21 December 2016

Seasonal Foods

December is  a month where traditional foods come very much to the fore and these are easy enough to make (with some modifications) wherever we are in the world.   I am taking the time to teach Miss EE (Master EE is not interested in cooking more than he has to), how to cook various recipes that have become a family tradition at this time of the year.

In Malaysia: Yorkshire Pudding, Festive Vegetables
Roast Potatoes and Duck
We only rarely eat Turkey and prefer other meats if we can get it, duck or goose being a particular favourite.  December also tends to be the time when we eat a lot of  traditional English foods including red cabbage, roast potatoes, stuffing, roast carrots and so on.

Meats do not always come as fully prepared in some host countries
as at home.  Over the years Mr EE has learned to behead and defoot ducks and
detestical (and deinnard) geese.
Fruit cake made a long time in advance and 'fed' with brandy or other fortified wine is also traditional at this time of the year.  When I am unable to get alcohol I cook the cake closer to the time it will be eaten and use tea instead.  The tea will moisten the cake but of course will not preserve it in the same way.  A properly made cake will last for years.  In fact, a few years ago I made one for my father which he did not get round to eating, 9 months later and the day before he married my stepmother they told me they did not have a wedding cake.  English wedding cakes are made from the same type of fruit cake so I simply removed the icing, fed it some more to moisten it up and redid it as a wedding cake.  Versatile indeed!

Fruits infusing in tea
I have always used Nigella Lawson's Cake recipe and it comes out perfectly every time.  It is versatile enough to allow me to substitute fruits depending on what I have available.  This year I was unable to find candied peel and had no time to make my own so I bunged in a similar weight of dried apricots and cranberries.  The cake will taste different but just as good. I have also made a Pudding, again without  alcohol and using frozen grated butter in place of suet which I have not seen on sale and cannot describe to our butcher and played around with some alcohol free, suet free mincemeat.  We found some alcohol free wine in the supermarket which will be perfect for mulling, mulled wine being one of the real pleasures of this time of the year.

The Decorations on the Cake lasts for
an hour or so before the cake is devoured.
Here are some festive recipes I have been teaching Miss EE to add to the ones featured in the links above and for inspiration.  All are versatile enough to allow for substitutions depending on what is available wherever you are celebrating.

Mulled Wine
  • A bottle of wine (cheapest plonk in the shop or alcohol free);
  • A slug of brandy or orange juice depending on what you can get;
  • two clementines, cut in half, squeeze the juice into the wine then stud the halves with cloves and toss in the pan;
  • sugar or syrup to taste;
  • a few cinnamon sticks;
  • a handful or raisins.
  • Warm gently on the stove then serve either in beautiful elegant glass mugs or, more realistically, whatever you have to hand.
Fancy Sprouts

Most people eat Brussels Sprouts out of protest but my family really like this recipe.
  • wash and prepare the sprouts then simmer gently until cooked through, they should be firm not mushy.  A cross cut in the base will help them cook more evenly;
  • fry some bacon bits, pancetta cubes or a bacon substitute (breakfast beef or turkey bacon) in a saucepan;
  • add some chestnuts, coating them in the oil released from the bacon/bacon substitute;
  • drain the sprouts and add to the pan.
If you are a vegetarian or don't like to eat bacon or bacon substitutes you can use butter to give a pleasant taste to the sprouts/chestnut combination.  You could also add other vegetables such as peas or string beans to add variety and taste.

Spiced biscuits, pleasingly and elegantly plain
Spiced Biscuits

These lovely biscuits taste very similar to the Kruidnoten I ate as a child in the Netherlands and I sometimes keep back some dough to form them into tiny little button noten, just for old times sake.  Sometimes we pop them on the tree, sometimes the children decorate them with icing and sometimes we eat them as soon as they are cool from the oven. 
  • Heat the oven to about 175 degrees;
  • Combine 150g Flour with 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and add cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and pepper to taste, I like my biscuits spicy so tend to use 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 of everything else and a grind of pepper;
  • Cream 50g butter with 50g muscovado sugar then, in the mixer, add to the dry ingredients;
  • slowly add a beaten egg and then enough golden or maple syrup to allow the ingredients to combine to a soft dough;
  • roll out the dough and, using a cutter of your choice, cut out the biscuit shapes.  If you want to hang them use the end of a straw to pick out a hole in the top of the shape;
  • Put the shapes on a lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until firm through but not ultra hard;
  • If you are going to decorate them let them cool on the rack before bringing them out and letting the children have some fun;
  • The biscuit is firm enough that you could use it to make a gingerbread house if you wanted to.
And jazzed up by the children.

