On Christmas Day this year I don’t intend spending more than an hour of ‘hands-on’ time in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I want it to be our most delicious Christmas ever and, as much as I can know, completely cruelty-free (oh my, the dairy industry is so tricky!)
This means much of our vegetarian food celebration has to be planned-ahead and cooked-ahead. So far so good. Writing a food blog certainly helps focus the mind! The Horchata Ice Cream is already in the freezer and by this weekend the Cranberry Sauce, Mince Pies, Port Wine Gravy and today’s recipe for Spiced Red Cabbage will all be done. I then have four days left to pre-prepare the ingredients for the starter, make the Cheese Cocktail Biscuits and assemble the Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf.
Which leaves me just about enough time to blog the starter of Red Pepper Rolls With Goat’s Cheese and the dessert of Mincemeat Stuffed Baked Apples before D-day (recipes coming soon). If you’re still with me, my Christmas cooking schedule is in the Notes section below!
Meanwhile let’s get cracking on the veg. Spiced Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts are classic Christmas fare (red and green at this time of year is good) and both are easy, make-ahead vegetables.
Spiced Red Cabbage (Serves 6-8)
Spiced Red Cabbage is another easy-going Christmassy recipe that can be made in advance and reheated. Perfect!
A mixed spice combination - typically, a mixture of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, coriander and ginger - is generally used for sweet baking such as in cakes and biscuits. It’s the sweet warmth of these spices in autumnal-inspired baked goods that invite us to gear up to the prospect of winter, and are a timely reminder of Christmas recipes to come.
In this savoury recipe, it’s all about the interplay between sweet and sour. A wonderful mix of slow-cooked cabbage’s slight mustardy-flavour combined with the sweet, warming notes of pungent spices, the fruitiness of apples with a touch of sweetness and the sour of vinegar. Get it right and spicy braised red cabbage is one heck of a useful side dish to complement the rest of your Christmas table.
Spicy Red Cabbage doesn’t take very long to prepare; then it can be left alone to do its ‘thing’ for 1½ hours of gentle cooking. It also keeps warm without spoiling.
This recipe actually improves with age, so it’s almost better to make it now and freeze for later. Alternatively, make it a couple of days before Christmas and store in the refrigerator.
I small red cabbage (about 750g)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 medium Bramley apples (or use Cox’s or Granny Smith’s)
zest 1 organic orange
1 tsp mixed spice
40g Sukrin Gold
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp raw cider vinegar
150ml pure, no added sugar apple juice or still dry cider (I used Coldpress Granny Smith Apple Juice)
Orange rind (without the white pith), cut into very fine strips - optional
Peel the outer leaves from the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the core. Slice thinly into shreds (I used a mandolin)
Finely chop the onion. Using a fine grater, remove the zest from the orange. Peel, core and chop the apples.
Arrange a layer of cabbage on the bottom of a large deep pan. Add a layer of onion, apple, orange zest, mixed spice, Sukrin Gold, sea salt and black pepper. Continue layering the ingredients in this way until they are all used up.
Finally, pour over the vinegar and apple juice (or cider) and dot with the butter.
Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to very low, cover with a tight fitting lid and allow to gently simmer for 90 minutes until tender.
I’ve never had a problem with Brussels sprouts. In fact the opposite is true. When they’re In season (October through to March), I actually crave them and can happily scoff up to a dozen in one sitting. In fact, I don’t even bother weighing out Brussels sprouts in the supermarket. I simply count how many people are joining me for dinner and for each of them select 10-12 of the smallest, tightest, firmest, fresh-green sprouts I can find - though it can sometimes take ages to locate the perfect ones! If it turns out that there aren’t enough that measure up, I’ll just put them all back and choose a different vegetable for dinner! However, when they’re perfectly formed, these bright green, marble-sized globes of goodness, cooked to retain a bit of ‘bite’ and liberally doused in melted butter (sprouts love butter!) and freshly ground black pepper, are the quintessential Christmas vegetable.
Surely the reason that beautiful Brussels sprouts have been so reviled is because many people were forced to eat stinky, soggy, bitter-tasting, ‘overblown’ sprouts as children. But there is a way to turn these mini ‘cabbages’ into desirable vegetables…don’t overcook them!
Cooked quickly and al denté (still slightly firm to bite into), Brussels sprouts hold on to their healthy, green credentials. Overcooked, they’re really quite unpleasant - soggy, smelly and khaki-yellow - with a taste reminiscent of rotten eggs!
Let’s not go there. My way of cooking Brussels sprouts without tears is:
- Choose small, compact, ones - no bigger than an inch across and all the same size.
