Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The 12th bite of Christmas ... the 12 Grapes of Luck #12BitesOfChristmas

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One of your five a day and it isn't even breakfast time yet! What a great start to 2020!

The 12th bite of Christmas (12 bites in reality) is vegetarian, healthy and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Less a recipe and more a ritual, it is an old Spanish custom guaranteed to bring good luck and prosperity (mostly to grape farmers, I imagine) in the coming year.

You will need...
seedless white grapes – 12 per person
church bells to ring 12 strokes at midnight on New Year’s Eve (Big Ben will do the trick)
Someone who knows the Heimlich Manoeuvre on standby in case someone tries to inhale rather than swallow their portion of grapes

You will also need 12 wishes (or the same one 12 times)

The timing of this ‘recipe’ is critical so give out the grapes in advance, 12 per person (if they peel them, it makes life easier)

Count down to midnight, then consume one grape for each stroke of the bell - it isn't as easy as it sounds.

It’s a bit of fun, and a healthy start to the New Year.  Have a good one!
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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The 11th bite of Christmas ... Strawberry Marshmallow Santas #12BitesOfChristmas

Pin It The 11th bite is one of the cutest, and the simplest ...

Ho ho ho - Merry Christmas!!!

… and more an artist’s impression of Santa Claus rendered in good things rather than a recipe.  Below is how I did it. You may prefer to look at the photo and figure out your own unique strawberry Santa. 

To produce these ones, I used...

Large ripe strawberries
Marshmallows for the face
Bits of liquorice for the eyes and nose
Desiccated coconut for the beard
Whipped cream for the face, beard, pompom (and 'gluing' the bits of Santa together)
Blueberries for the boots – cut them into quarters.

Cut the bottoms off a punnet of large ripe strawberries, so that they have a flat base to stand on.

Slice off the pointy end, about 1/3 of the way from the tip. This will form the hat.

Sit the fat end of the strawberry on a plate. Pipe a little whipped cream onto the upturned face of the strawberry. Top with half a marshmallow – cut it if necessary so that it is about the same size as the upturned face of the strawberry. Press it into place. Add a little more whipped cream on top and place a strawberry ‘hat’ on top. Pipe cream onto the marshmallow ‘face’, giving an impression of a beard.

Sprinkle the beard with desiccated coconut, then press the bits of liquorice into place for the eyes and nose.

Place two quarter blueberries at the base of the strawberry so that they look like shiny boots. (They won't stay there when the Santa is picked up, but they look great until the moment of eating and people tend to collect them up and eat them). 

Pipe a little whipped cream on top of the hat to form a pompom.

Repeat until someone hands you a glass of wine and offers to take over. Merry Christmas!!!

Hmmm - some you win, some you lose - the one on the left looks more like Santa's dog!!!
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Monday, December 23, 2019

The 10th bite of Christmas ... Mini Chocolate Malteser Cupcakes #12BitesOfChristmas

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For the 10th bite of Christmas, I've have made for you...

Mini but magical! Mmmmmmmmm!

... Mini Chocolate Malteser Cupcakes!

I and my siblings have inherited a sixth-sense from our da: the ability to sniff out a gram of chocolate at fifty paces. It’s been useful over the years, tracking down lost boxes of Bournville and missing multi-packs of Flake that my mother had put “somewhere safe” and then forgotten. At this stage, we know every chocolate hidey hole in my parents’ home and, although we are by no means chocoholics, if someone mentions the magic word, chocolate of one description or another can be uncovered within minutes.
Only... I seem to be losing my touch. I was all set to make a savoury dish for today’s post. The text was written and I was assembling the ingredients when I was ambushed by a giant bag of Maltesers which leapt out of the cupboard at me.  Somehow, this bag of temptation had remained hidden. Perhaps the packaging is sniff-proof. Now what am I going to do?

Well... we all know that mini cupcakes have no calories right? J... 
These mini bites are in the oven as I type and the house smells like a chocolate beacon. Any minute now there will be a knock at the door and I will find my six chocolate-seeking siblings standing there...

These little cakes exist in two states - they are warm and melty from the oven, mmmmmm. However, when completely cooled the Maltesers re-solidify providing a delicious crunchy contrast. You must try both states at least twice!

