English Christmas in the USA

After a few years not really celebrating christmas in any particular way , the time had come to show my new American Family how we do it on the other side of the pond. Explaining traditional English Christmas dinner reduces the quintessential to English Holiday meal to  ” well … it’s kind of the same as Thanksgiving Dinner , but different” .

Even rereading the last statement feels like a disappointment , but the reality was anything but that………

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The Location for this feast was Utana Bluffs , a gorgeous private mountain community just outside Ellijay in North Georgia. The Park/Hart family have their home there and the surroundings just screamed “Christmas”.

The day began with the preparation of the stuffing for the 14lb organic turkey .

1lb of Pork sausage meat, 2 large onions – finely chopped , half a loaf of white bread- cubed, half a pint of good chicken stock , a bunch of fresh sage – chopped finely, a bunch of fresh rosemary – chopped, 2 granny smith apples – peeled, cored and also finely chopped, fresh ground black pepper.

Bring the stock to a boil and pour over the bread and stand for a few minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid.

Add the chopped ingredients and ground pepper and mix well , then knead the sausage meat into that. Tadaah!

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I stuffed the crop of the turkey, pushing the stuffing up under the skin and over the breast .

The leftover stuffing I pressed into a pie dish and topped with more apple to serve on the side .

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Then the Turkey! I stabbed the breast All over and then mummified it in bacon . As I said, I only stuffed the crop , pushing the stuffing as far over the breast as possible and put a bunch of sage and a whole lemon inside the cavity .

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Foiled it and roasted it on 350 ( convection ) for About four hours . When I took the aluminium foil off it was like I had slow cooked it for a day . It was tender and moist with a crisp bacon crust . I put it back in the oven for a half hour to brown . Slicing through the breast meat you got an evenly sized slice of the sage onion and apple stuffing . The sage and lemon and onion had infused the meat from inside out .

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Sexy , Huh?

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For the Sides I had decided on the traditional English parsnip, carrots and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. Of course , I can’t just “do carrots” so I made a mousseline of parsnip apple and carrot

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Parsnips peeled and chopped … I love the scented almost ‘perfumey’ aroma of these root vegetables.

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Large Carrots, cut roughly the same size.

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Add an onion , some fresh rosemary and cover with chicken stock. bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. drain, remove the soggy woody twiggy rosemary drama without burning you fingers too much and throw into a blender/food processor with a good sized chunk of butter, a pinch of salt , freshly ground pepper, a teaspoonful of ground coriander and one granny smith apple peeled, core and finely chopped.Puree until velvety smooth ….. O . M . G . this is heavenly.

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The potatoes…. so , you want to know how I became the king of oven roasted potatoes?

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Take firm cooking potatoes… wash them well and take out any eyes and blemishes. Cut the ends off diagonally so you have three pieces , triangular and of even size . Cover with very well salted water and bring to the boil. Par-boil for ten minutes. Drain and lay out on the counter to cool.

Pour the meat juices into a roasting tin , if there isn’t a half inch depth I add oil, light olive is nice.

Heat on 375f/ 220c in the oven ( or on the stove) and throw in the potatoes. DON’T move them … just put them back in the oven and give em about 35 minutes before you hustle them around in the fat . THAT’S the secret to crispy potatoes. Mine are even crispy as leftovers the next day . After you have tossed them around in the pan give them another 30 minutes… That’s it .dsc09149

Other Traditional accompaniments to English Christmas dinner are gravy and bread sauce , but first the Crack- Cocaine of all festive nibbles…. Sausage and Bacon rolls.

Sausage and bacon rolls have no other function in the meal other than to make your hand /fork keep moving back and forth to the dish with the verbal statement ” I HAVE to stop eating these Sausage and bacon rolls” .

They are extremely simple to make with ready made ‘chipolata’ sausages but of course I have to be all fancy and do my own.

1lb sausage meat / pork , pork and beef or turkey.

I added garlic, a little fennel , some fresh thyme, and grated lemon zest ( to tie it in with the Turkey) black and white pepper and a splash of brandy for fun. mix it all together and form into little one inch long sausagettes . roll these in bacon ( I used uncured organic smoked) and place them on a baking sheet .Bake along with the potatoes just before dinner is ready .

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Then Bread Sauce.

