Monthly Archives: December 2011

Making Christmas Presents

Making Christmas

I’m writing this from the plane to Chicago, heading “home” for four weeks with my family and far-flung friends over Christmas and New Year’s.

This year, I’ve been making lots of my Christmas presents, and have been especially inspired by all of the goings-on around the #letsmakechristmas meme started by the forever-crafty-in-the-kitchen Vanessa Kimbell.

I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that I had a few challenges meeting my baggage weight restrictions this trip (also unaided by the 1.4 kilos of cheese I’m lugging home to my Swaledale- and cheddar-loving sister… ok, and a sneaky wedge of Stilton, plus a bottle of port, though I’m not quite sure if my family is quite ready to add port-and-stilton to their after-dinner repertoire, but why not try?).

Although I intend to keep most of my homemade gift adventures a secret until the big day, I can divulge details of the homemade Christmas presents that I’ve already delivered: biscuits for my colleagues, friends and neighbours in the UK.

When it comes to homemade gifts, I think it’s always a good idea to make something you’ve made before and know is good. So I went with the always-reliable gingersnaps recipe from David Lebovitz. I love these gingersnaps because they’re a cinch to throw together and you can keep rounds of dough in the freezer to slice up into delicious biscuits whenever you need them. Oh, and they taste dreamy, too.


I also wanted to make something a little grown-up, so went for biscotti, something I’ve made before and have knowledge of their easiness. I used Mark Bittman’s basic biscotti recipe, and thought I ruined the first batch when I added 1 tsp almond essence, which is NOT the same as almond extract, as the recipe called for. (Almond essence is much much stronger than extract.) So I put this dough aside and started over, making an almond and chocolate biscotti. Curious, I cooked the super almondy biscotti anyway and they’re actually quite good. So bonus: everyone’s getting two types of biscotti.


The lebkuchen was more of an indulgence to myself because I’ve always wanted to make them. The recipe includes lots of citrus notes like lemon zest and candied peel, plus loads of Christmassy spices like ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Lebkuchen also doesn’t include butter – how curious! The result is a very crispy, punchy ginger biscuit that I both enjoy and am mystified by – mystified because I don’t know whether they taste like traditional lebkuchen. I’m hoping my friends / colleagues will tell me, particularly the German folk!


I’m itching to share a few other things I’ve made that I’m especially excited about, but like I said – no Christmas spoilers! Are those of you who’ve been posting your beautiful pictures and recipes just living with the consequences of revealing your Christmas presents early? Or are your gift-receivers simply not aware of your prolific online presences?

Whatever your reasons, I totally appreciate it. In fact, your photos have been particularly inspiring on the labelling and packaging front. There are tons of great ideas on Vanessa’s blog: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Own Christmas Presents


Carrot and Swede Soup with Coriander and Creme Fraiche

Carrot and Swede Soup with Coriander and Creme Fraiche

It’s three days before I fly to Chicago for the holidays, and I’m on a mission to use up everything in my fridge so I don’t have to throw anything away. I’m down to the tricky vegetables: swede, beetroot and a mountain of carrots.

Some of the carrots (along with a cucumber and some cauliflower) are going into a Piccalilli. The rest I turned into this soup, an obvious riff on the classic carrot and coriander soup. But you know what – I think I prefer this version with a bit of swede added to the mix. It tones down the sweetness of the carrots and works very well with the flavour of ground coriander. I stole the creme fraiche idea from Delia (good old Delia). It’s a keeper.

This recipe got me through all of my carrots and half a swede. Tonight, I tackle the beetroot.

Adapted from Delia’s recipe for carrot and coriander soup. There are no hard and fast rules on the proportion of carrots and swede to use – just go with whatever’s convenient. I used roughly 600g swede and 300g carrots for this.


  • 2 lb (900 g) carrots and swede, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 oz (25 g) butter
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 pints (1.2 litres) vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander, plus 6 small sprigs, to garnish
  • 3 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Dry-roast the coriander seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat, stirring and tossing them around for 1-2 minutes, or until they begin to look toasted and start to jump in the pan. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and crush them coarsely.
  2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan, then add the chopped carrots and swede, garlic and three-quarters of the crushed coriander seeds. Stir the vegetables in the butter and crushed seeds, then cover the pan and let them cook over a gentle heat until they are beginning to soften – about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper and bring everything up to the boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, partially covered, or until all the vegetables are tender.
  5. Leave the soup to cool a little, then liquidise the whole lot in batches. Return the purée to the pan and stir in the chopped fresh coriander and 2 tablespoons of the crème fraîche.
  6. Re-heat the soup, then taste to check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls and garnish each one with a swirl of crème fraîche, a sprinkling of the remaining toasted coriander seeds and a sprig of fresh coriander.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 163 Calories | 8.2 grams Fat | 21.3 grams Carbohydrates | 3.6 grams Protein | 6.0 grams Fiber

Cauliflower and Broccoli Omelet with Feta

Open-Face Omelet with Cauliflower, Broccoli & Feta

I’m not really sure what to call this. Open-faced omelet? Frittata? Chunky vegetable pancake? Whatever you call it, I’ve really been enjoying this style of “omelet” lately, and this particular combination of ingredients worked very well. I use parsley here, but I could see dill and/or mint also working very well.

Cauliflower and Broccoli Omelet with Feta and Parsley

This is an easy omelet for one, which I make in an oven-safe 20cm frying pan so that I can grill it at the very end. If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, you could cook it for a few extra minutes on the stove top with the lid on. Adapted from this recipe for a Cauliflower and Feta Omelet.


  • Olive oil
  • ~2 cups broccoli and cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg, whisked (with a splash of milk if you like)
  • ~2 Tbsp of feta or more to taste
  • 5 cherry tomatoes (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  1. Turn on the grill / broiler in your oven
  2. In an oven-safe skillet, saute the broccoli and cauliflower on medium-high heat in some olive oil. Try not to stir too much so they take on some colour in the pan.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium and stir in the garlic, half of the parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for another minute.
  4. Pour in the egg and rotate the pan to distribute the egg evenly.
  5. Crumble the feta over the top, then distribute the cherry tomatoes.
  6. Place under the grill for about 5 minutes, or under the omelet is nicely coloured and the cherry tomatoes have started to burst.
  7. Garnish with the rest of the parsley, a couple grinds of fresh black pepper if you’d like and serve.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

Per serving: 212 Calories | 13.3 grams Fat | 13.2 grams Carbohydrates | 12.9 grams Protein | 4.8 grams Fiber