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Nibbling Your Way Through the Holidays

The holidays are a time for nibbling. Everyone is on different timetables. Kids sleep in or wake at 5 am. Breakfast can last for three hours and morph into lunch.

Our holidays are often one ‘proper’ meal, with everyone sitting at the table for two courses. The rest of the time people nibble.

Main meal leftovers are excellent nibble material: add holiday meats to lettuce, pistachios, pine nuts or cashews for crunch, or small cubes of baked bread with, perhaps, chunks of mango and peach or thinly sliced early apple.

The recipes below can be served from 5 am through to, well, 5 am. I try to have savoury, sweet, raw and cooked all available, stored in small containers so that any left over after being out on the table for two hours can be tossed to the chooks and replaced with fresh ones.

To be honest, I have been nibbling for the past three weeks, as I cook, and I put some things that are already cooked in small containers or sandwich bags in the freezer. I freeze biscuit mix for quick cooking just before eating.

This year we are eating:

Healthy, Delicious and Easy Chicken and Veg' Baked Dumplings

Blend till smooth:

3 large handfuls parsley

4 cloves garlic, peeled

3 peeled carrots

1 kg filleted chicken breasts

a bunch of chives

Remove from the blender.


1 can low fat condensed milk

2 eggs

about half-a-loaf of your favourite bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces.

I add:

5 Tbsp chilli sauce and/or

4 Tbsp oyster sauce, depending on who they are being served to.

Mix everything well with your hands.

Cover oven trays with baking paper. Drop teaspoonsful on the paper. Bake at 200 C till the lower side is lightly brown — about 12 minutes; turnover and brown the other side. Freeze till needed, then thaw, heat well in the oven, and serve with plum sauce, chilli sauce or tomato sauce.

They also make excellent spaghetti and meatballs if added to a good tomato sauce; a wonderful salad or very good shepherd’s pie — lay them in a dish, cover with a good tomato-based sauce, then with mashed potato. Brown well and serve.

Smoked Salmon on Crackers (home-smoked salmon, a holiday gift from a friend).

Just before serving, smear any one of either cream cheese, mascarpone or goat’s cheese on your favourite cracker; top with a twist of smoked salmon; scatter on chopped chives.

Eat within an hour.

Baked Kipfler Potatoes with Cornichons (tiny pickled cucumbers)

Wash and dry the potatoes – others can be used, like Tasmanian Pink Eye, or purple or red spud. Lightly smear with olive oil. Bake till crisp. Halve, scoop out some of the innards and mix with sour cream or mayonnaise with finely chopped cornichons.

Eat the same day, and keep in a cool place.


half-a-cup chopped coriander (yes, parsley will do at a pinch)

1 avocado, peeled and chopped

half-a-cup paw paw or mango, peeled and chopped

2 Tbsps Spanish or red onion, peeled and chopped

4 Tbsps olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 Tbsps chopped red chilli or red capsicum

Scoop it from the bowl with your favourite crackers

Stuffed Eggs

1 dozen eggs

half-a-cup mayonnaise – home-made mayonnaise makes superb stuffed eggs, but you can get away with the bought stuff if everyone has had a few drinks beforehand.

1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander seed, turmeric and cardamom, fried for three minutes in 1 Tbsp oil OR good curry paste, or powder if you really must, to taste


Simmer the eggs for 15 minutes, stirring now and then so the yolks set in the centre of the egg. Take off the stove, run cold water into the saucepan till the eggs feel cool. This helps stop the black ring around the yolks.

Peel the eggs (if they won't peel easily they may be too fresh — not a problem with supermarket eggs, but if you have your own chooks try to use week-old eggs).

Cut them in half length-ways, remove the yolks and throw away a third of them.

Mash yolks, mayonnaise and curry. Return to the hollowed whites using a teaspoon; sprinkle with paprika.

These eggs will keep for a few hours covered in the fridge, but eggs and mayonnaise make a lovely breeding ground for bacteria, so, while a few left over from pre-dinner nibbles may be okay for breakfast, by-and-large you should eat them the same day.

Stuffed Eggs on Toast

Mash with a fork. Pile up on hot buttered toast.

