THERE is excitement and anticipation; there is the agonised yearning among children, for whom each crawling day feels like a week. There is some anxious organisation to undertake for the person (or hopefully "people") taking care of the cooking: all these brushstrokes of emotion paint a picture of the approach to Christmas Day.

Every family has its own way of doing things, yet taking a small step away from tradition can be fun. At Christmas, you can probably find virtually the same ingredients in every household: we return to them, unfailingly, every year. Ringing the changes by giving a little Christmas twist to these familiar staples makes this predictable list of festive fare seem a touch less monotonous.

Take the ever-divisive Brussels sprouts. I like them, but I don’t love them, unless, that is, they are tossed with crispy nuggets of bacon and sprinklings of sesame seeds. Chopped chestnuts add a lift too. Those chestnuts (buy them pre-cooked, frozen or vacuum-packed) are also wonderful cooked with celeriac or parsnip for an enriched puree or soup. As for leftover turkey meat, try shredding and folding it through an unctuous béchamel sauce, before wrapping and baking in thin pancakes for a satisfying supper. Likewise, Christmas pudding mixed through a steamed pudding is a sensational winter treat. And just occasionally I’m even prepared to forgo my beloved mince pies in place of flaky filo Christmas crackers, brimming with really good mincemeat. I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas.

Filo and mincemeat crackers

Recipes serve 4

1 pack of fresh filo pastry (270g, containing six slices of filo)

600g good quality mincemeat

100g unsalted butter

icing sugar to dust for decoration


1. Remove the filo from the fridge and bring it up to room temperature for 45 minutes before starting to use it; this will help to prevent it from tearing. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan and keep it warm. You will need a pastry brush for spreading the butter when you start

2. Take a large baking sheet, brush it evenly but lightly with butter, set aside for now. Heat the oven to 180C.

3. Remove the filo from its packaging, unroll carefully so it is laid out stacked up in a flat pile. Cover with a dry clean tea cloth.

4. Take the first sheet of filo and spread it out, with the long side immediately in front of you parallel to the table edge, returning the cloth to cover the remaining filo. Cut the filo into three across the short width of the pastry to give three even-sized rectangles running away from you. Brush two with butter and place the first on top of the second; place the third (unbuttered) one back under the tea towel for now.

5. Rotate the pastry through 90 degrees so the long edge is now in front of you, parallel to the table edge. Place a spoonful at one side of one of the long edges. Roll up like a long tube, brushing with butter as you go, then pinch and slightly twist each end to give the impression of the ends of a Christmas cracker. Transfer to the prepared tray

6. Now take one more piece of filo, cut this in three in the same way, brush with butter and sandwich two pieces of filo together. Add the mincemeat and roll up as before and place on the tray. Continue until all are made up.

7. Brush them with butter one more time and transfer to the oven. Bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes.

8. Remove from the oven, place on a serving dish, dust with icing sugar and serve with thick cream or vanilla ice cream.

Roast Brussels sprouts with bacon and sesame seeds

450-500g small to medium sized Brussels sprouts, tightly shut with no discoloured leaves

10 thick-cut rashers of smoked bacon

1 heaped dstsp sesame seeds, or more to taste

40g unsalted butter

Sesame oil, about 1-2 dstsp, to taste

1. Cut the bacon into strips. Heat a wide frying pan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the bacon strips and start to fry, stirring regularly, so the fat melts out of the bacon and the bacon itself starts to brown. Continue slowly until evenly browned .

2. Meanwhile bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While waiting, cut the sprouts in half. When the water is at a rapid rolling boil, add the sprouts and cook for three to four minutes, so they are tender but still retain the slightest bite to them; overcooked and soggy sprouts are pretty miserable. Strain and allow all the water to drain away completely.

3. When the bacon is browned, remove to a clean dish for now. Add the butter to the frying pan and allow it to froth up, about a minute or so, then add the sprouts. Fry these for a minute or two so they take on a little colour then add the sesame seeds and toss. You can cook these for another minute so they too turn slightly gold.

4. Add the sesame oil, return the bacon then toss everything well. Add a few twists of fresh ground black pepper; there probably will be no need for salt due to the bacon. Transfer to a dish and serve at once.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife Ky15 5LH 01334 840206