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What to cook this Christmas for loved ones living with cancer

What to cook this Christmas for loved ones living with cancer: It’s a cruel side effect, the way chemo can wreck your tastebuds, but there are ways to bring them back to life

For as long as I can remember, my family Christmases have centred around food. But last year, the festive break was a little different.

Just days before the big day, my mother, Kate, then 57, had a cancerous tumour removed from her bowel. Instead of enjoying mounds of turkey and trimmings followed by her beloved Christmas pudding, she barely had an appetite at all.

And when she began chemotherapy, her tastebuds dulled and she couldn’t even face her favourite curries. So I was intrigued to hear of a project that aims to tackle the problem of what to serve people undergoing cancer treatment over the festive period.

Life Kitchen offers cookery classes to patients and carers, with recipes specifically designed to awaken post-chemo tastebuds.

Its founder, food stylist Ryan Riley, nursed his mother Krista through lung cancer before she died in 2011.

‘My mother loved festive food, so seeing her unable to enjoy the treats she’d always relished was heartbreaking,’ says Riley, 26.

We’ve teamed up with Life Kitchen to bring you these festive recipes, which are designed for those living with cancer.

Nothing kills festive joy like cancer. So here’s a sprinkling of Christmas cheer that may have you reaching for seconds.

Baked camembert with quick-pickled mushrooms 

Baked camembert with quick-pickled mushrooms


  • 1 250g camembert
  • 10 small chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 160ml red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 20g dried cranberries
  • Bread for dipping

Set the oven to 190C.

For the pickle, combine the vinegar, honey and star anise in a small saucepan. Stir well and place on medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Then turn down the heat, tip in the mushrooms and simmer for 1 minute. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to pickle.

Remove the camembert from its packaging and place on to a square of baking paper on a baking tray.

Dot the cranberries on top of the camembert and poke in the rosemary sticks.

Place in the centre of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the camembert is oozing and melted.

When cooked, discard the rosemary and leave to cool for a few moments before spreading on to bread, then pile high with the mushrooms.

Cheat’s mince pies with miso custard tops 

Cheat¿s mince pies with miso custard tops

Cheat’s mince pies with miso custard tops


  • 1 sheet ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
  • 3 tbsp sweet mincemeat 
  • 1 large handful of pomegranate seeds
  • Zest of 1 large orange
  • 3 tbsp ready-made vanilla custard
  • 2 tsp white miso paste

Preheat oven to 180C and lightly grease a tart tray with space for at least 12 tarts. Unroll the pastry sheet and, using a standard highball glass, cut out 8-12 circles. Press the pastry circles gently into the holes, pushing softly up the side.

In a bowl, mix together the mincemeat, pomegranate and half the orange zest and blend well. Gently spoon 1 teaspoon of the mixture into each pastry case. Glaze the edges with a little milk using a pastry brush.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the custard with the miso. Using a  teaspoon, spoon over the miso custard until it just covers the top of the pie filling. Bake for 15-18 minutes until pastry is crisp and the custard is golden and bubbly. Finish with a sprinkle of orange zest and serve warm.

Sourdough, mustard and mushroom stuffing 

Sourdough, mustard and mushroom stuffing

Sourdough, mustard and mushroom stuffing


  • 400g sourdough bread, diced
  • 3 stems rosemary, stalks removed, chopped
  • 1 small handful fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 60g rolled oats
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 20g dried mushrooms, soaked in 400ml boiling water
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp English mustard
  • 2 tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 210C. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine soy, honey, mustard and 2 tbsp of water, then stir well. Pour the honey mixture into the dry ingredients and stir.

Then pour in the mushroom stock and mushrooms. Mix together, ensuring the bread is covered and liquid is soaked in. Transfer the mix to a baking dish and place in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden.

Lamb and date sausage rolls 

Lamb and date sausage rolls

Lamb and date sausage rolls 


  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 320g roll of shortcrust pastry
  • 4 large dates, roughly chopped
  • Tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 egg
  • Dash of milk
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Combine the white pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and salt.

Tip the mince into a large mixing bowl with the dates and spice blend.

Mix well – but be careful not to over-mix. Then roll into a sausage shape.

When the pastry is at room temperature, unroll it and position it horizontally to you. Place the sausage meat along the side nearest to you, leaving a 2cm-gap edge.

In a bowl, make an egg wash by mixing the egg, milk and nigella seeds. Brush the edge of the pastry opposite you with a little of the egg wash.

Take the edge of the pastry closest to you and roll it around the sausage meat, then continue rolling to create a barrel shape.

Turn the sausage roll over so that the seam is underneath then cut into 8 to 10 pieces.

Carefully transfer the rolls over to the lined baking tray, brush with the egg wash and sprinkle on the nigella seeds.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until pastry is golden.

Miso, maple and tarragon sprouts 

Miso, maple and tarragon sprouts

Miso, maple and tarragon sprouts


  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp miso paste
  • Large handful of fresh tarragon, chopped, or 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 350g sprouts, outer leaves trimmed
  • 6 large chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 200C.

In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, miso paste and tarragon, then season generously.

Tip the mushrooms and sprouts into a baking dish and pour over the maple mixture. Toss to coat.

Roast in the oven for 45 minutes until deeply golden.

Remove from the oven, add the zest and juice of the lemon on top and mix, before transferring to a serving dish.


Some of the ingredients in these recipes may seem unfamiliar. But these are key flavours that counter the effect of cancer treatment – such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy – on patients’ tastebuds. Mushroom stock and miso (a fermented soy paste), for instance, add a deep ‘umami’ flavour often detected when sweet or bitter flavours are not.

Spices such as star anise and nigella seeds evoke an aromatic after-taste. Mint in the cranberry sauce and orange zest on top of the mince pies enhance zingy sensations that are often dulled following treatment. Miso paste, star anise and nigella seeds are available to buy in most large supermarkets.

Mint and cranberry sauce 

Mint and cranberry sauce

Mint and cranberry sauce


  • 10 mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 6 tbsp cranberry sauce

Combine the chopped mint with the cranberry sauce and stir well. For a smoother consistency, whizz together in a blender.

Hot horseradish, parmesan and cranberry potato cake 

Hot horseradish, parmesan and cranberry potato cake

Hot horseradish, parmesan and cranberry potato cake


  • 700g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 150ml double cream
  • 4 tbsp horseradish sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 120g parmesan, grated
  • A small handful of fresh thyme leaves
  • Large handful of fresh cranberries
  • Large knob of butter

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Gently warm the cream, horseradish, mustard, parmesan, herbs and cranberries in a small pan until the cranberries burst – about five minutes. Mix together and take off the heat. In a loose-bottomed cake tin, layer the potato slices until the bottom is covered and, using a pastry brush, lightly glaze the slices with the cranberry cream mixture. Then add another layer of potato slices, followed by a layer of cranberry cream.

Repeat this several times until all the potato is used up. Dot the top of the cake with knobs of butter and extra parmesan and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes until the top is golden brown. When cooked, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to release it and place on a serving dish.

Life Kitchen, Recipes To Revive The Joy Of Taste & Flavour, by Ryan Riley, is out on March 5 (Bloomsbury, £20)



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