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. From the moment we pick our tree I declare the season of mince pies, cheeseboards and decedent feasting officially open for consumption.
The main event may only be a couple 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 pistachio and almond frangipane. These disappear 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 punctuated with a few parties that I love to go overboard for which normally have me up late franticly icing biscuits and rolling sausage rolls for days before. The first of these is my annual mince pie party, a tradition thats being going on for 9 years and probably started with a group of students in my flat crowded around a pack of Tesco mince-pies. However it has quickly grown much more elaborate with age, each year out doing the last.
Last year following the success of my #cookforsyria lunch, I decided to give that years party a middle eastern inspired festive makeover with all donations collected going towards Unicef’s children of Syria fund. The centrepiece of this spread was 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 book I made soft gingerbread tiles with a rum butter glaze and Amaretti with honey and orange blossom. I also made these sweet delicious pistachio thumbprint cookies. The savoury treats where made up of a feast of dips; Ottolenghi’s Muhammara, a wonderful pistachio and feta dip and a moutabbal (baba ganoush) of which I made Milli Taylor’s endive, baba ganoush, feta and pomegranate bites with. I also made lamb kofta puffs and Persian sausage rolls from Milli Taylor’s wonderful book and as well as dates stuffed with soft goats cheese, pistachios and pomegranates.
This years mince pie party was filled with a lot more of the old classics. Pork, apple & pistachio sausage rolls which are made every year with out fail (several times in the season) were pared with a uncompromising veggie version of Roasted Squash rolls with chestnuts and sage. The mince pies were out once again, and the soft gingerbread tiles from the year before made a well deserved return.
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 once again. Other than that I like to make easy canapé’s such as toasts topped with mackerel blitzed with creme fraiche and horseradish, fresh crab mixed with herbs and chilli 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. My 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 from work for the end of the year, 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 always like to make a traditional stollen, Nigel’s recipe is a winner. Also these soft amaretti which I make every year and are kept in a tin within arms reach of the sofa for the following days (if they last that long). Dinners are lighter in preparation for the feast ahead, butternut squash soup spiked with a splash of sherry (it is Christmas after all) and topped with parmesan, parsley and some toasted pumpkin seeds.
It’s in this run up to Christmas when the winter solstice falls and a very pagan and very ‘Brighton’ event happens that has become part of our Christmas traditions. We make lanterns decorated with the theme of the year and parade through the streets of Brighton with a band of drummers whilst sipping mulled wine. We are lead down to the sea front for the burning of the clocks and marvel at fireworks celebrating the shortest day of the year and the promise of longer ones to come.
last minute wrapping & a Christmas ham
For us Christmas Eve can involve a number of things. Last minute present wrapping with a espresso martini, a obligatory holiday viewing of Home alone with some festive spiced popcorn or a last minute dash to the supermarket as I realise I miss calculated how much sage or bacon I needed. By now the turkey will be brining and I will have prepped a few of my side dishes for tomorrow. 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 champ, cabbage (boiled in salty ginger juices of the ham) 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 has arrived, the turkey is brined and prepped, the stockings 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 festive nibbles. Gravlax is devine and has become a staple but you will need to get it 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 the early Christmas I cooked for my family this year (not to worry a feast of roast goose is planned for the remaining LG’s this Christmas Day):
I follow Nigella’s brining recipe, then I switch to Jamies recipe to get me to the finish line. The best thing about his is the ridiculous amount of herby butter that you smother the turkey in which is then completely covered in foil to keep it good and moist. The foil is removed for the last hour and replaced with a thatch of streaky smokey bacon that continues to baste the turkey until perfect. Once out of the oven and resting (you can do this for up to 2 hours) I will remove most of the fat from the baking tray and get in on the hob with a little flour and water. Then once it has bubbled away for ten mins I will add in to the pan the ‘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 the new year. Of course potatoes, par boiled and shaken with semolina, added to a hot pan of goose fat, herbs, garlic and roasted until crisp. Then recently I have being cooking a lot of my sides from Jamie Oliver’s Christmas book. We have glazed carrots in clementines and honey and bay-glazed parsnips (roasted whole for 40 mins then squashed, glazed and topped with ground almonds for a further 20). There is rich red cabbage with bacon and prunes, broccoli and cauliflower cheese and a wonderfully decadent bowl of overflowing creamed spinach with a cheddar & oat crumb. Oh and a small bowl of boiled sprouts for Dad.
All the trimmings:
We normally have two stuffings, a more traditional meat stuffing with chestnuts and peach or maybe a simpler sage onion thats stuffed in the turkey to soak up all those juices. However every year without fail there is Nigella’s wonderfully sweet bacon and gingerbread stuffing which is fabulous in a leftover sandwich! Of course there is a large bowl of thick bread sauce, cranberry sauce, the already mentioned gravy and then the humble star of Christmas pigs in blankets which are hand rolled with herbs weaved between the bacon and sausage.
After lunch its time to settle down for a evening in front of the fire with a espresso martini to watch Eastenders and play games until someone makes the suggestion “sandwich?” (normally me)
a day of rest
After less then 12 hours earlier proclaiming we could never possibly eat again, Boxing Day is rustling up some leftovers in to a hearty fry up. 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.
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 of the season. 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 is 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. The delicious baked spinach is reinvented as a lazy brunch of spinach and blue cheese frittata. 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 chesnut puff pastry. The End.