Brussels sprouts with orange

So, with just a week to go I thought it would be good to get in some sprout practice. I needed some anyway. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how good they are.  So there’s the traditional Irish approach – boil ’em up for say, 20 minutes, 40 some would argue, til they’re nice and soggy. Then, leave in the oven for about 45 minutes, or cool then microwave for 2 – 5 mins.

It’s tempting I know but I’m going to propose something a little different. Lightly steamed then tossed in a very hot pan til beginning to blacken then spritzed with orange juice and a dash of balsamic and finally, topped with crispy breadcrumbs. Very delicious and, ready in under  10  minutes.

Pan-fried Brussels sprouts with orange and a dash of Balsamic with crispy breadcrumbs

You’ll need:

400gr brussels sprouts

olive oil

1/2 orange

Balsamic vinegar

A handful breadcrumbs

Wash and prepare the sprouts. If they are big, cut them in half but if they’re small leave them as they are. Steam them for about 2 minutes until they are barely al dente. Heat a generous dash of olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot throw in the sprouts and toss until they have started to blacken on all sides.


Squeeze the juice of the  half orange into the pan and continue tossing until it has been absorbed. Add salt and pepper then turn off the heat. Heat some olive oil in another pan and add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden. Top the sprouts with the breadcrumbs and serve.

Have a great week,



Christmas cookies

If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be baking Christmas cookies to hang off the tree I’d have said you had the wrong girl. I’m just not that kind of cook. I bake and indeed do all my cooking to eat and rarely faff around with too much decoration leaving that kind of Martha Stewart business to calmer types with more time on their hands.

But time and kids have mellowed me and these days I consider it a quite a luxury to have a few hours to devote to baking and, as I’ve often said, find it a superior form of crowd control when it comes to kids (basically they’ll do anything to lick the bowl and after 7 years I know how to use this to my full advantage).

Dan & Auggie making cookies

But don’t switch off just yet, these cookies are for grown ups too. I make them with cocoa and chinese 5 spice powder.In fact they’re probably a little highbrow for most kids. Mine love them (sugar is sugar after all) and in our house it signals the start of Christmas eating.

Making cookies

This recipe (adapted from a Nigella one)will make about 50 -60 cookies and about half go on our tree and the rest are for having with coffee or perking up vanilla ice-cream as a quick dessert. For the tree we did stars and dinosaurs today and I decorated them with white icing sugar and Christmassy bits and then the rest were cut into smaller stars and drizzled with dark chocolate which suits my purposes when it comes to coffee and/or ice-cream. They’ll keep for a week in a tin and for a day or two on the tree – after that they start to really soften and the kids tend to leave well alone which suits the Martha Stewart in me (this is what happens!!!) as they do look so sweet…

Iced Christmas cookies

Christmas cookies with chocolate and Chinese Five Spice powder

You’ll need:

300gr plain flour                                                                  Dinosaur cookie

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 level teaspoons Chinese 5 spice powder

100gr butter, diced

100gr light muscovado sugar or any brown sugar you have

2 eggs

60gr golden syrup

First of all preheat your oven to Gas mark 3 (170 degrees Celsius). Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and 5 spice powder together. Rub in the butter with your fingertips then stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with the golden syrup then mix through the flour using your hands.

At this stage the mix will probably seem very dry but persevere and using your hands gather everything into a ball. When you’ve got everything together, tip the mixture out onto a floured surface and work it by rolling  and re-rolling the dough with a well floured rolling pin until the dough becomes smooth.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and put half into a plastic bag or wrap in cling film and put into the fridge while you work on the first lot*. Get the remaining dough back into a ball then roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out your cookies.

Christmas cookies

Using a spatula, put them on a lightly buttered baking tray. If you are making some for your tree you’ll need to put a little hole big enough to get a thin ribbon, string or wool  through before they go into the oven. I use the point of a chopstick for this.  Place the cookies in the oven for about 12 -15 minutes. They will come out slightly soft but don’t worry, they harden on cooling. Place them on a wire rack . They’ll cool down quite quickly so you can get on with melting chocolate or making icing almost immediately.

