December recipes: The main event

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Christmas

The festive period isn’t normally associated with healthy eating, but Dr Michelle Braude of nutrition practice The Food Effect, says it doesn’t have to be this way and that many of the foods we often associate with Christmas and New Year are actually very healthy if used in the right way.

Grilled Salmon & Baby Potatoes on a Bed of Greens & Barley

A showstopper of a dish that will leave your guests asking for more.

Ingredients:

• 1 whole side of salmon fillet (around 1kg), with skin removed
• 1kg baby potatoes, washed and cut in halves
• 8 cups mixed greens
• 250g cooked barley (or brown rice)
• 1 head of garlic
• 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
• ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• 3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
• ½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs
• A third of a cup of balsamic vinegar
• Salt & pepper, to taste
• Balsamic glaze – for drizzling

PREP: 15 minutes

COOKING: 40 minutes

SERVES: 4-6

Method:

For the salmon:

Heat oven to 200°C.

Toss baby potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, salt and black pepper. Cut a 1/4 off the head of garlic horizontally, and wrap it in foil.

Place potatoes and garlic on a parchment lined baking tray and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.

Coat the salmon with 2 tablespoons olive oil, soy sauce, dried mixed herbs and pepper. Place on another parchment lined baking sheet and place in the oven 20 minutes before the potatoes are ready. Roast salmon for 18-20 minutes.

For the dressing:

Blend together the balsamic vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, and squeezed out roasted garlic. If too thick add a bit of water.

Complete the dish:

Combine a few tablespoons of dressing with the cooked barley, and the rest with the mixed greens. Arrange greens on a platter. Sprinkle the barley over the greens. With a large spatula place the salmon on the greens and barley and place the baby potatoes all the way around the salmon. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the salmon to decorate.

Variation: You can also decorate with pomegranate seeds, flaked almonds or chopped spring onion

Christmas is not quite the same without homemade warm mince pies to enjoy. This granola inspired delicious recipe is bound to keep everyone happy using granola from Lizi’s Breakfast Range available from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Asda, Morrisons, Whole Foods, Co-Op, Booths and all good health stores.

Christmas Mince Pies with Lizi’s Original Granola Topping

These mince pies are a fun treat for all the family.

Ingredients:

• 1 whole side of salmon fillet (around 1kg), with skin removed
• 1kg baby potatoes, washed and cut in halves
• 8 cups mixed greens
• 250g cooked barley (or brown rice)• 1 head of garlic
• 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
• ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• 3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
• ½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs
• A third of a cup of balsamic vinegar
• Salt & pepper, to taste
• Balsamic glaze – for drizzling

PREP: 30 minutes

COOKING: 20 minutes

MAKES: 18

Method:

To make the pastry, rub together the diced vegan butter into the plain flour. Once they are mixed together, mix in the golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt.

Combine the pastry into a ball – don’t add any liquids – and knead it briefly. The dough will be fairly firm, like a shortbread dough.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C.

Line 18 tin holes of two 12-hole shallow baking tins, pressing small (approximately walnut-sized) balls of pastry into each hole. Keep some of the pastry aside for the lids. Spread the pastry balls to make pie shaped cases and spoon the vegan mincemeat into the cases.

Roll out the remaining pastry for the lids. Use your star cutter (which has to be big enough to reach the sides of the pie cases) to create the pastry lids. If you’d rather use a different shaped cutter, ensure that the shapes reach the sides of the pie cases again.

Place the pastry lids on the pies, ensuring that they fit. Bake for 20 minutes until the pies are golden.

Leave the mince pies to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack. To serve, lightly dust with some icing sugar. The mince pies will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container.

See our other recipes

Wintry wonders

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Christmas

Head to the River & Rowing Museum to enjoy The Snowman™ and The Snowdog Exhibition until 19th January

This year the River & Rowing Museum’s magical festive programme of activities has been inspired by the much-loved animated film The Snowman and The Snowdog, the sequel to Raymond Briggs’ classic picture book The Snowman, first published in 1978 and then adapted for screen in 1982.

The museum invites you to continue the adventure of the UK’s favourite festive characters with a beautiful exhibition and special screenings of both animated films.