BREAD….. made into a sauce . with milk . I know how it sounds and the Americans had a perplexed look when I mentioned that that was what we had instead of gravy . Served with a rather neutral meat like turkey, this smooth aromatic and unctuous smothering is one of the most humble and at the same time luxurious accompaniments you can imagine …. and I’m of the opinion if they were serving it 500 years ago it must be good , Believe it or not the English kitchen was once one of the most revered and envied in Europe and this is the kind of delight that was the envy of the European Courts of that time.

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I used  a pint of milk, put it in a pan with a knob of butter , a chopped onion , 3 bay leaves, 5 cloves, a piece of mace, 6 pepper corns, a pinch of salt an a pinch of sugar. bring up to a gentle simmer and then remove from the heat and allow the spices to steep for a couple of hours .

Just before dinner strain the milk into a second pan and reheat. Add 2 cups of fresh white breadcrumbs (or 100g) and stir well until smooth . Stir in some freshly grated nutmeg just before serving…… awe…… some.

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This+ Turkey= angel doing something on your blissbuds.

So after all that kitchen slavery nonsense I needed a cocktail…. Captain Morgan Spiced rum, half apple cider and a splash of coke, garnish with a slice of sour apple.  The rum and spice are warming and festive, the caffeine in the coke will give you a kick towards a few hours at the table and the malic acid in the apple will aid digestion… really , it’s all science. “pour me another” I said often on that day… in the name of eduction and knowledge ‘n stuff.

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The table was set while I was doing all of the above , and the surroundings were perfect for the feast that followed.

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It was such a hit !

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There will be a follow up about the Hell-on-Earth that is English Christmas dinner desserts but as a teaser here is one of the most enormous tiny treats ever , the Great British Mince Pie…. a buffet of flavourful sweetness in a fun-size pastry crust …. more to come …………….

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Chocolate and spice and all things nice

Brown Sugared and Cinnamoned and Cocoa-ed 70% Cacao Chocolate

Brown Sugared and Cinnamoned and Cocoa-ed 70% Cacao Chocolate

 

Trying out new things is part of my job. It’s also my exercise it’s my ” me time ” and my free time . I love flexing my creative muscles and giving myself a culinary work-out .

I recently received a couple of pounds of chocolate from a local supplier and couldn’t really think what to do with so I just blindly threw myself at the pantry and came up with some unexpected treats .

The combination of cinnamon and chocolate is no big surprise these days … but “kick-assed up” with pure cocoa powder and raw cane brown sugar ? well , let’s just say that they disappeared PDQ .

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When I was done making a mess in the kitchen realized I still had melted chocolate left in the bowl so I rummaged through the spices and threw some ground coriander and a pinch of cayenne pepper in … WOW ! The fruity spice of coriander just latches on to the bitterness of the 70% and calms it down without it losing any definition and the warm melty finish gets the best of exclamat!on marks from that hint of cayenne.

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I love doing what I do when I’m not doing what I do … it’s so damn satisfying . Now…. where did I leave that bowl of chocolate ….

 

 

DIY Hot Sauce-a-Go-Go

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So one day you open the fridge and look in the veg drawer at the bottom; you know , the one filled with onion brown-paper-skins and that empty red netting that the garlic bulbs come in, and you are reminded of that carrier bag of hot peppers you enthusiastically picked from your Mother-in-law’s garden a couple of weeks ago.

Hmmm, what to do? There are only so many spicy fajitas and red curries you can do in a short period of time and it’s a shame to throw them away .

I took the chaos of odd shaped , sized and coloured peppers ; Spanish Reds, Jalapeños, Banana peppers and Green chilis and chopped them all finely, threw them into a small pan and covered them with sugar and some teaspoon of salt. I doused the lot in malt vinegar and put it on a low heat to simmer a while .

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After I returned from the bathroom , my eyes still red and streaming after having forgotten to wash my hands before rubbing that itch, I added 4 cloves of garlic, crushed, and continued simmering (covered) over a low heat ….. in total it was about an hour and the aroma and texture was A …. Ma…. Zing.

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After it had cooled slightly I tasted this sexy, red chutney ; rich, sweet and tangy ……. and  OMG-SPICY !

The appearance of the pieces and the seeds was interesting but not really what I had in mind when I envisioned a sauce so I threw everything into the blender and pureed it until smooth.

A night in the fridge firmed up this puree into a thick, smooth, syrupy sauce; dark red coloured and dark red flavoured. In short: an absolute winner in it’s own randomly thrown together way. A touch of this on a smoked turkey sandwich ? Hell Yeah!

