One of my favourite things about celebrating Christmas is the opportunity to eat good food and take a little more time over making it than a regular work-filled week will typically allow. This year, as well as spending a few days with my family – where the food is always great, homemade and plentiful – we hosted my wife’s side of the family for a few days in our humble abode, which gave us the opportunity to try cooking some new dishes.
Here are a few of the recipes we tried – almost all of which I would whole-heartedly recommend you try! Check them out, and scroll down for a few photos.
First, I made a batch of Dan Lepard’s alehouse rolls, which are fast becoming a Christmas favourite for me. When I smell that aroma of ale and oats on the hob, I know Christmas is nearly here! You can check out the recipe here, or better still, buy yourself a copy of his Short and Sweet. I split the batch into smaller rolls (15 in total, each weighing approximately 73g pre-cooked) and part baked them. I didn’t coat them with oats; just a light dusting of rye flour. They were a great accompaniment to cheese and cold meats. I used the Shepherd Neame India Pale Ale, which was lovely to drink, but too light and sweet for this bread, once combined with the honey. On previous occasions I’ve used a darker ale or stout, with better results.
I also made a dozen of Paul Hollywood’s mini sausage plaits. I ditched the black pudding and upped the sausage meat, since I didn’t want them too rich. That proved to be a good choice, since they were already larger than I would normally make sausage rolls anyway. I also went for balsamic vinegar with the onions instead of sherry vinegar – which worked just fine. A bit of a faff, but fun.
For the first time I tried my hand at croissants, using James Morton’s Christmas morning croissant recipe from Brilliant Bread. They looked amazing, smelled amazing… and were utterly raw in the centre, even after being cooked for double the amount of time. I’m still not entirely sure what I did wrong, so need to think, read and practice further. And even if they were inedible to humans, the swans and geese appeared to enjoy them on our walk through Wimbledon Park.
The main event was a three-course dinner, beginning with smoked salmon and crème fraîche on homemade blinis; the recipe using a mix of rye and white flour, and coming from Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3. Note – the quantities are deceptive. We ended up making about 100 of these little blighters from a single batch, and even some of those were too big for canapés!
Next came a game pie with venison, partridge and pheasant in a port sauce. The recipe comes from John Williams, the head chef at The Ritz and was featured in the Sainsbury’s Magazine. It tasted fantastic; the sauce was rich and beautiful, the vegetables still had a nice bite to them, and the two types of pastry (suet and puff) made for a really good pie! I ditched the chestnuts and upped the mushrooms, since I’m not a great fan of chestnuts and I tried it once before and felt that they didn’t add a significant amount to the dish. I also just used 300ml of port, as I didn’t have any madeira. Oh… and in a slightly macabre festive twist, I decorated my venison pie with pastry reindeer!! We served it with celeriac mash and green vegetables.
And for dessert, Helen made a lovely brown sugar pavlova with cinnamon cream and a berry compote, from the Christmas edition of Waitrose Kitchen magazine.
We also made a couple of other bits and pieces, including chorizo jam, a white tin loaf, a poppy-seed sourdough, and a chorizo, white bean and kale soup – but I don’t have any recipes to share on most of those, since they were random concoctions!
And of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas cake, which Helen adapted from Nigel Slater’s ever-faithful recipe in his wonderful, The Kitchen Diaries.
So; an enjoyable selection of festive foods. I’ve learnt some new techniques, and realised a few areas where I have far more practice to do before I even contemplate applying for the Bake Off!! I also received a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which has given me a whole load of new things to learn and recipes to try in 2015.