November Nuances

November has felt like the month everyone wants to be over and done with to let the festivities begin. Aldi started selling their Christmas trees with well over 1 week until the big countdown, carols are jingling out the speakers in shops (indeed Bublé is in the mix) and maybe I have already started on the mince pies? For us in Britain, unless we have any American relatives, November is a bit meaningless. No thanksgiving, just a large empty space between November 5th and December 1st. Time spent saving up for the gifts for your beloveds, ie a month of having no money, stashing up on booze and slowing down on the cheese consumption, as soon there’ll be enough in the fridge to feed an army of mice. I’m sad that we don’t celebrate thanksgiving here, the chance for another turkey dinner I wouldn’t pass up, and don’t get me started on all the fruit and pumpkin pies. Perhaps another celebration would be overkill, and Christmas wouldn’t be as special, I’m going to keep telling myself that but if anyone fancies adopting an English girl for next year’s thanksgiving meal, I’d appreciate it very much!

I’ll bring the stuffing.

The past week or so we have been trying to avoid any talk of Santa Claus and what we would like for Christmas, but starting today, don’t know about you I’m ready to throw myself headfirst into the Christmas pudding. The supermarkets and takeaway lunch options are giving us some seasonal mix-up to our lunch routines. Pret offering three Christmas sandwiches and a salad alongside a whole host of drinks and treats, Leon also have two festive wraps (one of them vegan), a dinky mince pie with 20p of each sale going to Save The Children’s Make the World Better with a Sweater campaign, and a brussel sprout soup too. Find yourself in Tesco, Eat, Boots and M&S where you can eat your Christmas dinner between two slices of bread (or stuffed in a wrap), you most definitely won’t be allowed to do that any other time of the year, so get some whilst you can!

A round-up now of some highlights to my month, I have some nice seasonal posts coming up soon, but enjoy this meanwhile. I hope you have eaten your first advent calendar chocolate this morning, or if you have a gin calendar treated yourself to a rather cheeky G&T at 7 in the morning. Isn’t that what Christmas time is for…

 

#1 The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Book 1) by Patrick Rothfuss

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A good long read. One that slowly draws you in, you make new friends along the way to only feel saddened that they’ve left your life once the book is over. But not to worry there is another in the trilogy, and one book still in the making. A fantasy world has been created by Patrick Rothfuss, a combination between The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter best describes it. There’s magic, demons, faeries, murder, and mythical creatures there’s not much else I want from a book, oh and a bit of murder is in there for good measure too. Reading this on the busy commuter train has been the perfect escape for a good half hour twice daily, too busy to notice all the surrounding bodies when i’ve been so engrossed in the story. For a much better description and some ratings here it is on goodreads and if that tempts you enough buy it here.

 

#2 Persimmon (or Sharon Fruit)

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The bulbous bright orange fruits many of us walk past in the supermarket, wondering what on earth thy are and what on earth to do with them. Leave to ripen until very soft, some say they must feel like a water balloon when ready, if caught earlier they can be sliced in a salad and have a much firmer texture. A strong honey flavour with a jelly texture, just pierce the skin with your teeth and suck out the flesh. Or as I’ve seen others do, stick one in the freezer and once frozen slice the top off and scoop out the sorbet innards with a spoon. As delicious as it sounds I reckon.

#3 Jam from The Old Cow Shed  in Chisworth

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Seeking out local producers and adding their products to my cupboards and fridge makes me rather happy and contented. In a small little village called Chisworth, drive down a rough and bumpy road for a few minutes until you come to a farmhouse and there you shall find the 17th century converted old cow shed. A husband and wife team singly making all the sausages, black pudding, cured and smoked items, jams, chutneys, sauces and pickles all changing with the seasons. Their sausages are the best ones I’ve ever come across, meaty but not dense, made from free range rare-breed pork, they will amp up your regular meal of sausage and mash for sure. I’m not here today though to talk about sausages, this month has been all about the jam. A plum, orange and cardamom jam, but almost verging on marmalade territory with the bitter rind of the orange and lime. Sunday brunch has recently been ending with a half slice of toasted sourdough, salted butter and some of this jam. My idea of pure autumnal heaven and a little (not so) guilty pleasure 🙂