Stuffed Egg In Lettuce Cups

Make up ‘cups’ of iceberg lettuce, several thickness deep — you need lots of crunch. Fill with mashed stuffed egg.

Cheese Straws

Time taken: about 20 minutes the first time, 10 minutes once you’ve practiced the recipe.

You need:

Frozen puff pastry – the sheets, not the solid block

Parmesan cheese – you can use the prepared stuff, but if you buy a hunk of parmesan and grate it, it’ll taste much better

Optional: curry paste or curry powder

Note: you can make cheese straws with any yellow firm cheese, like cheddar or edam or blue vein cheeses too. It doesn’t work so well with brie or other soft cheese, and don’t try it with white cheeses like ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese or cottage cheese. These can be great in cooking, but it’s more difficult.

Cover baking trays with baking paper, or line your oven baking dish with baking paper. This is so they don’t stick to the dish.

Spread out the pastry on baking trays, with the blue paper base that separated each sheet peeled off. Allow about 1 sheet per hungry person.

If you want the cheese straws to be spicy, use a knife to spread the curry paste as thinly and evenly as you can over the pastry sheets. It should just be a smear.

If you are using curry powder, mix 1 teaspoon of curry powder into two heaped tablespoons of grated cheese.

Scatter the cheese on top evenly. You don’t need much — about three tablespoons, just enough so the pastry is almost all covered.

Put the oven on to the highest setting.

While the oven is getting hot, use a knife (any knife) to cut the pastry into strips, about as wide as chop sticks.

Place the trays in the oven.

Peer into the oven after five minutes. If the pastry is risen and the cheese and edges of the pastry are just starting to turn brown, take them out. If not, leave in for another five minutes... or another five after that if they need it.

Serve straight away, while they are still crisp, as they go soggy after a few hours. They are not much good cold.

But if you want to make them a few hours before, cook them till they are only a very pale brown, then put them in a hot oven for 3 minutes to heat up again, then serve.

Fetta or Chèvre and Cherry Tomato Tarts

Lay out pastry as above. Cut into small squares. Top each with:

• crumbled feta or chèvre.

• halved cherry tomatoes

Bake as above.

Parmesan and Anchovy Tarts

As above, but cover with grated parmesan cheese, then drape a few anchovies on top.

Five-Spice Treasure Chicken Wings

2 kg chicken wings (or legs)

half-a-cup soy sauce

half-a-cup honey

half Tbsp five-spice powder

1 cup water

1 Tbsp corn flour in 4 Tbsp water

Place wings in a baking dish. Pour over the water and soy sauce. Drizzle over the honey. Sprinkle on the five-spice.

Put in the oven at 22 C. Bake till brown — about half an hour. Turn them over. Bake about 20 minutes till brown on the other side.

Mix corn flour into the extra water in a cup till it's smooth. Pour over the chicken and stir till it's mixed into the sauce (this will thicken it). Bake another 10 minutes. Turn the wings over in the sauce a few times so they are well covered.

Garlic and Herb Prawns

20 large, green prawns, peeled but with head and tail intact

quarter cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

4 spring onions, chopped

3 Tbsp lemon or lime juice

1 Tbsp finely-chopped parsley or coriander

1 chopped red chilli – optional

Heat oil in pan; fry prawns until they JUST turn red. Add everything else except lemon/lime juice. Sizzle for one minute. Add juice; sizzle and stir for 30 seconds. Serve hot or cold but make sure the flies don't get them. Have the odd napkin around for fishy fingers.

Note: These can be made the day before and kept in a sealed container in the fridge. Cooked, marinated prawns in a sealed container do not stink up the fridge the way a bag of uncooked ones can.

Parson Woodforde's Very Traditional Christmas Mince Pies

(not bad for snacking before the main meal, or afterwards if you're too stuffed for another guzzle in the evening)

On the 25th of December, about 100 years ago, the Reverend James Woodforde ate 'a boiled rabbit and onion sauce, a sirloin of beef roasted, plum puddings[...] and mince pies'. A few years before, his Christmas dinner had been 'two fine cods with fryed soles around them and oyster sauce, a fine surloin of beef roasted [sic], some peas soup and an orange pudding, wild ducks roasted, a salad and mince pies'.

