Sunday, 1 January 2012

The four days of Christmas gluttony

As a lover of food I look forward to the Christmas period for months, ancticipating all the delicious food I get to eat at all the separate celebrations with different family and friends. Speak to me around 29 December and it's a very different picture, when all I want is some raw spinach and some steamed rice. Just please don't show me another roast potato.

As I write this, I am sat on the train from Edinburgh to London and I am enjoying the experience of not eating. I have set myself the challenge of not eating for the entire journey. This is how people end up on the 'detox' in January – a binge/abstain pattern that a moderate like me just can't sign up to and claims for health benefits have been roundly discredited. Nevertheless, I shall draw the feasting season to a close with a round-up of my best festive meals.

Christmas day
Celebrated at my mum's, and documented well last year, this is, on paper, the most traditional of the dinners. But my mum is an intuitive and imaginative cook and Christmas dinner has become an increasingly ambitious affair. Last year we were proud to have 12 dishes on the table – this year, 14. And with a few new twists and innovations. Brussel sprouts this year were fried up with chorizo and chestnuts, last year's pear and parsnip croquettes recipe was refined – drier cooking helped preserve their structure, as did mixing in pureed walnut and garlic, a little bit of ginger was mixed into the carrot and orange, which was a bit more salad-y.

This year we started with quite un-Christmassy dishes – sauteed frogs legs, just butter, garlic and a bit of parsley. And then some 'sunshine soup' – all peppers, butternut squash, paprika, tomato.

Our bronze feathered organic free range turkey was delicious and juicy, and our small plates approach looks particularly awesome on my brother's OCD plate.

The twists continued into pudding – not one for convention, my mum made her own spin on a trifle, with a base of amaretto soaked apricots, topped with amaretto soaked amaretti biscuits (v sweet!), custard and grated chocolate. The classic chestnut whip (sweetened chestnut puree, whipped up with cream) was also served.

Boxing day
To my dad's, where his partner was doing most of the cooking. She prepared a starter of Stornoway black pudding, which was so soft, smooth and nicely spiced. Stornoway has a reputation for the best black pudding – I can confirm that it lives up to the hype.

The main course was beef wellington – a classic, and more and more popular. As a pastry, pate and beef lover, I couldn't hope for more. Marilyn cooked it nicely, the meat was perfectly pink in the middle, and the combination of flavours and textures was great.

In the evening my dad took us out for Thai food at a restaurant near his work. It was a little quiet a first and we got a royal treatment. The food was excellent and great value – I particularly enjoyed my duck in a spicy, tangy tamarind sauce.

The 27th
It's tradition among friends is to celebrate Christmas together on 27th December. This has always taken place at Afsi's family home, where they've always had a huge amount of leftovers (usually from three separate roasts) needing gobbled up by helpful and hungry young'uns. Major changes this year as Afsi now has her own flat. Taking a star-turn as hostess, Afsi had friends and family all round for a slap up meal, sitting around in her immacutely retro furnished flat, weighing up our homemade crackers, supping on G&Ts.

After a starter or chilli fried haloumi and tofu, we enjoyed a turkey wellington and a massive roast ham. Both were delicious, but special commendation goes to the turkey wellington, which was perfectly presented and no end of effort had gone into making it as delicious as it was. The pate was a home-made with porcini mushrooms and marsala wine, and the cranberry stuffing sinside the turkey was also home-made and delicious.

To top it all off, Afsi had made three puddings – a fruit bomb (very retro, one of my granny's classics), a chocolate torte and a Christmas cake. Impressive stuff.

The 28th
And on the fourth day of continuous eating we headed down to the Borders to my grandparents' house for a wider family meal. As a child, Christmas was always at their house – the only house big enough to host four generations of family, different in-laws, partners, and other family and friends. At its largest, there must have been upwards of 20 people in and out their doors on the day, with two meals to accommodate everyone. As some get older (I still have a living great grandmother!), other units break up, others expand and new families form, they've found themselves visiting other dinners and doing less of the hosting.

I love the trusty familiarity of my grandparents' cooking – it's simple and accomplished, with recipes and techniques fine-tuned over the years, and a few new influences and ingredients making their way into the mix. This year they cooked an Aberdeen Angus beef, with all the trimmings. It was a nice beef, well-cooked, simply seasoned and served with yorkshire puddings, potatoes, parsnip and carrots.

Pudding is my granny's particular forte, I think, and her lemon meringue roulade was just spot on. Perfectly light, flawless rolled. Everyone agred it was the best pudding they'd had over the Christmas period. A testament to years of making and refining delicious puddings.

So that was Christmas 2011, then. Time to eat a bit more healthily now.

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