Irish cream liqueur

  • 400g tin of condensed milk
  • 250ml long life UHT single cream (or 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g sterilised cream, whisked together)
  • 250ml Irish whiskey
  • 1 heaped teaspoon instant coffee powder or granules
  • 2 tablespoons dark chocolate syrup
  • 2 teaspoons caramel syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until mixed. Don’t whizz too much or you’ll end up with alcoholic whipped cream. Put in sterilised bottles and drink within a week – keep in the fridge.

Long life or UHT single cream is becoming increasingly difficult to find – Spar shops or Makro are two places that regularly stock it. Don’t be tempted to use cream substitutes like Elmlea, you will regret it. You could use fresh cream but it will only last a couple of days before going off. This year (2016) we tried it with 200ml full fat UHT milk and 50g of Carnation sterilised cream (the stuff in tins that my Nana Margot used to put on tinned peaches as a treat).  It worked OK, I think, but it was quite difficult to get the cream to disperse in the milk.  Whisking the cream and  milk together before putting anything else in seems to be the best method.

The instant coffee powder or granules should be good quality, strong-tasting stuff – espresso type. We’ve not tried this with the new whole bean instant powders like Millicano. I suspect they might be a bit gritty.

Dark chocolate syrup – the best you can find, with a high cocoa content. If not, you can make your own chocolate syrup by heating a spoonful of golden syrup and mixing a spoonful of cocoa into it, but this won’t stay in suspension as well as the ready-made chocolate syrup and you might have to shake your bottles of liqueur before serving to avoid a chocolatey sediment.

Caramel syrup – if you fancy experimenting you could use maple syrup, or a flavoured syrup for coffee such as hazelnut or gingerbread. Monin syrups are perhaps the best known; they seem to be in all the high street coffee chains like Costa. And I used to work for Monin when I was a student many moons ago, so I do feel an odd sense of loyalty to them!

What we learned about Christmas dinner 2013

  1. Tell habitual latecomers that we are sitting down to dinner at 2.15. Tell everyone else 3pm.
  2. Leave the chestnut stuffing in rectangular foil containers – you can fit more in the oven that way.
  3. Frozen sprouts take way longer to cook than you think. And 1kg is enough for 14 people.
  4. Frozen parsnips need to be in a really hot oven to get crispy.
  5. Everybody says they love bread sauce but nobody has more than a tiny spoonful. Make a single quantity of Delia Smith’s recipe – enough for 14!
  6. Make a single quantity of Nigella’s ultimate Christmas pudding – any more and there will be leftovers. The non-conformist Christmas pudding is nice but doesn’t keep as well.
  7. If you make it in advance, freeze the Christmas pudding and defrost on Christmas Eve.
  8. Everybody loves raspberry pavlova.
  9. Stokes horseradish sauce is awesome with rare roast beef.
  10. You can rest an enormous 4-bone rib of beef for up to an hour and it will still be hot.
  11. Perfect roast potatoes require three things – slightly overboiled potatoes, a sprinkling of polenta, and goosefat.
  12. Buy extra bicarb.


P.S. from 11 January: Christmas cake begins to pall after 3 weeks. Make a small one, and put extra walnuts in it for interesting texture.

Labneh – easy cream cheese

Well, yogurt cheese actually.

500g Greek yogurt
1 level tsp salt

Mix the yogurt and the salt together.  Put it in a sieve, lined with cheesecloth or muslin, over a bowl. Cover it with another cloth (or clingfilm) and put it in the fridge for a day or so.  Throw away the whey that has collected in the bottom of the bowl, and turn the cheese out of the cheesecloth into a plastic container. This really fresh-tasting cream cheese should be eaten it within two days. You can mix in chopped chives or other herbs, black pepper, or even a little garlic.

Update February 2016:  I got a yogurt cheese strainer for my birthday, and having used it quite extensively since then, I’ve discovered that you don’t actually need to put in the salt for this to work.  Good news if you’re trying to restrict your salt intake.

Kaiserschmarrn – breakfast of emperors

This recipe is originally from Austria, but we first ate it in the Café Einstein in Berlin.

