Merry Christmas to all our blog readers

Is it just me or is everyone else’s head stuck in a perpetual checklist this week?

Have I bought all the gifts; Have I wrapped all the gifts; Have I delivered all the cards; Is all the food in the fridge; When and what do I need to cook; What shall I wear etc. etc. there is no let up. Roll on December 25th! With a two year old, it’s going to be really magical this year. We have some cunning ideas for Santa Claus and his reindeer too, with muddy hoof prints in the conservatory and a wisp of beard on the mince pie plate. It’s like being a child again I am so excited!

Things are almost all finished for this year in the Dairy Diary office. All the orders have been despatched, the office has been tidied and the proofs for next year’s books signed off. We have also drawn this year’s competition winners. Four of our lucky purchasers have each won a £250 M & S giftcard – I am VERY envious.

All that remains to be said for this year is Happy Christmas to all who read the blog. Have a truly festive and fun-filled time and a very happy 2010. I am sure for lots of us 2009 has offered many ‘ups and downs’, but let’s hope 2010 is just full of ‘ups’!

Our last recipe to share with you is this gorgeous chestnut soup – perfect for warming you up after a wintry stroll and for using up that surfeit of chestnuts. Enjoy.

Chestnut Soup

A gorgeous chestnut soup – perfect for warming you up after a wintry stroll and for using up that surfeit of chestnuts.

Chestnut Soup

Chestnut Soup

Serves 4
Time 45 mins
279 calories per portion
7G fat of which 2.6G is saturated
Suitable for vegetarians
Suitable for freezing

Butter 15g (½oz)
Onion 1 large, peeled and chopped
Frozen peeled chestnuts 500g packet
Vegetable stock 1 litre (1¾ pints)
Mixed dried herbs 1½ tsp
Single or double cream, chopped parsley and/or paprika to garnish, optional

1 Melt butter in a large saucepan, add onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until softened, taking care not to let it brown.

2 Add chestnuts, stock and herbs and bring up to boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes, or until chestnuts are softened.

3 Allow soup to cool, then purée in a blender. Season to taste.

4 To serve, reheat and garnish with a swirl of double cream and a light sifting of paprika.

5 To freeze, pour into plastic containers when cold. Cover and freeze. Reheat gently from frozen when required.

Recipe taken from the 2010 Dairy Diary.

Fabulous Festive TV

At last, something with a real feel-good factor on TV. For three nights last week I was glued to Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas.

What a fantastically inspiring program. Of course, for us normal people finding the time (and money – £75 for teddy bear fabric!) is not that realistic, but I did take inspiration from many of her ideas.

Gilding pears with real gold leaf was a touch decadent, but I will certainly be using ordinary fruit – possibly apples, dusted in powdery silver glitter, with a name card inserted into each stalk. I have also tied lengths of ribbon around each dining chair to give the Christmas table a more opulent look (see p38 of the 2009 Dairy Diary for this and more ideas for the table). Instead of hanging up the old tired-looking artificial wreath Kirstie and our gardening book, Seasonal Garden Ideas, inspired me to make my own. Armed with handfuls of foliage from the garden, I pinned and tucked evergreen twigs onto a moss-stuffed wire ring and finished it off with fir cones (collected by my two year old), cinnamon sticks and dried orange slices. It’s a very lovely addition to my front door.

Of course, I haven’t escaped cooking this weekend, I finally – yes late I know – made my Christmas cake. I love the Jewelled Christmas Cake from the 2009 Dairy Diary; it is simply delicious and looks so impressive. It’s a shame my decorating skills are not so impressive, though without having to use icing (which is always a disaster) perhaps this year, I may just create something worthy of the table.

Jewelled Christmas Cake

A fabulous Christmas cake that is both delicious and a beautiful additional to the dinner table.

