The ultimate food lovers' advent calendar (2024)

1 Food gifts for children to make, Claire Thomson


This fabulous chocolate confection is an Italian Christmas favourite, and a great homemade festive gift. Yes, there's a long line-up of ingredients, but don't let that put the kids off: any grandparent, aunt or uncle (or mum or dad, for that matter) would be more than happy with this dense, bitter sweet chocolate cake studded with candied fruit and nuts. It's best eaten after the big meal with a coffee and digestif. Makes about 20 slices.

Vegetable oil, for greasing
40g unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
100g bitter chocolate, chopped
300g mix of toasted almonds and hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
100g plain flour
200g candied mixed peel, chopped
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
200g caster sugar
200g clear honey
Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Line the base of a 22cm cake tin with oiled parchment paper, and dust the base and sides with cocoa powder.

In a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate. In a large bowl, mix the cocoa, nuts, flour, candied peel, salt and spices. Gently heat the sugar and honey in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, then cook over a higher heat for three minutes. Pourthe syrup and melted chocolate into the nut mixture and stir to combine: it will be very sticky (and what child doesn't like that?).

Use a firm spatula to scrape the mix into the prepared tin and, once cool enough, wet your hands and smooth the top so the surface is flat and even.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. To check it's ready, touch the top with a finger: if it comes away clean from the surface, the panforte is done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Turn out the panforte, peel off the greaseproof paper and dust the top with icing sugar, rubbing it all over with dry hands so the cake is completely covered and white.

The panforte will keep in a lidded tin for up to a month. To serve, cut into thin slices with a large sharp knife. (The cutting will take some force, so be careful.)

Candied and crystallised orangepeel

Candied peel is more than just a baking ingredient; it makes a pretty and delicious gift, too. It takes a day or two for the peel to dry, so plan ahead. And if you want to turn these into a properly decadent grown-up sweetie, dip them in chocolate: simply melt some good-quality dark chocolate, dip in the crystallised andcandied peel and leave to dry ona greaseproof paper-lined tray. This is a great way to use up the skins from juiced oranges (some recipes say to remove the pith, but Iprefer to leave it on).

2 large oranges, or 4 juiced orange halves (see note above)
375g sugar

If you're using orange halves left over from juicing, cut each half into six vertically; if you're using whole oranges, cut each into six, and remove (and eat) the flesh, toleave six segments of peel and pith.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, cook the segments for 15 minutes and drain. Refill the pot with fresh water, bring to a boil, cook the segments for another 15 minutes, and drain again.

In a separate pan, bring 300g of sugar and 300g of water to a boil, turn down the heat to medium and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the peel to the syrup. Return to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the peel is soft and translucent: 45 minutes to an hour.

Drain and leave the candied peel to cool (reserve the orange-flavoured syrup for use in cake baking or to spoon over plain yoghurt). Once cool, put the remaining 75g sugar in a clean plastic bag, add the candied peel andshake to coat. Lift out the peel, lay it out flat on a sheet of greaseproof paper and set aside until the coating is completely dry – this should take one to two days. Store in an airtight container.

Earl Grey and orangeprunes

These are fantastic with blue cheese or as an impromptu pudding with a dollop of double cream and a biscuit. If the recipient prefers their prunes boozy, use brandy or armagnac instead of the orange juice. These are a cinch to make, and the flavours are anything but ordinary. Makes two 450ml jars.

400ml hot weak Earl Grey tea
40g soft brown sugar
250g Agen prunes (or other large good-quality prunes), stoned or stone-in, as you prefer
150ml orange juice
2 bay leaves
Zest of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
2 450ml airtight jars (such as Kilner or similar), cleaned

Make the tea, add the sugar, stir to dissolve and leave to cool. Put the prunes in a tub for which you have alid, pour the tea over them, cover and soak overnight (there's no need to put them in the fridge).

Next day, strain off the liquid into a saucepan, add the orange juice and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes.

Divide the prunes between the two jars, then pour over the syrup evenly, making sure the prunes are totally immersed in liquid. Seal the jars and store in the fridge.

The prunes will improve the longer you leave them, and they'llkeep in the fridge for up to three months.

Claire Thompson is co-owner of Flinty Red restaurant in Bristol and author of Five O'Clock Apron, a blog on cooking with and for children.

2 Hot toddies, Felicity Cloake

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By hot toddies, I do not mean vile vats of teeth-staining, soul-sapping stuff, but proper winter drinks to warm both the co*ckles and the soul. Strictly, a hot toddy is a medicinal preparation of whisky, honey and hot water, with lemon juice and spice as the doctor sees fit, but Iprefer to save such healthful tonics for the dark days of January. Before Christmas, it's all about the mulling.

Choose the base as you like. I prefer mulled cider, because warm red wine can get a bit tannic after half a glass; if you're more sophisticated, however, go for something reasonably fruity and definitely unoaked. It doesn't need to be expensive – no need here for anything that costs over a fiver – but it shouldn't be actively poisonous. (For a non-alcoholic take, apple or grape juice, or a mix of the two, work very nicely indeed.)

Having chosen your base, you need to add a bit of festive flavour in the form of sugar and spice, and all things nice by way of a garnish – in this case, some slices of citrus fruit, because they stand up much better to heat than, say, apples or berries. Spice-wise, think medieval: clove-studded clementines, cinnamon sticks, a cardamom or two. Sugar is also a must, for the alcoholic versions at least. Add it to taste, but you'll probably need more than you think: heating up booze has a tendency to intensify the flavour of the alcohol.

If you're lazy, there are some brilliant readymade spice mixes about: I'd recommend Steenbergs organic mulled cider spice, with its star anise and orange peel (£3.75 for seven, or Paul A Young's genius cocoa nib mulled wine spice mix (£5.95,, which works chocolatey wonders on even cheap plonk.

To make your mulled wine, bring all the ingredients – base liquid, spice and sugar – to a boil, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for an hour or so, before reheating. If you're really hoping for an early night, at this point add a shot of rum (cider) or vodka (wine) to the pot.Serve in mugs or heatproof glasses, along with the appropriate health warnings.

3 Ordering your bird, Felicity Cloake

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The centrepiece of the big feast, this is probably the biggest single outlay you'll make on food this Christmas, so do your homework. People who claim that, actually, all anyone cares about are the accoutrements – the stuffing balls and roast potatoes, the pigs in blankets and buttered parsnips – are clearly buying the wrong bird. Obviously, then, the first thing you need to do is decide what sort of bird you're going for.

Turkey, as we're endlessly reminded, is not the only option. Goose, the more traditional (ie, medieval) choice, is one to go into with your eyes open: it delivers outrageously rich, juicy meat, and crisp, golden skin, but the payback for all this deliciousness is fat. Your average goose will yield well over a pint of thestuff during cooking: great for roast potatoes, but somewhat daunting if you're not expecting it.

Bear in mind also that geese are bonier than turkeys, so you'll need abigger bird to feed the same number of people: calculate 500g a head for a turkey and 800g for agoose (the same goes for a duck versus a chicken). Those who have gone goose, however, rarely go back.

Those catering for smaller numbers are often encouraged to opt for a turkey crown, which is essentially bland white breast meat. I'd suggest cooking a smaller bird instead. There's the stalwart chicken, of course – and this is an occasion to splash out on something really special, such as an apple-fed Cotswold white co*ckerel, which, with a minimum weight of 4kg, will feed more than your average hen. Guinea fowl and pheasant, meanwhile, both serve two, while tiny birds such aspartridge, quail, woodco*ck and so on make neat little individual roasts.

