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A festive dinner with a secret ingredient.

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I just love this time of the year! Christmas decorations are cheering up our mornings and evenings, the kids are so easy to wake up in the mornings. They almost jump out of their beds as they remember there is a new door ready to be opened on their Adventskalender. Every Advent Sunday afternoon, just as it gets dark, our neighbour steps onto his balcony and plays a couple of Christmas songs on his trumpet. We try to spot him from our kitchen window as we sing along, lifting the kids up on the kitchen counter so they can see as well.  Time to light another candle on our Adventskranz, sing more songs and enjoy a couple of those yummy cookies be baked today! It is a brilliant, cozy time for me and I want to soak it all up, waiting for the first snowflakes.

Last weekend when the temperatures finally dropped, we felt like making something special: a warming festive dinner that all the family enjoys. It should also be a bit healthier, too, because we do spend a lot of time indoors and everyone eats a lot of sweets these days. For that, I have replaced sugar in my recipes with a secret ingredient. To find out more, keep reading!

So here is what we cooked up: My recipe for an amazing feast for 4.

For starters: a fresh field salad with balsamic dressing and topped with ruby red pomegranate seeds for that extra dash of color, festive touch and extra vitamins! The kids aren’t exactly enthusiastic about salad yet- but they sure loved their little bowls of sliced cucumber and pomegranate seeds.

The main: a festive beef stew with roasted chestnuts in a fragrant red wine sauce served with traditional German potato dumplings. If that’s not your taste, cooked potatoes go really well with the stew, too and are much faster to make. Thank you Klaudia for the lovely recipe! I have written it into our family cookbook and suspect it to become a firm favourite to generations of Beans.

The dessert: let’s go all in! Baked apples with vanilla sauce are fun to prepare and make the entire house smell wonderful! Traditionally we stuff our baked apples with marzipan, raisins and nuts. However, that’s super sweet and the kids don’t like marzipan for its bitter aftertaste. Luckily, I remembered how the little one still loves to pick the crumble off his cakes first – so how about an oatmeal-crumble filling with caramelized nuts and raisins? Let’s give it a try!

For starters: Epic field salad with pomegranate seeds.

For starters: fresh field salad with pomegranate seeds.
  • Field salad
  • 1 pomegranate
  • For the dressing: simply mix 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, 25 ml of vegetable broth, a dash of salt & pepper, 1 tsp of good mustard, 1 tsp of Palatinose™ to replace the sugar
  • Optional: caramelized nuts (this works great with Palatinose™ as you can see in the dessert recipe), roasted bacon bits or crumbled feta cheese

    This is easy to prepare, so you can do this while the stew is cooking. Just plan in some time to clean the salad and peel out the pomegranate seeds. It’s a task the kids loved to help with!… which is why there aren’t so many pomegranate seeds left for the salad in my picture.

    The main: Wintery beef stew with roasted chestnuts and potato dumplings.

    • 500g of beef (sliced into small cubes)
    • 2 onions
    • 2 carrots
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • 250 ml of red wine
    • 400ml of beef fond or broth
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2tsp of paprika powder
    • 1 packet of chestnuts (pre-cooked as a shortcut)
    • 2 tbsp of Palatinose™
    • A bit of flour

    Prepare the chestnuts: Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut a cross-shaped slit into each chestnut and roast in the oven at high heat until the split open and the edges of the cross cuts are beginning to blacken. Enjoy the wonderful smell! It always reminds me of our German Christmas markets… then set aside to let them cool off well before you peel them. Otherwise: ouch!

    Prepare the vegetables: Chop onions and carrots into bigger pieces/slices.

    Excellently roasted chestnuts for this festive dinner.
    Chopped onions and carrots for the red wine sauce.

    Next, fry the beef cubes in two batches, coving the bottom of the pot well with sunflower oil. When the meat is beginning to brown, sprinkle with a bit of flour and keep frying for some nice roast flavours!

    Set aside the meat and fry the vegetables. While you do this, scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen and incorporate the roasty bits into the sauce. Then add beef fond, the meat and the spices, including the chopped or pressed garlic (this at the last, as it burns easily). Lower the heat and stir in the red wine (we did that in 3 batches) and cooked it for about two hours. When the meat is done, take it out and set aside for a moment. Take out the bay leaf before you blend the sauce smooth. Now comes the magic trick: I have heard that adding Palatinose™ to the sauce prevents the chestnuts from falling apart and crumbling a lot at the edges, so I’ve wanted to try this myself. Next add the chestnuts keep simmering on low heat, this helps thicken the sauce. Shortly before serving, add the meat, just long enough to warm up thoroughly.

