* with apologies to my Jewish (and vegetarian) readers, this blog may contain genuflections at the Shrine of Swine.
So, even with global warming and climate change, the earth keeps spinning and we still have our shortest day and longest night. Which means there is an excuse to get the Christmas decorations out mid-year and have another Yule Dinner! (click here for the reasons why this makes more sense in the Southern Hemisphere)
As in previous years, we had The Roast – this year it was a “rolled turkey breast with cranberry stuffing”, not surprisingly, from a Delicious magazine ‘Christmas in July’ special. The stuffing began with cooked onion and fried pancetta, so I was pretty sure it was going to be yum (and it definitely smelt that way!). As well as this being a very festive recipe (the stuffing also included pistachio nuts and the aforementioned Cranberries), it had a separate recipe for gravy.
Domestic Goddess Confession time: I am terrible at gravy. As I may (or may not) have mentioned before, it took me a long time to be comfortable with The Roast. For something that was such a stalwart of my childhood diet, and that I saw my mother/grandmother/ aunt/other sundry female relative/friend make over and over, I struggled getting it right. It took me many years and many different techniques before I finally found a bulletproof roast potato technique (I even bought frozen roast potatoes in my early days – the shame!!). I now have a few good Roast recipes under my belt, but gravy still seems to elude me. Maybe it was the ease at which my mum mixed up the Gravox and pan juices (which I then dutifully stirred while Dad carved). Mine always ended up lumpy/watery/ flavourless, so I have been a big fan of the pre-prepared pouches of gravy that you can buy in the supermarket. But as this recipe has separate instructions for gravy that did not rely on “pan juices” (and could be made earlier) I thought I would give it a try. I’m happy to report it was a success; the technique was not unsimilar to making a roux for a white sauce, so maybe I’ve Learned Something for the next time I’m brave enough to try Gravy.
Roast was suggested to be served with a “potato and porcini gratin” which sounded a bit fancy (and similar to last year’s tartiflette) so I went with the good ol’ duck fat potatoes, as well as some roasted sweet corn and Brussel sprouts.
What?!? Brussel Sprouts!! No one likes Brussel sprouts!! – I hear you say. And up until a year ago I would have agreed with you, not being able to count on one hand the number of people I knew that admitted they liked them. My dad despised them with as much passion as you could despise a vegetable. He used to tell kids that if you left a Brussel spout on the window sill for a month that it would turn gross and mouldy which was Proof of the noxious poisons within. As such, my childhood was a Brussel sprout-free zone.
But one grows older and realises that one’s parents are not the be all and end all of culinary experiences. And so I felt brave enough to try when hubby brought them home from the supermarket one day.
And what do you know, I like them!! I think with most things it is the preparation that makes or breaks it. Brussel spouts are very susceptible to over cooking which will turn them into smelly slimy sludge. A quick dip in boiling water finished off with a knob of butter (or olive oil) is all they need. Or if you’re going to get a bit fancy and try and covert non-BS eaters, you par boil then, the fry up some bacon (or pancetta as I did this time) and fry them in the bacon fat for a bit before popping them in the oven to crisp up – delicious.
Which brings me to another piece of Worldly Cooking Wisdom; things go better with Pork. There have been many dishes, especially lately which have been improved by the addition of bacon, chorizo, prosciutto or pancetta. It is magic in bolognaise sauces, lasagnes and pasta dishes, great in anything with eggs (like frittatas), even works in some salads, and always smells amazing while cooking. So this is by no means a hard and fast rule, but I do find it works more often than not.
Pudding was actually a “pouding” – Pouding Chomeur, which I found in a 'Dessert Around the World' Delicious Mag special. It started life as French bread and butter pudding from Canada during the Great Depression (the name literally means “unemployed pudding”). But the main thing that enticed me (apart from cooking another French dish for our Frenchman) was that it contained pecans and maple syrup, which is one of my favorite combinations (I have made a maple-pecan ice cream which is divine). And I knew that dessert-fussy Hubby liked it too.
So after an fair few hours of preparing and organising I did my traditional table setting; which, as I commented to hubby while deciding between variations on place settings, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over doing”.
No gingerbread boxes this year, but every place setting did have a little “gift” of a gingerbread tree and stars with a red Lindor ball (all tied up with red ribbon and a sprig of rosemary; totes festive). Throw in a few candles and some ivy with oranges/lemons and dried fruit/nuts and we were set for guests.
I had decided to do baked camembert again as one of my guests was pregnant last year and wasn't really supposed to eat it (although we all agreed that baking it would probably kills the germs). I used an Australian camembert this year (to have one less trip to a different shopping centre) but prepared it in a similar way to last year (garlic and herbs and red wine O my!) Interestingly, it turned out a lot thicker with an almost fondue-like consistency, compared to last years’ “deliciously oozy cheesy mess”. (apparently it is due to the fat content of the respective cheeses – thanks Mr Frenchman!) It was still super yum. We also had foie gras, which was brought along by Mr Frenchman and Wife, as they are much more knowledgeable about these things than I. It is a Christmas day tradition in his family so I thought we could borrow that tradition for ourselves. Plus, Wife of Other Couple has just come back from France and was probably missing French cuisine.
So again, a fun time was had by all, including all the kids who managed to get to sleep by 10pm. We realized that there was another Ex Pat in our midst – from New Zealand, which means I now get to start researching how to create a Hangi (step one: dig a hole). We did end up with some left overs, which have been turned into a few extra meals and a rather awesome morning tea of baked camembert on toast. Plus a half bottle of champagne (blame those selfish people who switched to red wine with dinner), which is always tricky ingredient to use up . I did remember seeing a Nerdy Nummies Champagne Cupcakes recipe, but that only used half a cup. I have a great recipe (from French Women Don’t get Fat) for Chicken au Champagne (chicken cooked in champagne) but I didn't think it would last the few days it would take until I could cook dinner again. So I settled for the most sensible option…
I drank it.
So let’s raise a glass to the sun returning again and to old traditions with new friends.