  • 4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 50 caster sugar       
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • a handful of raisins or sultanas
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Pinch salt
  • Plum compote, bottled cherries or stewed rhubarb

Beat egg yolks and caster sugar until fluffy and creamy.  Add milk, flour and salt and raisins.  Beat eggwhites until stiff and fold into the mixture.

Melt butter in a heavy frying pan and add the mixture, keeping the pan on a medium heat.  Once the mixture begins to set, “shred” it into chunks using 2 forks.  Place the pan in a preheated oven to set the top quickly. Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar and serve with the fruit compote or bottled plums, heated through and the juice thickened with a little arrowroot if necessary.


Leftover mincemeat? Not in our house

OK so we may be guilty of making industrial quantities of mincemeat, but there’s rarely more than a solitary jar left over every year. Here are two ideas for using up leftover mincemeat, if you should have any.

1. Get a croissant, split it and spread a good spoonful of mincemeat inside. Re-form it into a croissant shape and stick it in a hot oven (or even under the grill) for a few minutes to heat through. Take it out, open it up again and spread some thick cream (or creme fraiche, or clotted cream even) over the hot mincemeat. Re-form it into a croissant shape and eat, remembering that hot mincemeat gets REALLY HOT. Repeat until no croissants are left.

2. Use mincemeat as a base for a Christmassy apple pie or crumble – spread a couple of big spoonfuls over the base of your uncooked pie crust (or pie dish if you’re doing crumble) then proceed as with a normal apple pie or crumble – pile apples on top, add the top crust or the crumble, bake as normal. Yum.

Christmas mincemeat – no mixed peel!

I hate mixed peel and I hate shop-bought mincemeat. So home-made mincemeat it is, courtesy of Delia Smith’s original recipe with a bit of tweaking. Super easy and very satisfying.

  • 1 lb (450 g) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and grated
  • 8 oz (225 g) shredded vegetable suet
  • 12 oz (350 g) raisins
  • 8 oz (225 g) sultanas
  • 8 oz (225 g) currants
  • 8 oz (225 g) a combination of chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried blueberries and chopped dried cherries (anything but mixed peel)
  • 12 oz (350 g) soft dark brown sugar
  • Grated zest and juice 2 oranges
  • Grated zest and juice 2 lemons
  • 2 oz (50 g) whole almonds, cut into slivers
  • 4 level teaspoons mixed ground spice
  • ½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons brandy, calvados, southern comfort or any other aromatic spirit that takes your fancy

You will also need 6 x 1lb (350ml) jam jars and 6 waxed discs

All you do is combine all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirring them and mixing them together very thoroughly indeed. Then cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours, so the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop. After that, pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (110°C). Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look. As it cools, stir it from time to time; the fat will coagulate and, instead of it being in tiny shreds, it will encase all the other ingredients. When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir well again, adding the brandy. Pack in jars that have been sterilised (see below). When filled, cover with waxed discs and seal. The mincemeat will keep for ages in a cool, dark cupboard – I have kept it for up to 2 years with no ill effects.

NOTE: To sterilise jars, wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, rinse well, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea cloth, place them on a baking tray and put into a medium oven, gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C, for 5 minutes.

Chicken liver paté

Another treat for the party season.

  • 6oz (180g – ish) chicken livers
  • 2 rashers fat bacon, preferably smoked
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2oz butter (possibly more)
  • A clove of crushed garlic (optional)
  • Brandy
  • Black pepper
  • bayleaf

Fry onions, crushed garlic, and bacon gently in the butter until the onions are translucent.  Add the livers and fry them gently.  Don’t have the heat too high.  Season with pepper (there’s enough salt in the bacon so don’t add any extra).   When the livers are just cooked all the way through but still a tiny bit pink, pour a slug of brandy into the pan and let it heat through for a minute or two. Feed the mixture into a liquidiser or food processor and blitz until smooth.  Put into a ceramic pot and cover with some melted or clarified butter.  Put a whole bayleaf in the butter topping for decoration.

