My Top Ten Christmas Foods

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. Spending the best part of 2017 studying, working, looking after my family and trying to start a food blog from scratch, has been brilliant but exhausting and something had to give. Thankfully, every time I count the children and pets they all seem to be there and it was worth it – I passed my course! However I’m back now – fresh(ish)  faced and about to replace studying with marathon training. At least I’ll be hungry.

The utterly brilliant thing about December is the fact that officially – CHRISTMAS HAS ARRIVED!!!! I love Christmas, all those twinkling lights cutting through the fug of winter, the planning, list making, self gifting (just me?) and dragging the Christmas cookery books down from the shelves to pour over (honestly – if you haven’t bought Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles yet, why not – it’s amazing!)

Anyway, enough with all the wittering and without further ado  – here are my Top Ten Christmas Foods….

Mince Pies – I hated mince pies as a child but I love them now, cold with custard, warm with ice-cream or on their own with a cup of tea or better still, some mulled cider. My current obsession is Richard Bertinet’s variation, with frangipane topping the mince pie – they are only improved by adding a huge dollop of clotted cream. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Bath and have the Bertinet bakery close to hand (me neither) then the recipe for these little beauties is here.

IMG_4170.JPG

Cheese – Who doesn’t love a cheese board? Hands down, one of the best parts of Christmas food shopping is choosing and going completely overboard on the cheese selection. I can’t do without a roof of the mouth stripping stilton (preferably potted), an oozy brie and a creamy blue – the Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham is out of this world.

Figs – I don’t know why, but I definitely think of figs as a classic Christmas food – wrapped in bacon as a canape, served sliced with cheeses, in chutney, dried and used to liven up a Christmas cake or even as an interesting addition to mincemeat, they are incredibly versatile and always well received. We’ll be serving Hillside’s Fig Chutney with some squishy blue cheese this year..

Turkey – We sometimes have a rib of beef for Christmas for a change, but if I’m honest it never feels quite as festive. Plus, the leftover possibilities with turkey are endless and nothing goes as well with pigs in blankets (which obviously are a compulsory Christmas foodstuff). I also really enjoy the ceremony of visiting the butchers, discussing my wishlist and placing the order. For the past three years we have had a Turkey Bomb from the Butchers at Darts Farm and I will be ordering the same again this year. Boned and rolled with a choice of stuffings (I love the cider, apple and sage) and covered in bacon it looks great, takes the pressure off the prep work on the big day and tastes amazing. See what I mean here.

Pate – We make a lot of it at this time of year and I don’t think a Boxing Day buffet would be the same without it. My husband and I differ in our opinions on this. He likes his as coarse as possible and I prefer smooth – he does make a cracking mackerel pate though and we are both in agreement that this recipe for chicken liver pate by Delicious magazine is a winner.
Sprouts – It’s a bit of an obvious choice but honestly, I just LOVE them. Cooked with bacon, chestnuts or both, roasted with parmesan or just steamed and served as they are. And let’s not forget sprout tops – I like them best gently steamed with butter and pepper, served with some really good sausages and garlicky mash. 

Christmas Eve canapes – I love Canapes, partly because nothing goes with canapes quite like a glass of fizz and well, any excuse. But also because they are as easy or difficult as you want them to be (each to their own, but I have yet to taste a supermarket canape that wasn’t just a little bit greasy or artificial tasting). Nigella’s mini sausages in Soy and cranberry have been my go-to for years and more recently the salt baked new potatoes from Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles, halved and served with a blue cheese and goats curd dip and ribbons of smoked trout are a favourite. See pge 412 in the book.

6F256E8A-8CE4-417D-9E9E-A0113149F065.JPG

Lebkuchen – The problem with Lebkuchen is that I make it, and then spend the next three days unable to walk past the kitchen without shovelling a piece in. Horribly moreish and so pretty, this German gingerbread-biscuit hybrid is a truly Christmassy addition to my list.  Make your own with this recipe here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Leftovers – As an adult, I think leftovers might be the best of Christmas foods and I always order a big enough turkey and ham to give plenty. From bubble and squeak in the morning with a perfectly poached egg and and streaky bacon, to the inevitable turkey and leek pie to sweep up what’s left before we move on to New Years Eve. This year I’ll be turning my leftover turkey into this pie from Jamie Oliver. 

Pickled Red Cabbage – I’m using this as a bracket for one of my favourite childhood memories. On Christmas day evening, our parents would lay out cold turkey and gammon sandwiches, salad, cheese and biscuits, pickled onions, gherkins and red cabbage (half of my twin sister’s plate would be red cabbage) and as an extra special treat – a glass of Tizer (I couldn’t tell you now what Tizer tasted of, but we LOVED it back then). Then we’d either play games or all settle down to watch E.T./The Goonies/Home Alone and work our way through the Quality Street tin. Bliss. Here’s how to pickle your own red cabbage.

So that’s it, my list of favourite Christmas foods and where they fall in my ideal culinary Christmas. Not sure about the Tizer though, that might be best left in the memory banks along with the year I ate my entire selection box before 5am on Christmas morning…

 


Harry’s Restaurant – Longbrook Street Exeter

The weather may have left a lot to be desired last weekend (where has summer gone?!), but it was still a good one. A highlight was dinner at Harry’s in Exeter on Saturday night. Way back at the beginning of the 00’s, my husband and I came here on our first date. A lot has changed since then – no one listens to Portishead anymore,  Doug and Carol finally got their act together in ER and we’ve somehow become responsible enough to be in charge of two children, a dog and two cats (in fairness, the cats would disagree with that sentence).  We come back to Harry’s every now and again to pat ourselves on the back for putting up with each other for such a long time and laugh (cry) about when we thought getting up at 7am on the weekend was early.

Opened in 1993, Harry’s has long been a much loved part of the Exeter restaurant scene and with good reason. Set in a big, beautiful building on Longbrook street with high ceilings, lots to look at and a comfortable, easy atmosphere, Harry’s serves great food, cooked well without pomp or circumstance.

To start, we had the smoked salmon pate with sourdough toast and calamari with aioli which we both loved, followed by Creedy Carver chicken, and fajitas – they were again delicious. Harry’s portion sizes are on the generous size, which is great but it did mean that unfortunately neither of us left space for a dessert, I saw a few go past and they looked good! (I’ll squeeze one in next time and let you know how it was). The service is as friendly and easy going as the atmosphere and our (lovely, smiley) waitress made us feel welcome without hovering over us, something I find particularly irritating in restaurants.

One of my favourite things about Harry’s is it’s use of local produce – If you look at the photo above (I had to borrow one of Harry’s because mine was terrible) you can see the board on the wall near the kitchen which lists the produce currently on the menu and where it came from, including the distance in miles. It’s a fantastic ethos and I love seeing it up on the wall. This same ethos extends to the wine list which also features local producers – we had a great bottle of Sharphams Sauvignon Blanc that I will look out for in future.

It’s a busy place and I recommend booking plenty in advance to make sure they have space but I promise you’ll be glad you did. I’m off to bed now – early start in the morning…   

 

Harry’s

86 Longbrook Street

Exeter

Devon

EX4 6AP

Tel: 01392 202234