A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins


Christmas lunch has come and gone. Once again, I didn’t take photos during lunch, as I didn’t want to interrupt the festivities. This morning, I sat in a garden looking out over the ocean, in a white tee and white sun hat, writing down notes from the meal: what worked, what can be better next time.

I was peaceful, lulled into daydreams, detached from the comings and goings in the house, yet more aware, alert to the sounds and sights of nature around me. The sun was shining; turning the ocean shades of royal blue, deep sea blue, turquoise. The sun made dappled patterns through a tree. It was warm on my back, yet a sea breeze brushed across my notepad. The waves continually crashed on the rocks, again, and again. White clouds formed fantastical patterns on the edge of an equally blue unending sky.


Inside the house, guests talked about local traditions over tea and slices of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. Every year, the local fire brigade dresses up as Santa and his helpers, drives a fire truck to every local house and popular beaches, and gives out lollies to children (and the young at heart). It is one of my favourite part of Christmas on the South Coast – anyone can go to a shopping centre and have their photo taken with Santa, but how many have caught a bag of lollies from Santa standing on top of a big red fire truck?  


I digress.

Here is our Christmas lunch menu, which featured flavours from Sicily and Morocco rather than Ye Olde England. The recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins follows – halfway between a pickle and a chutney, a nod to tradition in an unorthodox Christmas meal. Recipes for a few other dishes will be posted over the next month or so.

Christmas lunch, 2013


Mouhamurra: I couldn’t resist putting on this spicy, sweet-sour dip from Aleppo Syria (again). Recipe here.

Eggplant zaalouk: eggplant and tomato, cooked down to a sweet-savoury jam, bursting with lemon and coriander flavours; this was also good eaten by the spoonful the next day.

Seed and nut loaf: it was described as a life changing loaf of bread. It may not be traditional, but it was pretty special. Addictively moreish, yet healthy. I’m already making a second loaf tomorrow.

Cheese, spiced nuts and crackers


Macaroni pie: inspired by this passage in the novel, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), by Tomasi di Lampedusa:

“…the aspect of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of the sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a spice-laden haze, then chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”


Duck ballotine, bastilla style: duck breast with bastilla filling (particularly eggs cooked down to a sauce in chicken stock, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron and ras el hanout), sugared crushed almonds, filo (phyllo) pastry; a work in progress very loosely inspired by this Turkey-stuffed Turkey.

Kale, walnut, pecorino salad with spicy raisins: we were compulsively putting more of this salad on their plate, and it even left us feeling a little healthier than before.

Spicy cranberries and raisins: something between a pickle and chutney, full of good things.

Mandoline potatoes and sweet potatoes: sliced paper thin, baked in duck fat with lemon thyme and baharat spices. This looked like an accordion. How could I resist an edible accordion?

Mejadra: rice and lentils fragrant with cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, allspice / baharat, and lifted by crunchy fried onions.

Palate cleanser

Fennel, cucumber, apple, coriander and mint, with a splash of orange blossom water


Sri Lankan Christmas cake: we thought it tasted just like Christmas, despite all the strange Sri Lankan preserves, and may just be better than Delia Smith’s legendary Christmas cake.

Profiteroles with sweetened ricotta: Sicilian sweetness meets French pastry.

Watermelon with rosewater: garnished with rose petals, this was a distant echo of Black Star Pastry’s beautiful watermelon cake. Another take on the cake is here.


Spicy pickled cranberries and raisins

I found this recipe through the Bitten Word, from the October 2013 edition of Bon Appétit magazine. The guys from the Bitten Word served this during a dinner party where they discussed (government) shutdown shenanigans, and thought the raisins were “so juicy and flavorful that they really threatened to steal the show”.

Things that can come in a jar, sweet-sour-spicy, perfect accompaniment to a duck confit. All these things lingered in my mind, and when I thought of duck for Christmas lunch, I knew I was making these pickled raisins too.

The recipe turned out to be incredibly simple, probably foolproof. I made very few changes, by adding dried cranberries as well as raisins (it was Christmas after all), and added extra thyme and a good few black peppercorns. Instead of white wine vinegar, the beach house kitchen had apple cider vinegar and white balsamic, so that’s what I used and it seemed fine. I also let the mixture pickle for a day before serving, which gave the aromatics a chance to mellow and mingle. During Christmas lunch, people peered into the jar, smelled, tasted, looked thoughtful, smiled and came back for more.

Zac and Clay from Bitten Word had a couple more ideas for these spicy pickled raisins, such as adding it to a pork roast or using a thickened mixture to glaze a duck confit. I thought they would also be great for a picnic, or on a cheese platter, or added to other salads like our kale salad.


Spicy pickled cranberries and raisins

(from Bon Appétit via the Bitten Word)


2 dried chiles de árbol, crushed (I used 2 tsp dried chilli flakes)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp salt
Optional: 1-2 tsp black peppercorns

1 1/2 cups golden raisins (I used a mixture of flame raisins, golden raisins, dried cranberries, and ‘normal’ raisins)


1. Bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, rosemary and thyme sprigs, chiles (or chilli flakes), salt and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.

2. Mix in raisins, remove from heat, and let cool at least 1 hour. (Note, if you wanted to keep the raisin mixture for longer, you could sterilise the jar and pour the hot raisin mixture into the jar to create a seal. Or, you could probably keep the raisins in the fridge for a few days.)

