Christmas cooking with Skye McAlpine & Celia Muñoz



We quizzed Skye McAlpine, author of blog From My Dining Table and Celia Munoz from childrenswear line La Coqueta on how they approach Christmas cooking, traditions and why it’s important (and fun) to get children involved in cooking over the festive season from a young age...

Photography: Sarah Winborn Go to www.frommydiningtable.com,  www.lacoquetakids.com

See Skye McAlpine’s Christmas recipes in the December issue of GRACE, out next week.


Skye McAlpine, writer & home cook, author of blog 'From My Dining Table' and mother to Aeneas...


Where did you get your inspiration from for the recipes you’ve chosen to create today?

I began by thinking about what I might like to be given at Christmas and what I would like to eat on the day and then worked from there. The Christmas cake is my mother’s own recipe and one that I make every year: I make one for us to eat, and then another twenty to give away as gifts to friends. The preserved lemons are something that I love to cook with and often serve over a plate of Burrata as a simple starter dish, so I thought it would be nice to give them a festive twist by adding some spices – cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise- to the jar. For the olive oil, I wanted something a little special – the saffron and clementine are both lovely, rich flavours and work together really beautifully. Aeneas and I make cinnamon biscuits to decorate our tree with every year – so now it has begun to be a bit of a tradition. This year, we added a little rose water to the biscuit dough and to the sugar icing – I really love how they turned out. Very subtle, but still very festive.


Are edible gifts something that either of you have made previously with your children around Christmas time?

My mother always used to make Christmas puddings, cakes and jars of brandy butter to give away at Christmas. I remember doing it with her and then rushing around Venice in our boat to drop the cakes off with all our friends. So I guess I grew up with the tradition of giving something homemade to those that you love – it is one of the things that I love most about the Christmas season, and a tradition I really want to share with Aeneas, too.


Why do you feel it important to get children involved in cooking, and in this instance to be creative with it?

Cooking is one of my great passions and one of my greatest joys in life, so of course I want to share it with Aeneas. I think it is important to show him that cooking is fun, more than it is ‘something you have to do’. Letting your creativity run wild, and making something so rewarding as gifts – something that you know will bring joy to those who receive it – is a great way to do that. Aeneas really loves seeing what he has made and then enjoys giving it to someone special.


Where will you each spend Christmas this year, and what will you cook?

For the first time in a couple of decades, we won’t be in Venice for Christmas this year – we are going to spend Christmas with my godmother and her family in Cornwall. We’re really looking forward to it. She is hosting lunch, so I’ll just be helping where I can and where I’m needed – I’m happy to be on potato peeling duty! I don’t know what we’ll have for lunch, but I’m sure there will be lots of Panettone, as my godmother is Italian!


Tell us a little bit about your Christmas traditions. Have these been a continuation from your own childhoods, or have you created new traditions since having children yourselves?

Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I have so many happy childhood memories from Christmas that I am really keen to recreate that same magic as much as I can for Aeneas. My mother always used to make an advent calendar with a little gift on it each day for the month of December, and now I love putting that together for Aeneas. I use the same calendar that I had as a child. We always go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, then when we get home we lay out a mince pie and a glass of whisky for Father Christmas. And on Christmas morning, first thing, we open our stockings and then usually head to Café Florian in San Marco for hot chocolate.


Do you find Christmases in the UK much different to those you grew up with in Italy?

One of the great privileges of being from one place and living in another is that you adopt traditions from both. We have always celebrated Christmas incorporating, both Italian and English traditions. Usually that means: a big celebration on Christmas Eve (with seafood cooked every which way, Tagliolini with truffles and Panettone), and then we celebrate the next day with a lunch of turkey and all the trimmings.


Celia Muñoz, founder of childrenswear line La Coqueta & mother of five


Are edible gifts something that either of you have made previously with your children around Christmas time?