For approximately 36 irresistible little chocolate bites you will need...
... mini-muffin trays and paper liners (or non-stick mini-muffin trays)

150g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain flour
50g good quality cocoa powder
6g baking powder
approximately 36 Maltesers (+ a few extra as some might fall into your mouth accidentally)

a little icing sugar for dusting, (or see note below*)

Pre-heat your fan oven to 160°C and line the muffin tins with mini-muffin papers 
I pipe the mixture in for convenience but a spoon will do just as well.

1.                  In a mixing bowl, beat the butter together with the sugar until lighter in colour and fluffy (3 – 5 minutes using an electric mixer). Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing very well between additions. (If you add the egg too fast the mixture will curdle and result in a heavier cake – not the end of the world, but if you exercise patience this can be avoided).
2.                  When the eggs have been combined with the butter/sugar mixture, add the vanilla extract and sprinkle in the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder and continue beating until these dry ingredients are incorporated into the mixture.
3.                  Half-fill each mini-muffin cup, and gently press a Malteser into the centre of each. You want to leave a little of the mixture beneath each Malteser to cushion it from the heat. Fill each mini-muffin cup to about two-thirds full, concealing the Malteser in the centre of each cup. Transfer to the preheated oven.
4.                  Bake for 11 - 13 minutes or until well risen. To test for doneness, prod lightly with a finger. The mixture will spring back if it is cooked. If your finger sinks into the mixture, give the cakes another minute or two in the oven and test again.
5.                  Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Leave to cool before dusting with icing sugar or compounding the sin with chocolate frosting - see note (and link) below*
Mmmmmaltesers - one is never enough!

*If there had been more chocolate in the house, I would have frosted these with this chocolate honey truffle frosting or a ganache, or dipped them in good quality melted chocolate. I dusted them with icing sugar and it was enough to elicit a satisfied “Mmmmm... these are ammmmmmazing” from my taste tester.
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Saturday, December 21, 2019

The 9th bite of Christmas is Buttermilk Buckwheat Blini #12BitesOfChristmas

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The 9th bite of Christmas elicits cries of Твоё здоровье! [Tvoyo zdorov'ye!]

Твоё здоровье!

Blini - bite-sized buckwheat buttermilk pancakes - are one of those things that need to be cooked at home, and eaten more or less straight from the frying pan. An amazing alchemy transforms a little flour, milk, egg and not much more into little puffs of air, barely contain within a cake of buckwheat bubbles. Make sure you weigh them down with a decent topping or they might just float away!

So light, they practically levitate - mind they don't float away!!!

Makes about 35 – 45 depending on how big or little you make them.
150ml fresh milk
100mls buttermilk
50g buckwheat flour
50g wholemeal wheat flour
50g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 teaspoon fast action dried yeast
1 teaspoon honey
2 eggs, at room temperature (separated)
½ teaspoon of fine table salt
A little olive oil or butter for cooking

... and whatever topping you decide to adorn them with.

Start the batter a couple of hours before you need it.

These little pancakes can be cooked in advance then reheated in a low oven or in a frying pan.

Heat the fresh milk and buttermilk together in a pan to about 35°C (approximately 95°F) – if you don’t have a thermometer, this is when the milk feels neither hot nor cold if you stick a (clean) finger in to test it.

Next, mix the buckwheat, wholemeal, and strong flours together in a mixing bowl, and add the yeast, stir in the milk and the honey and mix well to combine. Add the egg yolks and salt and again mix to combine. Cover and leave the yeast to perform its alchemy for about an hour or until the mixture has thickened slightly and is surfaced with bubbles.

Whisk the egg whites in a bowl to a soft peak (when you lift the whisk from the bowl, it should draw the mixture into soft mountains that flop over gently at the top). Fold* the whisked egg whites gently into the mixture, until well-combined (*see note at the end of this post). Then heat a little olive oil or butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan is hot enough, carefully wipe away any excess fat with a wad of kitchen paper, setting it aside to wipe the pan out between batches.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot pan, adjusting the temperature if necessary to stop them burning. I use a tablespoon, barely filling it to the top of the bowl. Make them larger if you wish.

Clockwise from top left: From raw batter to little pillows of air getting a tan

Once the top of the pancakes are pitted with a rash of burst bubbles, turn them over and continue cooking for a further minute. Once cooked, place on a heat proof dish and keep warm in a gentle oven until ready to serve, or leave to go cold for reheating later.

When ready to serve, slather with a little sour cream or cream cheese, top with a little hot-smoked or cold-smoked fish and some dill/chives/caviar. Or top with whatever you normally put on pancakes – sweet or savoury.

