Archives for category: Edible presents

There’s still plenty of time to make your nearest and dearest some tasty Christmas presents. At the very least, you should make a batch of spiced nuts – they’re good to take round to parties or anywhere else nibbles are required, and if they don’t make it out of the house (and they are quite hard to part with) you can eat them to sustain you while you wrap presents. It goes without saying that they go well with the drinks you will probably be drinking at this time of year.

Also, they are easy-peasy. For some reason I spend a fortune on similar flavoured, spiced, coated etc. nut products all year round and only actually make my own at Christmas. Just writing that I’m baffled at myself. Because basically, all you do is spread your choice of plain, unsalted, unroasted nuts on a baking tray, mix them with whatever herbs and spices take your fancy, drizzle over a little oil and salt and toast in the oven until golden and delicious. That’s all there is to it. However, I do have a couple of variations that I particularly like and can heartily recommend. They taste far better than anything you can buy in a supermarket aisle.

The first is an Ottolenghi recipe cut out of an old Christmas food edition of the Guardian (along with a particularly great slaw with maple, pecans and cranberries which I have also made often since). I think this might have been the recipe that opened my eyes to the nigella seed. They work so well in this, and that’s before you even get to the honey with the salt, the heat of cayenne pepper with the earthiness of rosemary – completely addictive.

The second is from Allegra McEvedy’s brilliant Colour Cookbook and comes in the form of a za’atar coated almond. There’s a bit of egg white in it for a stiffer crust and again it’s a combination that works in opposites – the sumac is bright, the thyme is a base note. You should make more za’atar than you need as it’s so good on flatbreads (or what about breadsticks – the party nibble ideas just keep on coming!) and takes seconds to make. And even if you can’t be bothered you can buy it in Waitrose now.

Ottolenghi’s spicy nuts

Makes loads: enough for at least 6-8 people

I’m giving the original quantities/varieties of nuts from Ottolenghi’s recipe, which I like, but you can obviously substitute for any other nuts you prefer.

100g cashew nuts
100g macadamia nuts
120g pecan nuts
60g almonds
80g pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp nigella seeds
3 tbsp sunflower oil/rapeseed oil
2 tbsp honey or maple/agave syrup
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked off
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp cayenne

Preheat the oven to 170c. Mix all the ingredients except for the black pepper and cayenne in a big roasting tray and roast for 15-17 minutes, until dark brown. Stir once or twice during the cooking time.

Stir in the cayenne and pepper when the nuts come out of the oven and add more salt if needed. Store when cool in an air-tight container.

Za’atar almonds

Enough for 6 or more

500g whole almonds (it doesn’t matter whether they’re blanched or not)
1 egg white

for the za’atar:
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 200c.

Make the za’atar by grinding the ingredients together in either a pestle and mortar or a coffee/spice grinder (double or triple the quantities if you want za’atar left over).

Whisk the egg white until frothy, whisk in the za’atar and stir into the almonds until well coated. Tip onto a greased baking tray and spread out evenly.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, until dark brown. Serve warm or cool in the tray and store in an air-tight container (you might need to break them up a bit).

From Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’


The next in my series of homemade Christmas presents: quince paste (membrillo to the Spanish). It didn’t feature in my gift plans until I saw two gloriously enormous quinces outside the Moroccan deli. It was an impulse buy, but the sort that doesn’t leave you with buyer’s remorse. The owner was quite curious about what I would be doing with them (in Morocco, he said, they would stew it with lamb).

I’m afraid that, like the previous two recipes, this one is quite time consuming, but you don’t have to do much during that time other than be around. I plan to give it to people in slabs with a nice piece of cheese, some manchego or a Cashel blue maybe. The basic recipe I used comes from Stevie Parle (see also: other quince recipes) and he suggests putting it inside a roasting game bird or eating it on toast. I think it would also be nice instead of the jam layer in a bakewell tart, or in small pieces in an apple pie or crumble (I think I’ve stolen that last idea from somewhere).

Quince paste

Makes as much as you have quinces

Where I differed from Stevie’s recipe was to blend the mixture to make a smooth paste, for aesthetic neatness. You can skip this for a coarser paste.

Quinces (I used two large ones which weighed just over 1kg)
About the same amount of sugar as quince

Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the whole quinces in a deep roasting tin, add 2.5cm water and cover with foil. Bake for two hours, or until completely soft. Take them out and leave them until they’re cool enough to handle.