- Take off the outer leaves (only if they’re damaged or discoloured) and trim the stalk ends. To ensure fast, even cooking, use a small sharp knife to cut a small shallow cross in the stalk end - some say it’s not necessary, but I always do!
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Steam or boil the Brussels for 5 to 10 minutes - or perhaps only 4 minutes if they’re very tiny - with the pan lid on. After 5 minutes, check their progress by inserting the point of a small sharp knife into one of the Brussels (or just eat one if you think it’s cooked!). If they’re still too hard, you’ll need to keep checking them every 1-2 minutes until they’re done. Whatever you do, do not allow them to overcook.
- Brussels sprouts are cooked properly when they’re still bright green, have a little bit of resistance when you insert the tip of a sharp knife into them but can still be easily cut through without falling apart. If you’re taste-testing one, it should feel firm between your teeth when you first bite into it, but hot all the way through, and fully tender. If in doubt, they’re better slightly undercooked!
- If you’re eating them straight away: drain well, then tip them into a warm serving dish with a generous knob of butter and a good grinding of fresh black pepper.
- If you’re preparing them in advance of your meal: drain the cooked Brussels then immediately plunge them into ice cold water to stop the cooking process (or continuously run cold water directly from the tap over them until they’re cold). This will set their bright green colour. When cold, drain well, cover with cling film and set aside.
- To re-heat: put a large knob of butter and 2 tablespoon of water info a large frying pan. Set the pan over a medium heat. As soon as the butter starts to melt and the water bubbles to a simmer, throw in the Brussels and spread out into a single layer. Stir, shake, or agitate the contents of the pan for a couple of minutes until the water has evaporated and the Brussels are heated through and glazed in butter. Do not overcook! Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Bright Christmas green, fresh-tasting and good for you - what could you possibly not love?
The Spiced Red Cabbage can be stored in a refrigerator for 2-3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month, then gently re-heated in a pan or microwaved.
There’s a sort of rule for prettying-up a finished dish…if it’s gone in it, it should go on it! So if you want to ‘fancy-pants’ up the presentation of your Spiced Red Cabbage, use a vegetable peeler to remove long strips of orange peel from half an organic orange, then cut into very fine slivers with a small sharp paring knife and blanch in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Refresh in cold water, then drain and dry on paper kitchen roll before arranging on top. Nice, but not necessary.
Brussels sprouts stay fresher for longer if you buy them on the ‘wand’ they grow on, although you’ll only get very small ones at the top (you want small because they taste sweeter than their big brothers!)
Steaming is the easiest method of cooking Brussels sprouts because when you’re regularly having to check their degree of ‘doneness’ you don’t want to be chasing one around a pan of boiling hot water trying to stab it with a fork i.e. they’re safely and conveniently sat in the top of a steamer and easily accessible!
Christmas is one of the rare occasions when I might use my microwave to re-heat vegetables because there’s not enough room on the hob. Prepare the Brussels in advance as directed above (cooking, blanching, draining) then tip the Brussels directly into a microwave-proof serving dish. Dot with butter, season with black pepper then cover with cling film. Don’t chill, they’ll be perfectly okay for a couple of hours at room temperature. When you’re ready to serve them, pierce the cling film covering the sprouts a couple of times to allow steam to escape, then microwave on High for about 45 - 60 seconds until piping hot. Be careful not to overcook them or burn yourself when removing the cling film - also don’t put one straight into your mouth to test! Instead, cut one of the Brussels sprouts in half on a chopping board to make sure they’re heated all the way through. If they need a little extra time, continue microwaving in 10 second cycles until really hot.
My Christmas 2015 cooking schedule looks like this:
2 weeks before:
Make Horchata Ice Cream and Spiced Red Cabbage - freeze.
1 week before:
3-5 days before:
2 days before:
Prepare (skin) the red peppers, toast the pine kernels, make the tomato vinaigrette and basil pesto - refrigerate
Prep the Brussels sprouts - store in a freezer bag in the fridge
Defrost the mince pies
Make the crumble-topping for the mince pies and bake (or leave until tomorrow?)
Make Parsnip Cranberry & Chestnut Loaf - refrigerate
Defrost red cabbage
Make celeriac puree
Cook the nut loaf
Bring cranberry sauce back to room temperature
Cream the goat’s cheese and assemble red pepper rolls
Decorate the red pepper rolls immediately before serving
Re-heat the spiced cabbage
Re-heat celeriac puree
Re-heat the gravy
Cook the Brussels sprouts
Make the sage butter
Pretty-up the nut loaf - decorate with sage, parsley and cranberries
Core and stuff the apples and bake