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…

 


In praise of the good old fashioned Cookery Book…

Who reading this still buys cookery books? I know they seem a little old fashioned in current times, but I have to admit that I still love a cookery book and I know I’m not alone in this. I would wager that there are lots of us squirreling away books with pages covered in flour, spicy fingerprints and scrawled notes in the margins. If you were to walk around my house, you would find two bookshelves dedicated to current favourites, a shelf for baking, an overflow shelf for the current favourites shelf and lastly, a dusty old shelf stuffed with cookery books that I should probably get rid of but can’t quite bring myself to. 

File_001 (2)

Every once in a while, my husband will mention that we do seem to have quite a lot of cookery books and maybe we don’t need all of them (he does this about my running book collection too – to look at it you’d think I’m some kind of ex-olympian, not a slightly obsessive 38 year old). It always falls on deaf ears – I might need a recipe from one of those books one day.

Despite the fact that we can all access any recipe for any food we could imagine in seconds thanks to the internet, physically turning the pages of a book, folding over corners and making shopping lists for potential recipes is still one of my favourite things to do. Sat in bed on a sunday morning with a coffee and a stack of cookery books, lazily planning the day’s eating and cooking is my idea of heaven.

There are a few that particularly stand out for me –  I once bought Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookery book ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ after a few glasses of wine, slowly remembering when the Amazon parcel came through the door a few days later. That book was so pleased with itself that it had forgotten that food is there to be enjoyed – one of few books to have been culled.

File_002 (1)

Then there’s the pistachio nubuck, decoratively boxed Laduree book that I spent weeks searching online for, only for its (beautiful, embossed) box to be scribbled on in biro by one of the resident toddlers within a week of it entering the house. What was I thinking?

In amongst weird purchases like the mottled second hand old fashioned books bought on a whim in a charity shop, or the persian/vietnamese/whatever is currently trendy book that I saw at a friends house or on social media, there are also favourites that I revisit time and time again –

The Riverford Farm cookbook – this came free with my veg box a long time ago and is full of sensible recipes that work. I have since bought copies as gifts for people and it’s always been well received.

Nigella Bites – One of my first cookery books. I learned to cook with this in my early twenties and for a long time the linguine with garlic oil, pancetta and parsley was my go-to dish when friends came over for dinner. A dish that we would serve with bottles of £5 wine from the shop at the end of the road, 20 Marlboro lights and a Moby playlist.. (actually I made the linguine again not very long ago and it’s still good – these days without the accompaniments).

Every book Bill Granger has ever written. I know it seems lazy not to pick just one, but I honestly can’t. I love Bill Granger’s food – the recipes all work, are delicious, and cater to every level of motivation from ‘really cannot be arsed’, to ‘desperate to impress’. Plus, Bill doesn’t need you to go out and find honey from bilingual bees (I’m looking at you, Ina Garten) and he won’t hold it against you if you don’t own a selection of heavy based copper pans (sorry, Raymond Blanc). The icing on the cake is the food photography – full of sunlight and beautiful crockery. It’s because he lives in Sydney isn’t it? I’m green with envy.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Richard Bertinet – Pastry – I also have his books Dough and Crust and like them equally. I think the format and layout of his books work brilliantly. They are easy to follow and full of useful photos, my daughter has started to use these recently too.

So that’s it – my roundup of current favourites and a weak justification for all those books crammed into shelves around my home. Let me know which cookery book you couldn’t live without. I’m off to show this to my husband…

Horn & Cracker