*The dough you put in the fridge can either be used straight away or will keep for a few days in the fridge. It can also be frozen.

The decoration

If you’re using icing……

Sieve 150gr grams icing sugar then very gradually add warm water making sure not to let the icing get too runny then drizzle over the cookies. You can drizzle with a spoon but I find the easiest thing is to put the icing into a small plastic bag, loosely tie it then prick with a large needle and use this to pipe the squiggles onto the cookies. We went quite all Sunday supplement low key this year with some white decorations on the white icing. Usually it’s a riot of colour and silver balls. Up to you…

If you go for chocolate…..

Christmas cookies with chocolate

Melt a bar (100gr) chocolate in a bain-marie (ie in a heatproof bowl set in a pot of hot water) then drizzle over the cookies.

One thing – I find that the  icing takes a lot longer to dry than you’d think so be sure it’s fully hardened before you put the cookies away away.

Our mediterranean selections all have a bag of dried mango  Chocolate mangowhich makes another brilliant sweet treat for after dinner. Slice into strips and partially dip in melted chocolate. Dry on grease-proof paper. These will store for at least a week in a tin and also go really well with ice-cream and the cookies for that matter.

As for the savouries, I think soup is a definitely way to go – easy and more importantly warming. This week’s sweet potatoes are great with Thai flavours and my recipe for sweet potato soup with coconut and lime  is a cinch to put together or there’s the one I did at Hallowe’en with pancetta, sour cream and crispy sage. If you’re having friends over or hanging out there are those crispy sweet potato cakes with feta and pomegranate molasses which make a brilliant starter or picky thing to have with beers.

The leeks are also brilliant for pretty much any soup – don’t overlook the humble version with spud especially if topped with pan-fried crispy bacon and some sour cream. They’re also great braised in stock and topped with Parmesan .If you have the oven on it’s a great way to go, not least because it’s one of those completely hands-off dishes which I’m more than a little partial to..

Have a great weekend,


Brussel Sprouts

For most people they’re a Marmite variety – you either love them or hate them. A lot of this has to do with how they’re prepared. In most houses they get cooked once a year on Christmas day (tradition innit?) when they are boiled for at least 20 minutes then languish on everyone’s plate (in twos and threes) before being tipped into the bin after dinner. It’s a shame because if you treat them right they can be pretty special. No, really. For the last few years I’ve been serving them on the big day in a gratin with cream, bacon and Parmesan and they’ve stolen the show every time. Creamy and moreish with lots of lovely saltiness from the bacon and Parmesan this dish rocks and works with with any roast.

In broad terms, everything you can do with a cabbage you can do with spouts. They are made for things like bacon and cheese while Asian flavours like ginger, sesame oil and mirin really work as well. A simple dish to try is a variation on one I often do with cabbage. Parboil the sprouts, quarter them, fry up with bacon and/or onions til everything is crispy and caramelised then top with grated cheese and grill til golden. With a bowl of creamy mash you’ll be hard pushed to find a more moreish supper now that the weather’s turned cold.

Pan-fried is another great way to go because this way they turn lovely and golden. You can keep it simple and just add a handful of slivered almonds and a spritz of lemon or you can go seasonal and do them with chestnuts and bacon.

Pan-fried brussel sprouts, bacon and chestnuts

Pan-fried brussel sprouts with lardons and chestnuts

You’ll need:                                                                                                   Tin of chestnuts

350gr brussel sprouts halved or quartered if they’re large

1 medium onion chopped

75gr bacon – lardons, pancetta or streaky rashers chopped all work well

100gr chestnuts roughly chopped

Salt and Pepper

Heat a little oil on the pan and throw in the onion. Saute for a minute or two then add the bacon and fry until just starting to change colour. Add the sprouts and gently pan-fry everything until the sprouts are tender and the bacon nice and crispy. This will take about 10 minutes. Be sure to keep everything moving to avoid burning the the onions. Remove from the pan and serve.

This dish can be made ahead of time then reheated either in a microwave or covered in the oven.

