Once again the Christmas lights are twinkling in the high
streets. Somehow it feels as though the festive season comes round earlier and
earlier each year. Santa and his elves have elbowed the harvest pumpkins and
Halloween ghouls well out of the way until next Autumn.
Children of all ages are being whipped into a frenzy of
excitement by ads for this year’s new big thing and parents are feeling emotionally
blackmailed into fulfilling their little dotes unrealistic expectations. Is it
any wonder that we are seeing more and more column inches about the growing
number of people who ‘hate Christmas’ and just want to bury their heads and
groan every time they hear Bing Crosby or Michael Bublé crooning over the
It’s not just the unwanted presents and added expense coupled
with the extra work and sheer exhaustion. The mere thought makes some people
long to go to curl up and snooze until early January. Spending Christmas with
their nearest but ‘not so dearest’ can cause acute anxiety in itself. Let’s
spare a thought though for the many who have actually lost dearly loved ones.
Christmas, when everyone around seems impossibly cheery, seems to accentuate
the heartbreak and loneliness and bring memories of happier times flooding
Time to remind ourselves of the spirit of Christmas and to
remember that it should be a time of caring and sharing, comfort and joy and
dare I say ‘simplicity’. So after all that, let’s ‘Have ourselves a Merry, little Christmas’.
As ever, a bit of advance planning will mean that everyone’s
more relaxed and able to enjoy the fun….so let’s make a plan. Regular readers
will know I’m a great list maker, for me, lists and lots of them are the
answer. I think we all now realise, that Christmas is not just a one-day event
but closer to two weeks. If you’ve got a big family, don’t feel you have to do
everything yourselves – it’s good to begin by allocating some fun roles to as
many family and friends as you can cajole or shame into taking on some tasks.
Decide on the menu for the big day, whether it’s turkey and
ham or maybe a goose, order the very best you can afford. Beautifully reared organic
birds tend to get snapped up early…. Hurry, hurry. . . .
We tend to be total traditionalists – The Christmas dinner
menu is sacred, no one seems to want to change a single iota, we must have a
gorgeous plump really well hung turkey. I order it ‘New York dressed’ and hang
it for 4 or 5 weeks for maximum succulence.
Start with a two week planner, fill in the basics and create
a shopping list. It’s easy to overestimate the amount of food we need but a well-stocked
larder means one can whip up simple meals in minutes. I know turkey sandwiches
are delicious but if there are just 2 or 4 in your family, ask yourself do you
really need a turkey or goose, how about a plump pheasant, a crispy duck or a
really beautiful organic chicken?
This year I’ve included our new favourite Scrunchy Spiced
Winter Vegetable Pie for those who enjoy a lighter meat free meal.
It’s time to get cracking, so let’s plan a couple of batch
cooking sessions. We love to make lots and lots of soup, such a brilliant
standby to have in the freezer in small containers, perfect to quickly defrost
when you need to produce a comforting meal in a hurry.
I also love to have some bags of pre-weighed soda bread mix
ready to pop into a bowl. Just turn on the oven then add a level teaspoon of baking soda and some buttermilk,
cut the dough into scones and hey presto, you’ll have a bowl of chunky soup and
freshly baked scones in less than 15 minutes. Some cured meats, farmhouse
cheese, membrillo, a few tangerines and you have a perfect little feast.
Most of the accompaniments and sauces both sweet and savoury
can be made weeks ahead, make more than you need as gifts for your friends,
cranberry sauce, brandy butter and lots of chutneys and relishes.
and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2
110g (4oz) onions, chopped
110g (5oz) potatoes, diced
350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock
cream or creamy milk to taste
50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
50g (2oz) parsley, chopped
fried diced bacon
flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley
First make the Parsley Oil.
Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and
Next make the soup.
Heat the oil in a
saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden.
Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
Toss the onion, potato
and turnip in the oil. Season with salt
and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam,
and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add
the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked. Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or
creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary.
Serve with a mixture of
crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
Scrunchy Spiced Vegetable Filo Pie
This root vegetable pie can also be made in individual
‘snails’, but this delicious flaky version comes in a sauté pan. This version
is good for a feast as it serves 12–15 people. You can halve the recipe if
you’re serving smaller numbers.
extra virgin olive oil
peeled and chopped potatoes
peeled and chopped celeriac
peeled and chopped parsnip
1 teaspoon cardamom
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
sliced and sautéed mushrooms
freshly ground pepper
oz) vegetable stock
– 10 sheets of filo pastry, 30 x 43cm (12 x 17 inch) (about one packet)
(2oz) melted butter, for brushing
wash, made by beating 1 organic, free-range egg with 1 tablespoon whole milk
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 4.
vegetables into uniform sized cubes about ¾ inch. Heat the olive oil in a 26cm (10 inch) ovenproof sauté pan, add the
onions, potatoes, carrots, celeriac and parsnips.
salt generously and freshly ground pepper, stir, cover the pot and sweat on a
gentle heat for 4 or 5 minutes.