Jewelled Christ Cake

Jewelled Christ Cake

Makes 20 slices
Time 3 hours 45 mins
408 calories per slice
16g fat of which 6.7g is saturated

Unsalted butter 225g (8oz), at room temperature
Soft dark brown sugar 225g (8oz)
Orange and lemon 1 of each, finely grated rind
Eggs 4 large, beaten
Plain flour 225g (8oz)
Ground almonds 110g (4oz)
Sultanas 350g (12oz)
Soft pitted prunes and apricots 110g (4oz) of each, chopped
Raisins 375g (12oz)
Glacé cherries 275g (10oz), halved
Mixed cut peel 75g (3oz)
Glacé pineapple rings, halved glacé cherries, walnut halves, blanched almonds and angelica leaves to decorate

1 Grease and line a 23cm (9in) round cake tin. Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.

2 In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar, orange and lemon rind until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in eggs, then add flour, ground almonds, and fruits and mix well. Spoon into tin and spread evenly.

3 Decorate with pineapple, cherries, nuts and angelica.

4 Bake in centre of oven for 2 hours, then cover with foil and cook for another hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in tin until cold.

5 When cake is cold, carefully turn cake out of tin and wrap in cling-film and foil. Allow to mature for a couple of weeks before eating. Store in a well ventilated cupboard. It should keep for 6 weeks.

Recipe taken from Dairy Diary 2009.

Frosty frivolities

We had the first real frost last week – a beautiful, thick white crust enveloping the blue/grey fields and trees, sparkling when touched by the morning sun.

It made me feel very Christmassy but reluctant to go to work.

A walk in the countryside would have been much more preferable! However, work’s been great, we are still selling lots of diaries, gift packs and cookbooks, all the books for next year have been sent to print and we have been designing our radical Dairy Diary sticker sheet. This is a new addition for 2011, which should make weekly planning easier. No excuse for forgetting a birthday with a Dairy Diary sticker sheet!

The cold weather has set off Christmas preparations with fervour – present wrapping, card writing and even making festive bunting for the house – triangles of wrapping paper (in teal of course, to match the décor) threaded onto wool (thank you Prima). Of course, there is the obligatory cook-fest that comes with this time of year. This weekend I decided to get ahead of the game and did some Christmas cooking for the freezer.

For the Big Day I have made Cranberry Stuffing Loaf from the 2010 diary and I also made a couple of batches of the Chestnut soup (also from the 2010 edition) – perfect to defrost as a lunchtime winter warmer.

Cranberry Stuffing Loaf

A delicious alternative to traditional Christmas turkey stuffing.

Cranberry Stuffing Loaf

Cranberry Stuffing Loaf

Makes 8 slices
Time 2 hours
282 calories per slice
15g fat of which 4.4g is saturated
Suitable for freezing

Frozen cranberries 200g (7oz)
Caster sugar 25g (1oz)
Frozen peeled chestnuts 175g (6oz)
Chicken stock 300ml (1½ pint)
Thin orange slices 1½ , to decorate
Bay leaves 2, to decorate
Onion 1, peeled, finely chopped and softened in 2 tsp light olive oil
Tomato purée 1–2 tbsp
Lincolnshire sausages 454g packet, skinned
Cooked ham 1 thick slice, approx. 150g (5oz), cut into small cubes
Wholemeal breadcrumbs 40g (1⁄2oz)
Eggs 2 extra large, beaten

1 Grease a 1 litre (1¼ pint) non-stick loaf tin and line base with non-stick baking paper.

2 Cook cranberries in a small pan with sugar and 1 tbsp of water until just softened. Strain off and cool juice.

3 Cook chestnuts in stock until just softened. Strain stock into a small pan and boil until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Arrange orange slices, bay leaves and a few cranberries in loaf tin.

4 Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. In a large bowl, mix together onion, tomato purée, sausagemeat, ham, breadcrumbs, eggs and 2 tbsp of stock. Stir in remaining cranberries and chestnuts.

5 Spoon into tin and smooth top. Cover with foil and cook in oven for 1¼ hours, or until juices run clear when a skewer is inserted in centre. Cool and refrigerate overnight before serving. Serve sliced with turkey.

Recipe taken from 2010 Dairy Diary.

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