    Fry the beef cubes with a bit of flour for good roasting aromas.
    Shortly before serving, add the meat, just long enough to warm up thoroughly.

    For the dumplings: (shortcut: if this seems too much work, get a ready-made mix)

    • 600g of cooked and peeled potatoes (preferably the mealy type)
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 50g of potato flour
    • 30g of melted butter
    • 1 tsp of marjoram
    • a dash of salt
    • freshly ground nutmeg

    My granny once taught me how to make potato dumplings. She loved cooking big meals for the whole family and there were always enough dumplings left for the eager grandchildren to eat the next day fried in butter – hhmmm! According to her, it is quote: “of essence!!” to make sure the potatoes are very dry before making the dumpling dough. Therefore, better to put the cooked potatoes into an oven dish and “steam out” the remaining liquid for a couple of minutes. This is easily done as the oven is still hot from roasting the chestnuts! Press the potatoes with a fork until very fine. Then add the egg yolks and the potato starch to make it nice an sticky. Add the melted butter while it is still warm, add the pieces and salt and knead well. Almost done! Meanwhile, bring to the boil a large pot of water (slightly salted). You’re almost set! Now form the dumplings. This is also fun for the kids and works best if you dust your hands with potato four a bit. To cook the dumplings, drop them into the hot water (should not be boiling anymore, or they will fall apart). They are done after 15 minutes. Beautiful!

    Beautifully shaped potato dumplings.
    Wintery beef stew with roasted chestnuts and potato dumplings.

    Hhhhmmmmm! Ready to serve! I love how the chestnuts did not fall apart as you can see well in this picture…. One little chestnut in particular wanted to stand out from the crowd and landed itself right on top of the dumpling.  It tasted heavenly!

    More warm flavours please: Baked apples with vanilla sauce.

    Ingredients for baked apples.
    • 4 apples. We are lucky to have a sheer endless supply of smaller baking apples from my parents’ orchard. They look beautiful and each type tastes and bakes differently.
    • 100g of raisins soaked in hot water
    • 150g of mixed nuts (or walnuts if you prefer)
    • 100g of rolled oats (fine, or as it says on the label in best delicate German: “blütenzart”)
    • 100g of flour
    • 100g of butter, chopped int small pieces
    • 100g of Palatinose™
    • 2 tbsp of Palatinose™ for caramelizing the nuts
    • A lemon
    • A cup of apple juice
    • A dash of cinnamon
    • Vanilla sauce or ice cream

    Wash the apples and cut off the tops of the apples, to make nice “hats” for our baked apples. Using a knife, carefully carve out the apple core and seeds. Drizzle with lemon juice. Set the apples into an oven dish (should be cooked with the lid on).

    Next, add flour, Palatinose™, oats, butter and cinnamon into a bowl and knead until well blended and crumbly. This is delicious already, better to keep an eye on the bowl. Chop the nuts and carefully toast in a pan. Add the Palatinose™ and caramelize. Again – addictive! Be careful not to do this for too long, they burn fast! Mix the nuts with the crumble and the raisins, stuff the mix not the apples and if you are lucky you have some left to freeze. This is a superfast shortcut to a lovely dessert on a busy day! Bake in the preheated oven at 200°C depending on the size of the apples you used. We did 20 minutes, then added “the little hats” and baked them for another 10 mins. The apples should be soft and well-cooked. Set down to cool for a little before serving, because once on the table, both big and small people may find it hard to wait and end up burning their tongue… meanwhile you can prepare the vanilla sauce…

    Palatinose™, oats, butter, cinnamon and caramalized nuts for the filling.
    Mix the nuts with the crumble and the the sultanas and fill it all into the apples.

    Yes, you could make this from scratch… But you could also use a premix and just swap the sugar with the same amount of our secret ingredient, Palatinose™! It will be sweet enough for sure and better for you as well. Serve while still warm! Or swap for vanilla ice cream.

    Baked apples with vanilla sauce… The crowning finale!!!
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