We are quite big on edible gifts, mainly because we have the Christmas tradition at home of everybody gifting everybody else in the family, so no matter how young you are you must prepare a gift for the other members of the family. Edible gifts are always the favorite option because you can make them at home and are just so much fun to create from scratch. You can be quite creative with them, as well as tasting them as you go! It was so much fun when preparing the edible gifts with Skye to see us all (including our photographer Sarah Winborn) dive into the uncooked dough!


Why do you feel it’s so important to get children involved in cooking, and in this instance to be creative with it?

I think it is important for my children to get involved in cooking so that they know where food comes from and know how to prepare it properly. Food is an incredible part of our lives as a family. I would say that 60% of our time during the weekend revolves around food. We enjoy the entire process, from planning what we are going to cook and writing the list of what we need to taking a trip to the local market and buying the fresh ingredients – our children love choosing them, picking our home grown vegetables and displaying all ingredients to finally cooking them all together. It is fun to see how now there are different cooking roles in the family. Generally our boys are better cooks, some enjoy cutting, others rinsing, and others just love stirring. Flavia and I tend to do the chatting! My husband and I enjoy cooking with our children greatly. We find it a very enjoyable experience and it allows our children to relate to food at many different levels and be incredibly appreciative of the work behind it, because they have participated in making it. This is also how I get them to eat the vegetables they don’t particularly like, by preparing them in a way that they enjoy and mixing them with flavors they think taste nice.


Where will you each spend Christmas this year, and what will you cook?

My husband is Dutch and I am Spanish, which means that we always split our Christmas between our two countries of origin. This year, we will first be going to The Netherlands. My mother in law pays a lot of attention to details and she is particularly good when it comes to treating the family to a feast over Christmas, not only with a very tasteful décor but with delicious meals that she prepares for everyone each year. The children will be helping her in the kitchen and we will enjoy typical Dutch Christmas dishes (veal with cooked cabbage is one of my favourites). We will then be going to Spain where my father prepares the most incredible traditional meals. Every year he finds a new delicious sauce to combine his staple duck dish with. Baby lamb, oysters and lobster in any shape or form are another of his culinary highlights. I would be lying if I said that we do the cooking over Christmas. Our parents do and they wouldn’t have it any other way. We get to unwind and enjoy their lovely cooking and I think they find it very rewarding.


Tell us a little bit about your Christmas traditions. Have these been a continuation from your own childhoods, or have you created new traditions since having children yourselves?

Our Christmas traditions got richer in my family since I married a Dutch man. We celebrate Sinterklaas (San Nicolas) on the 5th of December. We tend to go to The Netherlands for this so that our children can see San Nicolas arriving on his boat full of gifts. Our children get to meet him personally together with all the children in the city where he lands. We do a lot of preparation for it the month before as our children sing Sinterklaas’ songs at our fireplace every evening in the hope that he will leave some Dutch poems for them in their shoes with some delicious Dutch candies (peppernoten).

We then celebrate Christmas in Spain and The Netherlands. Rather than focusing on Father Christmas and the gifts he may bring, we find the spirit of the season is to enjoy gifting our loved ones. Our family tradition is to gift every member of the family with something we think is special to them, no matter what that is. It takes around two months for us to do this (we have a very big family!) and it is the best time for us to see our children picking up stones in the park and making faces with them, thousands of personalised drawings… I remember Hugo stealing some of our biscuits and making holes in them in order to stick in some raisins in order to pretend he had actually baked them.

In Spain it is a tradition to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings on the 6th of January. Lots of Spanish children get their presents then but we celebrate it the French way to continue with my mother’s French tradition, with a French Galette des Rois. The youngest member of the family goes under the table at dessert time and blindly names people to get a piece of cake. The person who gets a porcelain figurine in their slice is the king or queen and gets to wear a crown our children have made and choose his respective queen or king. Our children adore this tradition, which marks the end of the Christmas season.


Do you find Christmas in the UK much different to those you grew up with in Spain?

They are very different in the way they are displayed and in each place’s own traditions, but the spirit is very similar and this is what’s lovely about Christmas. In the end, it is all about sharing with your loved one’s moments of togetherness.


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