RECIPE: Jewelled Christmas Biscotti with Dried Sour Cherries, Cranberries and Pistachio Nuts

This year I banned commercial Christmas presents from the house. Why? Well for one I'm a miserable little humbug. Secondly, so I can stand and laugh at the frenzied general public, running around town going snooker loopy in the shops while I skip around gathering frivolous little luxuries for my annual festive baking. Zero stress.

However, the only gifting tradition that I was going to stick to this year was my edible gifts, far more personal and thoughtful than anything offered on the 3 for 2 gift stands.

Last year I made decorative iced ginger cookies, but this year I opted for some biscotti for dunking in hot chocolate, coffee, vin santo or even a little sherry. In keeping with the season, these were dazzled up with some colourful dried cherries, cranberries and pistachios as well as citrus and spices.

Some bespoke labels designed by moi and ribbons from the local market made these an ideal treat for friends and colleagues. I picked up the cello bags from a craft shop.

Makes around 60 biscuits which keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.

600g plain flour
450g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
grated zest of 2 oranges
grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of half an orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 of a nutmeg, freshly grated
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
150g shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
120g dried cranberries
75g dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

Line 2 very large trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, spices, salt, citrus zests, orange juice and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the beaten egg mix and work together to form a sticky dough. Mix in the nuts and dried fruit. This mixture is too soft to handle so I carefully spoon out the mixture into 2 rows on each baking sheet. The mixture will spread so allow enough room between the rows and sides of the tray. Try and get a rectangular-ish shape, with the ends not too thin and the sides neat.

Bake at 180ºC/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden and set. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 15 minutes then place on a chopping board and gently cut with a serrated knife into 2cm slices to get roughly 60 biscuits.

Put the slices back on to a baking tray and dry out in the oven at 130ºC/Gas Mark ½ for about 20 minutes, turning half way through. Cool and store in an airtight container. The biscuits will keep for a couple of weeks.

RECIPE: Christmas Cracker Pasta with Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Sage Butter

I was quite taken aback by the frankly gopping concept behind Fire & Stone's festive pizza this year which is topped with (deep breath) turkey, roast potatoes, chestnut, sage and onion stuffing, pork and apricot sausage meat, creamy brie, cranberry sauce and gravy. I was actually invited to review this pizza but with the Italian authorities ready to strip my of my nationality if I was ever found out to have eaten this abomination, I waited instead for the verdict from a couple of fellow bloggers who manned up and actually ate the thing. The feedback was as you would expect.

But then finding myself oddly inspired by the F&S horror, I wanted to marry a traditional Italian dish with the classic Christmas lunch so following an afternoon beavering away in the kitchen, I present you dear readers, with Caramelle allo tacchino, salsiccia e mirtilli rossi con burro salvia or Christmas Cracker Pasta with Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Sage Butter.

Although this recipe started out as a bit of a joke, I was so pleased with how they came out, really delicious with the slight sweetness of the cranberries and the savoury saltiness of the sage butter. Mr Graphic Foodie said they were excellent! Whereas I think the Fire & Stone pizza is a total turkey, this pasta (if I don't say so myself) is a bit of a cracker.

Caramelle means "sweets" in Italian, obviously referencing the shape, but I thought they looked like Christmas crackers. You have to roll the pasta really, really thinly as you want to avoid a thick build up on the folds which won't cook through, so if you are not majorly confident with pasta making then by all means make them into little ravioli.

I now am the proud owner of a Kitchen Aid mixer so I use that for making pasta dough, but I have also outlined instruction on making it by hand.

The cranberry sauce I used here was made in an edible Christmas gift class at Recipease in Brighton which was infused with clementines and thyme and so easy to make. In the class we also make lemon curd and an incredible florentine butter, both as it turns out way too good to give as gifts!

Finally as the snow this week has hindered food shopping and I wanted to crumble over some pieces of chestnuts as a finishing touch to this dish which I think would work quite well.

Serves 3-4 people.

300g type '00' flour
3 eggs
pinch of salt

1tbs Olive oil
Half an onion, very finely chopped
200g Minced turkey
1 Good quality pork sausage, casing removed
A sprig of thyme, leaves stripped
1 Heaped tbs of cranberry sauce
1 Medium potato

50g of butter
6 fresh sage leaves

To make the pasta by hand. Sift the flour into a mound and make a little well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the well and add the pinch of salt. Using a fork, gradually combine the flour and the egg, working from the inside out. Once combined and manageable, knead the dough for a good 10 minutes. If the dough is too soft or sticky, add more flour and if too hard add a little water. It should be firm, elastic and smooth.

To make the pasta using a Kitchen Aid mixer. Sift the flour into the mixer bowl and add the other pasta ingredients. Using the beater attachment on speed 1 combine the ingredients. Switch to the dough hook and set on speed 2 for 5-8 minutes until the dough forms into a nice smooth and elastic texture. Add a little touch of water (not too much!) if needed.

After using either method, form the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you make the filling.

To make the filling. Boil the potato until soft. Drain, mash and set aside. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion gently until translucent. Add the minced turkey and sausage meat and fry until brown. Add the thyme leaves, cranberry sauce and season generously. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the mashed potato, combining really thoroughly. Set as aside whilst you roll out the pasta.