Eat several, reflecting as you chew, that life isn’t half bad.

Твоё здоровье!

*To fold egg white into the mixture first of all stir about one-third of the egg white into the mixture to slacken it a little then taking a spatula or a large metal spoon in your dominant hand, cut through the centre of the batter. Move the spatula or spoon across the bottom of the bowl, and back up the side and across the top bringing some of the mixture from bottom to top. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Keep folding the mixture and turning the bowl until the ingredients are incorporated into the batter. Folding avoids overworking the batter keeping it light and airy.

This one's for Santa...

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

With the 8th Bite of Christmas, who needs mistletoe?! ... Sour Cherry Rocky Road


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The 8th bite of Christmas is … Sour Cherry Rocky Road. Cut it into bite-sized bits, and take it to wherever there are people you love (or simply like).

Who needs mistletoe when you have Rocky Road!

 Sometimes ...  often  ... ok ... practically all the time, life doesn’t go according to plan. The road ahead usually has a few lumps and bumps lurking, ready to trip us up as soon as we cast our attention elsewhere...

... Like last month: I dropped my ice cream maker (my priceless €1 machine – maker of strawberry and rose petal ice cream); totalled my food processor (Note to self: remove the sheath from the  blade before attempting to use the machine); and annihilated my electric whisk – don’t ask!

... Like last week, when my sister made pizza from scratch... It took a detour on the way to the oven and belly-flopped onto her cat... the bad-tempered one... with the six-inch claws and the kleptomaniac tendencies (cat, not sister!). I foresee a shredded sofa and further apologies to the neighbours as the evil creature wanders home with yet another gold trinket clenched in its teeth...

The good news is that life’s little wrinkles can often work out for the best. Most lumps and bumps can have a silver lining... like when I drop my heavy cookery notebook on my foot (bump, lump) and a little scrap of cardboard falls out. It’s my sister Veronica’s incredible Rocky Road recipe (silver lining).

In general I HATE marshmallow, I HATE desiccated coconut, and I’m not particularly fond of milk chocolate either. However when these ingredients get together with crunchy salty nuts and chewy sour cherries and go skinny dipping in dark chocolate, magic happens. I will happily eat this version by the kilo – leading to further lumps and bumps if indulged too often. 

Here is Veronica's original recipe...

 This translates as...
300g milk chocolate (decent stuff, not cooking chocolate)
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
90g mini marshmallows (or large marshmallows, snipped into pieces with a scissors)
80g white chocolate, roughly chopped
80g dried sour cherries (dried cranberries are good too)
75g salted jumbo peanuts
75g salted almonds
50g desiccated coconut, toasted*

First, line the base of a 30cm x 20cm baking tin with baking parchment.

Then, break the milk chocolate and dark chocolate into pieces and place together in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of barely simmering water (the base of the bowl mustn’t touch the water or the chocolate can turn grainy). Stir occasionally until melted.

 Add the rest of the ingredients to the melted chocolate and stir until everything is well coated. Transfer to the baking tin and leave to cool. When the chocolate is set, remove from the tin and cut into pieces - bitesized or boulders – that bit is up to you.

* I toasted the coconut in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. This task only takes a few minutes but requires a close eye because as soon as you look away, the coconut will burn in an instant.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The 7th bite of Christmas to nibble round the tree is... a double dozen of magnificent mini mince pies #12BitesOfChristmas

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The 7th bite of Christmas is great with a cup of tea…

 And technically, you only need two ingredients...

·        pastry
(The one I’ve used is the well-behaved sweet crust pastry from the Bakewell Tart recipe in Alchemy: Simple Ingredients… Magical Food. It is a buttery, crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth pastry I tend to use for all sweet tarts and pies – if you are following the recipe, I’ve substituted vanilla extract for the almond extract mentioned - but you can always use a commercial pastry if buttery, crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth is not your thing.

·        mincemeat
I’ve used the mincemeat recipe I put on the blog a few weeks ago (on this occasion I left out the almonds and increased the walnuts according, and I left out the cranberries and doubled the amount of mixed peel for a satisfyingly orangey note.) The actual work involved in making the mincemeat is minimal, however you will need a little time to let it cook gently – preferably make it the day before at the very least to give the flavours time to meld. Or you can buy it.

