As a continuation from our summer session, Skye McAlpine From My Dining Table hosts another fun cooking lesson for her and Celia’s children, this time nestled in her cosy home kitchen. Photography by the wonderful Sarah Winborn.
This Christmas story develops around festive, traditional recipes by Skye, including delicious cinnamon biscuits she has been making as presents for friends ever since she was a little girl. The children wore cosy knits and seasonal tartans for an afternoon filled of tree decorating, sugar coating and star cutting.
Read on as Skye and Celia share their thoughts on how to make cooking engaging for all ages, Christmas family traditions and festive giving.
Skye, where did you get your inspiration from for the recipes you’ve chosen to create today?
Well, I began by thinking about what I might like to be given at Christmas and what I would like to eat and then worked from there. The Christmas Cake is my mother’s recipe and one that I make every year: I make one for us to eat, and then another twenty to give away as gifts to friends. The preserved lemons are something that I love to cook with and often serve over a plate of Burrata as a simple starter dish, so I thought it would be nice to give them a festive twist by adding some spices – cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise to the jar. And for the olive oil, I wanted something a little special – saffron and clementine are both lovely, rich flavours and work together really beautifully. Aeneas and I make cinnamon biscuits to decorate our tree with every year – and now it has begun to be a little bit of a tradition. This year we added a little rose water to the biscuit dough and to the sugar icing – I really love how it turned out. Very subtle, but still very festive.
Are edible gifts something that either of you have made previously with your children around Christmas time?
S: My mother always used to make Christmas puddings, cakes and jars of brandy butter to give away at Christmas. I remember doing it with her and then rushing around Venice in our boat to drop the cakes off with all our friends. So I guess I grew up with the tradition of giving something homemade to those that you love – it is one of the things that I love most about the Christmas season, and a tradition I really want to share with Aeneas too.
C: We are quite big on edible gifts, mainly because we have a Christmas tradition at home of everybody gifting everybody else in the family so no matter how young you are, you must prepare a gift for the other members of the family. Edible gifts are always the favourite option because you can do them at home, they are easy and so much fun to make. As well as tasting lovely you can be quite creative with them. During the process of making them, you can also eat a bit of it too! It’s been so fun when preparing the cookies with Skye to see us all (including our photographer Sarah Winborn) dive into the uncooked dough! Skye, that one was delicious by the way…
Why do you feel it’s important to get children involved in cooking, and in this instance to be creative with it?
S: Cooking is one of my great passions and one of my greatest joys in life, so of course I want to share it with Aeneas. I think it is important to show him that cooking is fun, more than it is ‘something you have to do’. Letting your creativity run wild, and making something so rewarding as gifts – something that you know will bring joy to those who receive it – is a great way to do that. Aeneas really loves seeing what he has made and then giving it to someone.
C: I think it is important for my children to get involved in cooking so that they know where food comes from and how to prepare it. Food is an incredible part of our lives as a family. I would say that 60% of our time as a family during the weekend revolves around food. Planning what we are going to cook and writing the list of things we need, going to the local market to buy some food (our children love choosing the ingredients), picking our home grown vegetables, displaying all ingredients and cooking them all together. It is fun to see how now there are different cooking roles in the family. Generally our boys are better cooks (some are into cutting, others into rinsing, others into stirring…) My husband and I have great fun looking at them all. We find it a very enjoyable experience and it allows our children to relate to food at many different levels and be incredibly appreciative of the work behind it, because they have had such an important role in making it. This is how I get them to eat the vegetables they don’t particularly like, by preparing them in a way they think tastes nice.
Where will you each spend Christmas this year, and what will you cook?
S: For the first time in a couple of decades, we won’t be in Venice for Christmas this year – we are going to spend Christmas with my godmother and her family in Cornwall. We’re really looking forward to it. She is hosting lunch, so I’ll just be helping where I can and where I’m needed – I’m happy to be on potato peeling duty! I don’t know what we’ll have for lunch, but I’m sure there will be lots of panettone, as my godmother is Italian!
C: My husband is Dutch and I am Spanish which means that we always split our Christmas between our two countries of origin. This year, we will first be going to The Netherlands. My mother in law pays a lot of attention to the details and she is particularly good when it comes to impressing the family over Christmas, not only with a very tasteful décor but with the delicious meals she prepares. The children will be helping her cook and we will get typical Dutch Christmas dishes (veal with cooked cabbage is one of my favourite ones). We will then be going to Spain where my father would have prepared incredible meals. He cooks duck every year, and he finds a new delicious sauce to combine it with each time. Lamb, oysters and lobster in any shape or form are some of the usuals on the menu.
I would be lying if I said that we do the cooking… Our parents do and they wouldn’t have it in any other way. We just get to enjoy their cooking and as we are all incredibly grateful eaters, I think they find it very rewarding.
Rose and Cinnamon Christmas Cookies
Aeneas and I make biscuits together every year to decorate our tree, and it has come to be something of a tradition of ours. They make for really fun gifts for friends – especially those with children, who seem to take as much joy in adding them to their tree (and then eating them) as Aeneas and I do in making them. The recipe below is very loosely adapted from the basic recipe in ‘The Biscuteers Book of Iced Biscuits’ – I’ve added a pinch of ground cinnamon and a drop of rosewater and omitted the sugar icing.
Makes 24 large star-shaped cookies
350g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g salted butter
125g golden syrup
1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp rosewater
Pour the two kinds of four and the caster sugar into a food processor and blitz a few times – this will get rid of any clumps. Now, roughly chop the butter and add to the processor along with the golden syrup. Crack the egg into a small bowl, lightly beat with a fork and pour into the mix, along with the cinnamon and rosewater. Blitz until you have a smooth, pliable dough. Divide the dough into two chunks and roll each one out between two pieces of greaseproof paper (this will stop the dough from sticking to the kitchen surface). Wrap the dough in clingfilm or greaseproof paper, and set it to rest in the fridge for 30-45 mins – you can even leave it overnight if you like.
When you are ready to make your biscuits, heat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade. Grease and line two baking trays. Roll out the dough – you want it the thickness of a one pound piece – and use a star shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough into biscuit shapes, then gently lay each one on the baking tray. Bake for 15-25 mins until golden brown. After 15 mins check on the biscuits, and while the dough is still quite soft, use a chopstick to punch a hole into each star (you will thread ribbon through the hole later to hang the biscuits from the tree), then put the biscuits back into the oven to harden if needed.
Allow the biscuits to cool on a rack, before decorating them with sugar icing, if you like, and stringing them on ribbon to make decorations.
On part 2 of our festive Cooking with Children story next week, we ask Skye and Celia about their childhood memories and Christmas traditions now and then. We also share another delicious recipe the children prepared on the day, so that you can also try them at home this holiday.