christmas feasts from Diana Henry

Planning large family meals for the Christmas holidays, I keep turning to Diana Henry. For one thing, in salt sugar smoke, her recipes often seem to me to suggest wonderful ways of adding glamour to home-grown and local produce.  I wouldn’t have thought this could be possible with root veg but Diana’s middle eastern pickled turnips look spectacularly exotic on my windowsill, the juice from chunks of beetroot adding a gloriously pink hue.

Many of her Scandinavian recipes for salt-curing and preserving also seem perfect for relaxing Christmas meals as most of the preparation is done leisurely in advance. The preparation of her beetroot-cured gravlax doesn’t seem very labour intensive at all, yet look at the dramatically delicious result:

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I have a jar of Diana’s Scandinavian pickled cucumber in a cupboard in readiness, am planning to dig up a root of horseradish (cleaned it’s handy to have in the freezer ready for grating for homemade horseradish sauce) to mix with creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon to go with the gravlax. I’m very tempted by the crunchy russian dill pickles too.

When I talked to Diana Henry, her view that the Scandinavians “are so brilliant at bringing the countryside to their plates – using dill, you feel so much as if you’ve been walking through a pine forest,” struck a chord with me. I’m hoping that although my post Christmas day family feast will include a mix of home-produced and cooked ham, gravlax, some very English pickles along with the Swedish ones and some Irish soda bread, Scandinavian grandmothers wouldn’t be too horrified at my jumble of food traditions. Even some of my Autumn preserves, including elderberry pickle, elderberry gin and blackberry whisky, made from very English hedgerow fruit, may contribute to the meal. My feast may draw on recipes from many cultures, but as it brings the garden and surrounding countryside to a table of food gathered around by a large family, it does seem to have some Scandinavian spirit. As well as pickles.

And having baked some lovely Honey Hearts from Trine Hahnemann’s “Scandinavian Christmas” I think dessert may be Scandinavian inspired too. Although, can I find time to make Diana Henry’s purple fig and pomegranate jam – how fabulously festive does this sound, maybe with mascarpone mixed with a little vanilla sugar, greek yoghurt, meringues….

a homemade christmas

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Ruby and I are raiding the ribbon box for both decorations and presents. Our extended family are very keen on wrapping with ribbons and equally keen on re-using them. So from an early age we have all trained our toddlers to chase after them at family birthdays and Christmas.

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Our ribbon stash is currently very much in demand for the following:

Tying homemade gingerbread biscuits to the Christmas tree.

Making our packages of homemade bath bombs look pretty

Tying around packages of Nigella’s Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies for gifts

I’m also planning to make Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s white and dark chocolate bark. Always inspirational when it comes to edible gifts, Hugh FW has lots of good ideas; in previous years I’ve mixed little jars of his Dukkah (an earthy egyptian mix of herbs, nuts and spices, good as a dip). This involves a good bit of pestle and mortar bashing, so is great fun with children.

I did have high hopes for lavender bags. We founds some very pretty material including some pink and gold sari material that Ruby was very taken with. It set me daydreaming as I’d bought it in Kerala a few years before she was born – it’s been in use in our house even longer than most of the ribbons. Ruby also started daydreaming though (about making puppets) and her enthusiasm for making puppets simultaneously with lavender bags combined with my sewing skills means it may be a project we need to resurrect after Christmas.

The new addition to our ribbon stash this year is the simple but pretty bakers twine from Pipii.

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Love re-using all our favourite bits of ribbon and materials with all the memories that come with them though. It feels as much a part of our Christmas tradition as making the biscuits for the tree.

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Recipe Ginger and Cinnamon Christmas Biscuits

350g plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 level teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150g butter

175g golden syrup

150g raw cane sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Sieve first 4 ingredients together into bowl and rub butter into them. Heat syrup gently until runny, add sugar and mix well. Add to dry ingredients and mix. Roll out (if it is too crumbly to roll you can add a spoon of milk). Use assorted Christmas cutters to cut stars, trees, gingerbread men, snowflakes etc and lay on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for 15-20 mins. Leave on tray for 2-3 minutes, then lift off with a spatula and cool on a wire tray before decorating with icing, silver balls etc. If you want to hang them on the tree, make holes with a skewer before they cool and harden, ready to thread your bakers twine or ribbon through.

