My Top Ten Christmas Foods

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. Spending the best part of 2017 studying, working, looking after my family and trying to start a food blog from scratch, has been brilliant but exhausting and something had to give. Thankfully, every time I count the children and pets they all seem to be there and it was worth it – I passed my course! However I’m back now – fresh(ish)  faced and about to replace studying with marathon training. At least I’ll be hungry.

The utterly brilliant thing about December is the fact that officially – CHRISTMAS HAS ARRIVED!!!! I love Christmas, all those twinkling lights cutting through the fug of winter, the planning, list making, self gifting (just me?) and dragging the Christmas cookery books down from the shelves to pour over (honestly – if you haven’t bought Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles yet, why not – it’s amazing!)

Anyway, enough with all the wittering and without further ado  – here are my Top Ten Christmas Foods….

Mince Pies – I hated mince pies as a child but I love them now, cold with custard, warm with ice-cream or on their own with a cup of tea or better still, some mulled cider. My current obsession is Richard Bertinet’s variation, with frangipane topping the mince pie – they are only improved by adding a huge dollop of clotted cream. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Bath and have the Bertinet bakery close to hand (me neither) then the recipe for these little beauties is here.


Cheese – Who doesn’t love a cheese board? Hands down, one of the best parts of Christmas food shopping is choosing and going completely overboard on the cheese selection. I can’t do without a roof of the mouth stripping stilton (preferably potted), an oozy brie and a creamy blue – the Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham is out of this world.

Figs – I don’t know why, but I definitely think of figs as a classic Christmas food – wrapped in bacon as a canape, served sliced with cheeses, in chutney, dried and used to liven up a Christmas cake or even as an interesting addition to mincemeat, they are incredibly versatile and always well received. We’ll be serving Hillside’s Fig Chutney with some squishy blue cheese this year..

Turkey – We sometimes have a rib of beef for Christmas for a change, but if I’m honest it never feels quite as festive. Plus, the leftover possibilities with turkey are endless and nothing goes as well with pigs in blankets (which obviously are a compulsory Christmas foodstuff). I also really enjoy the ceremony of visiting the butchers, discussing my wishlist and placing the order. For the past three years we have had a Turkey Bomb from the Butchers at Darts Farm and I will be ordering the same again this year. Boned and rolled with a choice of stuffings (I love the cider, apple and sage) and covered in bacon it looks great, takes the pressure off the prep work on the big day and tastes amazing. See what I mean here.

Pate – We make a lot of it at this time of year and I don’t think a Boxing Day buffet would be the same without it. My husband and I differ in our opinions on this. He likes his as coarse as possible and I prefer smooth – he does make a cracking mackerel pate though and we are both in agreement that this recipe for chicken liver pate by Delicious magazine is a winner.
Sprouts – It’s a bit of an obvious choice but honestly, I just LOVE them. Cooked with bacon, chestnuts or both, roasted with parmesan or just steamed and served as they are. And let’s not forget sprout tops – I like them best gently steamed with butter and pepper, served with some really good sausages and garlicky mash. 

Christmas Eve canapes – I love Canapes, partly because nothing goes with canapes quite like a glass of fizz and well, any excuse. But also because they are as easy or difficult as you want them to be (each to their own, but I have yet to taste a supermarket canape that wasn’t just a little bit greasy or artificial tasting). Nigella’s mini sausages in Soy and cranberry have been my go-to for years and more recently the salt baked new potatoes from Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles, halved and served with a blue cheese and goats curd dip and ribbons of smoked trout are a favourite. See pge 412 in the book.


Lebkuchen – The problem with Lebkuchen is that I make it, and then spend the next three days unable to walk past the kitchen without shovelling a piece in. Horribly moreish and so pretty, this German gingerbread-biscuit hybrid is a truly Christmassy addition to my list.  Make your own with this recipe here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Leftovers – As an adult, I think leftovers might be the best of Christmas foods and I always order a big enough turkey and ham to give plenty. From bubble and squeak in the morning with a perfectly poached egg and and streaky bacon, to the inevitable turkey and leek pie to sweep up what’s left before we move on to New Years Eve. This year I’ll be turning my leftover turkey into this pie from Jamie Oliver. 

