Christmas chestnut tartlets

I don’t know about you, but this year seems to have gone by so quickly! Christmas is nearly upon us once again. By now, most people have the decorations up, the presents bought (or maybe not!) and know who’s cooking that amazing festive feast on Christmas Day.I usually cook up a flavour-packed nut roast as my plant based alternative to turkey (see for a good basic recipe). Some may say it’s not the same, but a special feast is what you make of it, not necessarily what tradition dictates! If you so desire, there are some tasty meat-alternatives out there such as the Vegusto rustic roast (made with wheat protein) or Tofurky (wheat and soy protein), but they’re not my kind if thing, even before I went gluten free. Eating plant based and wholefood is about packing in real food, not processed products infused with a variety of chemicals.

This year though, I wanted to create something slightly different, something sumptuous and packed with Christmas flavours. And what’s more Christmassy than chestnuts and cranberries? So I put together this gorgeous little tartlet for my December supper club, and have to say am rather pleased with the results.

Chestnuts are an underrated nut! Lower in fat and higher in starches than most nuts, they are popular with those who believe that low fat, high carb is the way to lose shedloads of weight (remember Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh diet??). Although this approach is no longer de rigueur and despite their low fat content, they’re still good sources of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, but also fibre, manganese and vitamins B and C.

Cranberries are well known for being good for bladder health, and dried can be as good as fresh, although some of the vitamin C is lost. The problem is that sugar is often added to make them more palatable, but a small amount is fine. Just try not to nibble the rest of the packet whilst you’re cooking!

The filling is also gluten free, so as long as you use gluten free pastry as well, then you’ve got a fully free from dish (unless someone has a nut allergy!). I’m currently experimenting with gluten free flours – with this dish, I’ve found a pastry made with brown rice flour works the best, but that’s another blog post!

So why not give this a go? It does take a little time, but can be made in advance then reheated when you’re ready, giving you more time to open presents and drink bubbles! Merry Christmas!

Chestnuts, cranberry and mushroom Christmas tartlets (makes 6)
1 portion shortcrust pastry (homemade, Just-rol, gluten free)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
260g chestnuts (I used 1 ½ packs of Merchant Gourmet whole chestnuts)
3 medium carrots, grated
2 teaspoons thyme
1 pack parsley, stems separated from leaves and finely chopped
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
200g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons dairy free cream cheese or non-dairy cream
To make the filling Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion and thyme until the onion is soft (if it starts to stick, add a little water. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the carrot and chopped stems of the parsley, mix well and cook for another minute. Stir in the chestnuts and mushrooms and cook until the fluid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the cranberries, a few dashes of tamari and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cranberries then add the cream cheese/non dairy cream and chopped parsley leaves and cook for another few minutes until it all comes together. Taste and add additional seasoning and tamari as needed.Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll out your pastry of choice to about 1/2 cm. Place a tartlet tin on to the pastry and cut around it with a 1 ½ cm extra rim. Remove the tartlet tin and carefully pick up the cutout piece and flip it over into the tin. Press the pastry into fit, pinching any breaks together and trim the edges. Brush with some dairy free milk or a chickpea flour wash (mix a tablespoon of chickpea flour with some water to get a milk-like consistency). Repeat the process until all the pastry is used (should be enough for 6).  Place the tartlet tins on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 6 minutes.

Remove the pastry from the oven then fill with the mixture. Put the tartlets back into the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or so until the pastry feels firm and the top of the tartlets starts to brown slightly. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly so you can remove the tartlets from the tin without burning yourself and serve with all the Christmas veg. This works well with onion gravy with some redcurrant jelly stirred in, although I used homemade rosemary jelly – yum!

Comforting cabbage

There’s no getting away from it, winter is looming. The cold, frosty mornings and all-too-early dark evenings say it all. At this time, I’m rummaging in the cupboard for my woolly hat and gloves, and dipping into my old cookbooks to hunt out my favourite comfort recipes to warm me up.

What constitutes ‘comfort food’ is different for everyone, but generally they’re warming, satisfying, and, if not careful, can be lethal for the waistline! Now that I eat plant based and dairy and gluten free, I still have my comfort foods – thick sumptuous stews, heart warming soups and gorgeous puddings – they’re just slightly different.

Nutritionally, cabbage is an amazing vegetable, packed full of nutrients and phytonutrients that have a range of beneficial properties. It’s part of the cruciferous family, a group of veg that you may well have heard me go on about (it includes cauliflower and broccoli), that’s anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants and specific phytonutrients that have anti-cancer properties. Plus, cabbage is really good for the stomach and gut lining, keep unfriendly bacteria under control.

Red cabbage is even better than green. Its deep rich colour contains even more antioxidants and polyphenols, a specific group of phyto-nutrients as well as loads more vitamin C, B6 and manganese. Mix that with the probiotic properties of cooked apple (see apple cake posting for more info) and the super sulphur properties of onion, you’ve got a pretty nutritionally packed dish that also tastes gorgeous! So why not try this one chilly evening, and curl up in front of the fire with a dish that will give your taste buds and your body a big healing hug!

Slow braised red cabbage
1 medium sized red cabbage shredded
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large cooking apple, sliced
2 teaspoons dried mix herbs
couple handfuls raisins
salt and pepper
50ml vegetable stoc
Dairy free spread or olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and grease an oven proof dish that has a lid (I use my old faithful Le Creuset dish). Place a layer of sliced onions on the bottom, then cabbage, then apple. Sprinkle with the herbs and raisins and season with salt and pepper. Repeat these layers one or two more times (depending on how much you have, how big your pot is etc). Add the vegetable stock, cover with the lid and place in the oven for an hour. Remove and check there’s enough fluid so it doesn’t burn, then return to the oven for another half to one hour until everything is super soft and the flavours are concentrated. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for up to 30 minutes with the lid on before serving. Enjoy!