Follow the wonderous adventures of The Snowman and The Snowdog, in a stunning exhibition displaying over 40 original original illustrations and sketches from the animation.  This celebration of the innocence and magic of childhood adventure will appeal to all generations. The detailed hand-drawn artwork and charming characters are universal and timeless. Together they reveal the wintery wonder and warmth that make the season special.

Take a selfie with The Snowman, dress up as your own character from the animation and join The Snowman’s party in this interactive exhibition.  Put on your own puppet show or enjoy the opportunity to curl up with a book in the story corner and dive into the magical world of The Snowman.

Screenings of the animations and an appearance from The Snowman™ will last for an hour, with an opportunity to take photos with the festive icon, making delightful memories that will last a lifetime. The perfect family festive outing.

More Info

Go to  http://rrm.co.uk and www.thesnowman.com

A green Christmas

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Christmas

Local dad David Lamont, founder of Plastic Free Home, offers his tips on how we can enjoy a more planet-friendly season

‘Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more…” It’s not often that I quote the Grinch, but in this case Dr Seuss’ fictional character is spot on. Christmas is magical but it’s also a time of unnecessary waste. Here are our top tips…

1. Avoid the gimmicks
From pre-packed ‘reindeer food’ (what’s wrong with a carrot?) that’s bad for the birds, to Christmas Eve boxes, don’t get sucked in.

2. Presents
Think quality not quantity and avoid plastic. Wooden toys are popular again and look to ethical smellies, made from natural, cruelty-free and vegan ingredients. Give handmade gifts or experiences too – homemade nibbles, something knitted, a meal/afternoon tea.

3. Wrapping
Lots of wrapping contains plastic. It’s not an exact science but if you scrunch into a ball and it stays that way, it’s more likely it’s plastic free. Use recycled brown paper and/or reusable bags. Crucially, avoid plastic sticky tape! Paper tape is easy to buy online.

4. Cards
The obvious answer is to avoid them entirely but that may be easier said than done. Aim to buy cards that use recycled or FSC (sustainable) paper, free of non-biodegradable glitter, badges and plastic wrapping.

5. Crackers
Again, you could avoid. Or make your own or source reusable. If buying, look for those that don’t contain plastic toys and are recyclable.

6. Trees
If you already own an artificial tree, use it for as long as you can. In need of a new one? Consider a real tree that’s FSC or Soil Association approved. Or even rent a real tree!

7. Advent calendars
Make or buy a reusable one and fill with homemade or plastic-free treats. Foil-wrapped or Divine chocolate are better. Keep it traditional.

8. Food
Buy meat (and cut down) plastic-free from a local butcher, and veg unwrapped from a local greengrocer or farm shop.

9. Drinks
Wine bottles with a cork are better than screwtop. If you’re buying beer, avoid plastic packaging and go for glass over cans. For soft drinks, swap plastic bottles for glass or cans.

10. At the end of it all
Recycle and dispose of everything correctly. If in doubt, look online, contact your council or us! Prep bags or boxes ready for things like cardboard and recyclable plastic. Donate unwanted stuff to a charity shop or food bank.

Green Christmas

Like www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk and visit

Magical Reading

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Christmas

There are so many events going on in Reading for the whole family this month it’s like having an extra present every day!

It’s all set to be a magical Christmas in Reading – the lights have already been switched on, the big blue whale has paraded down Broad Street and ArtLine Street Market has showcased the town’s local artists.

December begins with Reading’s Living Advent Calendar until 24th when a host of magical events will take place every day ranging from sing-alongs to craft workshops, as well as a wide variety of shows to suit all ages – there’s so much to do some days have more than one ‘window’ to open! Full details at http://www.magicalreading.co.uk/project/readings-living-advent-calendar/ and funds raised will help local charities Homestart, Readifood and Reading Samaritans.

A show with a difference can be enjoyed at Yates in Harris Shopping Arcade on 16th December when Cinderella: A Wicked Mother of a Show takes over, described as “an outrageous site-specific show inspired by panto” you are encouraged to think “Tarantino meets Shameless, meets ELF” and all in a pub, sounds intriguing…

The Pentahotel in Oxford Road is holding a show to entertain the kids on 22nd with My Shadow and Me before it looks at Cinema in Silhouette where stand-up comedy meets shadow puppetry. And after you’ve enjoyed all that there’s more to see in The Snow Show with a variety of fun family performances in Broad Street from 4.30pm.