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making bath bombs

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I love it that my daughter is as enthusiastic as I am about making home-made presents. She started young, plopping bits of vegetables into my biggest saucepan for Christmas chutney when she was a toddler. With a little input from her I labelled them up as ‘Ruby’s Christmas chutney’, we painted a cardboard box together and glued on letters spelling ‘Ruby’s home-made goodies’ and filled it with our preserves. Ruby delved into it on Christmas day, handing out our very rustic but home-made/home-grown chutney to her Aunties, Uncles and grandparents.

The box is still in use although showing signs of wear and tear. Ruby is as enthusiastic as ever about filling it, but aged 5 she now has her own very strong ideas about what to make. Very keen on modelling clay (the type that sets hard and can then be painted – or found weeks later underneath tables and chairs) she announced the other day when we were pondering present ideas: “I know, I’ll make tea cups and saucers out of my modelling clay”. I think I’ve mentioned before that her enthusiasm/ability ratios are similar to her Mum’s and not feeling too confident about our ability to tackle this project together, I was relieved when I thought of bath bombs.

I must admit I had a go at making these in a child-free moment to check they worked first. Making chorizo and salami with my friend Katie recently reminded me that while it’s great fun making things with your children, occasionally it’s nice to have a go without them too. And it feels even more decadent to have a go at making something during daytime hours when you’re actually properly awake.

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So my first attempt was at lavender bath bombs with my friend Chava, who’s a wonderful photographer and took these lovely pics. Ruby was very pleased to find one of these fragrant bath bombs in a pocket of her advent calendar.

We experimented with a recipe from a Neals Yard book I’d had for years, finding that you needed to add water to make the bath bombs stick together, but it’s ideal to do this drop by small drop so the fizz of the bath bomb doesnt happen immediately, rather than waiting for when it’s plopped into the bath.

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Ruby is very keen on bath bombs at the moment. When I put a note in her advent calendar saying we were going to make them after school she was very excited. It will be interesting to see if she manages to actually hand them over to her friends or cousins. Chutney was definitely easier.

My vision of how easy and mess-free these were to make was revised after making them with a 5 year old after school. The restrained versions at the top were obviously from my first attempt. The session with Ruby involved more food colouring, glitter, a bath in the middle so she could test one (they fizz lots, we were both very pleased) and a muddy coloured batch when she tried to mix red and blue. It was great fun.

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How to make bath bombs:

These really are very simple. All you need is 3 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda, 1 tablespoon citric acid, your choice of essential oils and a little water. Dried lavender or flower petals such as calendula are lovely to add.

Mix the bicarb and citric acid and add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. Chamomile and lavender are lovely child-friendly essential oils that feel like calming additions to bath-time (worth a go anyway) and it’s a good idea to be sparing, only adding a couple of drops for children. Tiny bits of dried lavender is nice added to the lavender version.

Add water very sparingly (you will notice a slight fizz as you do) drop by drop, just enough to bind the mixture into a ball. You can place your balls in mini cupcake cases or simple wrap in cellophane and tie with pretty ribbon. I have some rolls of snowflake washi tape from Pipii (or Christmas cellotape as Ruby calls it, she’s very partial to cellotape anyway and finds this vertion particularly enticing) that I think may be used when Ruby and I are making our parcels look pretty.

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For a Christmas version for grown-ups, add a few drops more essential oils, choosing from Frankincense & Myrrh, Juniper, Orange. Lavender and flowers are very lovely for grown-ups too of course. Very soothing after a frenetic evening of late-night Christmas preparations.

 

 

 

christmas granola and breakfast cookies

I’m loving the childish excitement for Christmas building up and am obviously looking forward to all the food, drink and family. My daughter’s first nativity play (she is Mary, though wants to be an angel as “they get to fly”!) has me feeling excited too. But I’m feeling very tardy in my preparations this year.

