Ho, Ho, Ho – A Little Girl’s First Christmas Cookies

So, we are now back in the UK and merrily entering into the fray of the festive season.  A christmas cake is baked, menus planned for the various family and friend celebrations and excess is being happily anticipated.

My little girl frequently likes to help me out in the kitchen, what she lacks in technical ability, she makes up for in abundance with enthusiasm.

A lot of friends and neighbours have given her some great gifts, so we thought we would return the favour with something crisp and festive that goes well with the seasonal fare, whether that be a schooner of sherry, cup of coffee or pitcher of egg-nog.

These Christmas Cookies are easy to make and great fun for kids to get involved with – a very useful way to use up half a day or so if you are faced with bored kids and wet weather over the holiday season.

They taste buttery, sweet and crisp and can be decorated in an understated way with a dusting of icing sugar, but I’m sure the kids will be able to create some altogether more dazzling creations with access to food colourings, icing and edible decorations.

Happy Christmas…

Makes: around 80-90 small cookies

Ingredients

300g White Sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract (or 3 tsp ground giner)

500g dairy free margarine (butter is ok for those that are not baking dairy free!)

750g plain flour

2 egg yolks

Icing

1 cup of icing sugar

3 Tbsp water

Food colouring

Edible food decorations – stars, balls, hearts, flowers, whatever you like and can find!s

Method

1. Place sugar, vanilla/ginger, egg yolks and margarine/butter in a large bowl and mix until pale and creamy – you may want to use an electric mixer (or if you need to use up time, get the kids to mix using a whisk or fork!).

2. Sift in flour

3. Using your hands as sparingly as possible, combine into a slightly dry dough and divide into two or three large discs of dough.

4. Wrap discs in clingfilm and place in fridge for 30-40 minutes

5. Take discs out of fridge and roll to the thickness of a pound (or euro) coin.

6. Turn on oven to 170C.

7. Cut out shapes using a small cutter and place on a lightly floured baking tray (or 3!).

8. Bake for around 8 minutes until just golden – all ovens are different so adjust if necessary.

9. Leave cookies to cool on wire rack.

10. Mix together icing sugar and water until you have a thickish paste.

11. Divide icing into several small pots and colour as apopropriate.

12. With a teaspoon, place small amount on each cookie and spread around until thinly dispersed.

13. Place sprinkles and edible decorations on the icing whilst it is still tacky so they will stick.

14. leave cookies to dry for an hour or so.

15.  Divide up into small batches, wrap in cellophane sealed with a bow and make your friends and neighbours smile.

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Ginger, Soy & Sesame Tuna Salad – A light lunch on a cold day…

Even though ummer is a long way off in the northern hemisphere, I am beginning to miss the flavours of warmer times.  I miss the frssh flavours and raw foods that form the majoirity of my meals in summertime – still, not long until I head for the southern hemisphere to feel the kiss of the sun once more.

I am currently in a wet and wild northern Brittany and have got a nice Breton Beef stew slow cooking for dinner tonight – my logic is it will be operfext after an afternoon braving the elements.  Before this though, we need lunch and I want something light that gives us not feeling too full and bloated and stops us leaving the house.  A fresh tuna salad seems just the ticket.  A second motive is to leave some room to pick up somr nice Breton crepes as a mid afternoon snack.

This was something quick and easy I knocked up earlier to share and turned out combining  crisp leaves, creamy avocado and tomato with flash cooked medium rare tuna, bacon lardons and some alltogether more Asian influences…

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

1 or 2 small fresh tuna steaks
100g bacon lardons or chopped smoked streaky bacon
3 spring onions
1 head of romaine lettuce
Handful of good watercress
Bunch of cherry tomatoes halved
1 avocado chopped roughly
Teaspoon of honey
3 teaspoons of soy sauce
Some pickled ginger chopped finely
Shake or two of Tabasco sauce
Juice from 1 lime
Glug of walnut oil and few teaspoons of sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Method