#4 The Handmaid’s Tale

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I’m quite late to the show here as this series featuring Elizabeth Moss, based on the book by Margaret Atwood has already finished on Channel 4 and I’m watching the re-run. The story-line disturbs me deeply, I’m not sure if that’s just me as a woman and relating to it in that way or if men get the same uncomfortable feeling too. I don’t want to give anything away, there’s not much for me to spill as of yet, but for a little background info: set in Gilead, a near-future United States of America which is under a christian military dictatorship. The story of Offred, a handmaid, whose place in the world is to have two functioning ovaries and provide a child for their owner. It gets complicated, too much for me to explain on here, way much more than I understand myself! It’s great watching though, dark and mysterious and leaves you itching to watch the next and the next one after that.

 

#5 Earrings from Geo Heaven

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A visit to the Christmas markets at the Hepworth Gallery over the weekend, intending to buy plenty of Christmas gifts, to only come away with gifts for myself. Don’t we all? A selection of the UK’s best crafters of home wares and accessories, a few hours were spent oohing and ahhing and a slight sense of jealousy building for all those talented people showcasing their goods. My standout buy, these earrings from Geo Heaven. They are 3D printed, rose-gold plated and made in Yorkshire. Ticks all the boxes of coolness and look pretty amazing on too. Head on over to their website to see all the other jewellery available or pop over to their instagram page for some lust-worthy ideas for Christmas gifts, or do as I did and treat yourself.

#6 Faux Fur scarf from Pretty Little Thing

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I’m going to be frank with you, Pretty Little Thing isn’t my first port of call when shopping for clothes and accessories. The world of Boohoo, Missguided, Pretty Little Thing and the likes may have changed a lot since they first appeared on our web browsers but I still picture them as the cheap bulk clothing they once were. After talking to a girl who was wearing some awesome leopard print flares and she said how long they are, too long in fact, well that got me clicking away. I’m in desperate need of a new pair of flares so ordered some in black and some in red, plus a faux fur scarf just to bulk up the price for free delivery (don’t we all?). In the end, the flares were returned and the one item I wasn’t intending on keeping has stuck. A powder pink and grey-blue fluff, when wearing it I was told I looked like I was being strangled by a raccoon, does that paint a good enough picture? Well it’s pretty snazzy and keeps your neck warm too, plus it doesn’t look cheap. It’s no Fendi or even Shrimps but it’ll do until the day when I can justify paying top dollar and still have money leftover to feed myself for the month. It’s now sold out sadly but instead there’s this bundle of joy that is still available, but don’t delay!

With as much festive jingley love that I can muster, crack out the mulled wine and mince pies it’s time to embrace Christmas!

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An ode to Brussels (sprouts that is)

* NB. I was planning to post this before Christmas. But making fudge, nougat failures, cakes, puddings, stuffings and all things inbetween got in the way. So here it is anyway for those of you having a Christmas dinner round 2 (or perhaps 3, 4 or 5, we all have to get our fill!) *

#2 for the Christmas countdown

What is Christmas without them? The Marmite of the Christmas world. Love them or hate them, they have to make a feature at the festive table.

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Not too hard to guess

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Hello sprout friend

They’re in season from October to March, a true winter vegetable they are little hardy creatures. To pull through the snowy weather, night chills and complete lack of warmth we should pay them some more respect. No Ken Bruce, the sprouts shouldn’t be put on to boil in August. Nor should they require long arduous hours of cutting crosses in the bottom. Ignore all the myths, I’m going to give you the FACTS. How to make them the stars of the show because a sprout isn’t only for Christmas!!

Quick. Fast. Hot.