I may have a huge ham from our piggies in brine, an abundance of pickles, including piccalilli, a pumpkin achar from Diana Henry’s ‘Salt Sugar Smoke’ (I reckon it will go well with the leftover turkey) and an Apple, Fig and Pear Chutney with cardamon from Karen at Lavender and Lovage; but the Christmas pud ingredients are still in the cupboard, the house is in a state, and despite lots of optimistic plans, no presents are made or bought yet. Then there’ s the nativity tights.

When Ruby came home after rehearsals telling us she was Mary in her first nativity, I have to admit we were a little suspicious. She is prone to a little creativity in the things she tells us after all. But it turns out she actually is Mary and although I always thought this was a dream role for lots of little girls, Ruby definitely has aspirations to be an angel. She seems to think her outfit is going to be a party dress (under the inevitable blue material wrapped around her) but I have instructions from school to get white tights. Realising the outfit has to be taken in next week and I still haven’t got the white tights, I have visions of a Pippi Longstocking style Mary with hastily grabbed crazy tights.

At least I can sleep easy knowing that Mary will have had a good breakfast. I’m still on a healthy breakfasts mission, especially on school days when I have an effort to get good fuel into my daughter in time. And with lots of ideas for festive cupcakes, rocky road and Christmas tree biscuits in my head, a bit of wholesome nourishment seems particularly necessary for all of us. I make the granola regularly with whatever dried fruit I have to hand, but cranberries seem right for December. I’ve added quinoa to my usual mix this month to fit in with my quest for pre-festivity healthiness.

Recipe – Christmas Granola

450g rolled oats

240g pumpkin seeds

100g quinoa

175g apple sauce (I make big batches of this when there’s an apple glut and freeze in portions)

2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ginger

6 tablespoons runny honey

100g light brown sugar

250g hazelnuts (or you can use cashew nuts/almonds)

1 teaspoon maldon sea salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

300g cranberries

Mix everything except cranberries together in a large mixing bowl and then spread onto 2 baking sheets. Bake at 170C for about 40minutes, turning the mixture over with a spatula half way through so it is evenly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes then gently scrape off the bottom of baking sheets. Leave to cool completely on baking sheets then mix with cranberries and tip into jars. Great with greek yoghurt and fruit but good with milk too (the sweetened/honey tasting milk is a sort of grown-up frosties milk). Chunks of this also make a good energy packed snack.

The breakfast cookies are from an  Abel and Cole recipe on ruralmums.com (a great website with recipes and lots of interesting ideas, it’s the online equivalent of a cup of tea and a chat in a cosy kitchen). Grated carrot and lemon zest in the original recipe were ingredients which I omitted, and I’ve added cranberries to make them feel christmassy. I’m loving experimenting with organic British flour in these sort of recipes; usually naturally low in gluten due to our weather, it’s often got a really interesting flavour. I used organic wheat flour from Tamarisk Farm, an organic farm with lovely fields leading down to the sea that we came across on holiday in Dorset. Gilchesters, an organic farm in Northumberland that stone grinds its own old varieties of wheat sells some interesting flour online too. My daughter thinks it’s great having biscuits for breakfast when I give her a couple of these with a banana milkshake.

Recipe Christmas breakfast cookies

Ingredients

o 125g wholemeal or spelt flour

o 150g jumbo porridge oats

o ½ tsp bicarbonate soda

o A pinch of sea salt

o ½ tsp ground cinnamon

o 100g dark or light brown sugar

o 4 tbsp maple syrup 

o 100ml olive or rapeseed oil

o 100g cranberries

o 100g pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Gas 4.

2. Add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt to a big bowl. Mix well to ensure the baking soda and salt are evenly distributed. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix everything together.

3. Scoop by the tablespoon and press into rounds on an oiled baking sheet. They will seems really crumbly at this stage, but don’t worry they’ll bake well. You’ll probably get about a dozen per tray.

4. Bake for 10 mins, or till just starting to set and just picking up a little colour. They’ll set to be soft and chewy like this. If you’d prefer them crispier, flip the cookies over and return to the oven for 3 mins or so to crisp up the bottoms.

5. Once cooked, they store nicely for a week in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

 

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