Once a fortnight we hold a cook club at the Botanic Cottage. Anyone is welcome to join us to learn new cooking skills and to enjoy a healthy meal that’s been freshly prepared by the group. Sadly, the Botanic Cottage is closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we won’t let that stop us! Cottage Cook Club tutor Ailsa has prepared some great recipes from store cupboard ingredients to encourage us to keep home cooking and keep eating right. Over to Ailsa…

Hello everyone,

I hope you are keeping well and staying cosy in this so far quite drizzly month. Whatever your plans are for Christmas (if you celebrate it), it’s definitely a time for warm and comforting things to eat and hopefully time to have some fun in the kitchen.

We’re starting off with a delicious french toast for breakfast- traditionally eaten in Portugal at Christmas. It always feels like a treat and doesn’t take long to make.  I’m then sharing my new favourite lunch or snack food- vegetarian sausage rolls, whether made small to share or served hot with a salad, I hope you enjoy making and eating them.

For a wintery supper, try my fish pie recipe. In many countries they eat fish on Christmas eve, so this would be my suggested cosy meal to get everyone around the table. Then keeping it traditional, we’re making mince pies with a crumble topping.

Every year I have grand plans of making hampers of homemade goodies for friends and family, most years it doesn’t quite happen! I still think it feels good to share something that you’ve made if you can. This year I’ve made a beetroot and apple chutney – a beautiful match for any cheese board- or even with the sausage rolls. Making chutney takes a while and fills your kitchen with fruity vinegary aromas, it’s a lovely, relaxing way to spend an afternoon. For me a line of warm jars of glossy chutney feels like a promise of good things to come, which I think we all need this year.

Thank you for reading these recipe blogs during this strange year. I hope they’ve brought you some new ideas and got you into the kitchen. I’ve really enjoyed writing them for you. I’d love to know what you’ve enjoyed cooking too.

Wishing you peace, health and happiness at Christmas and into the new year.


A luxury breakfast for the holidays

French toast

A white plate of French Toast with bananas and blueberries.
French Toast

The last few weeks of term it can take a good bit of bribery to get everyone out of bed when the mornings are so dark. This french toast helps. We also like to light a candle, put some music on and make a big pot of coffee. Whether far too early or leisurely late, french toast makes a great breakfast. The eggs and milk add important protein and the carbs will give you energy. Enjoy with some fresh fruit and yogurt if you like.

This time of year we make french toast with slightly stale panettone. I won’t pretend it’s very healthy but it is really delicious!

I don’t add sugar to my french toast but find that the cinnamon adds a gentle sweetness to the toast. Dust with a little sugar after if you want to.

Vegetarian sausage rolls

I won’t lie, I’m delighted with this recipe. I’ve been working on it for a long time and I think this is it! A vegetarian sausage roll shouldn’t feel like a sad second to a meat one (and they are much easier to find) but instead something delicious for everyone.

You can also easily make this vegan (see note below) so this is a great treat for anyone this year. For a Christmassy touch you could replace the walnuts with vac-packed chestnuts.

A dish on a pine table filled with small homemade sausage rolls.
Vegetarian Sausage Rolls

Fish pie

This is my classic fish pie recipe and a really good one to have to hand over the winter months. It’s very adaptable and you can add whatever vegetables you like, mix up the fish you use or add some prawns for a luxury touch. Chopped hard-boiled egg is a perhaps surprising but very delicious addition.

This recipe serves 2 but you can very easily double or even triple the recipe. The pie in my picture was made for six (four for supper and happy leftovers for two the next day!).

A dining table set with a large ceramic pot of fish pie, some water bottles and an diner table setting
Fish Pie

Something to bake

Mince pies

It wouldn’t be Christmas without mince pies. I absolutely love them and we eat them all winter in my house. Slight confession, if I want a beautifully ornate mince pie then I’ll buy a box. Delicate pastry decoration is not my strong point ( if it’s yours then please don’t let me stop you!). My mince pies are a more simple, humble affair, a crisp shortcrust pastry, mincemeat to which I add some grated apple to make it more moist (and a tablespoon of brandy if I’m feeling extra festive). I then add a simple crumble topping.  I don’t think a homemade mince pie should look the same as a shop bought one and I love these rustic pies. If you prefer to make pastry lids then this recipe will work for you too.

This recipe will make about 12 medium mince pies if you make pastry lids, closer to 20 if you opt for the crumble tops instead.

A white platter of baked mince pies on a table, sifted with white icing sugar and some people's hands reaching in for a pie.
Mince Pies

Something to make

Beetroot and apple chutney

Beetroot is in season in winter, just when it’s cheery red colour is needed to brighten up our kitchens. This beetroot and apple chutney is a gorgeous glossy deep red colour and handing over a jar tied with a ribbon feels very festive. I’ll leave my jars to mature for at least a week, two if I can and it should keep for at least six months – as long as your jars are sparkling clean (see note below). In this recipe I use a mixture of eating and cooking apples which allows me to lower the sugar content a little while still getting the jammy qualities of the cooking apples. If you’d prefer to use all cooking apples, please do, though I’d suggest adding a few extra tablespoons of sugar. This recipe needs a large pot and makes 5-6 jars, for a smaller batch just halve all of the ingredients, the cooking time will still be similar.

Several jars of homemade chutney with hand written labels sitting on a table.
Beetroot and Apple Chutney