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23 thoughts on “A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins

  1. Karen 30 December 2013 at 2:21 am Reply

    Your meal sounds extraordinary! I make a raisin and apple dish that is similar…I can’t wait to try your spicy cranberries and raisins.

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 9:12 pm Reply

      Raisin and apple sounds like a great combination. i hope you like the spicy cranberries and raisins, if you give it a try!

  2. tinywhitecottage 30 December 2013 at 4:26 am Reply

    What a wonderful menu! Every dish sounds amazing. What a high class meal. 🙂

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 9:07 pm Reply

      Thank you! We all had a great time, and there was so much good we could barely move! 😀

  3. {Main St. Cuisine} 30 December 2013 at 4:49 am Reply

    It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas and everyone ate really well. I love your menu and the spicy cranberries and raisins sound like something I’d enjoy throughout the cooler, winter months with pork or beef. Will you be sharing your kale salad recipe?

    Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 9:06 pm Reply

      Thanks Allison! The spicy cranberries and raisins would be great with hearty cold weather dishes. I hope to share the kale salad recipe next week, just in time to start thinking about post-holidays healthy eating!
      Our best wishes for the new year to you and your family too!!

  4. The Novice Gardener 30 December 2013 at 5:32 am Reply

    Now THAT’S a Christmas menu! Love that pickled cranberries recipe. Santa came around our neighborhood, too, with his fire truck blaring, exciting all the children and non-children alike. No lollies, though. That’s ok, still was fun to see and wave to him! I wish the beach house and its inhabitants a joyous New Year filled with good times spent with family and friends! XOXO, Angie.

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 9:03 pm Reply

      Thanks Angie! Aren’t the fire trucks such exciting things? It must be the red colour, the size and all that noise, and if course Santa standing on them!
      We are looking forward to the new year. All our best wishes to you and the angels in your family! 😀

  5. Coffee and Crumpets 30 December 2013 at 8:56 am Reply

    I adore your menus! It’s always good to change things up and you do it so well! I look forward to reading more excellent posts and recipes in the coming year! Happy New Year!!
    Nazneen xx

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 8:45 pm Reply

      Thanks so much Nazneen! It’d be good to post some of the recipes so I remember the tips and shortcuts, and what not to do!
      I’ve really enjoyed discovering your blog, and look forward to seeing more great recipes in 2014!

  6. ladyredspecs 30 December 2013 at 9:34 am Reply

    Your Christmas meal sounds amazing, the lead prep must have taken days, but I’m sure it was worth it! Happy New Year

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 8:42 pm Reply

      Most of the prep was done over Christmas Eve and finished on Christmas day morning. There was a pretty tight running sheet, which made it fun in a way. 😀
      Happy new year to you and yours!

  7. Gather and Graze 30 December 2013 at 9:49 am Reply

    A lovely post and such an amazing Christmas menu! Sounds like each dish and each bite was a taste sensation – the way a great meal should be! 🙂

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 8:36 pm Reply

      Thank you! There certainly was a lot of food, we all finished with strong coffee or tea, and then went for a walk!

      It was a lovely way to spend time with family, especially people who live in a different city and we don’t see often.

  8. lemongrovecakediaries 30 December 2013 at 1:02 pm Reply

    That sounds amazing! I can say that I am one of the lucky ones who has had lollies from Santa on a fire truck – Gotta love those rural fire fighters 🙂 All the best for the New Year xx

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 3:55 pm Reply

      It seems to be a rural fire service tradition, and children get so excited by their visit! All the best for the new year too!

  9. Johnny Hepburn 30 December 2013 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Got to try the Eggplant zaalouk. Just love aubergine, and haven’t cooked it in a while. It’s funny, I’m not keen on lemon and cumin. Yet I’ve never subbed coriander before. Definitely have to research the zaalouk. And I’m in the process of cooking fresh cranberries! Grief, are they sour. Have bought in pineapple and lime to try and disguise the sourness. Just couldn’t face cooking them any further today.

    I’m not envious of your beach house – as I try and squeeze into another layer of clothing! Brr…Happy New Year, to all of you. Bet that’ll be a blast 🙂

  10. Liz 30 December 2013 at 3:24 pm Reply

    how very lovely 😀 Am impressed with the time and thought you put into planning and also thinking through how the meal went over. Very classy!

    Sunshine and beaches sound wonderful. Way too cold on my end, so will hang out here with you if you don’t mind 😉 Any of those profiteroles left? haha. Enjoyed reading!

    • saucygander 30 December 2013 at 9:14 pm Reply

      Sure, come on over! Lots of room on the beach for everyone, and around the harbour for new years eve fireworks. And there is always more profiteroles! 😀

  11. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 30 December 2013 at 7:52 pm Reply

    What a mouth watering menu! I love how you featured dishes from Sicily and Morocco! 😀 I bet people were dying to come to Christmas at yours!

  12. Yasmeen @ Wandering Spice 30 December 2013 at 10:42 pm Reply

    I absolutely love the sound of the duck ballotine done b’stilla style. That is brilliant and something I’m very keen to try. I feel so lucky to be in Australia with Christmas and New Year’s in summer – it adds to the general blissful feeling this time of year, doesn’t it?

  13. yummychunklet 31 December 2013 at 7:00 am Reply

    Sounds like it was a wonderful Christmas!

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