Whatever you go for, try to find alocal supplier, either through your butcher or direct from the farm gate(this generally works out cheaper, too, especially if you collect, rather than paying for delivery), and order early, so you're not one of those unfortunate souls fighting over the last supermarket turkey crown on Christmas Eve.

Buying wisely online is a decent alternative ( covers farms nationwide), and if you must go down the supermarket route, and your budget allows, choose a free-range bird; those where the breed is named will tend to be older, slower-growing types,with better-qualitymeat. All the more reasonnot to overcook it.

4 Where and how to buy your Christmas wine, Fiona Beckett

Supermarkets excel at cut-price offers, but their other wines may be less well-priced, particularly closer to Christmas, when across-the-board discounts often dry up. But there is still the odd bottle it would be rude to pass up, such as the Co-op's deal on Château Sénéjac Haut-Medoc 2009 (13.5% abv) at £13.99 (Majestic has the 2010 for £18 if you buy two or more) or Tesco's impressive Finest Bolgheri 2010 (£11.99; buy it as part of a mixed case before the end of tomorrow, and you'll get 25% off; 13.5% abv); ideal if you're having beef rather than a bird.

There's also a lot to be said for Aldi: you'd be pushed to spend less on Christmas Day wines than on the buttery, rich Exquisite Collection Limoux chardonnay 2012 (£6.99; 13.5% abv); Château Chantemerle Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2010 (£9.99; 13% abv), a fruity Bordeaux from agreat vintage; and Selection Beerenauslese to go with pud (£5.99 for 37.5cl; 11.5% abv).

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Online retailers such as Laithwaite's and Virgin aim to spare you the hassle of picking your own wines by offering Christmas cases, but if there are more than four of you at the table, amixed case rarely provides enough of any one wine (and may contain others you're less keen on). If you want to order from your armchair, it's hard to beat the Wine Society, which has come up with the most leftfield options this Christmas: a knock-your-socks-off unfiltered chardonnay and pinot noir from Norman Hardie in Ontario, Canada (yes, Canada!), both 2011s, both £19.50, both 12.5% abv and both on apar with good burgundy.

And do buy something from your local wine merchant, the advantage being that you can talk to a real person about what you need. Want arefreshing aperitif that's not champagne, say? Try Dr Bürklin-Wolf's 2011Wachenheimer Riesling Trocken (£13.50, Tanners; 13% abv); the Wine Society has the 2012 for£11.50.

The ideal solution, then, is to spread your custom around: pick and mix from different retailers. Sainsbury's, for example, has a new "Winemakers' Selection" range of inexpensive South African wines that are ideal for party drinking: I'd go for the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (12.5% abv) and 2012 Merlot (14% abv), both at £5.99 (less if you buy an unsplit case).

5 Festive freezer standbys, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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Parsnip and ginger soup

Sweet parsnips andfiery ginger make a fantastically warming winter combo. Serves four to six.

1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 large onion, peeled and finelychopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finelychopped
4-5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled andfinely chopped
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
500g parsnips, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
800ml vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

To finish
200ml whole milk
2-3 tbsp flaked almonds or pumpkinseeds
1-2 tbsp double cream or thick yoghurt

Heat the oil and butter in saucepan over a medium-low heat and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, cardamom, cumin and cayenne, and stir for a couple of minutes. Tip in the parsnips and stir until coated in the spices. Add the stock, season and simmer until the parsnips are very soft, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Purée in a food processor, blender or with a stick blender. Leave to cool, then freeze.

To serve, defrost the soup, reheat it slowly, then add the milk, adjust the seasoning and warm through gently; if it's a bit thick, thin with some hot water from the kettle.

While the soup is warming, toast the almonds or pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan until just beginning to turn golden. Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a trickle of cream or yoghurt and the toasted almonds scattered over the top.

Venison bolognese

Spag bol tends to go down very well with most meat-eaters, so a good bolognese sauce is a great freezer standby. This version uses venison as well as beef, making it richer in flavour than your average bolognese, and leaner, too. Serves six.

4 tbsp olive oil
250g pancetta (or streaky bacon), finely diced
500g coarsely minced venison
500g coarsely minced beef
1 glass red wine
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
500g onions, peeled and finely chopped
400g tin plum tomatoes
250ml tomato passata
300ml beef or pork stock (or water)
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs mixed fresh herbs (such as thyme, basil, parsley, marjoram ororegano)
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

In a large frying pan over a medium flame, heat half the olive oil and fry the bacon so the fat runs. Add the venison and beef, and brown all over (you may have to do this in batches), then transfer to a good-sized casserole. The idea is to make sure some of the meat is properly browned: you want those caramelised browning flavours to come out in the sauce. When you've browned the last batch of meat, deglaze the pan with the red wine, then add the juices to the casserole.

Now wipe the frying pan with a wad of paper towel, add the rest of the olive oil and heat gently. Add thegarlic and onions, and sweat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes and passata, and turn up the heat so the mixture bubbles merrily. Stir regularly, breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula or spoon. You are making a quick tomato sauce here, which gives a much better result than simply tipping the tomatoes into the meat. When the tomato sauce has reduced and thickened alittle, and the tomatoes are nicely broken up, add it to the meat, along with the stock or water, and the bay leaves tied in a bouquet with any other herbs you are using. Season with plenty of pepper and half a teaspoon of salt.

Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. The finished sauce should be thick and rich. You can cook it for up to two hours, if you like. Cool, decant into a suitable container and freeze.

Allow the sauce to defrost in the fridge, and reheat in a large saucepan until piping hot. Serve with spaghetti (or, even better, linguine), grated parmesan and perhaps a green salad to follow.

Potato boulangère

Delicious with sausages or chops, Ialso like this with some big field mushrooms baked with a little butter, garlic and cheese. Serves four.

30g butter
2 onions, peeled, halved and thinlysliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
About 1kg slightly waxy potatoes such as maris peer or desiree, peeled and sliced to the thickness of a 10p piece
¼ tsp chopped thyme leaves
3 sage leaves, finely chopped
About 1.2 litres vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan and use some of it to grease a large gratin dish. Add the onions to the pan and sauté over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until nice and soft, then add the garlic and cook gently for aminute or two.

Spread out one-third of the potatoes in the gratin dish, season generously, then add half the onions and half the herbs. Add a second layer of potatoes, then the remaining onions, then a final layerof potato.

Bring the stock to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the potatoes: you want them to be only barely covered, so don't add it all if you don't need to. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover bake until the spuds are just cooked: another 20-30 minutes. Leave to cool, then cover and freeze.

To serve, once completely defrosted, cover with foil and reheatgently in a low oven (around 150C/300F/gas mark 2) until the liquid is simmering and the potatoesare hot all the way through. Remove the foil and, if the liquid is still covering the veg, skim a little off the top. Put under the grill briefly, so the top can brown, and serve piping hot.

6 Stuffings, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Fruity, herby sausagemeat stuffing

Hands-down my favourite Christmas stuffing. It's especially good if you add the finely chopped fresh liver of the bird (just one reason to buy a bird with giblets). It doesn't make the stuffingtaste livery, though; itjust adds a delicious richness anddepth of flavour. Makes enough for a3-4kg goose or turkey.

50g butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3-4 inner stems celery, plus leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
500g free-range pork shoulder, coarsely minced (or good-quality sausagemeat)
The liver of the bird you are stuffing (optional), finely chopped
250g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
6-8 large prunes, roughly chopped
1 large or 2 small dessert apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
150g soft white breadcrumbs
2 tsp each finely chopped thyme, sage and rosemary

Melt the butter in a frying pan over amedium-low heat. Add the onion and celery, season and sweat gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time totime, until soft and translucent. Take the pan off the heat and set aside to cool.

