All I want for Christmas…

The Beach Boys once sang, ‘Christmas comes this time each year’, and if you ask me, it gets more tiresome every time. I’m not completely ‘bah humbug’,  but I’m feeling more flat than festive at the moment even though I started the month feeling pretty jolly about the holiday season. Then my hormones went haywire and my pep petered out. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls of party season (I don’t have an office do and I have few friends in Swansea), so I’m waiting for the Christmas spirit to kick in by watching films under a blanket and buying presents online.

It’s really, really cold at the moment, and all I want this Christmas is to hibernate. Obviously, that involves food and drink, so I set about making my own Christmas cake, as there aren’t many vegan versions in the shops and the ones I’ve tried are synthetically sweet.

This one’s easy to make and should keep for a couple of weeks. As well as being vegan, it’s free from and nuts, which means that everyone can enjoy a slice.

With all that fruit, I don’t think there’s really any need to add marzipan and icing (plus, I’m lazy), but you can buy vegan versions if you’d like to top the cake. Although the alcohol in the brandy’s burned off in the baking, you can use 150ml of tea (try Chai or Earl Grey for a fruitier taste) instead, but be aware that it will only last for a few days if you do this.

Use whatever dried fruit you like and of course, you can bake with plain flour, if you like.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas cake

Christmas cake

Ingredients

250g sultanas

250g raisins

125g glacé cherries, roughly chopped

100g, dried apricots, roughly chopped

100ml brandy

350g rice (or gluten free) flour

1 tsp baking powder

150g light brown sugar

50ml rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing

250ml plant milk

The juice of 1 orange

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

 

First of all, place all the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl, pour over the brandy and orange juice and give it a good stir. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to soak overnight or for at least a couple of hours.

When you’re ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 160C. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices over the soaked fruit and combine with a wooden spoon, then add the sugar and mix again. Add the oil and stir, then add the milk and stir again. You’ll need to use a bit of elbow grease to make sure that the flour is fully mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.

Line a 9-inch springform (loose-based) tin with greaseproof paper or use a little oil, then pour the cake batter into the tin and smooth out evenly. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake for an hour, then, without opening the oven, turn the temperature down to 150C and bake for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and test with a skewer – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

 

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Scrooged

Bah humbug. It’s three days until Christmas and I’m not feeling at all festive. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do at this time of year: I’ve put up the tree, had a go at making mince pies and I’ve been out for the ‘office’ do. Yes, they were jolly but I’m still feeling decidedly Scrooge-like.

I’ve been to see festive films at the cinema – ones that, in a couple of years, will be Boxing Day staples. I fell in love with Paddington 2 (well, who wouldn’t?) and the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a reliably good yarn, although Kenneth Brannagh’s Poirot is distractingly identical to Fred, the maître d’ from the First Dates restaurant. Even reading Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles (a bounty of beautifully written anecdotes and recipes for the winter months) hasn’t helped and neither did watching Nigella’s Christmas.

Am I doomed to be a misery guts this Christmas? I’m sure that once the presents are wrapped under the tree and I pop on some carols, I’ll get into the spirit. I know how lucky I am to be spending the holidays with the people I love because Christmas is a really difficult time for many of us. This year, I’m giving money to Crisis and The Huggard Centre, excellent organisations that are doing their best to look after homeless people this Christmas. If you, like me, are feeling a little lacklustre and jaded, helping someone else is never a bad thing to do.

As Buddy the Elf says: ‘the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear’. My Christmas cheer for you is this festive alternative to nut roast. I call it a higgledy piggledy pie because it’s a bit messy but it’s surprisingly easy to make (you can obviously use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time) and tastes just lovely thanks to the combination of chestnuts, mushrooms and apple. Of course, you could add cranberries to this but it’s not always a crowd-pleaser, and I live with fussy eaters so I should know. My secret ingredient for this is marmalade (guess what I’ve been watching?) but a squeeze of orange juice works just as well.

Whatever you eat on the big day, I hope you have a very merry Christmas.

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This is no humble pie

Higgledy piggledy pie

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For the pie filling

150g green lentils, dried or tinned

1 packet (150g) of vacuum-packed chestnuts, sliced in half

100g mushrooms, roughly sliced

2 shallots, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped

2 apples, cored and roughly chopped into small chunks

1 tbsp olive oil

2 heaped tbsp. tomato puree

2 tbsp marmalade

A few sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried)

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp maple syrup

Salt and pepper

 

For the pastry

350 g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

100 g vegan margarine or vegetable fat

175 ml water

1 tsp salt

Some plant milk or vegan margarine for glazing

 

First of all, rinse the lentils in a sieve and drain, then add to a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. If you’re using canned lentils, you can skip this step. Meanwhile, add the oil to a pan over a medium heat and fry the shallots and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, then add the chestnuts and apples and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, the thyme, tomato puree and half a mugful of water, then season with salt and pepper and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Now stir through the lentils and add the maple syrup and marmalade plus some extra water if you think the mixture is a little dry. Simmer for 5 minutes then turn of the heat and allow to cool slightly while you make the pastry.

To make the pastry, sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and mix. In a pan, heat the vegetable fat and water until it comes to the boil, then pour into the flour mixture and mix. When it has cooled, form the mixture into a large dough ball (if you think it’s a bit dry, add a few drops of water, but no more or it will become tacky) and divide in half. Take one half, roll onto a floured surface and place at the base of a greased springform cake tin or pie dish – use one that’s about 10 inches in diameter. On top of this, spoon over the pie filling.

Now, roll out the rest of the pastry, making it a bit bigger than the pastry base so that it can fold over the top and use this to cover the pie filling. Try to do it as neatly as possible and make sure that there are no gaps or holes for the filling to come through. Use your fingers to seal the pastry then brush over a little milk or margarine and place on the top shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with roast potatoes and parsnips, green vegetables (sprouts are my favourite) and red cabbage.