1. Chop tomatoes and avocado and set aside. Place Salad leaves in a bowl.
2. Chop spring onions finely.
3. Fry lardons in a dry pan over a medium heat until browned then add spring onions and stir fry for a minute.
4. Set bacon and onion mixture aside and flash fry tuna in the oil left in the pan for a minute each side. If you don’t like rare tuna (you are probably mad, but there you go!) then cook for longer.
5. Remove tuna from pan and cut into nice long slices.
6. To make the dressing, put pan back on heat and chuck in soy sauce, lime juice, honey, pickled ginger, walnut & sesame oil and muddle the whole lot around in the pan for 30 seconds then take off the heat.
7. Throw the tuna, tomatoes, avocado and bacon/onion together with the salad leaves and toss around in the salad bowl.
8. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with sesame seeds

Bondi Breakfast Smoothie

After a few days (or weeks…) of excess I often like to moderate my intake of blatantly bad food by having a really simple and healthy breakfast. Whilst living in Sydney for 5 or so years, I really got into smoothies, particularly at breakfast time. There are so many fresh juice bars and stands, that grabbing one on the run is too easy. They are quick, packed with fruit and protein and leave you feeling fuller than you would think liquid could.

I haven’t seen so many places providing this type of breakfast fare in UK or Europe, fortunately, making them at home is easy too and a great way to start the day.

Serves: 1 large or two small

Ingredients

250ml soy milk (oat, rice or even skim cows milk are fine too!)
1 banana
Handful of really ripe strawberries, raspberries or blueberries (these could even be frozen)
Around 6-8 ice cubes
2-3 tablespoons of muesli
1 teaspoon of manuka (or other) honey

Method

1. Put all ingredients in a good blender
2. Blitz in pulse mode for around 45 seconds or so till you end up with a good even slush like consistency
3. Pour into glass and drink whilst feeling virtuous.

Tip: if you have kids that need supplements like probiotics, omega 3 oil, iron tonic, etc then this is a great thing to sneak these things into.

Dairy Free Banana Bread With Apricots

My daughter’s allergies are changing so it is time to try reintroducing some foods. We are trying wheat after an experiment with dairy just didn’t work.

She just celebrated her birthday and I felt a bit sad that everyone else enjoyed cake except her – she has never been keen on the wheat and gluten free offerings. Now we are trying wheat, I thought she could now have some.

Whilst living down under, I discovered just how good the antipodean cafe staple of banana bread really could be. A good one is never dry and is almost fudgey in it’s consistency and taste.  It is also a great way to use up those over ripe bananas that usually end up in the bin.  In my version, I gave added some pre soaked dry apricots which reduce the quantity of added sugar and add a delicious moistness to the finished loaf.

Serve this straight from the oven in generous warm slices or it is even more delicious served a day or so later toasted with lashings of (dairy free!) butter.  If you can manage it, make up some homemade lime or passion fruit butter, really easy and a great tart foil to the rich, gooey sweet banana loaf.

Serves: makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients

3 really ripe bananas
250g self raising flour
125g light muscavado sugar
100ml of vegetable oil.
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Around 8 pre soaked dried apricots (try soaking them in tea or fruit juice for interest)
50ml oat or soy milk (may not need)

Method

1) preheat oven to 150c
2) mix the sugar and oil together well.
3) add bananas and mash into the sugar and oil
4) fold in bicarbonate and flour into the mixture. Do not overmix! It’s ok to still have some lumps in.
5) roughly chop the apricots and fold in.
6) if mixture is dry, add some of the oat/soy milk.
7) place the batter in a well oiled loaf tin and bake for around 40 mins.

Homemade Dairy Free Chicken Pate

How do you get a child to up her iron intake?  You can try talking the benefits of eating red meat and green leafy vegetables to a 2 year old, but playing with Peppa Pig and hide and seek can prove a distraction to my lecture.

Having taken my daughter to see her paediatrician recently, I was posed the challenge to get her to eat more iron rich food.  All the common sources were either not on her list of favourite foods or her allergies meant the food was off limits.  Eventually, we got to pate, but the doctor quickly remembered that it contained dairy when bought from the supermarket.

I had made some pate before and remembered the vast quantities of butter that were key to getting the flavour and texture right, but thought that I would try and re-create without the evil butter.

I took inspiration from stories told to me by my grandmother of having to cook during the war when all her usual ingredients were either unavailable or in short supply.  Tales of ‘apricot’ jam made with carrots and almond flavour came to mind and hard, cheap margarine instead of butter.