Make the pasta. Remove the pasta from the fridge. Dust the worktop with flour. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and put each piece through a pasta machine, starting off with a wide setting and getting thinner and thinner, doing all 6 pieces on one setting before moving on to thinner settings, dusting the sheets with a little flour where needed. Go as thin as you dare/are comfortable managing. On my Imperia machine I go to the next to last thinnest setting for this shape.

Cut the pasta strips into 5cm squares using a pastry wheel or knife. Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the middle of the square, brush the sides with a little water using a pastry brush. Roll up into a tube then twist the ends in opposite directions to form a sweet wrapper shape. Ensure the fold is secure. Rest on a lightly floured surface whilst you do the rest. I think it is now best to let these rest for 15 minutes to dry out a little, but you can cook straight away.

To make the sauce. Melt the butter for the sauce in a small saucepan with the sage leaves so they infuse.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water with a slug of olive oil until they rise to the surface. Cook until al dente, testing the thickest part in the folds.

Drain and place on warmed plates, spooning over the butter sauce e Buon Natale!

SHOPPING: Stylish aprons

Having a bit of a scout around for some homeware, I came across Anthropologie's fabulous range of aprons. Wouldn't these be ideal as a gift or, if like me, you spend half your life in the kitchen, an excuse to glam it up a little.

There is something for everyone here so how about this for a fashionista darling, (I hear "greige" is tres on trend this season):

Trousseau Apron £28.00

For the hostess with the mostess:

Formal Affair Apron £28.00

For the serious cook:

Inked Octi Apron £28.00

For the cute baker:

Baker's Delight Apron £28.00

For the retro-chic chick:

Three-Star Apron £34.00

Loving them! Check out these and the others on offer here:

REVIEW: Street Thai, Brighton

I love Brighton Square at Christmas. It's secretly tucked away in the Lanes, has a little fountain in the middle and every year they drape little sparkly lights above it - really sweet. The square is home to a long standing and much loved record shop, a few jewelers, some cafes, a deli and a restaurant. Most of these–record shop aside–have had varying success, most coming and going before you realised they were there at all. The restaurant space on the corner is a decent size, with outside seating by the fountain and above on a large roof terrace in warmer weather. Although a good position, unfortunately most of the restaurants previously home to the space have not been very good, I recall a particularly bad Tex-Mex and then a poorly received Italian, so it is a blessing for Brighton that the site is now occupied by Street Thai.

The interior has been updated with some nice graffiti murals and the space is bright, fresh and welcoming. As I was used to walking past and seeing a few lonely diners in its previous incarnations, it was nice to have the restaurant full and vibrant again.

On the menus, you'll find some favourites and some dishes you may not have tried before but staff are keen to help you decide if you need help. I LOVE Thai salads so the Yum Mamuang Koong Pao £5.95, a green mango salad with tiger prawns, toasted coconut flakes and cashew nuts pinged out at me first and lived up to my expectations. Refreshing, healthy with a nice kick of heat and great textures, it takes your taste buds in all directions with each mouthful; zing from the mint, crunch from the mango and carrot, sharpness of the onion, sweetness of the coconut and the heat of the chilli. A must try.

I would have been happy with a big portion of this salad but as that would make for a boring review we also ordered the Por Phia Ped £4.50, aromatic duck spring rolls and something I have not tried before, Pad Pak Boong £4.25, a stir fried leafy green vegetable called morning glory which came with soya beans, chillis, garlic and oyster sauce.

I thought it tasted rather like a cross between spinach and green beans which was a pretty good taste guess as I found out later it is a type of water spinach, and rather delicious it is too. The duck spring rolls were also good, with a nice crunchy outer. I would have liked a touch more plum sauce but otherwise they were very tasty.

Main's on offer fell into three camps; noodle dishes, stir frys or currys. In each there were a variety of enticing options but eventually I chose the Kao Gai Aob £6.95, a crispy chicken stir fry with green cabbage and Thai gravy served with jasmine rice and a clear soup. I was sad to find the chicken missing its crispy promise but it was soft and tasty, I particularly liked the crunchy greens which had absorbed the delicious gravy. I thought the dish worked rather well together, I was happily mopping up the gravy with the rice and slurping the broth throughout.

Mr GF chose the Kaeng Phed Yang £7.75, roasted duck in red curry sauce with pineapple and cherry tomatoes. The succulent duck had little fat which made a nice change and the curry sauce had incredible depth, beautifully fragrant, coconutty bliss, working well with the sweet pieces of pineapple. He also wisely ordered some extra sticky rice to mop up every last bit of that amazing curry sauce.

Having only ordered a dessert in a Thai restaurant once and getting a block of flavourless, slimy green jelly with sesame seeds on it I have always shunned desserts when eating Thai food. However, I was intrigued by the Pandam Leaf Crepe, £4.50 which was served with some gorgeous coconut ice cream from Cloud9 down the road. Inside the green crepe was a lovely, toasted coconut filling flavoured with orange sauce, perfect washed down with one of their digestive aiding teas.

