Christmas Dinner

My daughter in Tokyo has asked for our traditional Christmas Recipes. These have developed over the years but are unquestionably traditionally British. Incidentally she was back in the UK at the beginning of December 2017 & wanted a ‘Christmas Dinner’. This was fun as it enabled me to experiment with different recipes to our usual (Delia Smith’s Goose with prune stuffing, Stollen & Buche de Noel on this occasion) but there is no question as to what we will be eating on 25th December.

While turkey is an option for many I do question how many regret this – fine if you are having a lot of people around over the festive season or fancy a freezer full of left overs but we usually have chicken as it is more manageable in every sense. Knowing the facilities in the Tokyo flat I suggest either a half chicken or two leg portions there.

Our dinner comprises of:

  • Chicken
  • Sage & onion stuffing
  • Sausage meat & apple stuffing
  • Bread sauce
  • Chipolatas
  • Bacon Rolls
  • Roast potatoes (this year roasted in goose fat from our earlier dinner)
  • Roast parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Gravy

For dessert Christmas pudding & cream followed by cheese, biscuits & port.

This is a large meal but I don’t need to eat again until Boxing Day so actually counts as two meals.

I suggest in Tokyo that you do the bread sauce & stuffings in advance – you can just reheat them in the microwave just before you serve. This will leave the oven free to do the chicken portions, roast potatoes & roast parsnips.

The bread sauce recipe is one from my mother & will need starting the night before as follows:

Buy a proper small, white loaf & leave it out for a few days to go stale. Cut into small cubes & put these in a blender, a few at a time, to make breadcrumbs. You could use panko breadcrumbs if you want – it won’t be the same but it will have a Japanese twist! Put half the breadcrumbs in an oven proof dish. Add half an onion studded with a few cloves. Add salt & pepper to taste & sprinkle over ground mace if you have it. Add milk until the breadcrumbs are soaked through then leave overnight. When ready to cook add more milk if needed to make it wet, dot with butter then bake in the oven at about 180C (160C fan) until well heated through and it has a risen light brown crust on top. I don’t know anyone else who bakes their bread sauce –  most recipes involve cooking in a saucepan – so if you want something quicker then check out the internet. It won’t be like mine though!

With the other half of the breadcrumbs make the sage & onion stuffing. Add chopped sage, chopped fresh parsley, finely chopped onion (the other half from the bread sauce), suet or grated butter (I guess but a recipe online suggests 40g fat to 125g breadcumbs), salt & pepper to taste, an egg & some milk if it needs extra liquid to bind together. I don’t like it to be too strong with onion so you may want to add more. If you have a lemon then some zest is nice too. I stuff half into the neck of the chicken & the rest in an ovenproof dish. You could do balls if you want to speed things up a bit. Cook with the bread sauce.

The sausage meat stuffing is 500g sausagemeat (or minced pork), 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped cooking apple & a pack of chestnuts (chopped). You can leave these out if you can’t find them. If you use sausagemeat you won’t need salt & pepper – if you use minced pork then add salt & pepper to taste & maybe some sage. Put in an ovenproof dish & cook with the breadsauce until cooked through (you’ll see the apple boiling & the top will go a chestnut brown). Alternatively do as balls to save time.

For roast potatoes – peel potatoes & cut into even sizes – the smaller they are the quicker they cook but not too small. Boil for 5 minutes & then drain them – put them back into the saucepan with the lid on & give them a  shake to roughen them up (not too hard if you have cut them small). Heat goose fat if you have it, rapeseed oil if not, in a hot oven 220C (180C fan) add the potatoes & roll around in the fat. Bake until cooked – I suggest you baste them a couple of times while cooking.

Roast parsnips don’t need par boiling – cut into quarters or eights lengthwise depending on their size & add to hot fat.

I don’t suppose you can get chipolatas and proper bacon – the sausage meat stuffing makes a good substitute for chipolatas. In theory you could make your own bacon – if you do (you’ll find nitrate free recipes on the internet – I have no idea how you would go about getting them in Japan) then do cut it up & keep in the freezer to avoid it getting botulism (this is what the nitrates are there for so it can be hung at room temperature) – just defrost it as you need to use it.

Boil or steam sprouts & carrots on the hob.

I imagine you’ll be able to get bits of chicken eg a wing, skin & liver  – if you do boil them with a chopped onion to make a stock & use this with the juices from the chicken to make a gravy. If you can’t get giblets then use either vegetable bouillon or the water from the veg.

 

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Salmon in creamy mustard sauce

Every year we go on a canal boat holiday with friends (4 boats of at least 8 people each under command of Admiral Jelly). We go when it’s cheap and therefore very cold. Each boat is responsible for their own food and we have excellent cooks on ours and eat very well.

This is based on a recipe that Sue did the year we didn’t have vegetarians on board – hers was for chicken and the leftovers made great soup the next day.

Usually I do salmon with Far Eastern flavours like fennel, ginger & soya sauce but I had some cream that needed using up and thought this might work – it did!

  • two salmon fillets
  • one onion finely sliced
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbs oil
  • glass of white wine
  • tbs double cream (or a bit more single)
  • 1tsp wholegrain mustard

Fry the onion gently in the oil for about 5 minutes then put to one side of the frying pan and start frying the seasoned salmon (how long depends on thickness of fillet). Keep moving the onion around and turn the salmon until both are cooked and onion is brown and lightly caramelised.

Add the wine and bring to the boil.

Add the cream and mustard and heat through – check seasoning before serving.

 

Pulses

Pulses serve various uses in my food. They are cheap and if ready cooked can be used to make a quick meal.

Pulses are also supposed to help reduce cholesterol.

Cans or tetra packs are obviously convenient as you can use them straight away. Cooking your own from scratch is very economical but you do have to plan ahead for most (lentils can be cooked without soaking but not the beans or chick peas).

One advantage about cooking your own is that you can leave a bit of bite in them if you like that but do make sure you have given them the full 10 minutes hard boil at the start to kill off the bacillus cereus bacteria. The packet will tell you if you need to do this. You do need to cook them quite well still or they will cause flatulence.

Many tinned varieties have calcium chloride added as a ‘firming agent’ so they keep their bite. Personally I don’t like this and prefer them to be soft and have found that the cheap supermarket ranges or those in the ‘World Food’ aisle don’t use it so I go for those.

While some great meals can be made with just pulses in my opinion some have a natural affinity with certain meats.

The classic combinations are:

  • Kidney beans with beef (as in the UK version of chilli con carne)
  • Butter beans with slow cooked beef stew
  • Chick peas and chicken
  • Lentils with chicken
  • Flageolet beans with lamb
  • Black eyed beans with pork in a stir fry

The great thing with these is that you can add a tin of beans to one of these meat dishes and immediately pad out the meal to feed more people economically.

Be careful about using commercial baked beans – anything you add these to will then taste of baked beans. If pushed then buy the cheapest baked beans you can find and wash the sauce off to give you cooked haricot beans (a tip from Jack Munro)

Equally a spot of meat added to  a pulse dish can enhance that.

  • A spot of crisp bacon crumbled in
  • Some chopped chorizo
  • Some proper black pudding with chick peas – it melts down and adds flavour to the sauce.

 

Pilchard Pie

This is an old family favourite and was almost certainly something that came from rationing. I have seen versions of this on programmes about wartime food.

Pilchards are cheap and one of the oily fish that we are supposed to eat more of – this is an easy way to do that.

There are no set quantities as it will depend a bit on how many you are feeding. You will know your own appetites. As a rule though I use a small tin of pilchards in tomato sauce for 2 and a large one for 4.

  • Mashed potato (leftover is fine but can be freshly cooked if not)
  • White sauce (see note at the bottom on how to make a foolproof white sauce)
  • Tin of pilchards in tomato sauce
  • Chopped parsley (optional)
  • Grated cheese
  • You can include fried onions/leeks/chives or cooked peas as well – just add to the mix.

Take the backbones out of the pilchards (unless you like the crunch – I don’t) and roughly mash.

Mix together the mashed potato, mashed pilchard, white sauce and parsley. You need enough white sauce for it to be stiff rather than sloppy. Check for seasoning

Put the mix in an ovenproof dish and top with the cheese.

Bake at Gas No 5, 185 Celsius (160 fan) for about 25 minutes until heated through & cheese has toasted.

If you are short of time heat the mashed pilchards in the white sauce and add to hot mashed potato. Top with cheese & toast under the grill.

Foolproof white sauce

  • 230 mls cold milk
  • 20g butter
  • 1.5 tbs plain flour
  • seasoning to taste

Put all ingredients into a saucepan.

Bring to the boil while whisking all the time.

Turn the heat down to lowest setting and let the flour cook (no need to stir unless it is liable to catch)

If you are making a parsley or cheese sauce then add these at the end and just heat through.

Flavour enhancers

While some foods can be eaten as they are, such as raw fruit & vegetables, most generally need some sort of enhancing for cooking.

The obvious enhancer used in British food is salt and our diet would be very bland without it. However be careful with recipe books from 1980s and earlier as we generally added more salt then and our modern tastes would find some recipes just too salty now we have all cut back a bit. Generally, unless the recipe NEEDS salt for preservation purposes, I would cut it to 50% and then add a bit extra on tasting towards the end if required. Modern cookbooks tend to be a bit more lighthanded with salt but use your own judgement if you have blood pressure issues.

There are many flavour enhancers that can be added at the end to cheer up a dull dish. Many contain salt but also a bit of umami to give it something extra.

The ones with salt that I use  are:

  • soya sauce (but do get a good brand like Kikkoman – not Sharwoods or supermarket own)
  • Marigold bouillon powder (there is also a low salt version)
  • Kallo organic stock cubes
  • worcester sauce
  • tinned anchovies (even for non fish meals)
  • marmite (use sparingly or it tastes overpowering)
  • grated cheese – either stirred in or grilled on top
  • chopped chorizo

Unsalted or low salt enhancers:

  • wine (leftover from the weekend is fine)
  • spoonful of vinegar
  • chopped celery
  • chopped onions/leeks (will need frying)
  • peanut butter
  • tomato puree
  • wholegrain mustard
  • horseradish sauce – good with oily fish as well as beef dishes
  • chilli sauce (commercial brands will add sweetness as well but a dash can cheer up a stir fry)
  • lemon juice
  • knob of butter or splash of cream
  • chopped parsley
  • other chopped soft herbs such as mint, coriander, dill, fennel (things like sage & rosemary are better cooked with the dish)
  • coconut milk (I keep a block of creamed coconut in the fridge and just add a small lump)
  • toasted nuts or seeds (you can toast in a dry frying pan)
  • pomegranate molasses (my new best friend)
  • spoonful of brown sugar (can help reduce saltiness if you have overdone it)

Needless to say which enhancer you use depends on the dish but you soon pick up your favourites. Don’t worry too much about convention – so long as you like it.

Spices generally need cooking with the food but you can just fry a few up quickly to add at the end like a tarka dahl would have.

It goes without saying you should always taste food before serving and but many of these items will all be to hand if on tasting you feel it is lacking somewhere.

Scones

Never a huge success in the past but recent experimentation has come up with the following which appears to have finally sorted it. My recipe is in ounces so the conversion here might have odd amounts.

Do read the directions as the 10 minute wait is important.

  • 225g Self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 40g lard (can be staright from fridge)
  • 45g butter (maybe not straight from fridge)
  • 120ml milk
  • juice half a lemon added to milk to make it sour

 

Sift the flour and baking powder together then rub in both fats to make breadcrumb texture.

Add the soured milk – you may need a little more milk to make a soft dough. Just bring it together as a dough – don’t knead it.

Roll the dough and cut into 8 wedges or use pastry cutters to make rounds.

Place on a baking tray (don’t grease) and LEAVE for 10 minutes. This gives the bicarbonate of soda in the raising agent time to react with the lemon juice.

Cook in the oven at Gas No 7, 220 Celsius (180 fan) – check after 10 minutes but may need a bit longer if your scones are large.

They are cooked when the move easily from the tray.

Transfer to wire rack to cool a bit before serving with butter & jam or jam & cream.

If they are cold then you can reheat them in the oven or cut in half and toast.

Recipe ideas

Jamie Oliver has some great flavours – his books on menus for 15 or 30 minutes have some good ideas but you will need significantly more time to cook them than the book suggests.

Delia Smith is to be trusted for reliability. If you ever want to cook any British classic then she is a good source.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has straightforward recipes in his books as do The Hairy Bikers.

My sister is a fan of Nigel Slater and we have had some great food at her house.

If you need ideas for vegetables then the Riverford website has a huge database.

For curries ( frequently on our menu) then Madhur Jaffrey, Atul Kochar and Monisha Bhararadwaj provide most along with recipes I have obtained from cookery courses in India & Sri Lanka

I often borrow books from the library and if I find I can trust the recipes I will then buy the book (or get someone to buy it for me as a present). I also use library books for one off recipes that I am unlikely to do again such as the chocolate wedding cake for my brother and new American wife.

I love browsing charity shops for books too. Do try a couple of recipes and take the books back if they are not for you.

The internet is an excellent source and I use this for Bake Off technical challenges and other recipes seen on TV. It will enable you to find recipes from all over the world but you may need to convert from cups (conversion tables on internet) and substitute some ingredients that are not readily found in your local supermarket. A quick search will tell you what a near substitute or the English term is in the UK.