9 November 2001




Looking forward to Christmas, here are a few

tasty ideas from Philippa Vine to give you a

head start on the festive rush

I am a great believer in practical and edible gifts and would rather spend time in the kitchen than in the shops, especially just before Christmas. Jars of preserved lemons are visually impressive and make delightful presents, decorated with yellow ribbons and a gift tag. Use the recipe opposite to make some for your friends and some for a lamb casserole which can be made and frozen in advance as a tasty poultry alternative during the festive season.

As we produce our own Christmas turkeys on the farm, we always eat the traditional turkey feast on Christmas day, assuming that we have not had to sell our own to cover an oversight – it has been known. To reduce work I make and freeze a chestnut stuffing and a celery, apricot and walnut one in advance.

But before we get carried away with the festive rush we have another important event to remember in our family, our son Henrys birthday at the end of November, and of course his tea party must have something chocolatey on the menu. This no-bake chocolate cake is a favourite (without the brandy) and the children can even help make it. With the alcohol it makes a wonderful alternative choice for puddings at Christmas time and it freezes very well.

Preserved lemons

These lemons are a staple Moroccan condiment and take at least one to two weeks for the lemon peel to soften and mellow from the salty juices. They are quick and easy to prepare and, apart from being added to the

following lamb recipe, make a

useful condiment to flavour

chicken dishes and enliven salads. This recipe fills one small jam jar; just double up the ingredients for larger jars.

2 lemons

(preferably unwaxed)

150g (5oz)

coarse sea salt

Remove the ends of the lemons, cut the lemon in half from end to end, then cut up only 11/2 of the lemons in medium

thickness slices, removing any pips. Layer the lemon slices in the jar, alternating with a good layer of sea salt. Pack firmly so that you squeeze as much lemon and salt as you can in the jar. Squeeze the juice from the reserved half lemon and pour into the jar. Cover with a lid and leave on a shelf in your kitchen for at least a week.

I have left my preserved lemons in the larder for months and they have kept well, or you can transfer the jar to the fridge if you wish.

Lamb casserole with

preserved lemons

It is the preserved lemons that give a delicious and unusual flavour to this lamb dish. It freezes

successfully for up to a month – after that the garlic and onion tend to loose their flavour. Serves 6-8.

1kg (2lb 2oz) diced,

boneless lamb

2 large onions, chopped finely

6 sticks of celery,

chopped finely

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2.5cm (1in) ginger,

grated coarsely

4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

125g (5oz) dried apricots,

cut into quarters

125g (5oz) ground almonds

850ml (11/2 pt) water

12 slices preserved lemon, roughly chopped

Olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the pieces of lamb in small batches over a high heat until

golden. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and transfer each batch into a large saucepan or casserole suitable to use on the hob. Fry the onion and celery over a medium heat until they are soft and lightly coloured, adding more oil if necessary. Add the spices, garlic, ginger and seasoning, fry a little then transfer all to the meat. Pour 125ml (5fl oz) of water into the frying pan and bring to the boil, then add to the meat. Add the apricots, almonds and the

preserved lemons and pour just enough water to cover the meat. Stir and bring to the boil then

simmer with a lid on for 11/2 hours or until the meat is tender. Check seasoning and serve with either cous-cous, rice or mashed potato and your favourite vegetables or salad.

Chestnut stuffing

This recipe is an old family favourite. It is best if you use fresh chestnuts but tinned or frozen will do. This recipe freezes well and is enough for a 6.75kg (15lb) turkey.

750g (1lb 8oz) whole chestnuts

4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped

75g (3oz) butter, melted

1 celery heart, thinly sliced

1/2 onion, finely chopped

Grated zest of 1 lemon

75g (3oz) breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 turkey liver (if available) chopped small

125ml (1/4 pt) chicken stock, or stock from the turkey giblets

Score each (fresh) chestnut, boil them for 10 minutes or until you see the shells beginning to come away and then rub off the shell and the skin with a soft cloth. (While you are peeling one, keep the rest covered so that they stay hot.) Simmer them very gently in enough stock to cover them until just soft, for about 15 to 20

minutes. Drain through a sieve and mash but leave some lumps. Put a tablespoon of the melted butter in a large frying pan and cook the onion, bacon and chopped turkey liver (if used) for 10 minutes or so, until the bacon pieces are crispy, taking care not to burn the onion. Now tip the contents of the frying pan into a large mixing bowl and add the uncooked celery,

breadcrumbs, parsley, lemon zest and seasoning. Bind with the remaining melted butter and season with salt and pepper and mix

thoroughly. If you are preparing this early, pack into a large polythene bag, label and freeze. Remove from the freezer the night before you want to stuff the turkey.

Celery, apricot and

walnut stuffing

This stuffing is for the breast or crop or it can be cooked in a

separate dish. It freezes well and is enough for a 6.75kg (15lb) turkey.

1 small head of celery,

thinly sliced

50g (2oz) dried apricots, chopped

100g (4oz) walnuts, chopped

50g (2oz) butter

2 onions, chopped

5 tablespoons of breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the onions, cover and cook until soft. Then add celery, apricots and walnuts. Cook for about 4-5 minutes over a brisk heat, stirring continuously, then tip the contents of the pan into a

mixing bowl. When cool, add breadcrumbs and parsley and

season to taste and freeze.

No-bake chocolate and

brandy cake

This must be the easiest chocolate cake to make – this rich cake is not cooked, but set in the fridge. Try to use chocolate with a high cocoa solid content. Serves 6.

250g (8oz) best plain

chocolate, broken into pieces

250g (8oz) butter

300g (1 packet) Hob-Nob

biscuits or digestive biscuits

125g (5oz) glace cherries and currants, mixed

75g (3oz) walnut halves

1 large egg

1 tablespoon brandy


You will also need a 20cm (8in) loose bottomed, fluted, deep tin.

Put the biscuits into a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Save a few cherries for garnish, then roughly chop up the rest. Melt the butter and chocolate in a large saucepan over a low heat. Beat the egg. Off the heat, quickly whisk the egg into the melted chocolate and butter and make smooth. Return to a very low heat and stir for 2 minutes to ensure the egg is cooked. Remove from the heat. Then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Press the mixture into the tin. Decorate with the cherries and put onto a plate and in the fridge for about an hour to set.

Eat at room temperature so the cake is slightly sticky.

The cake freezes well or will keep in the fridge for a few days.

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