Pickled Red Cabbage – I’m using this as a bracket for one of my favourite childhood memories. On Christmas day evening, our parents would lay out cold turkey and gammon sandwiches, salad, cheese and biscuits, pickled onions, gherkins and red cabbage (half of my twin sister’s plate would be red cabbage) and as an extra special treat – a glass of Tizer (I couldn’t tell you now what Tizer tasted of, but we LOVED it back then). Then we’d either play games or all settle down to watch E.T./The Goonies/Home Alone and work our way through the Quality Street tin. Bliss. Here’s how to pickle your own red cabbage.

So that’s it, my list of favourite Christmas foods and where they fall in my ideal culinary Christmas. Not sure about the Tizer though, that might be best left in the memory banks along with the year I ate my entire selection box before 5am on Christmas morning…


Harry’s Restaurant – Longbrook Street Exeter

The weather may have left a lot to be desired last weekend (where has summer gone?!), but it was still a good one. A highlight was dinner at Harry’s in Exeter on Saturday night. Way back at the beginning of the 00’s, my husband and I came here on our first date. A lot has changed since then – no one listens to Portishead anymore,  Doug and Carol finally got their act together in ER and we’ve somehow become responsible enough to be in charge of two children, a dog and two cats (in fairness, the cats would disagree with that sentence).  We come back to Harry’s every now and again to pat ourselves on the back for putting up with each other for such a long time and laugh (cry) about when we thought getting up at 7am on the weekend was early.

Opened in 1993, Harry’s has long been a much loved part of the Exeter restaurant scene and with good reason. Set in a big, beautiful building on Longbrook street with high ceilings, lots to look at and a comfortable, easy atmosphere, Harry’s serves great food, cooked well without pomp or circumstance.

To start, we had the smoked salmon pate with sourdough toast and calamari with aioli which we both loved, followed by Creedy Carver chicken, and fajitas – they were again delicious. Harry’s portion sizes are on the generous size, which is great but it did mean that unfortunately neither of us left space for a dessert, I saw a few go past and they looked good! (I’ll squeeze one in next time and let you know how it was). The service is as friendly and easy going as the atmosphere and our (lovely, smiley) waitress made us feel welcome without hovering over us, something I find particularly irritating in restaurants.

One of my favourite things about Harry’s is it’s use of local produce – If you look at the photo above (I had to borrow one of Harry’s because mine was terrible) you can see the board on the wall near the kitchen which lists the produce currently on the menu and where it came from, including the distance in miles. It’s a fantastic ethos and I love seeing it up on the wall. This same ethos extends to the wine list which also features local producers – we had a great bottle of Sharphams Sauvignon Blanc that I will look out for in future.

It’s a busy place and I recommend booking plenty in advance to make sure they have space but I promise you’ll be glad you did. I’m off to bed now – early start in the morning…   



86 Longbrook Street




Tel: 01392 202234


In praise of the good old fashioned Cookery Book…

Who reading this still buys cookery books? I know they seem a little old fashioned in current times, but I have to admit that I still love a cookery book and I know I’m not alone in this. I would wager that there are lots of us squirreling away books with pages covered in flour, spicy fingerprints and scrawled notes in the margins. If you were to walk around my house, you would find two bookshelves dedicated to current favourites, a shelf for baking, an overflow shelf for the current favourites shelf and lastly, a dusty old shelf stuffed with cookery books that I should probably get rid of but can’t quite bring myself to. 

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Every once in a while, my husband will mention that we do seem to have quite a lot of cookery books and maybe we don’t need all of them (he does this about my running book collection too – to look at it you’d think I’m some kind of ex-olympian, not a slightly obsessive 38 year old). It always falls on deaf ears – I might need a recipe from one of those books one day.

Despite the fact that we can all access any recipe for any food we could imagine in seconds thanks to the internet, physically turning the pages of a book, folding over corners and making shopping lists for potential recipes is still one of my favourite things to do. Sat in bed on a sunday morning with a coffee and a stack of cookery books, lazily planning the day’s eating and cooking is my idea of heaven.

There are a few that particularly stand out for me –  I once bought Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookery book ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ after a few glasses of wine, slowly remembering when the Amazon parcel came through the door a few days later. That book was so pleased with itself that it had forgotten that food is there to be enjoyed – one of few books to have been culled.