I'm not sure how true the food on offer is to traditional street food as I'm no expert in this field, but Street Thai is a very welcome addition to Brighton dining scene with affordable, delicious food and casual atmosphere with some of the most charming staff in town. It was one of my most enjoyable meals lately so I'll definitely be popping back in the not too distant future.

Street Thai
20 Brighton Square
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1HD
01273 207444

I was invited as a guest of Street Thai.

REVIEW: Marco Pierre White at The Chequers Inn, Maresfield

You may recall that I visited The Chequers Inn in Maresfield earlier this year. Food was decent but you could tell it was winding down for a takeover or refurbishment. Forward to a few months later and Marco Pierre White has transformed the place into one of his apostrophetastic Wheeler's of St James's restaurants.

What was formerly a rather traditional, rough cornered yet cozy pub with a restaurant has been given the Marco brand touch and now has crisp white tablecloths, those chairs and white walls plastered in those huge frames, with kooky graphic charactures of famous faces (because there is nothing to increase the appetite like dining under the sketchy mug of Andrew Lloyd Webber.) Also noted was the moody “hey ladies” photographic portrait of MPW, languishing seductively and battle worn after an apparent hard service at the back entrance of a kitchen - remarkable seeing as he hasn’t cooked professionally for years. The man with his sleeves rolled up here is head chef Neil Thornley from White's The Yew Tree, but Marco can still be found swanning around doing book signings so you may still spot him here or at his other recent acquirement of the The Kings Arms Inn at nearby Fenhurst.

But anyway, apart from the change in the interior the next shock was the price. £16.50 for 3 courses? I looked over my shoulder and under the table for the catch. This was the set Sunday lunch menu but there didn't seem to be any other option, and at this price, it would be rude not to. Checking the prices of the à la carte after, although considerably more, are still reasonable with starters around £7-10, non-steak mains £14 and desserts £6.50.

As the starters came out, all in ramekins and all fridge cold, it dawned on me that Sunday lunch was a relatively easy ride service, hence the price. Starters and puddings seems mostly pre-made (so that would be the catch then). However, despite the chilliness, my Kipper Paté with Whisky served with Melba Toast was rather nice, beautifully textured and generously salted. Mr. GF's practically identical looking Potted Duck with Prunes D’Argent and Hot (but served cold) Toast was chunky, meaty and flavoursome.

Although a decent selection of fish dishes were also available (the Wheeler's chain formerly being fish restaurants), all three of us oped for roasts, myself and Mr. GF choosing the Roast Suckling Pig and Mr. A the Roast Rib of Aberdeen Angus Beef with a rather impressive Yorkshire pudding.

The roasts arrived with an army of side dishes; cauliflower cheese, swede puree, braised red cabbage and carrots in a parsley sauce. I had no complaints about my pork other than why the bejesus serve it with stuffing when it is already rolled with stuffing inside? This irritated me, but otherwise the pockets of sweet, tender meat and chewy belly fat was delicious. Mr. A's beef was even better, tender, perfectly pink and juicy. Having all the vegetables in little dishes is a bit of a chore, by the time you have handed them all around with perfect British manners, your meal is half cold.

For pudding I chose, in a moment of madness, the Eton Mess, which was a ridiculous choice for the cold day outside. I've never had one before but meringue, berries and cream... meh. But this simpleton of a pudding will always be meh.

Mr. A had lucked out again with his more appropriate choice of dessert with a rather good Rice Pudding with Raspberry Compote.

Mr. GF will always, always choose the cheese if it an option, making me think I married a mouse not a man, but this example rocked up it deserved the gasp it created from the three of us. I've been served cheese "boards" at half this size AND had to normally pay a surcharge for it as well. Not sure how "local" the cheeses were despite being billed as that, the plate was generous to a fault and the basket of crackers rather good too. Mouse boy happily chomped his way through it.

Service was friendly, young but bumbling. None of the waiting staff seemed to be looking after any particular table, causing many forgotten items and our waitress taking our drinks orders showed a lack of knowledge of the beers on offer ("nah, I don't think we do local beer anymore"). Two of the other tables in the room seemed to actually be complaining but to be fair they did seem particularly hard to please people in tweed jackets and boofy hair styles.

Coffee was served cold (FFS) in garish printed cups but interestingly served with Turkish delight.

Despite the misses, I would still be keen to go back and order from the à la carte, as Sunday lunch is clearly a half pre-made affair, but as I crunched my way through my roast potatoes during my main, I couldn't think of a better value (but not the best) Sunday Roast in Sussex, with most local pubs pipping £16 just as a single dish.

I would say that The Chequers Inn is worth a try, you may see a few sparks but don't expect fireworks. Time will tell how successful this venture will be for Marco Pierre White, with most people initially visiting out of curiosity (I'll hold my hand up here) and as interest dwindles it will only be the quality of food that will make people take the special trip to Maresfield because despite being billed as a pub for the locals, I can't see the polished interior being a place for muddy boots and a pint after work.

Chequers Inn
High Street
Maresfield ,Uckfield
East Sussex TN22 2EH