Once cold, thoroughly combine the onion and celery mixture in alarge bowl withallthe other ingredients – the easiestway to dothis is with your hands. Break offa tiny nugget of themixture, fryit gently until cooked through, and taste to checkthe seasoning. Add salt and pepper to the main mixas necessary.

Stuff the mixture under the neckskin of a chicken, turkey orgoose, and also put a little inthe cavity ofthe bird(don't pack it full,though,because then the stuffing, and the bird, may not cook through properly). Youcan also bakesome orall ofthe stuffing separately: packit into a shallow, buttered ovendish, orroll it into balls and place on alined baking tray. Eitherway, cook at 190C/375F/gasmark 5 for35-45 minutes, or untilcooked through.

Pear, pecan and blue cheesestuffing

I usually serve this as an accompaniment, rather than stuffing it inside a bird. It also works well as a vegetarian element in a Christmas spread. Serves four to six.

15g butter, plus extra to finish
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 tender celery stems, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium-ripe pear,peeled, cored and cut into 5-10mm cubes
50g wholemeal breadcrumbs
100g pecans, coarsely chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves
75g well-flavoured creamy blue cheese, such as Perl Las or Harbourne Blue, crumbled or chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly butter a square 20cm baking dish or similar. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and celery, and sweat gently until soft and translucent, about 15minutes. Stir in the garlic, cook for a few minutes, take off the heat and leave to cool.

Combine the onion mixture withthe pear, breadcrumbs, pecansand thyme, stir in the cheese, and season to taste. Packinto the buttered dish, dot with a little more butter and sprinkle with a little black pepper, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until goldenbrown on top.

7 Cookbooks, Felicity Cloake

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When it comes to the traditional festive menu, youcan't go wrong with the old favourites: dear Deliaand marvellous Mary will keepyoucalm and your potatoes crisp, even as all about you descendsintomadness. At this timeof year, culinary innovation israrely welcome.

That said, there's always room forimprovement, and cooks for whom every piece of packaging is an admission of defeat will welcome Tim Hayward's first book, Food DIY(Fig Tree, £25), which has all theinstructions for curing your ownsalmon for homemade gravadlax (or even building your own smoker, should you wish to hide in the garden for most of Advent), making your own terrines and pork pies, and producing all manner of festive booze, from French vin d'orange to sloe gin. Nicholas John Frith's illustrations are a further delight.

Those who expect a better ratio ofeffort to reward might prefer Simon Hopkinson Cooks (Ebury Press, £25), the new book from the legendary chef turned food writer (see his brilliant vegetarian recipe on page 37), which consists of 12 menus for occasions ranging from a grand fishlunch to a Sunday roast, many ofwhich fit the bill for festive entertaining. Hopkinson's idea of amenu is typically generous – evenbreakfast comes with an aperitif – and the book is packed fullof good things, such as candied orange peel, and currant tart, both of which would provevery useful at thistime of year. Plus, you get his wonderful writing, too. A real treat.

Last, a book I keep close to my heart all year round, but that is particularly apposite at Christmas: Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson's peerless Trifle (Prospect Books, £9.99), a slim volume that still manages to pack in more than 90 recipes for this British classic with its "carousel of flavours, colours and textures". As much a historical whodunnit as a cookbook, it offers adventurous sorts the opportunity to ring the changes, with Hannah Glasse's 1751 macaroon trifle oraMexican take on the dishinvolving crystallised cactus; orindeed Marguerite Patten's familiar postwar version, with its stewedfruit and "custard sauce". Armed with this, the world is yourtrifle.

8 An alternative festive ham, Fergus Henderson

This is perhaps my favourite way to cook ham; it looks spectacular, too, which is just the thing at Christmas. The hay imbues the meat with the most wonderful and unusual flavour, while insulating it from any fierce heat. It also fills your home with rustic, pastoral smells, as well as those of cloves and juniper, both very festive. Sadly, the hay is not edible. You will need a pot large enough to fit a whole leg of bacon. Serves 12; ifyou are fewer, have leftovers cold on Boxing Day and beyond.

1 big bundle hay (organic, for obvious reasons: try a friendly farmer, or ask around, or go to a pet store)
10 juniper berries
14 black peppercorns
10 cloves
6 bay leaves
1 leg of green gammon (hind leg, unsmoked bacon with bone in)

Make a base of hay in a big pot, sprinkle on the spices and bay leaves, and lay the ham in the hay nest. Cover with more hay around the sides and on top. Add water to cover, bring to a boil, then straight away turn down to the gentlest of simmers. Put on a lid and cook, either in a low oven or onthe stovetop, making sure it's not boiling too fast. Simmer until thehamis cooked and tender all theway through: check by probing with a thin, sharp knife. It will take anything from three and a half to four and ahalf hours.

Serve with swede mash (ideally, made with goose or duck fat): the pink ham and the orange swede looklike sunset on a plate.

Fergus Henderson is chef/patron of StJohn and St John Bread & Wine, both in London. The Complete Nose ToTail, acompendium of his first twobooks, is published by Bloomsbury at £30. Toorder a copy for £22, with free p&p, go to

9 Christmas playlist, Cerys Matthews

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Even if it rains at Christmas, or if it snows, blows, hails or darkens the Earth altogether, itwill be fine: it'salog-fire moment, a sofa day, roast-turkey-dripping-in-hot-savoury-gravy day, children dribbling over new toys, parents sighing with relief… I love every moment. Socompiling this list offestive songs is a joy, apart from thereminder that there are actuallyafull 24 more days (including a two-week UK tour forme), before the joyof slipper-wearing holiday arrives. But, for now, a little look ahead.

1 Before there's any chance of spotting Santa coming down the chimney, most people have a long stretch of tarmac to negotiate, sowe'll start here, with a good family car singalong song to occupythe non-sleeping children. Cue Take Me Home, Country RoadsJohn Denver's or Toots And The Maytals' version: it's just what's needed for the long drive to the oldfamily home.

2 Journey over, the back door opens to reveal humanoids you haven't lived with in around two decades, not to mention the shadowy figures of those siblings you fought with for most of your early years. Regression is immediate, but take a deep breath. It is Christmas, and get over the flying ceramic ducks and polycotton sheets (note to self: leave metropolitan snobbery at the back door). This is the yuletide bliss everyone's been planning for, so be sweet. Put on the Christmas playlist – loud, because most of us in this house are deaf now, or on our way there. First up: Clarence Carter's Back Door Santa. Clarence, sounding like Tom Jones on a James Bond mission, turns north Pembrokeshire into the Mississippi, and immediately all cats are cool.

3 In the morning, get the party moving with the classic Go Tell It OnThe Mountain, by Smokey Robinson. What a song to sing at the top of your lungs, while tenderly stringing up that wretched 15lb turkey and stuffing the hell out of it.

4 Cooking in full swing now, change up the set: the woman who holds the record for most recorded artist is upnext. Asha Bhosle sings Karle Pyar Karle, and the fun she brings toproceedings is remarkable. Iprogrammed this song to play in my first ever radio show on BBC 6 Music, when I took over the airwaves from Stephen Merchant. Since then, this song about love has become a Christmas staple for us at the station. Asha's optimism and joie de vivre are perfect: she sprinkles magic over the menial tasks of trimming the brussels sprouts, peeling the potatoes and other assorted vegetables that you must not mess around with. Classic Christmas recipes here, no fancy would-be-chef kind of meddling – no bacon lardons, no blue cheese. No messing, hear?

