The Joys of Christmas

Christmas Nuts

Joy Number One

Oh, first joy of joys: spiced apple breakfast pancakes, served with damson compote, various homemade jams and quince Champagne cocktails!

The apples used were a tart eating apple, pilfered (with permission) from our neighbour, who also attended our Christmas breakfast. The damsons were our own, dug from the depths of our freezer, after they were picked last autumn. As you may remember, I have already commented on our dire (read: non-existent) damson harvest this year.

The pancakes themselves were a spongy variety, the recipe for which was adapted from Nigella’s, How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Finally, the wonderful (I-could-get-used-to-this-at-breakfast-time) Champagne cocktails were made using the reduced quince poaching liquor leftover from making Joy Number Five, the quince, apple and cardamom crumble.

Christmas Breakfast

Joy Number Two

Simple and elegant crab pâté, served with smoked malted wholemeal bread and Alan’s truly amazing bread and butter pickle.

I can’t quite communicate how perfectly all the components of this starter dish worked together. The crab pâté was a recipe taken from my Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook, which required solely crab meat, butter, garlic, seasoning, parsley and lemon juice. The bread was a loaf I baked that morning, using my favourite Bacheldre Watermill flour, and sliced thinly – a thin slice per person. But the pickle: oh, the pickle! It’s one that my Dad’s friend, Alan, makes every year, which is, cryptically, a slightly sweet cucumber relish.

And it was all perfect. Just perfect.

Crab Pâté

Joy Number Three

Steamed venison suet pudding, served with root vegetable puree and sprouts.

As you may have gathered, this winter, for me, it’s all about the suet. Those lovely boys at D.W.Wall came up trumps again with the beef fat for the suet pastry (as well as the wonderful smoked bacon used in the filling), and the venison was purchased from our local produce market.

The recipe was another I had lovely cut out and haphazardly pasted into one of my bulging recipe files, and it seems, was originally written by Gordon Ramsey and featured in The Times. It appealed to me not only for its use of both venison and suet, but also because it featured the use of raspberry vinegar. My mum made a cupboardful of raspberry condiments this year, but unfortunately vinegar wasn’t one of them. However, the raspberry vodka I found seemed to work rather well.

Venison Suet Pudding

Joy Number Four

Smoked fish pie with stargazey prawn, for my non-venison-eating sister.

An individual pie, again, so simple in its list of ingredients: smoked fish, béchamel, seasoning, a hard boiled egg (a Christmas present from our chickens) with a topping of mashed potato and a single prawn, head poking up to the sky.

The recipe is one from Fergus Henderson, featured in his Nose to Tail Eating. The wee astrological crustacean was my own addition.

Stargazey Fish Pie

Joy Number Five

Quince, apple and cardamom crumble.

Now this pudding was all about me, me, me. But that’s by no means an apology. I love fruit puddings; anything with apple always gets my vote, and I’ve been unashamedly gushing about all things quince for quite a while now. But, in my defence (should any be needed), I promise that the preparing of this will ensure that your whole household will smell like Mrs Claus’ pantry for a whole afternoon. And not only that – it will also make damn sure that everyone within said household will get into the festive spirit, whether they want to, or not.

The poaching method used for preparing the quince was taken from David Lebovitz and is officially my new preparation method of choice. Instead of his use of vanilla, I used a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into fat slices.

The fail-safe method for preparing the crumble mixture is Nigella’s, featured in How to Eat. And I twiddle with it, as I always do, adding different sugars and spices as I feel the need. But her ratio of fat to flour and sugar always comes good, so I stick to it.

For the filling: (NB – these quantities make enough for two crumble fillings. But when has that ever been a bad thing?)

Quince – 2

Fresh ginger – 3-inch piece, peeled and chopped into fat slices

Water – 600ml

Caster sugar – 65g

Unwaxed lemons – 1, cut in half

Apples – 3

Light muscovado sugar – 1.5 tbsp

Unsalted butter – a small knob

For the crumble: (NB – these quantities make enough for a single crumble topping. Double up if you’re baking two at once.)

Self-raising flour – 120g

Unsalted butter – 90g, cold and diced into smallish cubes

Salt – a pinch

Light muscovado sugar – 3 tbsp

Vanilla sugar – 1.5 tbsp

Caster sugar – 1.5 tbsp

Cardamom – the seeds from 2 to 3 pods, ground

Ground ginger – 1/2 tsp

Please refer to David Lebovitz for his quince poaching method, replacing the vanilla with the fresh ginger stipulated above. The ingredients I have listed will make a third of the amount that he advises, but cooking times shouldn’t vary (at least, mine still needed the full hour’s poaching). Allow the quince to cool in their poaching liquid while you prepare the apples.

Peel, core and cut the apples into eighths, then chop these into bite-sized chunks. Over a medium heat, melt the small knob of butter in a pan and when it begins to bubble, add the prepared apples, light muscovado sugar and 3 or 4 tbsp of the quince poaching liquid. Allow the apples to soften very slightly, turning them in the pan as you go.

