Food for Thought: Christmas Feast
A perfect Christmas feast.
I have always wondered why we eat what we eat at Christmas. Our obvious English ties have created a tradition of a roasted bird, gravy and a dense brandy soaked pudding, which we embrace, although sometimes reluctantly. Over the many years we have started to pull away and have added our own touches to the perfect Christmas lunch or dinner. We embrace our natural resources with the inclusion of fresh seafood, influences from our German settlers with spectacular glazed hams and our own inventions, the pavlova (that may be a New Zealand invention, possibly need to share the credit on that one!).
I do believe that Christmas lunches, or any celebratory meal for that matter, can make everlasting memories and their importance should not be taken lightly. For me, the perfect table needs to be abundant and interactive. I love having an amazing dipping sauce with lots of random things to dip into it scattered around the table; copious amounts of bread and most importantly a supply of extra virgin olive oil.
With a combination of historic elements, surrounding influences and, of course, family favourites, we all have a version of the perfect feast!
ONION AND CARAWAY SEED FOCACCIA
2 large onions sliced
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 medium potatoes
2 teaspoons of dry yeast
3 ½ cups organic flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
275ml warm water
Over a low heat fry the onions in olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender, add the caraway seeds and leave to cool.
Peel and dice the potatoes, simmer until tender. Whilst the potatoes are still warm pass them through a potato ricer or mash well with a fork, leave to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer add the cooled potatoes, yeast, flour, sea salt, oil and the warm water. Mix on a medium speed with a dough hook attachment.
When the dough forms a ball and starts to clean the bowl leave for a further 10 minutes on a medium speed.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl to double in size for around one and a half hours.
Oil the base of a baking tray or a large cake tin with shallow sides and transfer the dough, leaving it to do a second prove.
When the dough has once again doubled in size, gently sprinkle with the cooked onions.
Bake in a 190 degree oven for 20 -30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown and coming away from the tray or tin.
Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before eating.
APPLE, ONION AND VANILLA BEAN CHUTNEY
7 apples – peeled, cubed and kept in a bowl of water and lemon slices to stop discoloration.
3 large onions diced
300g light brown sugar
400ml apple cider vinegar
1/2 vanilla pod
1/2 cinnamon stick
Add all the ingredients to a large saucepan.
Bring to the boil and leave to simmer until it is thick, glossy and holds its shape on a cold plate.
Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick and cloves.
Stir through the vanilla seeds and decant into clean jars (I do them hot from the dishwasher) and leave to cool.
MUSTARD FRUIT AND APPLE CIDER GLAZED HAM
Mustard fruits are an Italian pantry staple and are poached baby fruits in a mustard spiked syrup. They make the perfect accompaniment to cold meats, cheese or with pork in general.
1 free-range leg ham
250g jar of mixed mustard fruits with the syrup
375ml of apple cider
Remove the skin from the ham to expose the fat layer.
Using a clean stanley knife score the fat into even lines in two directions, creating a diamond shape.
Stud the middle of each diamond with a clove.
Chop the mustard fruit into rough pieces; add the syrup and 50ml of apple cider to an electric mixer and blitz until a smooth paste.
Place the ham into a large alfoil dish or lined baking tray and pour in the remaining apple cider.
Coat the scored ham with a layer of the paste and bake in a 150-degree oven for one and a half hours. Every 15 minutes re-glaze the ham; if you run out of glaze start to use the sticky pan juices.
Leave to cool for at least two hours before serving.
This is my favourite sauce to have with seafood. This is a double batch; I divide it into two batches and keep one plain to have on sandwiches during the week – perfect for leftover Christmas ham!
4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
A pinch of sea salt
100ml white wine vinegar
750ml neutral oil
Mixed herbs finely chopped (tarragon, parsley, chervil, dill, chives)
Finely diced gherkins
3 hard-boiled eggs
Add the egg yolks, mustard and sea salt to the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment.
On a low speed add the vinegar and leave to whisk for three minutes.
Increase the speed and slowly pour the oil into the egg mixture, leaving the mixture to combine sporadically.
Once halfway through the oil, pour more steadily and only slow down if the mixture begins to separate.
Finish with your favourite fresh herb combination, gherkins, capers and, or, lemon zest – I add them all!
For the ultimate tartare sauce pass three hard-boiled eggs through a fine sieve and then stir through your sauce.
PEAR AND REDCURRANT GALETTE
375g pack sour cream pastry
5 firm pears – peeled and sliced into eighths
½ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 tablespoons almond meal
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup redcurrants
½ cup demerara sugar
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk
Roll the short crust pastry into a large round circle and leave to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
In a large bowl coat the pears with the brown sugar, flour, almond meal, salt and lemon, ensure they are really well combined.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and place the pear mixture in the centre of the pastry leaving a one-inch border around the outside.
Rustically fold the pastry over the pear mixture, leaving a large amount of pears exposed in the centre.
With a pastry brush coat the pastry with the beaten egg and then sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake in a 180-degree oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown.
GINGERBREAD TEA CAKE WITH OLD FASHIONED ICING – MAKES 12
150g butter - at room temperature
1 ¾ cups of light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 ½ cups plain flour
2 tablespoons gingerbread spice mix
150ml stout beer
2 tablespoons of ground cardamom
OLD FASHIONED ICING
3 egg whites
2 ½ cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla pod seeds
½ teaspoon of lemon juice
With the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, whisk the butter and sugar until well combined and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and eggs, one after the other, leaving time for the mixture to combine.
Sift the flour, baking powder and gingerbread together.
On a low speed add half the flour mixture followed by the beer; allow to mix until just combined.
Repeat the process and this time follow the flour with the buttermilk.
Fill 12 patty pans two-thirds of the way to the top.
Bake at 180 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool completely before icing.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites, icing sugar for 10 minutes on a medium – high speed.
When the mixture is holding a stiff peak add the vanilla and lemon juice and continue to mix until combined.
Pipe the icing on top of the cakes and sprinkle with the ground cardamom. Allow to dry completely before serving and do not refrigerate.