5 At this point, of course, the bottles of prosecco have been emptied and the brothers have opened their bottles of horrendous new-world wines. Red wine lips and moustaches become the facial accessory of the day, so I slip on this little nugget: Joseph Spence singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Joseph is a guitar-playing Bahamian noted for his grunts and humming embellishments. It does sound like he has drunk all those shirazes, though I gather he hadn't. Idefy anyone not to love this.

6 There's always time for a Gay Gordon or a little kitchen ceilidh to try to find that second wind, because we haven't eaten yet and it's already 3pm, the recycling is well and truly overspilling on to the carpets and the smokers are fogging up the lounge. Kilts on, then, Scottish country jig it is: blast out Sir Jimmy Shand's Bluebell Polka to get the energy flowing again.

7 At last to the table. Pull the crackers, if the children have left any (as if we didn't notice), hats on, jokes read, and eat to a sweet run ofsongs starting with What's That Tastes Like Gravy? by King David's Jug Band for some old-time genius.

8 Potato Head Blues by Louis Armstrong And His Hot 7, because it's always time for Louis and hisbands.

9 Gene Nelson singing Tiptoe Through The Tulips With Me to remind Auntie Mary that we are stillat the table and that she might eat some of the puddin that nobody really has room for.

10 And now I'll be bold: to get the young at heart dancing, I'll throw onmy Baby, It's Cold Outside album. It is, in my experience, total anarchy recording a festive album. You find the biggest percussion box and spill its contents around the studio: boomwhackers (that plastic tube you swing wildly round your head to create a spooky "oh" sound), coconut shells (for Mary's donkey tirelessly plodding on to Jerusalem) and assorted glockenspiels and xylophones to liven up tunes that might date back to medieval times. Recording the single Baby, It's Cold Outside with Tom Jones was no less fun. We had a Christmas tree, fairy lights and tinsel on a bright and blazing hot summer day, and we jam-packed the dark belly of the studio with the greatest British musicians, including Ianto Thomas on drums. As soon as that opening drum fill started, adrenaline pumped and we were off. The song was recorded live, which is always a pleasure: we made three passes, kept the first and that was it. If youlisten closely, you can hear ourvoices distort through the microphones – old school. I always tease Tom that the red needle in the studio jumped further when I sang. The truth is, we all belted it out that very special Christmas day in June.

11 But it's December now, the kitchen belches, the lights are low, it's wind-down time. Retire in front of the fire and snore to Lay, Lady, Lay, by Bob Dylan, and Nat King Cole's O Tannenbaum.

12 Mahalia Jackson's Christmas –thewhole LP. All hail Mahalia! Apriceless, precious, love-filled Christmas album with an iconic cover. Check out O Holy Night and literally, "Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices, oh night divine, oh night divine." It will flooryou. Mahalia at her spirit-filled best will beckon even those with thecoldest hearts to her heavenly, generous breast. And with this glorious, loving soul still ringing through the house, climb into bed and pray that Santa will maybe getjust one thing rightthisyear.

To listen to Cerys Matthews' playlist, go to Guardian Music on Spotify

10 Crackers, Felicity Cloake

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However sleekly minimalist your Christmas table, there's always room for a cracker or two, and the more beautiful, the better. Although you can get them filled with champagne stoppers and silver-plated tea infusers (£500,, or pink Hello Kitty hats (£5, Tesco), let's be honest: all anyone really wants from a cracker is that it looks glitzy and goes off with a bang.

If you'd prefer to ensure you won't end up sweeping the gifts intothe bin along with the ancient jokes and flimsy paper crowns, andthat no blood is spilt over that brainteaser puzzle, there are plenty of options for fill-your-own crackers, with Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Hobbycraft all offering the chance ofa bit of Christmas craft. These arefun to make with childrenas well, provided there's nocunning marking of which little treat goes where (wrapping them up beforehand is a good way to maintain the mystique until the day itself).

Those who are more concerned with having something to look gorgeous on the table than what's inside, however, are spoilt for choicethis year. Scottish fashion designer Holly Fulton has brought her signature graphic prints to a stylish range of crackers for Fortnum & Mason (Holly Fulton crackers, £100 for six,, which look discreetly festive, while Meri Meri's Snap Bang Pop crackers (£15 for six, Harvey Nichols) have a bolder, pop art feel to them.

Carluccio's La Sorpresa crackers (£12.95 for six) are also graphically rather pleasing for adults and children alike, while those with small people will no doubt be finding the sweet little gingerbread men that decorate Selfridges' red-and-white gingham crackers (£60 for six) around the house for weeks to come. Which may be more than you can say for all those wonky padlocks and tiny screwdrivers.

11 Gravy, Simon Rimmer

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One for meat eaters, one for vegetarians. Both serve 10-12.

Meat gravy

You can apply the principle to any roast meat. Iroast my turkey on abed of vegetables, to get extra flavour both into the bird and, especially, the gravy. Make it while the turkey is resting.

2 tbsp flour
500ml red wine
50ml port
150ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Spoon 90% of the fat out of the turkey roasting tin, put the tray on the stovetop and, on medium heat, mash the roasted veg and any scraps of meat into the juices. Add the flour, cook for five minutes, to create a sort-of-roux, then add the wine and port and bring to a boil. Add the stock, simmer for 15 minutes, adjust the seasoning and strain into a jug or gravy boat.

Vegetarian gravy

A little vegetable oil
6 onions, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp vegetarian gravy browning (orsoy sauce)
1 450ml can bitter
1 tbsp sugar (or honey)
200ml stock
2 tbsp butter

Heat the oil in a large, deep-sided pan, and gently fry the onion and garlic for 12 minutes, until soft and golden. Stir in the tomato purée and cook ona low heat for six minutes. Add everything else except the butter, bring to a boil and reduce for 15-20 minutes. Purée the gravy, return to the pan and bring back to aboil. Whisk in the butter and serve.

Simon Rimmer is chef-patron of Earle and Greens, both in Manchester, and co-presenter of Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. His latest book, Men Love Pies, Girls Like Hummus, is published by Mitchell Beazley at £16.99. Toorder a copy for £13.59, including free p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

12 Roast potatoes, Heston Blumenthal

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Roast potatoes just the way I like them, with a crisp, glass-like crust and a fluffy interior. Don't stint on the oil: it is the fat gathering in the cracks that makes the potatoes so crisp. And it is important to boil the spuds until they are starting tobreak apart. Serves six.

1.25kg large maris piper potatoes
1 whole head of garlic, separated intocloves and each bashed once withthe flat of aknife (or by hand)
35g rosemary sprigs
Beef dripping
Olive oil

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Wash and peel the potatoes, and cut them into quarters. Put the peeled spuds into a bowl, place in the sink under the cold tap and leave under cold running water for five minutes, to wash off the starch.

Cover the potatoes with water in a large saucepan, add half the garlic cloves and 30g of the rosemary, and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and beginning to break apart (about 25–30 minutes). Drain carefully (you don't want them to break up) and leave to cool in the colander (pick out the garlic).

Pour beef dripping and olive oil (50:50 ratio) to a depth of 5mm into a roasting tray large enough to hold the potatoes in one layer, and heat in the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the potatoes to the tray, stir gently to coat in the hot fat and return to the oven for at least an hour and 15 minutes, gently turning every 20 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and crisp all over.

After the spuds have been cooking for an hour, add the remaining rosemary and garlic, stir and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper and season with salt.