Not the review given by The Evening Standard for the next 50 Shades of Grey film, but three words you should remember for future reference when cooking your sprouts.

We have all been brought up with mushy sprouts found to grace every table at Christmas. Boiled to an inch of their short lived lives, leaving a whiff in their wake. Nutritionally there’s not much going for them by the time they reach your plate, but most importantly they taste pretty bad and soggy.

I want to cover the nutritional front first, but you wont even care when it comes to eating them, they will be that good. My crack Brussels?!?

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable, think cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, pak choy, kale. A lot of our favourite greens tend to be cruciferous, meaning they have sulphur compounds in them. These phytonutrients are known as glucosinates and have a proven ability to fight cancer and disease. Pretty powerful stuff!

Also high in Vitamin C, A, K, Folate, Potassium, Fibre, just to name a few. All cruciferous vegetables are well worth adding to your diet, but Brussels sprouts in particular as they top the list for the highest concentration of glucosinates.

Now onto the cookery. You see the sprouts don’t require much of your time at all. Just 10 minutes in a piping hot oven will char them and soften them just nicely.

Or perhaps, try stir frying, deep frying(?!?) or even add them to your festive slaw. Slice really realllyyyyyy thinly and toss with the usual mix of carrot, cabbage, fennel, pepper and leave to soften in a sharp and zippy dressing.

Blooming marvellous.

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You’ll either find them in a net, loose in a bag or even on a stick!

Sprouts, like most other brassicas stand up to a good punch in the face of flavour. They pair really well with flavours from the east, ginger, soy/tamari, miso, spring onion, chilli. Also Moroccan flavours such as sumac, ras el hanout, dukkah, sesame, harissa, or just go traditional with lemon, herbs, butter and a good grinding of salt and pepper.

My favourite way of preparing sprouts has to be roasted, piled in a bowl with loads of other veggies like baked sweet potato, creamy avocado, hummus and a big pile of tangled rocket leaves- it makes the ULTIMATE winter bliss bowl.

 

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Tamari and coconut roasted sprouts

Ingredients

  • Coconut oil
  • Sprouts, as many as you’d like
  • Tamari
  • Lime

Method

  1. Turn the oven up to 220C, you want it hot so the little outer leaves burn slightly and get really crispy.
  2. Slice the bottoms off the sprouts and peel off any leaves if they’re a bit scabby
  3. Slice the larger ones in half, but leave smaller ones whole.
  4. In a ceramic or metal dish (big enough to fit all the sprouts in a single even layer) put a spoon of coconut oil in, around 1 tbsp should be good and put into the hot oven to melt.
  5. When the coconut oil is hot, take the dish out the oven and toss the sprouts in the hot oil. Shake over a good amount of tamari and pop back into the oven.
  6. Cook for around 10 minutes, when finished they should be tender but not mushy.
  7. Tip into a serving dish, squeeze over a bit of lime and serve whilst still hot. However they’re still as good cold.

 

Cranberry, cinnamon and ghee

Taking our favourite flavours from cranberry sauce, the tart but sweet cranberries contrast nicely with the slight bitterness of sprouts. Feel free to use coconut oil again instead of ghee, it tastes lovely but ghee has that rich butteriness and the golden colour is just too beautiful!

Ingredients

  • Sprouts
  • Ghee
  • Cinnamon
  • Dried cranberries

 

  1. Set the oven to 220C
  2. Put a spoon of ghee into a metal/ceramic dish and put into the oven to get hot.
  3. Wash the sprouts, chop off the ends, peel away any scraggly leaves and cut bigger ones in half.
  4. Take the dish out the oven toss the sprouts in the hot ghee, sprinkle over a little cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
  5. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until crispy and tender.
  6. Tip into a serving dish and mix with a handful of dried cranberries.

 

Lemon and parsley

Finally, a good zesty option that will go with almost anything. Make sure to use a nice quality rapeseed oil or something that has a high smoking point. Avoid extra virgin olive oil and leave that for drizzling at the end.