I struggled to find hard margarine in the supermarket, it was right in the bottom of the cold section looking slightly embarrassed next to healthy, low fat spreads and dairy, spreadable soft butter-like things.  It was surprisingly cheap and behaved for all intents and pruposes exactly like butter in this recipe – I’d use it again!

The finished pate was gorgeously smooth, deliciously savoury and went well with oatcakes or gluten free toast.  Make sure you have extra available as everybody always seems to want a little more to spread…

Serves: makes a small loaf tin half full

Ingredients

250g of duck or chicken livers (frozen are fine)

250g block of hard margarine (don’t even bother if it is soft, spreadable in a plastic tub)

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic (lazy garlic pickled in vinegar works very well)

A few fresh herbs (bay leaves, thyme or sage)

Salt and pepper

Method

1)Drain livers in a sieve above a bowl for 5 minutes to remove excess blood.  Pat livers dry and remove any ‘nasty’ bits with a small sharp knife.

2)Melt around 30g of margarine in a pan on a medium to low heat and soften the shallots in this for around 7 or 8 minutes. Do not let the shallots brown.

3)Add the garlic and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes.

4) In a small frying pan, add 30g of margarine and get really hot.

5)Add the livers to the pan and fry for around 1 minute each side – the livers should still be just pink in the middle.

6)Melt the remaining margarine in a seperate pan (yes, I know you need 3 pans here…).

7)Add the shallot/garlic/margarine mixture and the livers to a food processor and blitz the mixture fast until it is a puree.

8)With the processor running on a slow to medium speed add the melted margarine in a steady trickle so that it combines with the liver/shallot puree.

9)When the puree looks glossy, stop adding and taste.  Add salt and pepper to get the flavour right.  there should be some melted margarine left – you will need it to add at the end.

10)Line a small loaf tin with cling-film and pour in the pate mixture.  Make sure the mixture is level in the tin.

11)Place your fresh herbs over the top of the pate and pour on a layer of melted margarine over the pate and herbs.

12)Put in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

13) Turn out pate onto a plate, remove film and slice the pate. Serve with warm toast, brioche or crackers and some fresh tomatoes and cucimber for a light lunch or starter.

***quick note – thanks to #3chooks for the feedback, I listened!

Hearty Lamb with Butter Beans & Thyme

Even I can’t continue to kid myself the weather is anything other than cold now in the UK. The arrival of bonfire night (November 5th) calls for plenty of comfort food, the type of thing that sticks to your ribs. Big flavours, slowcooked meat that is soft enough to be cut with a spoon, side dishes like mustard mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage rather than salads are now the order of the day.

This dish just makes me smile thinking about it. The flavours with the lamb all just marry together so well as they get to know each other for a few hours in nice warm oven.

This can be made a good few days in advance and reheated in around 30 minutes in a hot oven. It could even be frozen and warmed up without defrosting.

Serve with mustard mash and a steamed vegetable. Light the fire, draw the curtains and put your feet up…

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 neck fillets of lamb or other boneless stewing cut in large pices (3cm chunks)

2 Tbsp oil

25g butter (or dairy free alternative)

1 Tbsp plain flour (or gluten free flour mix)

1 finely diced large shallot

500ml good quality stock

125ml glass of red wine

2 Tbsp redcurrant jelly

4 large sprigs of fresh thyme

1 drained and rinsed can butter beans

Additional wine for deglazing

Method:

1. Preheat oved to around 140C

2. Put oil in pan and fry the lamb in small batches to get a good colour (don’t burn it!) on all sides.

3. Remove the lamb from the pan into a casserole dish.

4. Deglaze the pan with a small amount of wine and pour this into the caserole dish.

5. In a seperate pan, gently fry shallot in butter(or dairy free alternative) until it is transparent (don’t let it go brown!).

6. Add flour and cook stirring all the time for 1 minute.

7. Slowly add the stock in small batches, stirring all the time.

8. Add the wine, jelly and thyme and bring to the boil.

9. Add beans and stok mix to the casserole dish and place into the oven for 2 hours

10. Strain the liquid off into a large pan and bring to a fast boil to reduce the amount of liquid until it becomes thick enough to coat back of a spoon.

11. Taste liquid and season with salt and pepper as required and return meat to the pan.

12. Serve and enjoy on a cold winter’s evening.