I bloody love Christmas. If you follow me on instagram you are probably already aware of this as I have been flooding your feed for weeks now, but from the moment we pick our tree I declare the season of mince pies, cheeseboards and decedent feasting officially open for business.
The main event may only be a few days away but as you head off to make the most important food shop of the year, I wanted to share a collection of my favourite festive feasts and where you can find the recipes. I urge mince pie purists to look away now, but I can’t think of a better recipe to start with than these clementine and pistachio mince pies. A sweet pastry shell filled with a mix of mincemeat and clementine marmalade, topped with a delicate pistachio and almond frangipane. These disappeared faster than anything I’ve made and are a perfect way to christen the season.
Sausage Roll Season
a tale of two parties
For me the festive season is speckled with a couple of parties that I love to go overboard for and have me up franticly icing biscuits or rolling sausage rolls sometimes for days before. The first of these is my annual mince pie party, a tradition thats being going on for 8 years and which probably started with a group of students in my flat crowded around a pack of Tesco mince-pies pretending they liked mulled wine. However it has grown more and more elaborate with age and this year I decided to do things a little differently.
Following the success of my #cookforsyria lunch earlier this year I decided to give this years party a festive middle eastern inspired makeover with all donations collected going towards Unicef’s children of Syria fund. The centrepiece of this spread was once again a controversial spin on a classic but one I will be making again and again; mince pie baklava. From Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s fabulous new book I made soft gingerbread tiles with a rum butter glaze and Amaretti with honey and orange blossom. I also made these sweet pistachio thumbprint cookies of which I am now obsessed with. The savoury treats where made up with a spread of dips, Ottolenghi’s Muhammara, a wonderful pistachio and feta dip and a moutabbal (baba ganoush) which I made Milli Taylor’s endive, baba ganoush, feta and pomegranate bites with. I also made lamb kofta puffs and from Milli Taylor’s wonderful book, Persian sausage rolls and dates stuffed with soft goats cheese, pistachios and pomegranates.
A week later its always the LG Christmas party back at my parents house. For this I bring out the classics such as the pork, apple & pistachio sausage rolls that I make every year with out fail. Other than that I like to make easy canapé’s such as toasts topped with mackerel pate, fresh crab mixed with creme fraiche, herbs and spices or rare sliced beef with horseradish cream and radish. Another easy-ish recipe I made last year was this Turkish style sharing bread which your party guests or family members will fight over. Mum always puts on a ridiculous cake table for these parties and here you can find the recipe for her meringue wreath centrepiece.
The count down
Christmas shopping and some leisurely baking
I always savour a few holiday days as I like to take a few days off in the run up to Christmas. These are spent back home at my parents planning the Christmas feast, watching films, running around the local town, wrapping presents and baking treats. I like to make a traditional stollen, this year will be Nigel’s recipe, but also these soft amaretti which I make every year and are kept in a tin within arms reach of the sofa for the next few days (if they last that long.) Dinners are lighter in preparation for the feast ahead, I make butternut squash soup spiked with a splash of sherry (it is Christmas after all) and topped with parmesan, parsley and some toasted pumpkin seeds.
last minute wrapping & a Christmas ham
For us Christmas Eve can involve a number of things. Last minute present wrapping with a espresso martini or the obligatory holiday viewing of Home alone with some festive spiced popcorn. The turkey will be brining, I will have prepped a few of my side dishes for tomorrow and later we may be falling out of a pub in a local town somewhere or more respectfully been guilted by Mum in to singing carols at Christmas Eve mass. However no matter what happens one tradition that never changes is my Mum’s Christmas Eve sticky ginger-glazed ham which we eat festively tipsy with creamy mash, peas or boiled cabbage and always a thick helping of parsley sauce. The ham itself I think is adapted from Nigella’s but with some secret twists I’m sure.
The Big Day
start as indulgently as you mean to go on
So here we are the big day is here, the turkey is brined and prepped, the stocking are opened and its time to start the day as indulgently as you mean to go on with these pimped up croissants filled with almond paste, amaretti and dark chocolate. You can thank me later.
As we sit down to unwrap presents we eat a few little nibbles, last year one of which was this slow gin cured gravlax which was devine but you will need to get going a few days before Christmas. This year I have this beetroot, vodka and horseradish gravlax snoozing in the fridge until the big day.
The Christmas menu changes slightly year to year and overtime recipes have merged and evolved but below you will find a rough out line to which I will be following this year:
I follow Nigella’s brining recipe, then I like to get a festive butter under the skin before following Jamies recipe to the finish line. Once out of the oven and resting, for the gravy I will remove most of the fat and then add in to the pan with all the delicious juices my get-ahead gravy I would have made a couple of days before.
I often cook way too much, but that just adds to the fun of getting creative with leftovers that see you through to almost the new year. Of course potatoes, par boiled and shaken with semolina, added to hot pan of goose fat, herbs and garlic and roasted until crisp. Then recently I have being cooking a lot of my sides from Jamies Oliver’s new Christmas book. We have glazed carrots in clementines and honey, bay-glazed parsnips roasted with ground almonds, balsamic rich roasted beets and a wonderfully decadent bowl of almost overflowing creamed spinach with a cheddar & oat crumb. Oh and a small bowl of boiled sprouts for Dad.
All the trimmings:
We have two stuffings, a more traditional meat stuffing with chesnuts and peach and then Nigella’s wonderfully sweet bacon and gingerbread stuffing which we have been making for years and is fabulous in a leftover sandwich! Of course then a large jug of thick bread sauce, cranberry sauce, the already mentioned gravy and then the humble star of Christmas pigs in blankets which are glazed in a pan of honey and Worcester sauce when they come out of the oven.
After lunch its time to settle down for a evening in front of the fire with a clementine whisky sour to watch Eastenders and play games until someone makes the suggestion “sandwich?” (normally me)
a day of rest
For us Boxing Day is rustling up some leftovers in to a hearty fry up, after less then 12 hours earlier proclaiming we could never possibly eat again. This day is full of pj’s, board games, left over sandwiches and country walks. All this finishes back in front of the fire with a epic cheeseboard of delights from Neals yard Dairy.
The in-between days
The final days of Christmas leading to my return to London and a inevitably horrific New Years day hangover are some of my favourite days. Its that in-between time when everyone looses track of what day it is and you become stuck in a wonderful Groundhog Day of relaxation. I also unlike a lot of people love the challenge of leftovers.
Last years started of with Jamies turkey risotto, which yes I know sounds like something Bridget Jones’s mum would be serving up at her turkey buffet but trust me it was wonderful. After that and more sandwiches we strip the turkey of the meat and cook up a turkey soup with a difference. Check out this recipe for creamy Turkey chowder with sweetcorn, bacon and crackers. Finally, there is the last of everything pie. Using Jamie’s leftover turkey pie recipe as a base this is where everything ends up in creamy sauce and covered in delicious puff pastry and chestnut top. The End.