Meanwhile heat the cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds on a pan until
they smell aromatic – just a few seconds.
Crush lightly, add to the vegetables stir in the sautéed mushrooms. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Take off the heat – sprinkle over the flour, turmeric
and a pinch of sugar. Stir well.
Return to the
pan to heat and add the vegetable stock gradually, stirring all the time. Bring
to the boil, cover the pot and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the
vegetables are almost tender but not mushy. Remove from the pan, taste and
correct the seasoning if necessary. Allow to cool
Brush the sauté pan with melted butter. Brush each sheet of
filo with melted butter, fold over width wise, layer up the pastry in the base
of the sauté pan or roasting dish so that it comes up the sides, allow enough
pastry to hang over the sides to fold over and encase the filling.
Brush another sheet of filo with melted butter, divide into
quarters, scrunch each piece lightly and arrange on top.
Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and bring up the
sides of the filo to enclose the filling. Scrunch 3 sheets of filo and place on
top of the pie.
Chill in the fridge. Just before baking, brush all over with the egg wash. Put the sauté pan onto a gas jet at
medium, cook for 3-4 minutes or until the pan heats and the base begins to
brown. Transfer to the oven and bake for
about ½ an hour until puffed up and golden.
cut into wedges, while still warm and flaky.
Roast Potatoes and Jerusalem
Artichokes with Bay Leaves
Do you know about Jerusalem artichokes, they are in season from
November to March and look like knobbly potatoes. Avery important source of inulin which
enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in our systems, particularly
important after a course of antibiotics.
Jerusalem Artichokes are called sunchokes in the US, they are a member
of the sunflower family
450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes
whole garlic cloves
salt and cracked pepper
duck fat or extra virgin olive oil
sprig of bay leaves – about 20 leaves
oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
potatoes, I like smaller potatoes best for this, but the large ones can be cut
in to two, four or even 6 wedges depending on size. Scrub and cut the unpeeled
Jerusalem artichokes in to similar size pieces.
duck fat or the extra virgin olive oil in a roasting tin. Dry the potatoes and artichokes well, toss in the fat or oil, add several
sprigs of bay, about 20 leaves. Season
well with flaky sea salt and lots of pepper, and toss again.
Cook for 20
minutes, tossing occasionally, increase the heat to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8, add
the garlic cloves and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes. Turn into a hot dish and serve.
I like the
edges of the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes to be a little caramelised.
Christmas Salad Wreath
We serve this salad family style in the
middle of the table.
A delicious festive starter, light,
refreshing and fun to serve.
Serves 6 – 8 or more depending on size
24 fresh walnut halves
175 – 200gr (6-7oz) of mixed small salad
2 – 3 ripe juicy pears
300 – 350g (10-12oz) ripe Crozier blue,
crumbled (Use your favourite blue cheese)
Pomegranate seeds from 1/2 -1 fruit
Fresh sprigs of chervil and mint if
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pre heat the oven to 180°C/350°/Gas Mark
Taste the walnuts and make sure they are
Spread them out on a baking tray and
roast in a preheated oven until nice and toasty (8-10 minutes), allow to cool.
Whisk all the ingredients together for
the dressing, season with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Arrange the salad leaves in a wreath
shape on a large round plate.
Peel and core the pears and cut into wedges.
Arrange around the top of the salad
wreath, sprinkle the crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts and pomegranate
seeds over the top.
Drizzle with a little dressing of put a
little bowl of whisked dressing into the centre and serve immediately.
Two-Bite Parmesan Scones
bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white
scones only take 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are
irresistible to children and adults alike.
450g (1lb) plain
teaspoon teaspoon salt
teaspoon teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
sour milk or
buttermilk to mix – 350-400ml (12-14fl oz/1) approx.
freshly grated Parmesan or 110g
(4oz) finely grated cheddar cheese
Cutter 4cm (1
1/2 inch) approximately
preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a
well in the centre. Pour most of the
milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl,
adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and
sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured board. WASH
AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a
round about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Brush
the top with a little buttermilk or egg wash, dip each scone into grated
Parmesan. Allow 2.5cm (1 inch) or so
between each one on a baking tray.
Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 10
minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom,
when cooked they will sound hollow.
Cool on a
fresh herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients
to make delicious little herb scones.
A Tear and Share Christmas Tree
building the teeny weeny scones into a Christmas tree shape. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes
or until cooked through.
fun to cook three in a line and serve pierced with a rosemary or thyme sprig.