Ingredients

  • Sprouts
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Parsley
  • Lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or more rapeseed oil) for drizzling

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220C
  2. Put a glug of rapeseed oil in a baking dish/tin and leave to warm up in the oven.
  3. Prepare the sprouts as before, cutting any larger ones in half.
  4. Take the dish out the oven, tip in the sprouts sprinkle over salt and pepper and leave to roast in the oven for around 10 minutes.
  5. When cooked to your liking, take out the oven, finely zest some lemon over the top, sprinkle over some finely chopped parsley, squeeze over a little lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Serve in a bowl and dive in.

As there are so many delicious variations here’s a list of links from fellow bloggers and chefs and recipes that I am adding to my ‘to make’ list.

Give them a go, and do comment below telling me your favourite ways with sprouts!!

(And that is not in the bin!!!)

Much love, and festive wishes with a bottle of sherry on top

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It’s here. IT’S HERE

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So it’s here. The official beginning of the lead up to Christmas. Possibly better than the day itself, yes I think so.

Filled with mince pies (never enough of them), carols, alcohol (too much of that), chocolate (too much of that too), Christmas markets and twinkly lights.

So this time last year I was in Mumbai, living there for three months, up until December the 20th. In a majoritively (Urban dictionary definition: ‘A word used by stupid people to seem smart instead of mostly or mainly’) Hindu city, who obviously don’t celebrate Christmas as we Brits do, I was feeling pretty low to say the least about missing out on the festive run up. However I was so pleasantly surprised to see brightly rainbow coloured decorations decking the stalls along the roads and Christmas carols in the cafes, it managed to fill that void in my heart.

But still no advent calendar, or mince pies (I really do love them and have created so many variations, brownie mince pies being the latest), and living with a Russian who also doesn’t celebrate Christmas in a similar fashion, it just wasn’t the same.

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When I finally arrived home, (YES FINALLY) Christmas dinner was one of my first proper meals, hot warmth swimming in gravy not a bowl of salady crunch.

BUT minus the sprouts. I KNOW. It was indeed a travesty. So this year I am making up for it going through at least a packet a week and giving the little cabbages the love they require.

So it’s a big deal this year to celebrate Christmas properly, I’m making up for the lack of festivities last year. Is it possible that I started my Christmas planning in September/October. Why of course? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Christmas chutney jarred up and ready for for its party outfit packaging, mincemeat made twice because I’ve nearly used up the first batch, Christmas cards made and decorations being crocheted as we speak.

I really am that girl (or should I say granny?)

Speaking of mincemeat, there’s two types that I like to make. First a traditional one. I used both of these recipes this year from the queen Mary Bezza herself and Barney Desmazery from the Good Food team. The former is almost all used up and the latter is steeping in its brandy bath for a couple of weeks before the lids are popped open. I do reduce the sugar by around a third in the traditional recipes-considering the sheer amount of dried fruit it can stand a little less  teeth-aching sweetness. The second is a mincemeat aimed towards me, using completely wholefoods, no suet, no candied peel (that stuff is of the devil), and absolutely no added sugar.

I found the recipe from the Hemsley sisters, make up a batch or even double and store in the fridge as there’s no sugar to act as the preservative. It’s brilliant stuff, and of course it finds its way into my porridge annually as a Christmas eve festive brekky.

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Get some mincemeat in there, your porridge will thank you

Now onto the casing, the pastry. I have been playing around with pastry recipes for a good while, never quite happy. Sometimes too bland, others too sweet, too hard and not crumbly and short enough. I like to bite into a mince pie (preferably still warm from the oven) and it disintegrates into a dreamy roof-of-the-mouth scorching buttery loveliness. YA FEEL ME?!?

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To add to my Christmas collection and slumping shelf of cookbooks, I bought the new offering from Gizzi Erskine, Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings. Not just Christmas recipes, full of new and inspiring ideas for Halloween all the way through to NYE and what to do with those pesky leftovers as SOMEBODY bought too large a turkey and no one can ever cook it properly (Brine it people!!).