Bread Sauce

The first time I had this quintessentially British sauce was at my mother in law's house.  The idea of bread soaked in milk and mixed to form a sauce sounded so disgusting that I was struggling to take a taste,  I am so pleased that my parents trained me to be able to eat unappealing food because while it might look revolting this food is truly wonderful.  I make mine on the hob because I only have a single oven but my mother in law makes hers, to great effect, in one of her smaller ovens.
  • peel and quarter a white onion and stud with cloves, I love the taste of cloves so use more than most English people, the traditional recipes tend to call for 4-6  I use about 10;
  • add the onion, a large bay leaf  (I will occasionally use myrtle leaves for a change) and some peppercorns (traditionally people use black but I prefer pink for this, sometimes I use juniper berries, particularly if I am using myrtle leaves) to about 300 or so ml of milk (I do it by eye in my pan so this is a guess) and a bit of cooking cream.  Heat the mix to a simmer then turn off the hob, put on a lid and let it sit for a while;
  • Take some cheap sliced white bread, cut off the crusts and tear into small pieces or stale it a little and blitz into breadcrumbs;
  • Add the bread to the milk mixture with a knob of butter and put it all back on a gentle heat, stirring to incorporate all the bread into the milk until it is mushed together.  Grate some nutmeg over to season it;
  • Some people fish out the onions and bay leaves before serving (some even strain the milk before adding the bread) but I often leave them in as I rather like the look.
This sauce works beautifully with duck, goose and other birds and compliments cranberry sauce rather well.

Bread Sauce, Cranberry Sauce, Roast Potatoes, Stuffing, Yorkshire Puddings
and more.  

Roast Potatoes

Proper roast potatoes can only really be made with the Dutch Bintje potatoes which go wonderfully fluffy when shaken in the pan after boiling.  You can get the same effect though by boiling your table potatoes for slightly longer (I know a lot of people parboil before roasting, I give a proper full boil), bashing them about in the pan and dusting with flour once dry.  I often boil my potatoes the night before I am going to roast them.  I have found that people who will eat only a few boiled potatoes will eat up to five times the amount if they are roast (or mashed) so make sure that you serve plenty.
  • Cut the potatoes into even pieces.  My sister maintains that the more sides the potatoes have the more crispy bits you get so as roasties are all about the cripsy bits I cut them into odd shapes;
  • Boil the potatoes until fully soft.  Drain and ensure they are completely dry then add some flour to the pan to cover the potatoes;
  • Place a pan of non smoking fat  in a hot oven (230 degrees).  Goose fat is traditional but groundnut oil also has a high smoking point, don't whatever you do use olive oil, it smokes terribly and does not roast well, you can add a rosemary sprig for flavour if you wish;
  • Once the oil is good and hot remove the pan from the oven and place on a hot hob top to maintain the temperature of the oil;
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to the oil.  Turn them so that all sides are covered.  The hot hob will ensure that the oil does not lose heat;
  • Return to the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until crispy.  Half way through turn the potatoes in the oil to ensure even cooking. 
Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is one of my favourite foods of all time, I eat it plain, in sandwiches and as an accompaniment to just about everything.  I usually cook it with apples but at this time of year I often add some cranberries as well.
  • dice a red onion and place in a pan with a small amount of butter, once the onion has softened and sweated a little add two diced red apples;
  • Add a head of shredded red cabbage slowly, allowing the pieces to wilt down as you add it.,
  • cover the mixture with a half and half mix of fruit juice (cranberry or cherry juice is tasty) and water; 
  • add sugar to taste and some cinnamon;
  • simmer for about three hours minimum. You can cook the night before, leave covered on the hob and warm it up again to eat.  Sometimes I roast it in the oven, sometimes I just serve it as is.

I cannot make gravy; my mother, grandmother and mother in law have all tried to teach me.  My home economics teacher at school tried to teach me, I have tried so many recipes but for some reason it always turns out appalling.  I just don't bother serving it, relying instead on a festive trio of cranberry sauce, bread sauce and cinnamon spiced apple sauce.  If anyone has a guaranteed foolproof recipe for gravy please let me know.

For more posts on cooking as an expat click on the picture below

Ersatz Expat


  1. The christmas fruit cake is my favourite thing around this time of the year, I don't bother making since my husband doesn't like it (he eats 90% of all cakes I make, so what's the point of all the effort!) but I do have people who make it, such as my MIL, or the housekeeper of a house I stayed at over the weekend- so yay!

    1. We all love fruit cake here in this house so I can indulge. Miss EE has asked for a marzipan and iced fruit cake for her birthday (in SEptember) we will see if she remembers!

  2. Gravy is also my nemesis! I struggle with it every year!

    1. Thank goodness I am not the only one, I get so frustrated.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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