Heston Blumenthal is chef-patron of The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head in Bray, and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London. His latest book, Historic Heston, is published by Bloomsbury at £125. To order a copy for £75, including free UK mainland p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

13 A vegetarian alternative, Simon Hopkinson

Tomato curry

The Christmas feast is essentially a tarted up Sunday roast, that most British of meals, but curry doesn't lag far behind in the national popularity stakes. This isn't just one of my favourite vegetarian dishes; it's one of my favourite dishes full stop. Serve with a lemony pilau rice and cucumber raita. Serves four.

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
10 cardamom pods
½ tbsp fennel seeds
½ tbsp black mustard seeds
6 cloves
2 star anise
2 tbsp sunflower oil (or other neutraloil)
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
400ml coconut milk
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 small handful curry leaves
12 medium tomatoes
2 branches fresh green peppercorns
1-2 tsp sugar (depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes)
6-7 healthy sprigs coriander

In a frying pan, lightly toast the first seven whole spices until aromatic. Heat the oil in a wide, shallow pot, add the toasted spices, fry for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, then add the turmeric and salt. Stir in the coconut milk, tamarind and curry leaves, bring to a simmer and cook quietly for 15 minutes. With a stick blender, blitz the mix for 30 seconds, just to break up the spices, and take off the heat. Skin and core the tomatoes, and pick the peppercorns.

Pass the sauce through a fine sieve and return it to the (washed up) pot. Put the tomatoes in the sauce, removed core side down, and add thepeppercorns. Simmer until the tomatoes have softened and the saucehas become a touch thicker: about 15-20 minutes. Taste the sauceto see if it needs a touch of sugar or more salt, stir in the coriander and serve.

Cucumber raita

1 large cucumber, peeled and grated
1 tsp salt
300g plain yoghurt (not Greek)
A little lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled, crushed and finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped mint
Coarsely grate the cucumber and sprinkle over the salt. Mix well, put into a colander and suspend over a deep bowl. Leave for about 30 minutes, or a bit longer, it matters not. Manually, squeeze out excess moisture from the cucumber, then place it in a bowl and mix in the yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic, chilli and mint. Decant into a serving dish and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Lemon pilau rice

40g butter, plus an extra knob to finish
1 small onion, finely chopped
200g basmati rice (I always use Tilda and I don't wash it first)
320ml water
1 bay leaf
1 small lemon, zest removed with a potato peeler in thin strips and the juice squeezed into a small jug
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A small knob of extra butter

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter in a roomy pot that also has a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and cook gently until lightly coloured. Tip in the rice and stir around a bit until well coated. Pour in the water, add the bay and slowly bring up to a simmer. Meanwhile, finely cut the strips of lemon zest into small slivers and pop in the pot, together with a little salt and pepper. Once the rice is simmering, put on the lid, slide into the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, don't lift off the lid, and leave to sit for five minutes. Now take off the lid, fluff up the rice with a fork while also pouring in the lemon juice. Lay a tea towel over the pan and then clamp the lid on tight. Leave it be for another five minutes; this allows the rice to steam, which will then be absorbed by the towel. Finally, remove the lid and towel – a wonderful, fragrant scent will emanate from the pot – and stir in the knob of butter to glisten the rice.

Simon Hopkinson's latest book, Simon Hopkinson Cooks, is published by Ebury at £25. To order a copy for £20, including free UK mainland p&p, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

14 Winter wonderland cake Frances Quinn

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This is a magical centrepiece, and lighter than the traditional fruit cake. Apart from a little time spent on the decorations, the cake itself is incredibly easy and quick to make.

For the ginger cake
125g slightly salted butter
125g dark muscovado sugar
125g golden syrup
125g black treacle
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground ginger
250ml milk
1 large egg
Butter, for greasing

For the decoration
250g white fondant icing
Edible silver balls
100g Mint Imperials
100g Fox's Glacier Mints
150g desiccated coconut
Icing sugar and silver edible glitter, todust

Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan-assisted)/375F/gas mark 6. For theginger cake, in a large pan over medium heat, melt together the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon. Once everything has dissolved and combined, remove from the heat and set aside to coolslightly.

Meanwhile, sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Measure the milk into a jug and beat in the egg. Pour the syrup mixture nto the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, then add the milk and egg and combine.

Lightly grease a suitably festive cake tin or mould – I use Nordic Ware's Holiday Bundt Tree Pan – pour the mix into the tin and bake for about 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out fairly clean from the centre. Leave to cool in the tin, thenturn out.

While the cake is baking, get on with the decorations. Knead the fondant icing until smooth, then roll out to about 0.5cm thick. Using snowflake cutters of various sizes, stamp out about 30 different snowflake shapes. Lay these on baking parchment on a flat surface, and carefully press in the silver balls. With the trimmings, roll out small snowball shapes (smaller than the Mint Imperials). Ideally, leave both the snowflakes and snowballs to harden overnight.

For the Glacier Mint shards, put the still-wrapped sweets in a plastic bag, place this on a tea towel and hit with a rolling pin so the mints break into large-ish pieces.

Once everything is ready, place the cake on a plate or cake stand, and dust with icing sugar. Surround and decorate with desiccated coconut, fondant snowflakes and snowballs, Mint Imperial snowballs and the shards of Glacier Mints. Finally lightly dust with silver edible glitter. To make the cake even more magical, stick mini indoor sparklers into the tips of the trees, ready to setalight any festive table.

Frances Quinn won the 2013 series ofThe Great British Bake Off.

15 Champagne or sparkling wine? Fiona Beckett

We're easily persuaded that we need at least one bottle of bubbly to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, but does it have to be champagne?

There won't be any shortage of half-price offers, but that still does not make champagne a cheap option for a crowd. If you're having a party, you'd be better off with a good sparkler such as Marks & Spencer's attractively creamy Conte Priuli prosecco (on offer at £6.99; 11% abv), which, unlike many of its rivals, has real character; Aldi's ever-reliable Crémant du Jura, £6.99 (12.5% abv); or Tesco's attractively soft, appley Finest Blanquette de Limoux (£9.99, though buy it as part of a mixed case before the end of tomorrow, you'll get 25% off; 12% abv).

If nothing but the real thing will do, however, how much should you pay? I'd be wary of champagnes that cost less than £10; try a bottle before you buy a case. Own-brands are good value if you don't mind having a supermarket name plastered all over the label; Sainsbury's and Waitrose both have good ranges.

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The big names are generally overpriced, even with a £10 reduction (Bollinger was on particularly disappointing form at a recent tasting). You're better off with less well known houses such as Ayala (ironically owned by Bolly), whose Brut Majeur (12.5% abv) would make a perfect pre-Christmas dinner aperitif. Note the best prices when I checked were not at a supermarket: Waitrose has it for £23.99 until Tuesday, but Hennings and Underwood Wine Warehouse, stock it for £22.25 and £22.50, respectively. Check before you buy.

Another good bet, if you can find it on special offer, is Piper-Heidsieck's rich-tasting, non-vintage champagne (12% abv). Its "normal" price is £30 (at Asda, Sainsbury's, Ocado and Waitrose), though I've spotted it as low as £18.

It may also strike you as odd that vintage champagne, which is only made in (theoretically) exceptional years and aged longer than non-vintage fizz, can be the same price or cheaper. The Co-op's excellent Les Pionniers 2004 (normally £26.99) is on offer at £23.99 from Wednesday, which is at least £15 less than you'd pay for Moët's rather delicious 2004 (12.6% abv), though that, too, is reasonable compared with some grandes marques. The Wine Reserve in Cobham has it for £39.99 at the time of writing, Asda for £43.

The current fashion, however, is for growers' champagnes, which are made from grapes grown by the producer rather than blended from vineyards all over the region. Marks& Spencer has just added three to its range of which Iparticularly like the seductively rich, honeyed Lionel Carreau Cuvée Préembulles (£36; 12% abv), which unusually contains a percentage of pinot blanc. That's one for posh seafood such as lobster or scallops.

