HAPPY New Year! Does a new year mean a new dietary regime? Promises of personal improvement? I have a confession to make: I still have Christmas goodies sitting in cupboards and corners of the fridge. My shopping in the approach to Christmas can be a little exuberant. What hope is there of a disciplined January with treats still lurking, waiting to derail good intentions? So, for just a few more days, let’s use up the festive season’s flavours before the opportunity is lost.

Nuts, chestnuts, mulled wine and chocolate all make seasonal appearances through December in the Smeddle household. Yet after the excitement (and the cooking) is all done, some of these things somehow remain, despite everyone’s dedicated over-indulgence. I don’t want them cluttering up valuable cupboard space. Devising ways to use them is my priority.

Clusters of nuts rolled in caramel or melted chocolate are great in place of pudding or with a coffee. I always seem to misjudge how many chestnuts to buy but I never mind having extra: blitz them into any wintry soup, especially parsnip or pumpkin, drop them in a stew or through sprouts or winter greens.

Mulled wine is the most intriguing to use up. Instead of simply drinking it (I am all mulled out by now) I poach wintry fruits and nuts in it, serving it heated, like a fragrant warm fruit salad, with cinnamon ice cream. Lingering gingerbread could also be toasted and sprinkled over the top for extra bite.

Chocolate coated hazelnuts and almonds

Recipes serve 4

200g whole almonds, skin on

200g hazelnuts

150g sugar

80g milk chocolate

80g dark chocolate


1. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside for now.

2. Place the sugar in a small saucepan and set over a moderate heat, cook until a golden caramel forms (a few minutes). Remove from the heat, taking care as the sugar is obviously scalding hot.

3. While waiting, combine the nuts together in a bowl. Once the caramel is ready, add the nuts to the caramel and with a fork or spatula, toss the nuts quickly to coat evenly in the caramel. Now, with the help of two forks (do not be tempted to use fingers due to the high heat) form small clusters of nuts, loosely coated in the caramel and place them on the prepared tray. Leave to cool completely.

4. Meanwhile, place the milk and plain chocolate each in a separate heatproof bowl and set over their own pan of hot but not boiling water to melt. Once melted, drop the clusters one at a time in either the milk chocolate or the dark chocolate, giving a mix of finishes. Fish each cluster out with a fork, allow it to drip for a moment over the bowl of chocolate and then place on the parchment to set. Once cold and hard, place in an airtight container in a cool place to store.

Poached mulled winter fruits with almonds and crème fraiche

4 pears, peeled

4 plums

2 dstsp brown sugar

2 clementines, peeled

8 dried apricots, cut in half

8 dried figs, cut in half

3 dstsp almonds

For the mulled wine:

1 bottle of red wine

200m ruby port

100ml brandy

2 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

1 orange

1 lemon

20 cloves

Sugar to taste (about 200g)


1. Make the mulled wine first: press the cloves in to the lemon and the orange. Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer and taste, adjusting as needed. Simmer for 10 minutes then remove from the heat to stand.

2. Slice the pears in half then slice each half in three or four depending on the size of the pears. Break the clementines up into segments and try to remove as much pith as possible.

3. When the mulled wine has cooled, remove all the spices, or strain through a sieve into another pan, to leave you with a pan of mulled wine with nothing floating in it. Reheat until at a simmer then add the pears. Cover with a disc of parchment paper and poach until they are tender, about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cut the plums in half and remove the stones. Sprinkle the brown sugar on a roasting tray or in an ovenproof dish. Set the plums, cut-side down, in the sugar. Bake at 180C until tender, about eight minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the plums and juice to the pan with the pears.

5. At the same time, add the figs and apricots then cook for just a couple more minutes before removing from the heat. When you do, add the clementines and almonds. Stir everything gently but well to combine, then leave to cool. This can all be done in advance.

6. To serve, you can either reheat this or serve at room temperature. Arrange the fruits in four serving bowls, making sure there is an even mix of fruit. Place a scoop of crème fraiche in the middle, dust with a little ground cinnamon if you wish, then serve at once. Alternatively, vanilla ice cream or cinnamon ice cream are delicious with this too.