Until pretty recently Christmas dinner was basically just the richest most celebratory dinner you could afford. Plum puddings usually featured, but then they were eaten at any winter feast, as were roast goose, duck, hen, beef and the occasional swan if you happened to be royalty.

Mince pies however were definitely Christmas-only fare – as a matter of fact, mince pies are probably the only bit of Christmas food that is really Christian in origin.

Mince pies were originally made in the shape of a cradle, with a pastry image of the Christ Child placed in the hollow, and a blanket of minced mutton and lamb's tongues covering Him, and then more pastry tucked over that.

After the Crusades the pies became more and more highly spiced, with dried fruit added too – in the Middle Eastern tradition – till nowadays there's no meat in mince pies at all and they're round instead of oval.

If you want to make traditional mince pies – I mean really traditional ones – you first of all need to get oval moulds to put them in, for which you will definitely need to go to a specialty kitchen shop.

You then take your short crust or puff pastry – either homemade or bought – line the mold, reserve some for the top covering, then make your small image of the Christ Child — an oblong and a round head are all you really need — after all, most of Him is tucked up in his blanket.

Now make the filling. A typical modern mix would be:

100 g chopped apples

300 g dried fruit

100 g chopped or packaged suet

100 g brown sugar

half-a-tsp mixed spice

half-a-tsp cinnamon

quarter tsp nutmeg

1 Tbsp marmalade

2 Tbsp rum or brandy

Just mix and put it over the pastry child, then tuck the pastry blanket up to His chin, and bake for about 25 minutes in a hot oven.

To be honest, I find modern mince pies too sweet and heavy. The traditional one, with a mix of meat and fruit, is much nicer — very pleasant indeed for lunch or dinner on a hot day.

Traditional recipes pack the raw ingredients into the pie shell and cook them slowly. I prefer to pre-cook mine. This recipe is based on one from 1560.

As well as the pastry, you'll need: 500 g beef or mutton

half-a-tsp ground black pepper

half-a-tsp ground cloves

half-a-tsp ground mace

1 Tbsp chopped seeded raisins

2 Tbsp currants

2 Tbsp chopped, stoned prunes

Fry the beef or mutton in... well it should be lard, but I prefer a good splash of olive oil; let's not be too traditional here. In fact, I even go so far as to sometimes add garlic and an onion.

When the meat is brown take off the heat and add the spices and dried fruit

Mix well.

(The original recipe also had saffron in it, but with all that spice you can't taste the saffron and, anyway, the genuine stuff is expensive.)

Once more, place a layer of meat mixture over the child in the cradle, tuck in the pastry blanket, glaze with melted butter, sugar and rosewater if you like, or just beaten egg, bake for 25 minutes in a medium oven, or till browned.

Serve hot or cold, but definitely NOT with tomato sauce.

Vladimir’s Grated Potato Cakes

These taste surprisingly meaty. I was given the recipe by an elderly man who had spent his teenage years shepherding refugees fleeing Hitler across a mountain and then swimming them across the river over the border. When he came home each morning his mother always had these waiting for him.

For the Mix:


3 large raw potatoes, grated. You can peel them — I don’t, if by myself, but do if serving to others

4 chopped, peeled cloves of garlic

3 heaped Tbsp plain flour

3 eggs


1 grated, peeled red onion

half-a-bunch finely chopped parsley or coriander

2 peeled, grated carrots

4 Tbsp grated, raw yellow sweet potato

half-a-cup finely-chopped, small, tender celery leaves

half chopped, seeded red capsicum

1–10 chopped, fresh red or green chilies, seeds removed. NB wash hands after chopping or use gloves — the juice can seriously burn eyes, noses and other sensitive bits. Once used to torture captives so treat it warily

Also needed:

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat a fry pan on high for two minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add olive oil.

Drop big spoonsful of the mix into the oil; press down so they are about as wide as your hand. After three minutes wiggle a spatula or egg slice under them to stop them sticking, but if the pan was hot and oil-covered, they shouldn’t stick.

After five minutes turn them over. If they are brown on top, cook the other side for five minutes then turn over-and-over till both sides are brown. By then the inside will be cooked.

Serve hot (but I also love them cold). Good with just about any sauce, even bottled tomato sauce or sweet chilli sauce. Commercial chilli jam is excellent too.