16 Foodie stocking fillers, Felicity Cloake

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Food, happily, is an interest that, unlike archery or folk dancing, lends itself to some cracking stocking fillers. Atit* simplest, this just means something to munch on between mince pies, such as these chunky little C181 Venuezelan milk chocolate robots from Dorset-based Chococo (£3.50 a pack, the connoisseur's equivalent of a selection pack.

Some tiny pots of spice should brighten up dark January days; is a good source ofinteresting little things such asfrankincense resin, while a dinky jar of Gran Luchito smoked chilli paste (£5, is sure to perk up even the blandest bit of turkey. The rich, complex flavour, with its hints of sweet agave and garlic, is great stirred into chilli, oras acondiment with cold cuts of almost anything.

Those whose interests tend more towards the bibulous side of things, or who feel that one should start treating oneself early at Christmas, might like Marks & Spencer's miniature bottle of Special Reserve Port (£5), which comes complete with its own woolly jumper, though you certainly won't need one yourself if you neck the whole thing before breakfast.

Whether the marvellous dogs ofLondon print from the British Library shop has anything to do with food is debatable; it's supposedto be a tea towel (£10), butI think I'drather put it in on thewall than dry my champagne flutes with it. Featuring 15 breeds representing 15postcodes around the capital, theGuardian appears tobe a bassethound. Fearless snifferout of truth, or wrinkly andponderous: you decide.

17 Where to buy seafood: a chef's guide, Nathan Outlaw

Smoked fish Tregida: I've used this smokehouse for my salmon since 2003. It's superbly smoked, to just the right level, and has lovely, firm, dry flesh. They do hampers, too.

Also try Gigha Halibut for award-winning, artisan, environmentally-sound Scottish smoked halibut; and Severn & Wye Smokery or brilliant sustainable smoked eel.

Crabs and lobsters Fresh From The Sea, Port Isaac, Cornwall: I get all my crabs and lobbies live from Calum, who is the fisherman, and Tracy, who runs this little shop – they're a great husband-and-wife team, and are also part of the responsible fishing scheme, but Idoubt everyone will want to schlepp down to Cornwall to buy your Christmas crab or lobster over thecounter. So you could do a lot worse than follow the recommendation of my fellow fish obsessive, Mitch Tonks, who swears by Britannia Shellfish in Devon.

Oysters Porthilly oysters: family-owned and operated, the oysters on this farm are grown on the River Camel estuary near my home. They won gold at this year's British Oyster Championship.

Also try Rock Shellfish.

Shellfish and wet fish The Cornish Fishmonger: delivers quality seafood to your home within 24 hours. It's all bought daily from the fishmarkets of Looe, Newlyn, Plymouth and Brixham.

Nathan Outlaw is chef-patron of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, Cornwall, and Outlaw's at the Capital in London. His book, BritishSeafood, is published by Quadrille at£25. To order a copy for £20, including free mainland p&p, goto

18 Sauces, Felicity Cloake

Bread and walnut sauce

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I always have to make double helpings of bread sauce at Christmas, such is the family obsession with this milky medieval favourite. To behonest, I don't think the classic recipe can be improved on, but here is a slightly different take, inspired by Ligurian walnut sauce. The slightly bitter nuts add texture and richness, without going down the cloying cream route favoured by many chefs, and it makes a delicious combination with the cranberry relish below. Serves six.

1 clove garlic
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
550ml whole milk
100g shelled walnuts
100g white breadcrumbs
50g butter
1 small bunch sage, leaves finelychopped

Crush the garlic once with the flat ofa knife, and put it unpeeled into a saucepan with the peppercorns, bay leaf and milk. Bring to just below a boil, then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Scoop out the garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns, if you can find them, and discard.

Meanwhile, pulse the walnuts to fine crumbs in a food processor: be careful not to take them too far, or you'll end up with an oily mess.

Put the milk back on a low heat and add the breadcrumbs. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, then stir in the walnuts, butter and most of the sage, and season to taste. Top with the remaining sage and serve.

Roasted cranberry and clementinerelish

Inspired by an American Thanksgiving recipe, this fairly chunky relish roasts the fruit, rather than stewing it, which intensifies itswonderfully tart flavour. Sweet seasonal clementines and toffeeish sugar balance things out nicely. This can be made a few days ahead, and kept in an airtight jar in the fridge until required. Serves six.

2 clementines
500g cranberries (thawed if frozen)
175g soft light brown sugar
4 cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
Dash of olive oil
2 tbsp port

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Use a peeler to remove the peel from the clementines, and cut this into thin strips. Juice the peeledclementines and set aside.

Tip the cranberries into a bowl and toss with the strips of peel, sugar, spices and a littleoil. Spread out on a baking trayand roast for about 10 minutes, until the fruit starts to burst. Tip thelot back into the bowl, and stir inthe clementine juice and port. Leave to cool for about an hour before serving.

Spiced quince and mustard jam

The quince, an aromatic relative of the apple, is in season in Britain until theend of December, even though it's often mistakenly thought of as an autumnal fruit. Like its cousin, it makes a wonderful pairing with pork, in particular. Thesweet spices in this simple recipe make it an especially goodpartner for the Christmas ham,but it's also awinner with a good cheddar or other hard cheese.

500g ripe quinces
1 shallot, finely chopped
100ml cider vinegar
175g light muscovado sugar
5cm root ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp mustard powder

Peel the quinces, cut them into sixes, remove the cores, then roughly chop the flesh.Put the fruitin a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and leave to cook for half an hour, until soft. Drain, then mash orwhizz in a food processor until fairly smooth.

Put the quince back in the pan with theremaining ingredients, except for the mustard seeds and powder. Cook for about 20 minutes, until thick, then take off the heat, stir inthe seeds and mustard powder, and set aside to cool until it's tepid. Decant into a sterilised jar.

Felicity Cloake's latest book, PerfectHost, is published by Penguinat £20. To order a copy for£14, go to, or call 0330 333 6846.

19 Chefs' festive cheats Raymond Blanc

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Always rest your meat Whenever you cook a large cut of meat, make sure you rest it after cooking: anything from 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the joint. This gives the residual heat time to penetrate and relax the meat, giving it more tenderness. You can have your meat cooked at least two hours before your guests arrive. Once rested, wrap the joint in tin foil and place in a preheated oven at 50C. This will keep the meat hot, but won't cook it any more, so it stays flavourful, moist and tender.

Roast joints on caramelised bones Ialways do this, for two reasons: bones add flavour and create a tasty jus; and the heat circulates around thejoint, cooking it evenly.

Steeped winter fruits Instead of poaching winter berries in a large pan in a whole bottle of wine, put your fresh berries in a zip-lock bag with just one glass of boiled red or white wine, and poach in a saucepan of barely simmering water until just soft and cooked through. You really won't notice the difference.

Sprouts Don't waste time making a cross incision on the bottom of all your sprouts. A day ahead, blanch them gently for three minutes, refresh in iced water and store in the fridge. On the day, cut the sprouts in half and sauté them with smoked bacon lardons in a little duck fat until golden brown, and finish with some chopped cooked chestnuts.

Turkey At my cookery school, I'm often asked how you cook a large turkey or goose for long enough to cook the legs without drying out the breast meat. Well, ask your butcher to remove the legs, and cook these a day ahead, until done. The next day, reheat the legs very gently, leaving you time to focus on cooking the crown to perfection.

Planning Don't leave everything to the last minute; spread the load over the preceding weeks or even month. Got a freezer? Then use it.