Another reason to cook the sprouts this way is that  you’ll have the perfect excuse to make what has to be one of my favourite chocolate deserts – a chestnut chocolate refrigerator cake with chestnuts and prunes soaked in brandy. I mean, what else are you going to do with the rest of that tin of chestnuts? It’s a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstale recipe from years back and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before but when I made it again recently I decided I had to share it. It’s beyond amazing and, with a cup of strong black coffee, one of the best finishes to a meal I know.

Chocolate refrigerator cake with prunes and chestnuts

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstale’s chocolate refrigerator cake with chestnuts and brandy soaked prunes

You’ll need:

75gr prunes, roughly chopped

75gr raisins

3 tablespoons brandy

150gr dark chocolate

100gr butter

150gr ginger nut biscuits roughly crushed

150gr cooked and peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped

Combine the dried fruit with the brandy and leave to soak for at least two hours. Line a 20 cm square tin or 20 cm diameter round tin with clingfilm. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir in the fruit, chestnuts and biscuits and mix everything well. Pour into the tin then refrigerate until solid. Serve in either squares or wedges.

This week there are gorgeous red cabbages in all our bags and again I had Christmas in mind when I included them.  The classic slowcooked cabbage with apple and spices which goes so well with turkey can be made ahead of time and frozen. It’s a cinch to make but takes hours in the oven so why not make it in advance the next time you’re doing some slowcooking? Otherwise, salad is an obvious way to go and also bear in mind that red cabbage is beautiful stir-fried.

With Christmas firmly in my sights I’ll have all the details of our Christmas bags ready by early next week. As usual we’ll be able to deliver everything you’ll be needing for the day and beyond.

In the meantime stay warm!!


Sorry about the lack of posts lately but the weather is taking up all my time. This post’s from last year but I thought I’d move it up as lots of you have been asking for these recipes and it’s now less than 2 days to Christmas and I thought I’d make it a bit easier to find !!! These dishes are both killer and can be made in advance (ie tomorrow!!).

Braised Red Cabbage with Apple and Spices (This recipe will serve 4-6 as part of a roast meat meal but as it keeps well you may want to make more and freeze it)

You’ll need:

500gr red cabbage

1 large onion finely sliced


1 large apple grated

4-5 cloves,

Cinnamon stick (or generous pinch of powdered cinnamon)

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 ground nutmeg

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

150ml water

2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons blackcurrant jam or a dash of Ribena

Shred  the cabbage discarding the core and any tough leaves and set aside. Heat a generous knob of Butter in a pot and saute the onion over a medium heat until soft. While the onions are cooking, in a casserole dish (or any ovenproof dish with a lid) combine the cabbage, apple, Cloves, cinnamon stick or powder, allspice, nutmeg, red wine vinegar, water, dark brown sugar and blackcurrant jam or Ribena. Add the onions and a generous knob of butter then mix everything up seasoning well with salt and pepper.Cover and put into a medium oven for about an hour and a half stirring every 30 minutes or so.

And the gratin that’s possibly the best thing about Christmas (yes, really)…………

A gratin with Brussels sprouts, bacon and parmesan

You’ll need:

400gr Brussel sprouts

3 streaky rashers

4-5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

150ml double cream

1 tablespoon breadcrumbs

Prepare your Sprouts by peeling back any discoloured outer leaves and making a cross at the base with a sharp knife (nobody knows why you have to do this but you do). Bring them to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes until soft with a hint of bite (i.e. not the pulp you might be familiar with). Drain and allow  to cool down a bit while you chop up the rashers and sauté in a pan. When the sprouts have cooled, halve them then pop into an ovenproof dish and toss with the bacon and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Season well with salt and pepper then add the cream. Mix everything allowing the cream to coat all the sprouts and then top with another 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and a light sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Bake in a hottish oven (Gas mark 6) for about 24 minutes until golden brown.
Vegetarians can leave out the Bacon and it still tastes great.

If you want to eat this on Christmas day (and you will)  prepare everything up to the oven stage the day before or on  the morning and then stick it in the oven 25 minutes  before you carve.

Or keep it simple by steaming your sprouts  then tossing them on the pan with ……….
sautéed Onions and Butter
flaked Almonds
toasted Hazelnuts
Sesame seeds, Sesame oil and a little Tamari or Soy sauce

Have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year.