Jackie's Christmas Biscuits (invented last Friday)

These are delicious — an Aussie biscuit crunch with the color and tradition of old fashioned Christmas goodies.

You'll need:

125 g butter

1½ cups brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup SR flour

quarter cup rolled oats

half-a-cup dark or white choc chips

half-a-cup of your favorite nuts (sliced almonds are good, or macadamias)

3 cups finely chopped glacé fruit, or just glacé cherries if you prefer, or glacé ginger

optional: 3 Tbsp candied peel

optional: 2 tsp ground ginger or mixed spice

Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg, then flour, then everything else.

Preheat oven to 200 C. Place on non-stick trays, or grease them first.

Place teaspoons of mix on the trays — they'll spread. Bake about 10 minutes —they should be pale brown and still softish; they'll crisp as they cool.

Store in a sealed container.

Makes about 30 biscuits.

Ease of making: moderate... easy enough for kids to make as long as you watch to make sure they don't burn their fingers on the trays.

For gluten-free I'd add a little more butter, as they may otherwise be a bit dry, or, rather, reduce the gluten-free flour by about two heaped tablespoons. Add more of the chopped apricots instead of the oats.

Glacé Fruit Biscotti

6 cups glacé fruit, not necessarily chopped

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup castor sugar

half-a-tsp bitter almond paste or 2 tsp vanilla paste (I use the almond)

optional: 1 cup of your favorite nuts

Beat egg and sugar till creamy; add the flour gently, then, even more gently, add the glacé fruit.

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Shape the mix into two long rolls. Bake 20 minutes at 200 C or till pale brown and firm. Cool.

Slice thinly with a serrated knife. It’s often easier to turn them upside down to slice as the top bit may crumble. Bake at 150 C on one side for 10 minutes, then turn and bake the other.

Cool. NB they won’t be crisp till they cool. If you bake till they feel crisp they will become jaw breakers.

Grown Up Ice Blocks

1 cup pineapple, chopped

1 cup rock melon, chopped

1 banana, chopped

half-a-cup cream

half-a-cup sugar

half-a-cup water OR Champagne or good white wine

juice of half-a-lemon

1 tsp mint, chopped, optional OR 1 tsp ginger root, peeled and chopped, optional

half-a-cup grapes, optional

half-a-cup paw paw, chopped, optional

half-a-cup strawberries, chopped, optional

half-a-cup lychees, chopped, optional

You will also need:

ice block molds, or plastic or disposable cups

ice block sticks or teaspoons

Boil sugar and water or wine with the mint or ginger (or no ginger and mint as you prefer) for five minutes. Cool.

Add the fruit. You must have pineapple and banana and preferably rock melon too, but other fruit can be added from the list.

Take long ice block molds, or plastic cups or even disposable cups. Pour about a tablespoon of cream into each, then carefully add the fruit mixture, so that the cream stays mostly at the bottom, and doesn't mix through it too much. Poke an ice block stick or teaspoon into each one, freeze and eat.

Fruit Crush

You need a blender to make this. It is extraordinarily fresh and good and fruity.

You'll need:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp tartaric acid

3 cups ripe, fragrant strawberries (quarter them if they're large) OR

3 cups ripe, fragrant pineapple, chopped (definitely not canned) OR

3 cups squishy, ripe mulberries OR

3 cups very ripe raspberries (pick out all beetles)

Freeze the fruit FAST i.e. don't bung it in a crowded freezer, or all bunched up together. Place fruit in a plastic freezer bag and freeze in a single layer. Use within two days or the fruit will lose a lot of its fragrance. If possible, use as soon as it's frozen.

Boil other ingredients for five minutes. Refrigerate till very cold — semi-frozen is even better.

Throw fruit in blender. Add 1 cup of syrup; turn on blender and process. Add more syrup only if the mixture is too thick for the blender to process.

Serve at once. It will hopefully be semi-frozen but slightly liquid; eat what you can with a spoon and slurp up the rest.

PS a few mint leaves go well with the pineapple; a little orange zest added to the syrup when it's cooking is good with strawberries.

*Glorious gingerbread courtesy of Eleanor Hurt and the geniuses at HarperCollins Australia*

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