Pastry for the mince pies can be made in advance, rolled out to the right thickness and frozen. Make cranberry sauce a week in advance and store it in the fridge (if you freeze it, you can make it even further ahead). And make brandy butter up to a month ahead: roll it into a sausage shape, wrap in cling-film and freeze until needed.

Salt-baked vegetables Don't waste time peeling, chopping and mashing all your veg. Instead, trysomething different that savestime and has areal impact.A whole celeriac baked ina crust of egg white and salt is arevelation, and easy, too. The same goes for potatoes and swede. Just don't eat the crust.

Chocolate truffles For the easiest chocolate truffles, bring 300ml of whipping cream to a boil with 15g ofhoney, pour on to 300g of chopped 70% cocoa (ie good quality) chocolate, and stir until thechocolate has melted and themixture is smooth and amalgamated. This is the base for your chocolate truffles.

When the mixture has cooled to around 35C-40C, add whatever flavours take your fancy: orange zestand Grand Marnier; kirsch andmorello cherries; rum and raisins – the options are just about endless. Once flavoured, pour the mixture into a small shallow tray, refrigerate until set, then cut into cubes, or roll into balls, and dust with cocoa powder.

Ham Replace the traditional ham joint with two ham hocks: they takeless time to cook, they are cheaper and the stock from the cooking liquor can be turned into the most wonderful soups and sauces. You'll easily get two to three servings out of each hock,though Isuppose that depends on how big your appetite is. Joyeux Noël.

Raymond Blanc is chef-patron of LeManoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxford. His latest book, Kitchen Secrets, is published by Bloomsbury at £16.99. To order acopy for £13.99, including UKmainland p&p, go to

20 In praise of the pomegranate Anissa Helou

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I imagine that each of us has a place where he or she was especially happyas a child. Mine was Mashta el-Helou, my father's ancestral village in Syria, where we spent summers on my aunt's farm. She grew everything: wheat, vegetables, fruit. She also had cows and chickens, and baked her own bread. I don't remember her ever buying any food. Her fruit trees were in the orchard across the lane, and every day Iwould go looking for perfectly ripe fruit.

My favourites then (and now) were figs, jujube and pomegranates, but the pomegranates needed a little planning. I would take a blanket from the house to spread under the tree, and a knife from the kitchen. Then I'd line up my freshly picked pomegranates and decide which to tackle first.

My mother had taught me how to cut the top and bottom off the fruit, then to score the skin, following the line of the pith, so I could open it up in neat wedges. As I opened it, I'd splatter alittle juice over the blanket, and every day my mother would chide me for staining it; at the same time she was amused by my passion for picking, preparing and eating my own fruit, so she didn't stop me. The little red jewels within are perhaps why pomegranates are so popular at Christmas, like the best edible decorations imaginable.

I would sit under that tree, patiently peeling, and only then would Istart slowly easing the seeds off the pith until I had a mouthful's worth, which I'd pop in my mouth for a moment of bliss. If a seed or two rolled away from me, Iwould reach for them, not wanting to waste any of my precious harvest. And when I had finished mylast wedge, Ialways felt a little sad, not only because I had no more left, but also because the entertainment was over. Mind you, all I had to do then was get up andpick another pomegranate.

Anissa Helou's latest book, Levant, ispublished by Harper Collins at £20. To order a copy for £16, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

21 The essential cheeseboard Neal's Yard Dairy

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What makes a good (British) cheeseboard? Well, first considerthe audience. Are they adventurous or traditionalist? And then consider the time of year: what's in season? Remember, in these colder months, more robustly flavoured cheese is required. Also, make sure you have avariety of texture and taste, age and milk type. Finally, a small choice is always best, no more than three to five cheeses; you don't want to overwhelm your guests with choice.

In our book, the centrepiece to any Christmas cheeseboard has to be stilton: we'd recommend Colston Bassett stilton or Stichelton, a raw milk blue from Nottinghamshire (and made, incidentally, by one of Neal's Yard Dairy's original founders, Randolph Hodgson).

Cheddar would have to be on there, too, be it a drier-textured one with meaty, savoury flavours such asMontgomery's from North Cadbury; a smoother, creamy, sharp cheddar such as Keen's from Wincanton; or something a little funky such as Isle of Mull cheddar.

For the remaining cheeses, if you want to keep things traditional, go for a farmhouse cheshire (Appleby's is a favourite in the shop) or alancashire (Kirkham's, if you can get it), wensleydale or caerphilly.

As far as soft cheese is concerned, we'd recommend Tunworth, acamembert-style cheese from Hampshire; or sneak in a bit of non-British brie; or, if you can find it, a slice of Baron Bigod, a brie-style cheese from Bungay in Suffolk.

Most seasonal goat's and ewe's milk cheese won't be available until spring, but you may be able to get hold of one of Joe Bennett's goat's milk cheeses, Innes Log or Innes Brick. And, for the adventurous, how about one of the smelly, washed, rinded cheeses? Ireland produces a few, notably Ardrahan and Gubbeen.

With all the hard cheeses, asweetchutney works incredibly well – try something like Old Yorkshire or Spiced Plum by Rosebud – butfresh fruit is an evenbetter accompaniment to all the characters on a good cheeseboard: end-of-season apples for cheddars and cheshires, ripe, juicy pears for the blues, and Christmas cake for wensleydale, lancashire andcaerphilly.

And, if you're serving them, keepyour choice of biscuits simple: they shouldn't distract attention from the stars of the show. Oatcakes or water biscuits are your best bet, though sweet, digestive-style biscuits work well with creamy stilton or tangy cheshire.

Neal's Yard Dairy has three shops in London, and sells cheese nationwide by mail order; go to for more details.

22 Table decorations, Felicity Cloake

Even if you're the kind of person who generally decorates their table with knives, forks and apiece of kitchen paper per person on Sundays, at Christmas, more is definitely more. That doesn't necessarily mean a row of singing Santas gyrating amid the veg, or indeed the sinister-sounding "cherub table bomb", available from Fortnum & Mason, butit does demand a little effort over and above the usual.

Festive versions of your normal tableware are a good start: instead of putting hot dishes down on poor old Delia's Christmas Collection, go for John Lewis's felt snowflake runner (£15,; or, forreal glitz, a gorgeous set of gold Dahlia placemats (£14,

Tablecloths and napkins are another easy way to set the scene; unless you really do use them only once a year, choose some in Christmassy colours that are versatile enough to use all year round, such as John Lewis's geometric snowflake numbers (£12for four,

Candles always feel festive, and the flickering light bouncing off the glassware is worth any number of shiny baubles or glittery snakes of tinsel. Simple metal candlesticks, or even tea lights in heatproof glass jars, work just fine, but to give your table a baronial feel, you can't beat a bit of antler action (£25,

If the Christmas feast isn't decoration enough for you, other seasonal foodstuffs are an easy way to brighten up a table: a glass vase crammed full of clementines, or walnuts, or a few artfully scattered cinnamon sticks should do the trick; they also smell distinctively more festive than a ring of plastic holly.

For some of us, 1 December represents a happy excuse to break out the knick-knacks that good taste compels us to hide for the other 11 months of the year: the pink flock polar bear, that glittery donkey and reindeer, and, from now on, these wonderful resin reindeer and birds (£3.99 each, At Christmas, joyfully, anything goes.

23 Leftover turkey taco Thomasina Miers

The ultimate food lovers' advent calendar (17)

Salpicón is a salad that you stuff into soft tacos, or into flour tortillas filled with beans and rice, to make aburrito; you can also ladle it over tostadas (small tortillas fried or baked until crisp). It is a great way to use up leftover turkey. You can serve it cold, but I much prefer it warm and alive with the flavours of smoky chipotle and sweet apple. Serves four.