Chestnut stuffing

It ain’t Christmas unless this is on the table.  If I could just think of a way to fashion it into the shape of a turkey we wouldn’t have to serve anything else.

  • 50g butter
  • 700g cooked and peeled chestnuts
  • 120g good quality pork sausagemeat
  • 120g gammon, cut into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy (but I reckon you should put in a LOT more than this)
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 500mls hot stock – chicken or vegetable
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a big frying pan and sauté the sausagemeat and the gammon, breaking up the sausagemeat into small chunks.  Remove from the pan, leaving all the buttery juices behind.  Add the chestnuts and cook them over a medium heat until they catch a bit at the edges.  Break them up a bit with a spoon so some are whole and some are in pieces.  Add more butter if necessary. Remove the chestnuts from the pan and keep them on one side with the cooked sausagemeat and gammon.  Add the flour to the butter in the pan and make a roux, adding more butter if necessary.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in the brandy, then the hot chicken stock, and cook until the sauce is quite thick.  Add the chestnuts, sausage and gammon back into the pan and stir until everything is combined. Season with black pepper (it won’t need much salt, if any, because of the gammon and sausage).  Put into an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven with the roast, for about half an hour.

(This recipe was taken from a Woolworths cookery book bought in the 1960s by Auntie Christine, and kidnapped by my mum Ann, never to be returned!)

Fastest bread in the West

  • 350 grams self raising flour
  • half teaspoon sugar
  • half teaspoon salt
  • a bit of butter or oil
  • 350ml of beer (whatever takes your fancy – lager for a lighter colour and taste, ale for a more pronounced flavour)

Speed is of the essence with this recipe, as the quicker you get the dough mixed and into the oven the lighter the texture of your bread.  You can use any type of beer or lager, and you can really taste the difference. A good one to experiment with.   We’ve never tried it with Guinness though, that might be an interesting one. You can also mix in grated Cheddar, or olives, or chopped herbs, or whatever takes your fancy.

Heat your oven to gas mark 4 or 180° Celsius.  Oil or grease two small loaf pans.  Put the dry ingredients in a big bowl.  Pour on half of the beer, and mix it quickly.  Add the rest of the beer and mix quickly until you get a smooth dough (you may not need all of it, but the mixture should be quite wet).  Divide the mixture into the loaf tins and put into a heated oven straight away for about 45 minutes.  I don’t know how this recipe behaves in a fan oven.  Turn the bread out of the loaf tins. If the bread sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of it, it’s done. This bread doesn’t keep long but it usually gets eaten up before it’s cooled down anyway! 


Appelgebak (Dutch apple cake)

We lived in Amsterdam for 8 years, and discovered this gorgeous creation at the Marktcafe Noordermarkt, where they churn out hundreds a day.  It’s taken Chris a while to get the recipe absolutely spot-on, but this is about as close as you can get. Nice sharp eating apples like Braeburn are best, as they keep their shape and are tart enough to counteract all the brown sugar. The texture of the pastry is almost like cake.

  • 300g self raising flour
  • 180g butter
  • 150g soft brown sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • ¾ of a beaten egg
  • 1 tablespoon semolina or polenta
  • 1 kg tart eating apples
  • 75g sultanas
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 4tsp cinnamon

Soften the  butter, add flour, egg, the 150g brown sugar and vanilla.  Mix until it comes together in a ball.  Line a 20 cm (8inch) springform baking tin with the pastry (you can either roll it out or just squidge it into the base).  Save some to cut into strips to put on the top. Scatter the semolina or polenta over the pastry bottom (this helps to absorb some of the juices from the apple and prevents a soggy bottom). Peel, core and chop the apples roughly (big chunks are best), mix with the sultanas, demerara sugar and cinnamon, and pile into the case.  Arrange strips of pastry over the top in a lattice and brush with the remaining ¼ beaten egg.  Bake at 190°C for about an hour.  Leave to cool in the tin for a while, for the pastry to set and crisp up a bit. Take it out of the tin (you can do this while it’s still warm) and scoff with a squirt of whipped cream and a cup of strong coffee.  Imagine you are at the Noordermarkt in Amsterdam.  Eet smakelijk!