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So flicking through, a recipe for mince pies obviously caught my eye. New flavour combinations always cry out for a test run but these will be on repeat. I always make my pastry with white spelt flour rather than plain flour. 1. Its saves me time from making two different pastries because nobody has time for that, and 2. spelt has a much lower gluten content than wheat therefore no chance of overworking and hello short crumbliness.

So get making a batch of this pastry, maybe two to keep one in the freezer for a later date, and then get those mince pies in the oven. Of course a mince pie should be a treat but as we only eat them for one month of the year I think a couple more is allowed. Still warm out the oven and doused in some cold cream, it’s Christmas for gods sake.

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Mince pies with an earl grey and orange pastry

I’ve reduced the sugar by quite a mile in these mince pies, and by making everything from scratch you can alter it to your own tastes. As I’ve said already it is Christmas so allow yourself a break and enjoy the festivities, a little too much sugar won’t do you any harm at all. Compared to the shop bought mince pies these have more of an adult flavour letting the dried fruits shine through and of course the brandy. And if there’s not enough tummy warming liquor in the pies, have a little tipple on the side. Sherry is my choice, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

Ingredients

Mincemeat

Adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley

  • 2 eating apples
  • 160g dried fruit, I like a combination of raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots, prunes (whatever you have in your cupboards)
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 an orange
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 25g butter or coconut oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 – 5 tbsp brandy

Earl grey and orange pastry

Adapted from Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings: Feasts and Celebrations from Halloween to Happy New Year

  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp loose earl grey tea
  • 2 tbsp orange juice (I use the orange that I’ve zested)
  • 1 free range egg
  • 225g white spelt flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 125g fridge-cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • Coconut sugar (or caster sugar) for sprinkling

Method

First make the mincemeat

  1. Leaving the skin on the apples finely chop them so they are the same size as the raisins.
  2. Place the apples in a large pan and cook on a medium heat with the lid on until they start to soften slightly.
  3. Add all the other mincemeat ingredients except the brandy and cook with the lid on for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. When the apples are soft, and the dried fruit plump, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.
  5. When cool add the brandy, depending on your taste. I like to add more because I like the boozy flavour.
  6. Spoon into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Second make the pastry

  1. Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and leave to infuse until cool, then store in the fridge.
  2. Beat the orange juice with egg and set aside.
  3. Put the flour, salt and orange zest in a food processor and whizz for a few seconds. Then tip in the butter and whizz to form a breadcrumb-like consistency.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of the egg mixture and all of the cold tea, and pulse until the pastry is forming large clumps. You may need up to 3 tbsp of the egg, but it should feel like it is on the drier side and needs slightly more liquid, when the texture is right.
  5. Tip onto a floured side and bind into a ball, being careful not to knead it.
  6. Squish into a flat round, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Will keep in the fridge for around 5 days, also can be frozen to be used another time.

The mince pies

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan
  2. Roll the pastry on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. Using an 8cm fluted cutter, cut around 12 circles and place them in a bun tin.
  3. Put around 1 tbsp of mincemeat in the pastry cases, try to get in as much filling as possible without mince pie eruptions.
  4. Then using a 6.5cm round cutter, or a star cutter, cut 12 tops out the rest of the pastry. If you run out, roll up the scraps and re-roll to finish cutting out the lids.
  5. Brush the edges of the tarts with the remaining egg and orange mixture, then top with the lids. If you have a full lid, squeeze the rims together and cut a little hole in the middle to let out the steam.
  6. Brush with more orange and egg mixture and sprinkle with a little coconut sugar.
  7. Place the tin in the oven for around 15 minutes, or until they are bubbling and golden brown.
  8. Leave to cool if you can resist, if you can’t and you burn your mouth, don’t blame me!
  9. Eat with gusto, a sherry in one hand, mince pie in the other. Aaaand repeat!

 

Merry Christmas my loves

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