Small helpings

 

A WAY WITH: SPROUTS Love them or hate them (and many of us fall into the latter category), Brussels sprouts are a Christmas staple, and it's going to be hard to avoid them in the coming weeks.

On the plus side, they're very good for you, and each sprout contains only around 10 calories. And some people really do like them - Paul Flynn, chef-patron of the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, Co Waterford once drove 15 miles on Christmas day to deliver some to his sprout-loving future wife, whose family didn't share her enthusiasm for them.

Ways of serving sprouts tend to fall into two categories - cook them as little as possible and serve them unadorned, save for a knob of butter (in which case choose the smallest, firmest sprouts you can find), or pair them with nicer-tasting stuff such as bacon, creme fraiche or Parmesan.

A dollop of creme fraiche and a spoonful of grainy mustard added to lightly cooked sprouts takes the bite out of them. John McKenna's recipe for sprout gratin on page 15 is another way of dishing up these mini cabbages in an appealing way. But, for sheer inventiveness, try Paul Flynn's unusual way of cooking them with Cidona - the sweetness of the drink tempers the bitterness of the sprouts, he says. Marie-Claire Digby

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CIDONA

Serves 8

675g Brussels sprouts, trimmed

50g butter

300ml bottle Cidona (if you can't find Cidona use 7Up)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the sprouts in a pan of boiling salted water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for five minutes until just tender. Drain and quickly refresh under cold running water. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film until needed - this can be done up to 24 hours in advance.

Heat a saute pan and add the butter. Once foaming, tip in the blanched sprouts and sauté on a medium heat, turning every now and again until they start to lightly brown. Pour in the Cidona, increase the heat and simmer until all the liquid has absorbed into the sprouts, shaking the pan a couple of times. Season to taste and tip into a warmed serving bowl to serve.

EAT YOUR OATS

Robert Ditty is a third generation artisan baker, located in Castledawson, Co Derry. For an alternative cheeseboard biscuit, try his traditional oatcakes - delicate in flavour and light in texture. Made without additives, the original variety cost €2.53 for 150g; the smoked version €3.83 for 150g. From Superquinn and delis nationwide.

GINGERBREAD MAN

Brown Thomas, Grafton Street, Dublin 2 has gone crazy for gingerbread this Christmas. There is something for everyone - miniature house, pre-baked build it yourself kits, mini mansions, and finally their gingerbread mansion. All are completely edible, and lots of fun for children and adults alike. €10-€250.

Keep the vegetarians in your life happy with this mince pie recipe from The Vegetarian Society in the UK.

FIG AND WALNUT MINCE PIES

Makes 12 with enough filling for a further 2 batches

500g vegetarian shortcrust pastry

A little vegan margarine to grease baking tray

250g dried figs, chopped

100g raisins

100g sultanas

50g dried dates, chopped

50g vegetarian glace cherries, chopped

50g walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

5 tbsp brandy or whisky

½ tsp mixed spice,

pinch freshly grated nutmeg

2.5cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 ripe banana, peeled and mashed

To make the mincemeat, put the dried fruit, glacé cherries and walnuts into a bowl. Pour over the alcohol, the ginger and the spices. Stir well and leave to stand for one to two hours, stirring from time to time. Add the banana and mix well. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas six. Grease a shallow 12-hole jam tart tin. Roll the pastry out thinly. Using an eight-centimetre circular pastry cutter and a four-centimetre star-shaped pastry cutter, cut out 12 circles and 12 star shapes. Press the circles gently into each section of the tin, then put a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat into each and top with the star-shaped pastry. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Serve while still warm, sprinkled with a little caster sugar. Hugo Arnold