Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas with the Spices

27 Dec

Our Christmas cookies!

Hello everyone, we hope you’ve all been having an excellent Christmas! We’ve had a rather adventurous few days, filled with lots of eating of course.

Roxie shows off her piping skills

As Roxie has said, we were delayed in Washington by two days, and so decided to make Christmas cookies to fill up the time. We realized we hadn’t done this in years, as we’re always traveling for Christmas—it was fun, but hard work! We followed the instructions put up by the Pioneer Woman (using Baked at 350’s cookie recipe but an egg white royal icing recipe). Of course, we didn’t have all the fancy equipment she did… but spoons and forks did almost as well as squirt bottles and toothpicks, though our free-form stars were a little wonky.

The wigilia table

We wrapped up the cookies to bring over to England, and finally made it on Christmas Eve, just in time for the traditional wigilia dinner at our aunt’s house. This is the big Polish fish dinner that is eaten on Christmas Eve (after opening presents).  Traditionally the wigilia is about 10 courses with 12 or 13 types of fish, which differs by family, according to our uncle Tony.  But we do a slightly abridged version, with 6

The borscht with a hard boiled egg

courses and 4 types of fish in total, by our count at least.  Basically it means we get two Christmas dinners… one Polish one on Christmas Eve, and one traditional English one on Christmas Day! The wigilia starts with the singing of Silent Night in three languages—the original German, English, and Polish. We all thought we might have gotten a little better at the Polish over the years, but it is a very difficult language to pronounce, and we basically rely on our uncle and cousin to carry that verse. The first course is a borscht soup (a brightly colored beetroot soup), traditionally with hard boiled egg or sour cream. Then we moved on to smoked eel—a new addition this year, and extremely tasty. Our aunt had made her own horseradish to go with it, which was proclaimed excellent by those of us who enjoy horseradish (I do not, but Roxie slathered it on everything). The next course is the pickled herring, cucumbers, and buckwheat. Not exactly something I eat every day, and I remember finding it pretty weird

Two very fat carp!

the first time I had it, but I’ve come to really enjoy the herring, and the cucumbers in dill are excellent accompaniment. The next course is thestar of the show—stuffed carp, and this year we had two! I’m still unconvinced by carp as a fish—it definitely has a very distinctive flavor, and it is basically impossible to get a piece without bones in it—but the stuffing is delicious. And if that isn’t enough, we had only a short break before the muck was

The Stilton (and the controversial Stilton spoon)

brought out! (Can’t guarantee that that is the correct spelling, but that is definitely how it is pronounced.) This is a poppy seed mixture with almonds (I think) and lots and lots of alcohol. It’s served alongside dried fruit also stewed in alcohol (and all served with port, of course). Last but not least was the huge wheel of Stilton (accompanied by a lively debate over the correct way to slice or scoop Stilton)—a course I was rather relieved to opt out of due to my hatred of bleu cheese, I was so full after all that food!

Can you pronounce those Polish words?

But then of course we were at it again the next day—and this time our family had to do the cooking! Our Christmas Day dinner is a little more casual though, especially as we had three boisterous children joining us. We cook almost the same exact meal as we do for Thanksgiving—substituting kale for sweet potatoes this time, though. And the dessert, of course, is the traditional Christmas pudding with brandy butter, though now that Roxie and I are no longer the youngest we don’t get the pound coins hidden in it anymore!  All in all, we’ve had an excellent few days and are looking forward to some more good British eating to come.

Maximilian enjoyed his brussel sprouts


Mince Pies

23 Dec

Best Christmas snack ever

Due to the UK’s complete inability to deal with 8 inches of snow, Gina and I, who were scheduled to leave DC on Tuesday, are not leaving until the 23rd and arriving in England on Christmas Eve.  After our first flight was cancelled we were initially told we would not get to England, where our parents (but unfortunately not their luggage), already are, until Christmas day.  Then Father Spice sweet-talked a BA agent and we were placed on flights going through Texas for the 22nd, which were subsequently cancelled yesterday morning (even though the other two flights to London out of Dallas still ran, apparently we just have terrible luck predicting which flights will actually make it out). It’s been a rough few days to say the least- thanks, British Airways.


Action shot putting the mince meat in

So after another long, why-do-play-with-my-emotions-British-Airways, type of day last night, Gina and I came home to my apartment (after packing her belongings for 3 weeks and 2 drastically different climates into a carry-on suitcase so our luggage doesn’t get lost, which took quite a bit of “Gina, do you really need that many t-shirts?” coaxing), to find that my roommate Lily had made us all mince pies!  They were seriously good, and cheered both of us up immediately.  For those of you not familiar with mince pies (aka anyone not from England), no “mince meat”, does not contain actual meat, and they are best enjoyed with either red wine, brandy, or warm apple cider.  Mince pies are hard to describe if you’ve never had them, but they have a shortbread-like crust and a pretty strongly flavored, fruity and brandy-y, mince filling.  These are what Santa gets, with his glass of sherry, on Christmas Eve in the Ginger Spice household (Ok, everyone stop freaking out over this, Santa gets enough of this milk and cookies nonsense in the US, he needs some sherry to keep him going all night).  Although they take a while to complete, these are actually not that complicated to make- the mince meat just involves putting all of the ingredients in a pot and letting it simmer, and the crust is very simple.  If you can get your hands on some traditional clotted cream, it goes very well with the mince pies- otherwise brandy butter will do (What’s that! You don’t know what brandy butter is?? Look it up, your life will change). Don’t try to stick exactly to any recipe for the mince meat, just kind of throw various fruits into a pot and as much or as little brandy as you would like until it tastes good to you.  These are great for entertaining around Christmas- just make sure to leave at least one for Santa!


Lily’s Mince Pies


For the Mince Meat
6 apples
1/2 pint apple cider
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup crushed walnuts (or other nut)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup glace cherries
1/4 cup brandy

For the Crust
1 egg
2 cups of flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk or 1 egg white (for brushing tops)

Peel and dice the apples into small pieces. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the cider, and once dissolved add all other ingredients except the brandy.  Continue stirring while you add all of the ingredients, then when they are all added, cover the pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the apples are soft.  Stir occasionally to prevent burning.  Take off the heat and leave to cool, then add brandy to taste.

While mince meat is cooling, prepare the crust.  Sift flour into large mixing bowl, add sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter.  Mix with spoon until the mixture forms a ball (or put in food processor until ball forms). Liberally flour a surface and rolling pin (dough should be very sticky), then place dough onto the floured surface and roll out until quite thin (about 1/8 inch), but not falling apart.

To form mince pies: cut dough into equal numbers small and slightly larger circles using cookie cutters, or the bottom of 1/3 and 1/4 cup measuring cups.  Grease a muffin tray, then place each large circle in one muffin holder, creased so that the dough goes up the edges of the muffin holder to form a cup shape.  Spoon a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat into each dough cup, then cover with smaller circle of dough. Press edges together so sides of dough are touching. Glaze lightly with milk or egg white.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Take out and leave to cool, and once cooled sprinkle with confectioners sugar.