Once they have begun to soften, tip them into a baking dish (or distribute them evenly between two, since the fillings I list make enough for two crumbles). Drain the quince (reserving the liquid and doing something wonderful with it, such as reducing it over a high heat, allowing it to cool and adding a couple of inches’ worth to the bottom of champagne glasses before topping up the rest of the glass with some good bubbly stuff), chop it into pieces the same size as the apples, and add these to the same baking dish/es. Drizzle a couple or three tbsp of the reserved poaching liquid over the top of the fruit.

To prepare the crumble topping, tip the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and add the cold, diced butter. Rub the flour into the fat until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs and then stir in the sugars and spices. Place the mixture in the fridge until you need it.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5. When you are ready to bake your Christmassy crumble, sprinkle the cold crumble mixture over the top of the fruit in the baking dish and place in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until browned on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream or thick double cream.

Each crumble should feed four people, generously.

Apple, Quince and Cardamom Crumble

Joy Number Six

Gooey chocolate and cardamom puddings. For my choccy-choccy-too-choc sister.

Now, I can’t vouch for the success of this pudding, other than it looked the part. My sister certainly seemed to make positive sounding “mmpff” noises to all my questions concerning the prevalence of cardamom, but I can’t quite be sure she was actually listening.

Chocolate and Cardamom Pudding


Spiced Root Puddings

Spiced Root Pudding

I adore root vegetables. Parsnips are my absolute favourites, but I’ll take pretty much any that are on offer – be they roasted, boiled or mashed. Sadly, the parsnips in my parents’ vegetable patch didn’t come to fruition though, this year. They realised way back in June that the little guys just weren’t going to make it, so when I was informed that Christmas dinner was going to be somewhat lacking this year, I immediately began researching substitute roots that would still have time to grow before the fat old man in red started doing the rounds. (I’m taking about the ever-reliable Saint Nick here, just in case there was any confusion.)

In fact, the swedes and turnips I bought have been ready for quite a while now, so I’ve already been gorging myself on wonderfully tasty roasted root salads, soups and stews. However, last week I decided to try something a bit different.

Last Sunday, the folks and I went out for a fabulous Sunday lunch at the Stagg Inn. I’ll keep the description brief (otherwise this will turn into a gushing restaurant review, rather than a recipe post), but suffice to say their home-reared roast pork melted in the mouth and a baked lemon tart with blackcurrant sorbet I had for dessert was possibly the best in eating memory. Anyway, the reason I mention the Stagg at all, is due to the fact that they have started selling their own food products, as well as serving the best lemon tarts in the world.

As we were paying the bill, we noticed that they were selling faggots made from their own pigs, and my mother and I (being the food-thrift lovers that we are) got rather excited about this. So much so, that we ended up buying six for dinner later on that week.

Of course, it went without saying that roots were going to be eaten in the same forkful as the faggots and I began thinking about how they would be most suitably prepared. Flicking through one of my numerous recipe scrapbooks (again, I can’t find the original online, so am unable to reference it), I came across a recipe for parsnip puddings and decided that it I could adapt it to suit my offally needs. (I should actually tell you, I cracked and bought some locally grown parsnips to make these. Just reading the words, ‘parsnip’ and ‘pudding’ sent me into something of a parsnip-deprived fervour, which meant that they had to be included in the dish, along with our home-grown rooty delights.)

So, the faggots were roasted along with a couple of leeks from the garden and a red wine gravy made from the sticky bits left behind in the tin. The puddings were steamed in individual ramekins, turned out into dishes and surrounded by the faggots, leeks and gravy, and all looked hearty and picture-perfect. And then the camera batteries died. Drat.

Ah well, the versatility of these tasty wee puds means that they make a decent vegetarian main course too. So the remaining pudding was eaten the next day, re-heated and topped with toasted walnuts and dressed with a winter leaf salad.

The recipe makes four individual puddings. Here it is:

Root vegetables – 500g (I used 2 parsnips, a swede and a turnip)

Ground mace or freshly grated nutmeg – 1 tsp

Eggs – 3

Natural yoghurt – 3 tbsp

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius/gas mark 3 and butter and line 4 ramekins with greaseproof paper.

Peel your chosen root vegetables and cut them into equal sized pieces. Boil or steam these until tender. When ready, drain the vegetables well and allow to cool a little.

Put a fairly full kettle on to boil.

Puree the root vegetables in a processor/using a stick blender and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg or mace (or use ½ tsp of each of these nutmeg-derived spices, as I did), then add the eggs and yoghurt and blend until smooth. Taste again in case further seasoning is needed, and divide between the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a deep roasting tin and fill the roasting tin with boiling water until it comes halfway up the ramekins.

Carefully insert the roasting tin into the preheated oven and bake for 25 mins, until the puddings have set.

Once the puddings have had their time, remove the ramekins from the roasting tin. (They will quite happily sit for a few minutes before being turned out.) Gently run a knife around the inside of the ramekins, invert onto a plate or dish, and cautiously peel off the greaseproof paper.

Eat with faggots and gravy. Or not.