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Then there’s the pistachio nubuck, decoratively boxed Laduree book that I spent weeks searching online for, only for its (beautiful, embossed) box to be scribbled on in biro by one of the resident toddlers within a week of it entering the house. What was I thinking?

In amongst weird purchases like the mottled second hand old fashioned books bought on a whim in a charity shop, or the persian/vietnamese/whatever is currently trendy book that I saw at a friends house or on social media, there are also favourites that I revisit time and time again –

The Riverford Farm cookbook – this came free with my veg box a long time ago and is full of sensible recipes that work. I have since bought copies as gifts for people and it’s always been well received.

Nigella Bites – One of my first cookery books. I learned to cook with this in my early twenties and for a long time the linguine with garlic oil, pancetta and parsley was my go-to dish when friends came over for dinner. A dish that we would serve with bottles of £5 wine from the shop at the end of the road, 20 Marlboro lights and a Moby playlist.. (actually I made the linguine again not very long ago and it’s still good – these days without the accompaniments).

Every book Bill Granger has ever written. I know it seems lazy not to pick just one, but I honestly can’t. I love Bill Granger’s food – the recipes all work, are delicious, and cater to every level of motivation from ‘really cannot be arsed’, to ‘desperate to impress’. Plus, Bill doesn’t need you to go out and find honey from bilingual bees (I’m looking at you, Ina Garten) and he won’t hold it against you if you don’t own a selection of heavy based copper pans (sorry, Raymond Blanc). The icing on the cake is the food photography – full of sunlight and beautiful crockery. It’s because he lives in Sydney isn’t it? I’m green with envy.

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Richard Bertinet – Pastry – I also have his books Dough and Crust and like them equally. I think the format and layout of his books work brilliantly. They are easy to follow and full of useful photos, my daughter has started to use these recently too.

So that’s it – my roundup of current favourites and a weak justification for all those books crammed into shelves around my home. Let me know which cookery book you couldn’t live without. I’m off to show this to my husband…

Horn & Cracker

Why the humble tart should be your go-to summer dish.

Thought to have sprung from medieval pie making traditions, there’s a reason that tarts are such a popular summer food. Although I love them all year round,  when the weather is warm and cooking feels like a bit of an effort, they come into their own as a deceptively hard working foodstuff – hear me out…

Made with whatever pastry you can lay your hands on, be it shop bought puff, a sweet short dessert pastry (or, if you’ve a bit of time on your hands some herby shortcrust), making a tart is as labour intensive as you want it to be. A sweet or savoury dish that’s on the table inside of 45 minutes and needs nothing more than a salad or a (huge) dollop of clotted cream, It’s a brilliant catch all for a fridge full of leftover ingredients or to use up the odds and ends from your fruit and veg box. And the best bit is that if you make it big enough, you’ve got tomorrow’s lunch sorted as well.

This week we had the end of a piece of Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham to use up (if you haven’t already tried it -it’s delicious!). With some creme fraîche, spinach and marinated artichokes it made a great little puff pastry tart – virtually no effort and cheap to boot.

Blue Bay, spinach and marinated artichokes with creme fraiche.

When you’re feeling a bit more committed to the kitchen, or have a spare bit of baking time it’s easy to upgrade your toppings with cured meats or fresh seafood and a slow cooked sauce as a base. Another version is the French Galette which is traditionally made with buckwheat flour –  making the crust is actually very easy and I love the golden, folded over edges. That said, this recipe from the fabulous Lavender and Lovage uses puff pastry and always goes down brilliantly with guests.

I could go on and on with this topic – on the sweet side, the list is pretty much endless….portugese custard tarts, tarte tatin and rhubarb with ginger are just a few suggestions, proving (in my opinion!) that as a low effort mainstay – the tart is a real workhorse. Let me know what you think – tag me in your tart recipes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – extra points for photos!

Peaches soaked in sauternes, blueberries and a lemon marscapone cream.

Horn & Cracker

My Top 10 Summer Foods

Fish and chips on the beach, chilled glasses of rosè, garden pizza, raspberry pavlova, warm artichokes drizzled with olive oil and rosemary… All foods that I associate with warm weather, the smell of suncream and a flip flop tan.  

