I’m trying really hard to get into the spirit of Christmas. It just feels too early still. My brother’s birthday is early December, so I grew up with Christmas not being thought of until after he’d had a celebration. Now large boy’s birthday is around the same time and we do the same thing. The tree doesn’t go up until after his birthday, although we do start present shopping in the middle of November.
Anyway, to try to feel a bit more festive I started thinking about my favourite traditional Christmas foods.
In the December when I was 9 I decided I wanted to be vegetarian. My amazing mum is a saint and let me get on with it, supporting me by preparing all sorts of different meals in 1990 when vegetarian sausages weren’t typical in the supermarket frozen food aisle.
Instead, she bought some cookbooks and set about making sure I was properly nourished without any meat. I think she made me wait until after that first Christmas though. After a year, it was Christmas time again and I’d held to my meat free principles for long enough that no one could suggest I had turkey for Christmas dinner.
My mum found a gorgeous recipe in Sarah Brown’s cookbook which became my favourite for the following 15 years (before himself corrupted me into eating chicken in a Nando’s one day and then large boy was so Iron hungry I abandoned my veggieness completely when pregnant). This was always my comfort food and I can still make it without a recipe. In fact, I’m going to write this up without checking in my handwritten copy and see if I get it right!
- 1 onion
- 2 sticks of celery
- a cup of red skin peanuts (groundnuts I think for USA readers)
- 1 cup cheese
- 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 2cm ginger, grated
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 400g tinned tomatoes, juice drained and then blended (drink the juice with vodka if you like, waste not want not)
- mixed herbs
- olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 6/350F.
- Fry off the onion, celery, ginger and garlic in a some oil.
- Whizz up the nuts in a blender until they’re roughly chopped but quite small, then mix into the onion and celery mixture (off the heat).
- Mix the cheese, breadcrumbs and a bit of oil in a bowl.
- Add the herbs to the blended tomatoes.
- Grease and line with baking paper a 2lb loaf tin (like for making bread).
- Put about 1/4 of the nutty mixture into the bottom of the tin in a thin layer.
- Spoon some tomato on top of the nuts, then some of the breadcrumb and cheese mixture. Squish it down a bit. This is best done with a metal dessert or serving spoon not a wooden one so it doesn’t all stick to the spoon.
- Repeat the layers over and over, maybe 4 times until all your mixtures are used up (there might be some tomato left, you don’t want it to be sloppy). Make sure you end with the breadcrumbs and cheese on top and add more grated cheese on top.
- Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.
- Turn out onto a plate and serve in slices, a bit like a meatloaf. Or, even better, cool in the tin and then keep in the fridge overnight. then turn out and serve. Its good hot but amazing cold!
From the vegetarian to the one of the things I missed the most while I was veggie. My mum’s chestnut stuffing is legendary. We’ll be having Christmas just the four of us this year and we’re going to be lazy and use a prepared joint and potatoes dauphinoise and so on. But the one thing I just have to make, because it’s not Christmas otherwise, is chestnut stuffing. This requires some preparation – watching out in the supermarket for whole chestnuts and chestnut puree.
This is my mum’s recipe, adapted from the marvellous Delia. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
- 250g chopped chestnuts
- 250g chestnut puree (not the sweet sort)
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 100 g streaky bacon, finely chopped
- 1 oz (25 g) butter
- 4 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 250 g sausage meat
- 1 large cooking apple or a couple of eating ones, chopped into small pieces less than 1cm square
- Melt the butter in a pan and fry off the onion and bacon until golden.
- Cool the onion and bacon, then mix everything together in a big mush.
- Transfer to an ovenproof dish and spread to about 3cm deep, then bake for 30 minutes at 180C/gas mark 6/350F or whatever you’re doing the roast veggies at.
- Do not leave on the table in front of me because I will keep eating this even when I’m totally full and then there won’t be any leftovers for boxing day.
The mincemeat recipe I use is my Nana’s (great-grandma, my mum’s mum’s mum). I’m very lucky to have vague memories of her, she died when I was 3, in her nineties. This takes a good day to go from ingredients to jars but if you do a double batch you’ll only need to make it every 3 or 4 years (depending on how much you give away or how many mince pies you eat!) I think I get about 6 jars out of a batch. Its much nicer than shop bought, more flavour and less overwhelming sugary sweetness.
It’s a bit late for this year now though because the mincemeat needs to mature for a while before making pies. If you don’t mind that though, do have a go and let me know what you think.
- 8oz sultanas
- 8oz raisins
- 8oz currants
- 8oz suet
- 12oz peeled and chopped apples
- 1oz almond flakes
- 1 orange zest and juice
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 4oz candied peel
- 12oz soft brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- Mix dried fruit, apples, almonds, and candied peel.
- Add orange and lemon zest and juice. Mix it all in.
- Add suet, spices, and sugar and mix.
- Leave in a bowl for 12 hours.
- Put in a slow cooker for 2 hours on medium.
- Once completely cool, add brandy and give it a good stir to mix the cooled suet in.
Make sure its cool before putting it in jars – otherwise the suet rises to the top and looks kind of yucky.
- Put in sterilised jars and leave for at least a month.
For the mince pies:
If all that sounds like just too much effort, this is the easy bit. I buy pre-rolled pastry from the super market. We just cut circles for the cases, blind bake for 10 mins, add mincemeat (warmed in the microwave for 30s and mixed), then top with pastry stars. I like to do a quick egg wash so they go lovely and shiny. Then bake for another 10 mins and bingo.
My mother in law makes this amazing aperitif called Highland Sparkle. She uses white wine, Drambuie, lemon juice, champagne and lemonade. Frankly, its amazing. It really does make you feel sparkly after one or two. After four or more everything looks sparkly and then you fall asleep, happy and fizzing. We’ve had it as a reception drink at weddings, as an aperitif for a dinner and as a celebration to see the bells in on Hogmanay. I’ve shared this before with some other cocktail recipes.
My take on it is:
- 15ml homemade rosehip gin
- 15ml cointreau
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- Prosecco to fill the glass