffee and enjoy a lovely light breakfast with a little reminder of the seasonal festivities! Yum.

Tip…

I reckon that you could also swap out the pigs in blankets for a little spinach and smoked salmon for a different take on this lovely breakfast.

Inspired by…

www.facebook.com/buzzfeedtasty for the original recipe and Connagh, for the inspired twist!

How easy…

Really easy. A lovely, light and different breakfast.

 

Little Sticky Toffee Puddings with Naughty, Decadent Sauce

Soooooo gorgeous, sooooo yummy, soooooo bad for you! Well, in reality I guess the puddings aren’t that bad but the sauce!!!! Simply melt together butter, cream and sugar – that says it all. Oh, and there’s also the ice cream that we like to serve them with – that’s not healthy either, but what a heavenly combination. Like many desserts, it is after all the naughty element that tempts us, making them an absolute treat. These are a real winter favourite in our house. Give them a go, and they will be in your house too!

What you need…

8 x 175g metal pudding basins, thoroughly buttered and with a little round of greaseproof paper in the bottom.

1 x baking tray

175g stoned, chopped dates

175ml boiling water

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

2 teaspoons coffee essence (I use Camp)

¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g butter, at room temperature

150g caster sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

175g self-raising flour, sifted

for the naughty sauce

175g soft brown sugar

110g butter

6 tablespoons double cream

What to do…

Pre-heat the oven to 180c / 350 °f / gas 4.

Begin by putting the chopped dates in a bowl and pouring the 175ml boiling water over them. Add the vanilla, coffee essence and bicarbonate of soda and leave on one side. Next, in a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy.

Gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. After that, carefully and lightly fold in the sifted flour, using a metal spoon. Then, fold in the date mixture, including the liquid.

Right now, it’ll look really sloppy – that’s fine: it’s supposed to. Divide the mixture equally between the eight pudding basins. Place on a baking tray and pop in the oven for 25 minutes.

When cooked, leave to cool for five minutes. Slide a small palette knife around each pudding and turn it out. If they’ve risen too much, you may need to lop off the tops so that they will sit evenly on the plate when you turn them (which means you get to sample the sponge – yipppeee: chef’s privileges.

Place the puddings into a shallow baking tray.

Next, make the sauce by tipping all the ingredients into a saucepan and very gently heating them until the sugar has completely dissolved.

To serve, pre-heat the grill to a medium-high setting and pour the sauce over the wee puddings. Place under grill so the tops of the puddings are about 13cm from the heat and let them warm through for five minutes (keep an eye on them: different grills pump out different heats and you don’t want them to burn). The tops should go slightly crunchy and the sauce will be hot and bubbling

Serve your little sticky toffee puddings with naughty, decadent sauce either with double cream or salted caramel ice-cream (recipe to follow later this week). Simply, to die for!

Serving suggestion…

We were given a bottle of Monbazillac, Chateau Peyronnette, 2014, by my cousin’s hubby-to-be, Matt, when they stayed in the run up to Christmas. When I tried this wine with the sticky toffee puddings, it took them from being ‘sodding incredible’ (with the ice cream) to ‘wow! Just wow!’ with the wine!!! Just fabulous!!! One of those experiences without which life just isn’t complete!

Tips….

This recipe is for eight puddings. I always make eight and then freeze those not required at that time in their moulds, which just leaves you to decide how much of the naughty sauce you make – totally yummy, I can eat this by the spoonful…without the puddings! Really, very naughty but wickedly good.

So, for two people: 60g soft brown sugar, 40g butter, 3 tablespoons double cream; for four people: 120g soft brown sugar, 80g butter, 6 tablespoons double cream.

Inspired by…

My friend, Helen, who served them to us at supper one evening and of course, Delia Smith, whose fabulous and ingredient-stained ‘Christmas’ cookery book contains the original recipe, un-tinkered-with.