You will also need mini muffin tins – I have two x 12 hole tins  - this recipe makes 24; a 6cm round cutter; and a cutter just big enough to cut out circles to make the lids– or shaped cutters like I’ve used

 For 24 magnificent mini mince pies, you will need...
...to preheat the oven to 180°C when ready to bake

470g short crust pastry (see introduction above)
250g mincemeat (homemade or commercial)

a little milk to stick down the lids and glaze (optional)
a little icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm – the thickness of a euro or a pound coin. Using the 6cm round cutter, stamp out 24 rounds of pastry and use to line the mini muffin tins.

Re-roll the scraps if needed...
Stamp out 24 lids using a smaller round cutter and or shaped cutters just big enough to reach right to the edges of the muffin tin holes – stars are very Christmassy. You may need to gather up the scraps of pastry and reform into a smooth ball before re-rolling and cutting out the rest of the tops. No biggie.

Divide the mincemeat between the pastry cups – they will take a small teaspoon of the filling – don’t be overgenerous or the filling will burst out of the pies during cooking.

Don't be overgenerous with the filling or it will burst out of its pastry shell...
Cover the filled cups with a pastry lid moistened with a little water – or milk if using. (Lightly brushing the lids with milk will help to brown them). Chill for about 30 minutes then bake in a pre-heated oven for between 12 and 15 minutes or until evenly golden brown.
Remove from the tins and leave to cool on cooling tray. Dust with icing sugar.

Mince Pies ... Hygge Heaven!!!
They are delicious at room temperature or gently heated and served with vanilla ice cream, or a little brandy cream or brandy butter.

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

The 5th and 6th bites of Christmas I've made for you and me are... a Mini Fuyu Persimmon Caprese and a regular Mini Caprese


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The 5th and 6th bites of Christmas I've made for you and me are...

#5 Mini Fuyu Persimmon Caprese and #6 a regular Mini Caprese

The persimmons you’ll most likely see in the shops are the fuyu type – you’re in luck because this one can be eaten at various stages of ripeness. I love, love, love it as a healthy dessert when it is ripe enough to yield under your thumb – then it is supposed to taste of pear, dates, with the toffee-ness of brown sugar and hints of cinnamon. Dunno about that but they are mwah!

However, before they get to this sweet, melting ripeness, they are pretty good baked or as the anchor for a mini caprese. When they are still firm they have a slight astringency which works well with the cheese.

I like to make a regular caprese with cherry tomatoes too because the slightly sweet persimmon contrasts nicely with the tomato version - and they are gloriously colourful on the plate. Watch out though – these relatively healthy nibbles will have vanished long before the crisps and olives!

For 12 – 16 people (3-4 per person) you will need
48 mini mozzarella balls
2 firm fuyu persimmons, peeled, halved then cut into 6 chunks per half
24 cherry tomatoes cut in half across the middle
48 fresh basil leaves
a little vinaigrette for drizzling over the top
Cocktail sticks or mini skewers

It’s an assembly job really.

For the fuyu persimmon caprese:
Skewer the following ingredients in the order given:
1 basil leaf
1 mozzarella ball
1 chunk of fuyu persimmon
Repeat 23 more times

For the regular mini caprese:
Skewer the following ingredients in the order given:
1 basil leaf
1 mozzarella ball
½ a cherry tomato (skewer through the round end first so you end up with a flat bottom so that you can stand them upright on a platter)
Repeat 23 more times

Mine, all mine !

When read to serve, drizzle with a little vinaigrette – my Vivacious Vinaigrette recipe is under Sauce’ry here

If you are planning to eat any yourself, take them now because there won’t be any left in 10 minutes’ time!
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Thursday, December 12, 2019

The 4th bite of Christmas I've made with utter glee is... Smoked Mackerel Pâté


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The 4th bite of Christmas I've made with utter glee is...

Smoked Mackerel Pâté - so easy it's hardly a recipe!

This is so easy to make, it's hardly a recipe. Simply put everything into a food processor and blitz. If you haven’t got a food processor, simply chop and mix until combined. This pâté is super-versatile. 

For tasty little bites, spread it on little crackers or crostini...
scoop it up with curls of melba toast soldiers... 
stuff cherry tomatoes for a real pop of flavour...  
fill mini pastries... 
slather on blinis and adorn with pearls of roe... 
serve it with toast and a little salad for a delicious lunch or as a starter...