Children’s favourite Mr Tumble stars in Cinderella at The Hexagon (more in our panto feature) and A Christmas Carol with a twist is at South Street Arts Centre from 10th to 30th December.

All that and The Oracle will be transformed into a magical frozen wonderland where you can watch a series of wintry ice-capades on the rink on Saturdays at 4.30pm, 5.30pm and 6.30pm.

Make sure you leave some time too to take a break from all the fun and shopping for a festive feet up at the many restaurants and bars in Reading.

Living Advent Calendar

Where to see Santa

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Christmas

The friendly fella in the red suit with the long white beard is building up to his busiest time of the year and over the next few weeks there are plenty of places where you can catch him as he stops off on tour before heading back to get those presents ready for 25th December. Here are some of the venues you can catch him…

Santa will be in his magical grotto at Squire’s Garden Centres across Surrey where you can receive an early Christmas present and at the same time ‘give a gift’ to a local charity. Tickets cost £6 per child, with £1 from every ticket to Squire’s local charities. Santa’s grotto is open every Saturday and Sunday and on Christmas Eve, as well as the week leading up to Christmas at many centres. Milford is helping The Meath and Woking is boosting funds for Woking Age Concern. Just turn up on the day. You can also enjoy breakfast with Santa at Frensham, find out more about this and Santa’s grotto at www.squiresgardencentres.co.uk

How about meeting Santa as you see Guildford from the river? Step aboard the Surrey Care Trust’s Swingbridge1 broadbeam boat for a gentle, festive family cruise along the River Wey. The boat will depart from Millmead Island for a 45-minute cruise upstream with stories and presents from Father Christmas. Enjoy mince pies and a glass of mulled wine on the way. Tickets for the trips on 30th November, 1st, 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th December include refreshments plus a present. Book online at www.visitguildford.com or call 01483 444333. All profits to Surrey Care Trust which tackles disadvantage, social exclusion and hardship.

In Painshill, it’s all aboard Santa’s train for a festive treat with a difference to see the main man himself in their Grade I listed Crystal Grotto. Take a journey around the stunning views of Painshill on the train before stopping off at the grotto to meet Santa and collecting a present from him and his elves. Visit Santa’s snow train and crystal grotto from 1st to 22nd December, booking essential. More information and tickets at www.painshill.co.uk/event/santas-snow-train-and-crystal-grottos/

Experience the magic of Christmas at Chobham Adventure Farm where Santa and his elves will be sprinkling some festive dust. There’ll be lessons in elf magic so you can become a true elf helper. Help Mrs Claus decorate gingerbread and join in a teddy bear making workshop. Tickets include entry to the farm park as well as to see Santa, pre-booking advised, 30th November to 24th December. To find out more go to www.chobhamadventurefarm.co.uk/christmas/product/santas-grotto/

Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas are visiting Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, where you can meet him or her in their cosy festive sitting room, enjoy a chat and collect a present – ideal for 2-8 year olds. Santa and Mrs Christmas will be meeting and greeting on 30th November and 1st, 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th, 21st and 22nd December. Booking essential, www.tickets.visitguildford.com/en-GB/categories/father%20christmas

Enjoy a warm welcome from Santa’s elves, take an outdoor train ride followed by a visit to see Father Christmas in his cellar grotto at Denbies Wine Estate. Each child will receive a gift, enjoy the train ride, Santa’s sticker book and Christmas crafts in the Santa’s cellar (£8.50 per child). Various dates from 30th November. Visit www.denbies.co.uk/events/family-events/ for details and to book.