6-7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and finelychopped
3 sticks celery, cut in half lengthways and finely chopped
1 tsp chipotles en adobo or a few pinches dried chilli flakes
1 handful oregano, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper
2 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
500g leftover turkey meat, shredded
1 Braeburn apple
1 small handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Corn tacos or tortillas, to serve

For the salsa
1 avocado
1-2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 fresh chilli, finely chopped

Pour three or four tablespoons of oil into a saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the shallots for a few minutes, then add the celery, chilli and oregano. Season with salt and cook until the celery has softened alittle. Add half the citrus juices, cookfor afew minutes longer, then add the turkey and warm through.

Peel, core and cut the apple into 0.5cm dice, and stir through the salpicón with half the coriander. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and add extra lime and/or orange juice, chipotle and olive oil as needed.

For the salsa, dice the avocado and mix with the remaining lime juice to stop it discolouring. Stir in the spring onions, chilli, coriander and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Serve with black beans, rice and tortillas, so everyone can make their own tacos, or on a crisp tostada.

Thomasina Miers runs the Wahaca chain of Mexican restaurants, and is one of the driving forces behind The Pig Idea, a campaign to lift the EU ban on feeding food waste to pigs.

24 Christmas Eve fish pie Tom Kerridge

The ultimate food lovers' advent calendar (18)

I use salmon, smoked haddock and prawns as the fishy element in thispie, but you canmix and matchthem with whatever seafoodtakes yourfancy. Instead ofmashed potato, which I find gives a fish pie the same consistency all the way through, Iprefer to use puffpastry. Not only does it look lovely once baked, but the crust adds another texture to the dish. Serves eight.

180g butter
4 leeks, sliced and washed
Salt and pepper
400ml milk
800ml stock (chicken, fish orvegetable)
80g flour
Nutmeg, for grating
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped tarragon
500g diced salmon fillet
500g diced smoked haddock
400g raw prawns
750g block all-butter puff pastry
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp double cream

Rub the inside of a 2.5-litre pie dish with 50g of the butter. In a large pan, melt another 50g of butter, add the leeks, season and sweat down until just cooked. Tip the leeks into the pie dish.

In a large pot, bring the milk and stock to a boil. In a separate pan, meltthe remaining 80g of butter, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes, to form aroux.Slowly add the boiled stockand milk to the roux and cookuntil thickened. Season with salt, pepper, some freshly grated nutmeg and the lemon zest, and setaside to cool. When cool, stir in the chopped herbs.

Scatter the diced fish evenly over the cooked leeks, then sprinkle on the prawns. Pour the cooled sauce over the top.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to about 0.5cm thick, then cut into long, thin strips. Mix together the egg yolks and double cream, and use this to brush the sides of the pie dish. Lay a few strips of puff pastry in one direction over the top of the pie, then interweave more strips through them at a right angle, going under and over the first batch to create alatticework, weave-style pattern; this is quite a tricky process, so take your time. Once all the pastry strips are in place, brush all over with the remaining egg mix and refrigerate.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and bake the pie for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden, the sauce is bubbling through the lattice holes and the fish is cooked.

Serve piping hot. Salad or peas?Both.

The ultimate food lovers' advent calendar (2024)


What is the world's most offensive advent calendar? ›

The world's most offensive advent calendar! A 25 day advent countdown - each day features a delicious chocolate treat AND a spectacularly offensive insult! Gift this to your mates, your husband, your boss - just make sure they are thick-skinned, as this advent calendar doesn't pull any punches!

Who makes the best Advent calendars? ›

Our Favorite Advent Calendars of 2023
  • Best for Bread Lovers. Bonne Maman 2023 Advent Calendar. Read more. ...
  • Best for Self-Care. Lush Advent Calendar. Read more. ...
  • Best-Smelling Advent Calendar. Immortal Perfumes Gothic Perfume Advent Calendar. Read more. ...
  • Best for Chocoholics. Godiva Holiday Classic Chocolate Advent Calendar. Read more.
Nov 16, 2023

What is the most expensive advent calendar in the world? ›

According to Billionaire's Luxury Portal, this one was custom made for a family in Switzerland by artist Debbie Wingham and it cost them a whopping $10.3 million (£8.1 million) to buy the whole thing.

Which Advent calendar is worth buying? ›

Packed with everything you'll need to create all of your festive season looks the By Terry advent calendar for 2023 is filled with treats for the make-up lover in your life. This luxurious Christmas advent calendar contains 10 make-up & skincare must-haves in full size, 12 travel sizes and two face and eye brushes.

Is the Advent calendar Catholic or Protestant? ›

Who celebrates Advent? While some of the traditions of Advent are seen leading up to the Christmas holiday, Advent itself is associated with Western Christianity — Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans and many other Protestant churches mark the roughly month-long period with special observance.

How much does a Tiffany and Co advent calendar cost? ›

But luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. has cast a towering, opulent shadow over them all with its Ultimate Advent Calendar costing $112,000. According to Tiffany's website, only four of the calendars will be made available.

Is the Liberty advent calendar worth it? ›

Definitely! You can easily spend a whole day wandering through the stalls of Liberty's iconic Beauty Hall. But if time is your greatest enemy (especially during the festive season), the luxury retailer's advent calendar has compiled 29 of its most covetable products for you to try in the comfort of your own home.

How much is the Dior advent calendar worth? ›

The Dior Beauty Advent Calendar costs £570, so it's certainly an investment. But an investment it is - consider spreading the joy and dishing out the myriad of gifts to your friends and family on Christmas Day. Or, you know, just keeping them for yourself.

Is Jo Malone advent calendar worth the money? ›

While a glitzy, festive calendar is undeniably fun, the real draw of Jo Malone London's offering is the year-round appeal – nothing here will feel out of place once January rolls around. In fact, you'll be stocked with enough sublime scents to see you through the whole of 2024...

Does Louis Vuitton do advent calendar? ›

so the Advent calendars. for Louis Vuitton is a tradition. every single year, they're only gifted. and each advent calendar is filled with ornaments.

How much does a Body Shop advent calendar cost? ›

While some advent calendars can cost hundreds of pounds, news that this year's The Body Shop advent calendar trio starts from less than £60 for 24 miniature and full-sized treats has caught our attention.

What's inside Dior advent calendar? ›

Within this Parisian dreamscape, the calendar conceals 24 miniature treasures from Dior, ranging from exquisite fragrances and sophisticated makeup to premium skincare and aromatic candles.

What is the Guinness World Record for Advent calendar? ›

The most valuable advent calendar was valued at €2.5 million (then approx. £2,100,00; $3,300,000) and was crafted by Octagon Blue GVC (Belgium) and valued on 30 November 2010. The calendar was made up of 24 glass tubes each containing a small package of a diamond wrapped in silver.

Did Chanel apologize for the Advent calendar? ›

Finally, Chanel's statement said it's "sorry that this calendar may have disappointed some people," but that because it is a "unique design" with "original content," that makes it "a true collector's item whose value cannot be summed up by the products it contains alone."

What is the opposite of Advent calendar? ›

Most calendars comprised a series of doors or windows to open, revealing a picture, small chocolate or little gift for each day. But the reverse advent calendar turns this trend on its head. Instead of receiving a gift, those taking part in a reverse calendar DONATE an item each day.

What is the world's smallest Advent calendar? ›

The smallest Advent calendar in the world consists of a blister filled with 24 coloured chocolate lentils or Pulmoll pastilles.


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