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“Its Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, children singing Christmas rhyme…”this beautiful song by Cliff Richard is playing in the background as I write this piece. The words describe this festival so perfectly…don’t you think? The festivities are in full swing in my house- the Christmas tree is up with blingy lights and lots of wrapped gifts are waiting to be unwrapped, the kids learn a new Christmas carol at school each day and belt it out proudly at the top of their voice just when I need a moment of peace and yes, most importantly, the mistletoe is ready for some loving kisses!

For me, Christmas is also about good food, wine and enjoying the company of loved ones. The warmth and love around is overwhelming and makes me feel very grateful for all that I have. While each person has their own way of expressing their love and gratitude, for me its all about cooking and sharing the pleasures of good food with my family, hosting dinner parties for friends where we bond over tasteful bites and nostalgic chatter.

As you can imagine, my kitchen is super busy these days and the alluring aroma of whatever is baking in the oven fills the house, replacing the cold air with a cosy warmth. I have been doing a line up of dinners in red, white and green. My favourite is this Portobello mushroom , baby spinach and roast tomato quiche in a light whole wheat crust. I served it with a millet and greens salad on the side for a healthy wholesome dinner.

This Mexican tortilla lasagne is my take on re-inventing the overdone Mexican fajitas and tacos. Just like a lasagne, replace the pasta sheets with tortilla wraps and make multiple layers with Mexican black beans filling, fresh spicy salsa and grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 180C for 20 minutes and a further 10 minutes uncovered. Delicious comfort food!

Making mulled wine and stocking up bottles is an annual event at home. It is as simple as slow cooking red wine with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, orange and lemon zest and some vanilla till the flavours have all come together. Aaah can’t you smell it already!

Talking of mulled wine, I want to share with you my classic Berry Mulled Wine Sauce recipe. I make a jar of this goodness and keep in the fridge. All you have to do is heat it up and serve over ice-cream, cheesecake, panna Cotta or simply sandwich between two cookies for that little bite of indulgence. You can use strawberries, blueberries or any berries, frozen or fresh.

Berry Mulled Wine Sauce

What you need:

1 cup strawberries

½ cup wine

2-3 tbsp sugar

½ tsp cinnamon powder

2 cloves

Putting it together:

1.Cook all ingredients together on low heat for about 15-20 mins till thick and combined.

2. Adjust sugar to taste. Remove the whole spices. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Spiced Apple Cake

This apple cake is adapted from Chef Ottolenghi’s recipe ( you would have seen him on the popular Masterchef Australia last season). So easy to make but so delicious and good looking. Ditch the classic apple pie and try making this at home. Definitely makes a humble apple look super glamorous in this glitzy season! Enjoy it as it is or heat it up and pair with some vanilla ice-cream.

What you need:

130 g salted butter, room temperature

150 g castor sugar

3 eggs, whisked

2 tsp vanilla essence

300 g all purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

200 g plain yogurt

For the apple mix

3 large apples, cut in wedges

100 g brown sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cardamom, crushed

½ tsp lemon zest

Putting it all together:

1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease and line an 8” cake tin with butter paper.

2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric beater till light. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat till combined. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt in batches, alternating with the yogurt.

Spoon the batter into the cake tin and set aside.

3. Combine the apple slices in a bowl with the brown sugar, spices, lemon zest. Toss well and add to the cake tin. Push some apples down into the batter while topping up with the rest. Bake for 60-65 mins until the apples on top are golden brown.

4. Allow to cool for 30 mins before removing from the tin. Enjoy!

While we have sorted out the adults with some mulled wine, we need something special for the little elves to drink while hopping around the Christmas tree. Since strawberries are in season now, I created a fun strawberry lemonade which is a big hit with my kids. Add in some fresh mint and green limes slices and you have a beautiful pop of colours to fit into the festive spirit. Spike it up with a dash of vodka or white rum and you have the perfect cocktail.

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

What you need:

4 cups water

Juice of 2 limes

6 to 8 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp salt

¾ cup fresh strawberry puree

8 strawberries, sliced for garnish

1 lime, sliced for garnish

Fresh mint sprigs

Ice cubes

Putting it together:

1. In a jug , combine the water, lime juice, sugar and salt and mix well. Add strawberry puree.

2. Taste and adjust sweetness and tartness.

3. Add ice cubes, strawberry slices, lime slices and fresh mint in glasses or in the jug.

4.Chill for 15 mins to half hour before serving.

I hope you enjoy making these goodies and sharing them with your loved ones. As for me, I am off to Southern Italy to spend Christmas with my husband’s family. And what are Christmas celebrations in Italy all about you might wonder? You guessed it right…eating, drinking and more eating! Follow me on Instagram (@cucinamiabynatasha) for a glimpse of my Italian festive celebrations.

Season greetings and happy holidays from me to you!

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