Cookies for the tin


Cookies in the tin, chilli in the fridge . . . now don’t you feel virtuous and satisfied, writes DOMINI KEMP

I’VE NEVER BEEN a big fan of buying over-the-top presents at Christmas, mainly because I think that Santa only counts if you’re a kid or a retailer, and the emphasis should be on family, friends, celebrating life and breaking bread. It’s also a time to remember absent friends.

However, there are a few things I’m always grateful to receive, such as a few pairs of posh socks, warm leather gloves or cosy (and not too ugly) slippers. Maybe such a wish-list is a sign that I’m getting older and much, much crankier, but useful and practical beat snazzy and fake, any day.

Books are always a sensible and pleasurable present, as is a really nice bottle of wine. But ultimately, making dinner for someone really does mean a lot, and it’s something that never fails to impress, no matter how simple or modest. And the best present in return for being fed? I think a gift of something home-made (such as the cappuccino cookies below), or a carefully wrapped fantastic artisan product is a great way to say thanks.

Gorgeous cheese, delicious chocolates or jams and cured meats and smoked fish are all fantastically useful presents, especially around Christmas, when items such as cheese and smoked fish can feed unexpected callers, and dipping into a chunk of nice chocolate will do you lots of good by releasing some much needed serotonin into your system.

The other recipe is for a very tasty lamb, beer and black bean chilli from Diana Henry’s latest book, Food from Plenty, which is bursting full of good recipes. This is a fabulous dish which would be very popular with hungry folk over Christmas, and it re-heated splendidly. And don’t fret, the tinned black beans worked really well here, so no need for soaking (and fretting) the night before.

Cappuccino cookies

Based on Adam Byatt’s recipe, but I’ve tweaked the chocolate quantities as I found his a tad too bitter.

115g soft butter

125g light muscovado sugar

Squeeze of honey

Pinch of salt

1 egg

2-3 tsp instant coffee

170g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate soda

100g milk chocolate, chopped

100g dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees/gas mark four. Have one, or possibly two baking trays lined with parchment paper. Beat the butter and sugar until light and a bit fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and keep mixing with an electric beater.

Wrap the mixture in between two sheets of clingfilm, roll into a sausage, secure the ends and chill in the fridge.

When ready to bake, cut the dough into slices about one centimetre thick. Keep them a cookie width apart and bake for about 12 minutes until just setting. Remove carefully and cool on a wire rack. Eat them warm or allow to cool fully and wrap up in some baking paper and ribbon for a gorgeous home-made gift.

Lamb, beer and black bean chilli

I often put chillies in the freezer as it seems to make them fairly mild and then I don’t bother to de-seed them and they’re never too hot. They’re also very easy to slice when frozen.

Serves 4-6

Good glug of olive oil

750g shoulder of lamb, cubed into big bite-sized chunks

Salt and pepper

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 green chillies

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tins of tomatoes

1 x 300ml bottle lager

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

3 tsp dried oregano

2 tins black beans

Big bunch of coriander, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the lamb over a high heat so that it browns all over. Season really well, keep the heat up high and when you have good colour on the meat, remove it from the heat.

Spoon the lamb on to a plate and don’t wash out the pan.

Fry the onion in the same pan until they are soft. Season well. Add the garlic, chillies and cumin. Then add the lamb back to the pan and mix well so that everything gets really well coated in all the tasty stuff.

When it starts to smell good, add the tomatoes, beer, purée, sugar and oregano. Bring up to a simmer, put a lid on and then put this on a very gentle heat and cook for 90 minutes. At this stage, add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes.

I did the first part with a lid on and gave it a gentle stir every now and then and left the lid off for the second tranche of cooking, so that it could reduce down.

Let it cool down a bit to relax and then taste it. Like all stews, this tastes better if you can leave it to settle down for an hour or so (or overnight) and re-heat. Overnight snoozing and next day reheating works well when you want the flavours to develop.

Serve with rice, or even on its own as the black beans stretch it out, with the chopped coriander sprinkled over the top.

DOMINI RECOMMENDS: If you’re off to the National Concert Hall in Dublin, grab a quick bite in Dax cafe bar (left), upstairs from the restaurant and a short stroll from the NCH. Enjoy French-inspired tapas, cheeses and charcuterie, with a big choice of wines by the glass.