Christmas is a fantastic time of year for those of a foodie persuasion. When else is it acceptable to spend a kings ransom on organic farm house cheese, crack open the champagne at 9am and eat more food than is remotely sensible. There are chances to show off your baking skills and dedicate entire days to crafting Christmas confections. Here are a few of the highlights of the last few days:
I’ve really enjoyed cooking my way through Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub food. The Boxing Day cold turkey salad is almost as good as Christmas Day itself and adding an enormous pork pie can only enhance it! The recipe is very traditional, hot-water crust pastry, herbs and spices and piles of pig. I bought some wonderful rare breed pork (shoulder, belly and smoked streaky) from The Ginger Pig, the smokey bacon had a phenomenal aroma. Dicing and mincing the pork took a while, but the result was marvelous. Crumbly rich pastry, chunky pork and a lovely gentle spice.
I am yet to find a recipe that can top Peggy Porschen’s. It’s rich, fruity and surprisingly light. I baked mine about two months ago and have been feeding it ever since with a rather nice single malt (from speyside – it’s important to make sure the chef stays well oiled too…) While I didn’t get a chance to really decorate it apart from some gold stars, I haven’t heard any complaints about the flavour! It’s full of fruit and thoroughly delicious.
Gin cured salmon
The right starter for Christmas Day is always tricky. Given the deluge of food and rich flavours about to arrive with the main course, it needs to be light, fresh and delicate. Kerridge’s cured salmon is gorgeous, can be prepared well in advance and just needs a few pancakes thrown together while the turkey rests. I ended up with quite a bit left which was lovely on a bagel the morning after.
For my family, the cheese is almost more important than the cakes. I’m a huge fan of Neal’s Yard Dairy. The staff are friendly and knowledgable and they’re more than happy to let you sample a couple of options to make sure you choose the right one. I went for a real mix, Montgomery Cheddar, Stichelton and Dorstone are old friends. This year’s newcomers are Durrus, a lovely Irish washed rind cheese with a gentle, nutty flavour; and Wigmore, a fantastic sheep’s milk number.
This year the supermarkets have really upped their game. Mincemeat is markedly better across the board, with both Sainsburys and Waitrose producing some excellent products. I had a jar of homemade mincemeat left from last year, it’s matured really well with plenty of plump fruits and a lovely whisky tang. I use a very sweet pastry that’s a bit fiddly to work with, but gives a lovely crumbly texture.
I love making presents for people, I normally do a big batch of marmalade in January and some jams and chutneys during the year which get tucked away. Just before Christmas I try and make some sweets and I’ve had most success with fudge. This years recipe is much more technical, it’s from a confectionery textbook and the result is lovely. Smooth, creamy and with just the right amount of firmness.