Broccoli Cheese Gratin
1 medium sized cauliflower with green leaves
1 head of broccoli
600ml (1 pint) milk with a dash of cream
a slice of onion
3-4 slices of carrot
sprig of thyme or
roux (see recipe)
salt and freshly ground pepper
150g (5oz) grated cheese, e.g. Cheddar or a mixture of
Gruyére, Parmesan and Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8.
Prepare and cook the cauliflower and broccoli.
Remove the outer leaves and wash
both the cauliflower and the leaves well.
Put not more than 2.5cm (1in) water in a saucepan just large enough to
take the cauliflower; add a little salt.
Chop the leaves into small pieces and cut the cauliflower in quarters or
eighths; place the cauliflower on top of the green leaves in the saucepan,
cover and simmer until cooked, 10-15 minutes approx. Test by piercing the stalk
with a knife, there should be just a little resistance. Similarly cut the broccoli into small pieces
place the broccoli in simmering, salted water for 8 – 10 mins approx. or until
tender when pierced with a knife.
The secret of maximum flavour is minimum water.
Meanwhile make the Mornay Sauce. Put the cold milk
into a saucepan with the onion, carrot, peppercorns and herb. Bring to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes,
remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the
boil and whisk in enough roux to thicken to a light coating consistency. Add
most of the grated cheese (reserving enough to sprinkle over the dish) and a
little mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct
the seasoning, it should good and perky. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower
in an ovenproof gratin dish, and sprinkle with the remainder of the grated
cheese. The dish may be prepared ahead to this point.
Put into the preheated oven or under the grill to
brown. If the cauliflower cheese is allowed to get completely cold, it will
take 20-25 minutes to reheat in a moderate oven. 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey
with Fresh Herb Stuffing
This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may
think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding
ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and
full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices. Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but
use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.
Brining the turkey makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour, either dry or wet brine. (See below on Wet and Dry Brining).
(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with
neck and giblets
Fresh Herb Stuffing
175g (6oz) butter
350g (12oz) chopped onions
400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft breadcrumbs (or approximately
1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)
50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives,
marjoram, savoury, lemon balm
salt and freshly ground pepper
neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey
2 sliced carrots
2 sliced onions
1 stick celery
3 or 4 peppercorns
For basting the turkey
225g (8oz) butter
large square of muslin (optional)
large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress
Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease
of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck,
gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the
liver for smooth turkey liver pate).
Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and
cooked, 3 hours approx.
To make the fresh herb
stuffing: Sweat the
onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in
the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold. If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the
bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing. Put the remainder of the stuffing into the
crop at the neck end.
Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15
minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large
piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely
with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4,
for 2 ¾ – 3 ¼ hours depending on the weight.
A brined turkey takes a shorter time to cook. There is no need to baste
it because of the butter-soaked muslin.
The turkey will brown beautifully. Alternatively, smear the breast, legs
and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground
pepper. If the turkey is not covered
with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with
dampened parchment paper. However, your
turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the
The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the
thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be
clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest
while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the
roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and
bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices
from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux
if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.
If possible, present the turkey on your largest and grandest serving
dish, surrounded by crispy roast potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of
parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the
Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce
A Simple Cranberry Sauce
Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and
terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best. It will keep in your fridge for several
weeks. It is also great with white
chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. I like it pure and
simple but of course you can add some grated orange rind or a splash of brandy
if you wish!
fresh or frozen cranberries
tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water
fresh cranberries in a small heavy-based stainless steel saucepan with the
water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins. Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer
until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until
Note: Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on
end but also freeze perfectly.
Note: It should be soft and juicy, add a little
warm water if it has accidently over cooked.
Bread and Parsley Sauce
I love Bread Sauce
but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe
sounds so dull! Serve with roast
chicken, turkey and guinea fowl. I’m loving the addition of some freshly
chopped parsley at the end.
600ml (1 pint)
110g (4oz) soft
onions, each stuck with 6 cloves
35 – 50g (1 1/2
– 2oz) butter
freshly ground pepper
freshly chopped parsley
2 good pinches
of ground cloves or quatre
oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Bring to the
boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season
with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook
for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct
the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.
Note: The bread
sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated
gently – you may need to use a little more milk.
Quatre Epices is a French spice mix made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
How to Brine a Turkey
hugely enhances the flavour of poultry and pork. Both add flavour. For wet
brine, you’ll need a large enough container to fully submerge the turkey in the
brine for 24 hours. Some people brine the bird in their stainless steel sink.
salt to every 1 litre of water, stir to fully dissolve. Drain and dry well
before stuffing and covering with butter soaked muslin.
salt all over the surface of the turkey. Leave overnight, next day pat the bird
dry and proceed as above.
like thyme and rosemary can be chopped and added to the salt. Not sure why but
brining decreases the cooking time so check for doneness at least 30 minutes earlier
and allow to rest for a further 30 minutes.