You'll find the recipe in the book -  Alchemy – Simple Ingredients...Magical Food under Starters, Snacks and Light Bites

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is... Julia Yates' Parkin


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For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is...

Sticky, spicy, special, and full of laughter and stories

This is a recipe from a lovely English lady I knew, Julia Yates, whose kitchen always smelled of something good. Julia made a supply of her special Parkin every Christmas and served this sticky, spicy treat with tea or something stronger, and always with a kind heart, stories and lots of laughter. Sadly Julia passed away a few years ago but her recipe still lives on.

Julia Yates’ Parkin
For 24 servings you will need…
350g plain flour
350g medium oatmeal or rolled oats
275g soft dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
15g baking powder
10g bicarbonate of soda
5g table salt

150g golden syrup
150g dark treacle (or molasses)
275g butter

2 large eggs

Optional extras
I added a lump of stem ginger, finely chopped, with about a tablespoon of its syrup to add to the gingeriness.

Lightly butter and base line a 30cm X 23cm baking tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C.

Mix together the first 7 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl.


In a medium saucepan, over a low heat melt together the golden syrup, treacle and butter.

Add the 2 eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add in the contents of the saucepan and mix until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking tin and level the surface. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a cocktail stick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don't worry if it doesn't rise very much. It is meant to be sticky and brownie-like in texture.

Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares and store in an airtight container. Now the difficult bit - ignore for at least 3 days - longer if possible. During this time a wonderful alchemy takes place and the flavours become richer and deeper, though I understand perfectly if you can’t resist!

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake


Pin It For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... 

Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Don't you love the Irish bent for understatement - world war was "The Emergency" and the economic catastrophe that shook the country to its foundations was "The Crisis". The Crisis came hot on the tail of the Celtic Tiger where good manners, good sense and caring went out the door for many people as soon as money swanned in. The Crisis - if it had any silver lining at all - seemed to sober us  up a bit, and to foster creativity as people sought to cope and to adjust to a very different scenario. 

One thing I've noticed over the past few years is that as people's budgets have tightened regarding gifts, the thought that goes into them has soared. Some of the loveliest Christmas gifts I've received have been made and given with love, and you cannot put a price tag on that.

I'll be making some foodie gifts this year - one of them, a family favourite: Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake. This one is for grown up friends and family. (If you are making these for kids, swap the cream liqueur for double cream). Cut into tiny bites and passed around after dinner or at the end of a run of savoury bites, these have a habit of vanishing as quickly as the Celtic Tiger did!

Package it up into Kilner jars or pretty boxes or tins and watch the recipient's face light up as they open it.
For 1 boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake, (or many tiny bites) you will need...
150g Marietta biscuits (or any Rich Tea type biscuit)
150g Digestive biscuits
100g dried sour cherries or dried cranberries (or a mixture of the two), chopped
50g toasted almonds, chopped
50g toasted walnuts, chopped
150g good quality plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g good quality milk chocolate
150mls Baileys (or a similar Irish Cream Liqueur)
100g butter, melted
25g runny honey (something floral, but not overpowering)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

50g each of dark chocolate and white chocolate for drizzling over the finished cake (optional). Oh, who am I kidding! Since when has  extra chocolate been optional?


Chop the biscuits into bits about the size of a 2c coin (or a penny) and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the dried fruit and the nuts. 

Place the chocolate in a heatproof (preferably non-metallic) bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t sit in the water). When the chocolate has melted, add the butter and stir gently together with a wooden spoon or spatula to avoid filling the chocolate with air bubbles. We’re not making mousse today. 

When the butter is incorporated, add the cream liqueur (or double cream if you are going for an alcohol-free version) and stir until you have a smooth, shiny lake of chocolate-y deliciousness. (It will be alarming liquid at this stage but keep the faith - it will set later in the fridge.) Finally, stir in the honey and the vanilla extract. Tip the mixture into the bowl of biscuits. Stir until every last morsel is coated with boozy chocolate lusciousness. 

Transfer to a loaf tin (if you want slices), a mixing bowl or round cake tin (if you want wedges) or a shallow pie dish or similar if you want little squares or bars,  before covering and placing in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours or overnight. You can line your chosen container with cling film if you wish but I find it just as easy to pop the container in a tray of hot water for a minute or so to melt the edges a little before turning out onto a serving tray. 

It would be utterly decadent to drizzle this little treat with even more chocolate...

 Cut into squares, wedges or bars. Share.
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