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Pasta i Basta …. or , How I got my carb-groove back

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Being a Brit , my memories of Pasta stem from the mid 80’s ; it was first offered to me as Spaghetti Bolognese made by my ” adventurous ” cook of a Dad . The two foot long blue and yellow paper package had me tingling with awe and excitement …. Napolina , it was called , like the canned peeled plum tomatoes in tomato juice. Unfortunately for us the tomatoes found no place in the “Bolognese” part of the dish….none of that tomato or “herbs” nonesense in our Spag Bol; boiled spaghetti with a dry, crumbly, peppery, garlicky minced beef ‘streusel’ was how Dad liked his hip new carbs. Moistened with copious amounts of Tesco tomato ketchup I adored this diversion from the standard fare of the average UK household, my ignorance was bliss and my years of pastaphilia commenced. The Yuppy superfood was better for you than potatoes, less fattening than bread and could be served with fries at your local Pub . How on Earth these assumptions came to be defies imagination.

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At some point , I dont know quite when exactly, I became far to important and sophisticated to want pasta on my plate “Oh , God ! Pasta?!” …… “I don’t like Pasta”….. “Pasta is Passée ” . This went on for a good few years, I jumped on the no carb bandwagon with the rest of them and that was that.

Well, in the past year I have rediscovered the satisfying joy of a bowl of steaming golden “maccheroni”; it’s like a down comforter for your tummy. My significant other disappeared during one of our frequent “Happy Hours” this summer and returned with a couple dishes of “oh, seriously?!” . My wine induced apetite was the key back into the kingdom! The Penne was perfectly cooked, tender with that slightest hint of bite, the colour was warm gold speckled with chopped basil and garlic, glistening with melted butter and olive oil…. between greasy lipped sips of red wine I devoured the mountain and held up my bowl with a timid ” is there any more?” Pasta is awesome! there… I said it … I’m back!

Admittedly the level of OMG is very much dependent on the quality of the pasta and what you put on it…. nevertheless if the pasta ain’t good it doesn’t matter how much crap you put on it… it’s not going to shine. A good quality product should stand up on its own, just a drizzle of butter/oil, some fresh herbs and a scattering of parmesan should be the Clothing , the Pasta should be the body, the main attraction.

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So if you want that beautiful body you can better make it yourself; trust me, the result is not like anything you’ll buy from the store and dump from a plastic plastic pack into hot water.

I have a Pasta roller but I wanted to see how easy it would be to roll and cut the dough by hand and I have to say, if you have time to kill it’s a really calming activity…. mixing , kneading, rolling , folding , rolling , folding …………..

  • 2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the work surface and the dough)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl … I chopped it through with a regular dinner knife.

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When it’s all nice and together in one lump , tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the hell out of it… I’m talking like a good 20 minutes. If it becomes sticky just sprinkle a little more flour on the surface and it should be fine.

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When the dough is silky smooth , not sticky and stands in a nice firm ball , cover it and let it  relax for about half an hour.

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When the strength has returned to your arms, scatter a little more flour onto a large surface and roll out the dough into a long oval strip. fold one side into the middle and the other side over that. you’ll then have a square/rectangular piece of dough open at two ends.

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Roll with the open ends vertically placed until you have a long rectangular strip and fold like you did the first time. then again roll with the open ends vertically placed only rolling in one direction …up and down. keep on doing this until you’re totally over it.. roll , fold , roll, fold.; you get the picture.

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Allow the dough to relax again for 10 to 15 minutes with a piece of cling film or baking paper over it to prevent drying out. Then you can roll it out into a BIG thin square… and i mean    t h i n   .

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take a knife or pasta /pizza cutter and cut shapes. I did thin fettuccini-ish noodles and with the leftover cuttings I rolled a square and cut it into little oblongs then pinched the middles to make cute kitschy little bow tie “farfale”.

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to cook? boil a BIG pan of salted water. throw in the pasta and bring back to a rolling boil and cook for 5 minutes or “al dente” if you want to get all fancy.

I finished my Fettuccini with melted butter and EVOO which I had sizzled together with two unnervingly large garlic cloves, chopped, fresh oregano ( HANDFULS of it ) black pepper , and of course FRESH grated Parmesan. Heaven on a plate …

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oh yeah and remember to boil the pasta uncovered, unless you want a tsunami of goopy starchy water all over the stove which in turn dries and because it’s Saturday evening you can’t get your wine head around the prospect of cleaning the stove now so decide to leave it to mature overnight and then on Sunday it has petrified and takes explosives to get it off……………