Pull the quinces apart and discard the hard core. Any soft bits, including the skin, can be kept, although you might want to get rid of any black bits that you don’t want in the paste. Weigh the soft flesh and the remaining liquid from the tray and put it in a saucepan – preferably with a heavy base – along with roughly the same amount of sugar (if you want to use a bit less, another recipe I consulted suggested three quarters sugar to quince pulp.) Put the pan on a low heat, stir and cook until the paste turns a deep red colour. If you want to blend it, you can do this when the sugar has dissolved using a hand-held blender. Stevie says this cooking process ‘might take an hour’ – it took me an hour and three quarters. It might seem like nothing is happening at first, but it will darken a lot and start to thicken considerably. You just need to stir it occasionally and check it’s not sticking on the bottom of the pan.

When it’s ready, pour it into a tray lined with baking parchment and leave it to set. Wrapped up pieces can be kept in an airtight box.

Adapted from Stevie Parle’s ‘Real Food From Near and Far’

In my last post I suggested that a batch of rosehip syrup might prove handy with the Christmas gift season approaching. Today I have another homemade present idea, and this one has already been tried and tested on last year’s recipients. They almost all said it was too sweet, so I’ve tweaked the sugar content this year to make it as bitter as any true marmalade lover could wish. The one person who truly loved it last year, Tom’s brother-in-law, sent me a forlon facebook message the day his jar ran out, so apologies to him in advance if he now finds his favourite marmalade unpalatably sharp. Sorry Don.

The genius of this marmalade is the grapefruit and lemon, which contribute the sour element which you get in a traditional marmalade from Seville oranges. Since Seville oranges aren’t available until January and don’t last long, this means your marmalade-making season is extended, theoretically year round. I think of this as a winter thing, though, because of the citrus which are around in the colder months, and slightly more obtusely, because I associate homemade marmalade and grapefruit for breakfast with my family and Christmas time. My mum also introduced me to Campari and grapefruit, which is the drink equivalent of this: clean and reviving and bittersweet.

I plan to post some more recipes in the run up to Christmas for the edible presents I make – there are a few things that always seem well received (there have also been plenty that didn’t work out as I hoped…but I tend to think that chucking a substandard biscuit in the compost is less effort than transporting an unwanted gift set to Oxfam). Some of them are honestly less effort than rosehip syrup or marmalade, although I do like doing that kind of lengthy kitchen work at this time of year. Something about pottering around with the central heating on and laying in stores of things in jars is immensely satisfying.

Orange, grapefruit and lemon marmalade

Makes about 4.5kg (around 12 jars)

2 oranges and 2 grapefruit, weighing 1.3kg (I used 2 1/2 grapefruit to make up the amount)
4 unwaxed lemons
3.6 litres water
2.2 kg sugar

You will also need a huge saucepan, or to be prepared to split the ingredients between two big pans.

Wash the fruit (remember you’ll be eating the peel!) and cut in half. Squeeze out all the juice. Remove the membrane – a bit of determined scraping with a teaspoon should do the job. Cut the peel into quarters and slice the rind widthways into thin slivers. Put the rind in a bowl with the juice and water.

Put the membrane, including pips, in a muslin bag/clean tights/other thin porous material and add to the bowl. Leave this overnight.

The next day, simmer the fruits, with the bag of membrane, in your huge saucepan for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the peel is edibly soft (it must be really soft before the sugar is added, otherwise it will become irredeemably hardened). Make a note of the volume when you start – marking it on a wooden spoon is handy – so you know how much it has reduced by later. Cover the pan for the first half an hour, then uncover and allow the liquid to reduce, eventually to between a third and a half of its original volume.

While the liquid is reducing, warm the sugar in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes and sterilise your jars.

Remove and discard the muslin bag from the pan. Add the warmed sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook until it reaches setting point, which should take around 10 minutes*. Pour the marmalade into the sterilised jars and cover while still hot.

*To check setting point, put a saucer in the fridge until cold. Put a teaspoonful of marmalade onto the cold saucer and put it back in the fridge for a couple of minutes (turn off the marmalade while you do this to prevent it setting too hard). If the marmalade forms a wrinkle when you push it with your finger then it’s ready.
Adapted from Darina Allen’s ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’