To me, an expedition to my beloved Borough Markets with a fully hatched plan for dinner steals half the fun.

At this time of year when a cold wind can whistle down Stoney Street it’s easy to find cosy relief in a cup of mulled wine. The warmed burgundy, bolstered with cinnamon, clove, allspice, cardamom, ginger and juniper is the taste of good cheer. At the close of a gritty week, it’s easy to be tempted to indulge in a ‘medicinal’ portion- steeled with a shot of Scotch.  As for dinner; I’ve found inspiration comes easily when your palms are warm.

I quickly lock onto the plump free range duck breasts on display at Wild Beef . In my flat duck breasts are a celebratory dish, whether they’re served for two or six. It’s just a simple process of render, sear, bake, rest and slice, leaving a crisp collar from the fat and  blushingly pink flesh, every time.

At Chegworth Valley I spy sprouts. Kermit coloured, small furrowed globes, some still clinging to their sticks. Sprouts can have a bit of a reputation problem. When they’re over steamed they collapse into a bitter mess, but when lightly roasted I’ve clocked a grand combination of crisp petals and pliant centres.

What’s needed on that plate are some adornments of squish and crunch. The deep baskets of Cranberry have jewels of dried cherries and their stall’s namesake as well as nuts to roast with the sprouts.

All that’s left to conceive is a sauce. And the answer sits right is in my hot little hands.  A flagon is filled from Borough Wines. A sachet of spices ready blended from Spice Mountain are collected a firm plan for dinner is found; duck breasts with mulled wine sauce.

It’s the taste of the season, right there on a plate.  The only things that could make it more festive are some holly branches and a soundtrack of carolling.

Nb, this was first published as a piece for the Borough Markets website and blog. A plum, delight of a gig. And to top off the pure festivity of it all, on Saturday night we found ourselves in at St Martins-in-the-Field  for carols by candelight. Afterwards we jaunted to see the big tree in Trafalgar Square.

We may not have a tree up in our flat this year (flying across an ocean in 8 days time, and then flying across a country on Christmas Day will all do that), but never fear,  my holiday spirit is ripe for the picking.

Duck breast with mulled wine sauce and sprouts

Serves 2

Shopping/foraging

2 duck breasts, fat scored

Sauce
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, peeled and cut into slim half moons
Pinch of salt
25 grams of mulled wine spices
1.5 cups of red wine
4 tbsp of West Country Cranberry Chutney with Cider (or cranberry jelly)
¼ cup/ 50 grams of dried cherries or cranberries

Sprouts
225 grams of sprouts, trimmed and halved
½ cup/ 50 grams of pecans or walnuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt flakes

To serve

Mashed potato, white bean puree, or celeriac puree.

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 150C/300 F/ Gas Mark 2.

2) Place the halved sprouts, cut side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes.

3) Begin the mulled wine sauce by melting the butter in a medium frying pan. Add the onion slivers and a pinch of salt . Sauté over a medium heat until the onions have softened.

4) Add the mulled wine spices to the onion and pour over the wine. Bring the contents to the boil and then simmer until the liquid has reduced by ½ – 2/3.

5) Add the cranberry chutney and stir to combine. Taste. Depending on how tannic your wine was you may need to add more jelly to smooth the flavours.

6) Check on the sprouts- they should be soft in the centre and lightly roasted on the outside. Add the nuts to the dish and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.

7) Strain your sauce. Press down to release all the flavour from the onions and spices.. Return the strained sauce to the pan, add the dried cranberries and boil until you have a syrupy texture.

8) To cook the duck breasts lay them fat side down in a cold frypan. Bring the heat up to medium and cook until all the fat has rendered away and there is a crisp crust.

Careful, the fat may spit. Pour out remaining liquid fat (you can reserve this to make excellent roast potatoes) and sear breasts on the bottom side. Season with salt and place in an oven proof dish. Place in the 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2 oven for 6 minutes for medium rare. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before carving into slices.

9) Serve the sliced duck breast on a base of mashed potato, white bean puree or celeriac puree with the roast sprouts and toasted nuts on the side and the mulled wine sauce and plumped cranberries over the top.