Summer is, in my opinion the best of the seasons. The combination of sunny days and warm evenings with the fresh, ripe produce available is unbeatable – the whole lot goes hand in hand with barbeques, outdoor eating, picnics* and an Aperol spritz in the sunshine.

For the months of June, July and August, the seasonal bounty available to us lucky folks in this part of the world includes: Courgettes, cod, rocket, lamb, gooseberries (who remembers being forced to pick these as kids!), raspberries, crab, watercress and radishes, peaches, cherries, rabbit, fennel, blueberries, lettuce and lobster, beetroot, monkfish, kohlrabi, plums, blackberries, broadbeans, chard and sole. Phew! – and there are so many more.

So, these are my top ten summer foods…


I know, I know – It’s not even a food for gods sake. BUT. June is officially rosè month and let’s be honest, how often do we drink it through the winter? I like mine as pale as possible or full of bubbles and this sparkling rosè from Pebblebed is a tough one to beat. 


I love these all year round, but this recipe from Jamie Oliver using globe artichokes is a brilliant side dish for barbecues and always goes down well with guests.

Summer berries 

Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries all come into their own at this time of year – sprinkle or smother over pancakes, pavlovas, roasted peaches and pastries. Plus they also add interest to home made ice lollies. 


You can’t have a top ten summer list and not mention ice-cream. It wouldn’t be right. Not just for the good old vanilla cornet with a flake (and a dollop of clotted cream if you’re as greedy as I am) but for its versatility too. Semifreddo, frozen in an attractive mould has made me look like a much more proficient cook than I really am more than once. Especially when my ice-cream making skills are more than a little lacking! Worth noting – Exeter Cookery school runs a half day course on ice-cream making here but if you do just want to sit in the garden, tub and spoon in hand – Otter Valley’s Salted caramel with chocolate brownie gets my vote every time

My kids get really excited when they see one of these on the kitchen side and I have to admit, the fragrance of freshly cut melon is gorgeously summery and something I never get tired of.


We live on the coast, there is a readily available supply on our doorstep AND we are privileged as a county to be home to many of the top seafood restaurants and chefs in the country – Mark Hix and Mitch Tonks are perfect examples and I have both of their books in my collection. For a slightly different dining experience – you’ll need to book up early, but my favourite place for seafood in the summer is the River Exe Cafe – as much for the atmosphere as the fantastic food. 


As a rub for slow roasted pork belly, roasted with parmesan, garlic and cream, or as the main ingredient in Bill Granger’s fennel slaw (my favourite), fennel is a proper all rounder and goes beautifully with meat and fish alike.

New potatoes 

Hasselback with a sprinkling of parmesan, roasted whole with garlic and rosemary, boiled with butter and dill or in a potato salad with chives, the super versatile new potato is a regular and welcome guest this time of year in veg boxes. Riverford’s recipe page is full of suggestions but I particularly like this one for easy eating after a busy day. 


Often overlooked for being just a bagged salad, rocket’s peppery flavour has the ability to add life to most dishes – under scallops with chorizo, as a pesto in place of basil, shredded and mixed with warm cous cous, artichokes and sun-dried tomatos or used in these deliciously simple fishcakes.


Salad is, in my opinion the backbone of british summer food. When the weather is blisteringly hot, cold crisp baby gem leaves served with ripe tomatoes, cold meats/seafood, slaw, tabbouleh and other pleasingly chilled additions make a welcome meal. However, for the days when the weather feels distinctly more british, finer leaves can be added to spinach, mixed with freshly cooked orzo, strips of marinated pepper and prosciutto before being drizzled with warm oils to make a slightly more comforting meal. Brilliantly, there are no limits, rules or wrongs when it comes to salad – which also makes it an amazing weekday staple. If we throw the remnants of our winter veg boxes into stews in the colder months, then I like to think of salad as being a good way to do the same during the summer.

So there we have it, my top ten summer foods, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I like them in the form of easy meals for when it’s too hot to cook, as a collection of dishes on a table for people to share, eaten cold as leftovers, or to prop up long boozy lunches. I’d love to know what your favourite summer foods and recipes are.

Horn & Cracker


* I realised whilst writing this that picnics deserve a topic all of their own – keep an eye out on the East Devon Eats pages for a series on picnics this July.