Journey through a Christmas wonderland with plenty to enchant young and old at The Rural Life Centre in Farnham – take a ride through the woods on the Old Kiln Light Railway and visit the elves’ workshop, meet the animals in the stable, enter into the Christmas spirit with twinkling lights, festive music and a visit to Father and Mother Christmas in their magical grotto where each child will receive a gift. Visit on 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th. To book go to https://rural-life.org.uk/book-tickets

There’s another chance to meet Santa in Farnham at Birdworld where you can get up close with Santa’s reindeer and some of the friendly farm animals before entering a magical world of animated characters in winter wonderland settings. As you walk through the different scenes, enjoy some banter with the elves on your way to meet Santa to receive your gift. Adults aren’t forgotten with a mince pie and hot fruit punch. Visit on 30th November and 1st, 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th and 18th-24th December. To book visit https://birdworld.co.uk/christmas/

Don’t be surprised if you see Santa paying a visit to Haslemere Museum Christmas market, tell him what’s on your wish list on 1st December before taking a gift home. The week before Christmas the man in the red suit is stopping by again, popping into Santa’s Victorian Parlour on 20th and 21st December and 23rd and 24th December and again your child will take home a gift. There’s no need to book for ether of these events. There’s also a special opening of the parlour on 23rd December from 10am-11am for families with children who have an autism spectrum condition. Booking is essential for this visit www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk/whatson/whatson.html#bookmark2

Travel on The Watercress Line on a festive train for a magical trip where Santa and his jolly helpers visit you in your seat with a gift. Grown-ups get treated to white wine and mince pies, while children enjoy a soft drink and gingerbread man. Each child will also receive an activity pack to keep them entertained on the journey. Advanced booking essential for this popular event in Alresford on 30th November, 1st, 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th and 21st to 24th December, various times each day. For more details and to book visit www.watercressline.co.uk/product.php/137/santa-special

Oh yes it is…

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Christmas

Pantomimes are many children’s first experience of the theatre and what a way to start!

Dashing heroes, beautiful heroines and villains you can boo and hiss at, they really are great family fun for all. Karen Neville offers up our guide to some of the star-studded highlights and those on the local stages…

CHOOSE YOUR AREA:

Santa cruise

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Christmas

Hop aboard for a Father Christmas cruise on the Rose of Hungerford 

There are a whole host of Santa’s grottos popping up at this time of year but there won’t be many chances to meet the man in the red suit on a boat. 

Hop aboard the Rose of Hungerford and meet Father Christmas and his elves on the Kennet & Avon Canal on selected dates in December.  

The Rose of Hungerford is a purpose-built 55ft long wide-beamed passenger trip boat owned by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust.  

Public trips have been running all year round and now it’s time to celebrate the festive season – there’s a gift for every child and refreshments for all and all for just £9. 

In 2017, The Rose of Hungerford undertook more than 200 trips, carrying around 6,000 passengers. She travelled about 660 miles and through 772 locks as she toured the canal.  

Father Christmas cruises are on 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th December from 11am-noon and from 1-2pm from Hungerford Wharf. 

Tickets

Tickets must be pre-booked from Fare Wise Travel, High Street, Hungerford or by calling 01380 721279. 

For more information about the Rose of Hungerford

 

Birdland Park

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Christmas

If you’re looking for a day out to avoid all the pre-Christmas chaos that already seems to have taken hold, how about a day out at Birdland Park & Gardens?

A pandemonium of parrots has flocked there in recent weeks with some colourful new residents moving in to the park which is now home to 16 different parrot species.

The Cotswold-based wildlife attraction has constructed six new aviaries with two more to be completed in the coming months where visitors can view the new species including the kea and long billed corella.

As part of the new features Birdland in Bourton-on-the-Water is also raising awareness about the conservation and welfare work being done by the World Parrot Trust. The charity is currently focussing on raising funds and awareness to help support the endangered scarlet macaw.

Birdland manager Simon Blackwell said: “We’re very pleased to be able to support such a worthy cause here at Birdland.

“The conservation work the World Parrot Trust undertakes is vital in raising awareness about the risks faced by all parrot species in the wild which include loss of habitat and capture for the illegal trade in wild birds.

“The additional aviaries which have been constructed here are already home to a pandemonium of parrots, the collective term for a group of the birds, and they’ve settled in really well,” he added.

There are 387 species of parrots, known scientifically as Psittacine, and most species are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Australia, Asia, Central and South America and Africa.

For video of just some of the attractions at Birdland, click here: