You have to cook a turkey. Don’t panic! It is all good. I know how to save the day. Just call me your turkey super hero. Or Niamh will do (Knee-uv, if you think it is tricky!). I quite like turkey when it is well sourced and cooked properly. It can be moist and flavourful, but most people think that they hate it because they have only had sorry overcooked ones before. Over the years I have cracked the turkey code.
As my Big Green Egg cools down, I like to take advantage of the residual heat. It is great for hot smoking things like tomatoes and garlic which you can store in the fridge for later uses. Chunky slices of tomatoes become jammy, and garlic with some butter and olive oil to encourage it, becomes a sticky nutty brown, not unlike Korean black garlic (which is essentially cooked slowly over a low heat for a long time). You can do a speedier version as your Big Green Egg heats up also, it will be more of a roasted version, but it is still very good.
Potato dauphinoise is wonderfully indulgent and a perfect Christmas side. I remember my first proper bite of dauphinoise in a French restaurant in Cork. I couldn’t believe how could it was. Crisp and caramel brown on top, gentle underneath, sliced potatoes shuffled into position, yielding to the fork, each forkful a perfect bite.
SPROUT UP YOUR LIFE! IF YOU WANNA HAVE A GOOD TIME! (etc to the dulcid tones of the Spice Girls).
But yes, sprouts. So misunderstood. Often tortured and boiled for way too long a time. I used to hate them, the infernal tiny cabbages wheeled out for some torturous boiling before they meet the Christmas table. Who liked cabbage? (I did not). Why would you want lots of tiny cabbages? I didn’t know just how good they were, I always met them tired and burned out and no one looks good like that. Sprouts are all the better for a quick flash in the pan, a kiss of heat, and they love some smoke. So I got my barbecue out.
I love to have bacon with my sprouts (and Project Bacon backers have my Bacon and Sprout “Yakitori” recipe to play with for Christmas). These lucky sprouts got to share their plate with some ‘nduja, and some hazelnuts on top for a little extra pleasure (some toasted breadcrumbs would work really well too0. ‘Nduja is that firey spreadable sausage from Calabria, as much chilli as pork as fat. It is terrific and it goes so well with the stout sprouts.
Have you been worried about your blue cheese? Lonely there on your Christmas cheeseboard. Every other cheese has a partner, and blue cheese does love a date (literally, especially medjool ones). Manchego has membrillo, cheddar has apple, there will likely be grapes, lots of crackers, and this year you want something different for your blue.
I adore a brash blue cheese, as strong as you can. Hello English Stichelton! The original stilton recipe, still raw and untempered. I especially love a sweet soft and strong sheep’s blue, like French roquefort and Irish crozier blue. A good blue deserves a bold relish. Nothing ordinary, something bright, something tangy, something that can stand up to the intensity.
Well, I always was a little bit last minute for Christmas. The whole thing just gathers and pushes back on me like a violent huffing concertina. Every year it seems like I might be on top of it, but like everything else, I don’t know when to stop. I add more, I flitter along after ideas too long, and in the end, that might mean that the night before I fly to Canada, I am sitting surrounded by chaos with laundry drying on the radiators, more laundry spinning in the machine (mirroring the spinning of my head), looking at a pile of work to do and wondering how I will get through it.
It is ok, I will get through it, I always do. This is how I roll. When you love what you do, you sometimes get carried away. That is ok, isn’t it?
That is how I found myself trotting off to the fishmongers at the weekend. Into my head had popped a combination that might have been a cocktail, instead I thought about how wonderful it would be with fish. Specifically, with salmon in gravlax (aka gravadlax), that gorgeous Scandinavian cured fish dish. If you have never had any, you could say it is a sibling of smoked salmon, but instead of the aroma of smoke, you have the flavours that you cured it in, very gently, within. The salmon texture (assuming you use good salmon) is wonderful and light, it isn’t oily at all.
Gravlax at its base is fish cured with sugar, salt and usually dill. But, you know what, I can’t bear dill. There was a time when I loved it but then it started to overwhelm and now it is everywhere and I am not happy about that. So, when given a choice, I will throw it out and put in something else in its place.
Lots of gravlax recipes use alcohol too. I have made many with spirits like vodka and sake, and a few with gin. Gin is a perfect ingredient here as it is subtly aromatic and so you can play around with other flavours depending on the profile of the gin that you use. I wanted to use something very direct, and so I chose Chase single botanical gin, which just has juniper (all gins do), and makes for a great G&T but I thought would be perfect with fish (also venison).
Lime, because gin and salmon both love it and I wanted a sharp acidity in the cure. The cranberries are subtle as I use them raw, and they are very astringent, but lightly crushed before adding them, they add a lovely layer to the dish.
I cured this over 48 hours, but if you don’t have that much time this close to Christmas, you can try a lighter 24 hour cure. I served it with tarragon, which I had in the fridge, and was very pleasantly surprised by what the gentle anise flavour added to it.
Serve on crackers with halved soft boiled quail eggs and some herbs like tarragon, chervil or flat leaf parsley (quail eggs: boil for exactly 2.5 minutes, then refresh in cold water and peel). Or piled on a plate with homemade mayo, avocado and other bites.
RECIPE: Gin, Lime & Cranberry Gravlax (aka Gravadlax aka Gorgeous Scandinavian Cured Salmon)
500g raw salmon, I leave the skin on until it is cured, but skin off is fine and better for shorter times
50g brown sugar
25g sea salt
75g fresh cranberries, bashed about a bit in a bag with a rolling pin, or similar
1 lime, cut into narrow slices
a dish that the salmon will sit comfortably in, or storage container
Put all of the ingredients for the gravlax, except the salmon, into the container that you are using. Mush everything around a bit.
Add the salmon and rub everything in gently. Cover and put in the fridge.
The next day, take the salmon out and turn it around, rub everything in gently again and leave until 48 hours in total is up.
Remove from the fridge and rinse the salmon. Remove the skin if still on, and serve in slices.
It is good, isn’t it?
I wondered about sharing these photos, I really did. I had to rush them before dashing to the airport, and I risked it, and got up at 6am to make them, because I really wanted to share this recipe with you. It is perfect for Christmas. Stress free and it takes a little care but otherwise, just fine, anyone can make these. Of course life and work intervened, and I was too busy in Germany and too tired at the end of every day to do any decent writing. So, here it is now.
But then the photos, I can’t help but think they look like I dug up some mushrooms and then coated them in fine soil. I can’t worry about this though, isn’t it much better that you get the recipe? And maybe a little reassuring to see that, yeah, you can make truffles, and they might look a little rough, but hey! They are still delicious. There aren’t enough hours in the day and there is plenty of other bothersome things, I shouldn’t worry myself so much about photos of truffles.
Or should I?
Christmas came early for me this year, with Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Christmas to celebrate the launch of her book of the same name at Food at 52 in London.
The food was wonderful. Lightly cured cod with slow baked celeriac started us off. The main course was a terrific roast pork (with lots of crackling), caramel potatoes (new to me but I am hooked) and lots of gravy. Red cabbage and a lovely kale and pomegranate salad were served on the side.
Dessert was rice pudding but not as we know it, lovely crunchy rice bathed in lots of whipped cream with cherries served on top. Fabulous.
All of the recipes are in Trine’s new book, Scandinavian Christmas. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I think we will be cooking from it for our Christmas dinner this year. If you are new to Trine’s work, I heartily recommend her two previous books The Scandinavian Cookbook and The Nordic Diet. Trine is an inspired and creative cook, and her books are full of deliciousness.
Next February I will be travelling to Denmark to do a pop up with Trine – more details soon.
So you thought that was Christmas? You took your decorations down? Oh, dear friends, Christmas isn’t over yet! It’s Women’s Christmas today, or Nollaig na mBan (in the Irish language).
Christmas doesn’t finish until midnight tonight, and the tradition in Ireland is that today is a day for women to indulge and celebrate, and even for some, to be waited on by their men. Traditionally it was because women were working like crazy over Christmas and were allowed a day off, now it is more of an excuse for women to get together. It is said that women in rural Ireland used to rear turkeys to raise money for Christmas, and would spend any leftovers on today’s celebration.
We’re not the only ones with a celebration today. It is Epiphany, the day when the wise men arrive at the manger (according to Christian tradition). We would have ours – literally – making their way across the window sill over Christmas to arrive at the crib today. We took it very seriously and raised eyes when we saw wise men in the crib on Christmas Day elsewhere.
In France to celebrate Epiphany they eat Galette des Rois (translates as King Cake), made of puff pastry and frangipane. The tradition of King Cake extends through many countries including Spain (who have Roscón de Reyes) & Greece (Vasilopita), they even had a similar twelfth night tradition involving a cake or pie in England. In French and English custom a bean and a pea was included, the receivers of which became king or queen for the evening. In Italy, on the eve of epiphany gifts are delivered to children by Befana, with wine and morsels of food left out for her the night before. Not unlike our Santa Claus, really!
So, what have I planned? I have decided to hold a Women’s Christmas in proper Christmas fashion. We’re having turkey – I haven’t had turkey in years as none of my family enjoy it. This one is from Copas and comes highly recommended by my friend Ailbhe so I am hugely looking forward to it.
I’ve also got a very important part of my feast, and that is the traditional spiced beef from Cork. I make my own often (the recipe is in Comfort & Spice and North South Food cooked it for their Christmas dinner). This one I brought back from home, and it is from award winning butcher & black pudding king Jack McCarthy in Kanturk in North Cork. His is a spiced beef with cider and guinness, so that should be fabulous.
There will also be a festive chocolate dessert of chocolate mousse with chestnuts, I just love a good chocolate mousse and can’t resist the festive twist.
Other than that it will just be a nice relaxed evening waving in the New Year and taking advantage of any reason to have a little knees up. Austerity can wait for another few days.
Nollaig na mBan faoi mhaise dhaoibh!