Only two days until Christmas, How are your preparations going?

Only two days left and so far everything is going well

Only two days to go until the big day. There isn’t that much left to do for it now. Gravy is made and will be reheated on the day with the juices from the turkey added for some extra flavour. In a twist on the Jamie Oliver recipe I mentioned last time, I’ve also used duck in creating the gravy as opposed to Mr O’s version with just chicken wings. It tastes amazing and I can’t wait to cover my dinner with it on Friday.

One thing that none of the pros tell you, is how difficult it is to walk away from something so delicious while you allow it to cool before putting it into the fridge. It’s so hard to satisfy your own hunger to the point that you can create something wonderful and not eat it all. That’s a very fine line. Eat too much first, and you won’t be suitably motivated to prepare and taste effectively, and the final product will not represent your best work. Don’t eat enough and you’ll end up tasting so enthusiastically that when you come to plate up, you’ll be playing Air Spoons. Fortunately, mum had already taken care of our traditional mince pies and sausage rolls which meant that I was able to maintain a sustainable level of hunger throughout the cooking process and as well as producing some delicious gravy and cranberry sauce, there is still plenty left for everyone else on Christmas Day.

So, what has today involved? Well, no Christmas dinner would be complete without a good stuffing. This is something I particularly enjoy making at Christmas as I can combine the year-round staple ingredients of sage and onion with some traditional festive flavours. Chestnuts, clementine zest and a bit of lemon zest to lift it a little. It may seem a little non-festive, a bit of apple goes brilliantly with the pork and lightens the dish beautifully. This isn’t to flavour throughout however. In the same way you would want a bite of cranberry for a sharp hit amidst the stodgier textures, a small piece of apple surrounded by the pork, breadcrumbs and chestnut chunks is what you want; a sudden juicy flavour burst. Often I would add cranberries but since I have already made a great sauce, I feel further inclusion would just be overkill. The apple adds something different, subtle and complimentary to the other traditional offerings.

There are so many flavours that work amazingly together. It’s virtually impossible to do them all justice by describing them but I hope that whatever you are making or planning to enjoy this Christmas Day, will have the same effect on you. For us however, our Christmas Day preparations are more or less done. I will head to Oakley Butchers first thing tomorrow morning and pick up the turkey. This will also be in for some loving treatment in the form of a flavoured buttery infusion.

I’d like to give a quick mention to Oakley Village Butchers. After all, supporting local businesses is what I want to do, so the least I can do is doff my cap to those who have served me so well for so long. I’ve been going to their Broadstone store for a few years now ever since they took over from Pat Hickey’s where I used to go previously. They are very friendly, very accommodating and very knowledgable. We always order our Christmas turkey from there and we’ve only ever had great experiences with them. They also have a shop in Merley. Here is a link to their website:

http://www.oakleybutchers.co.uk/

 

What about Christmas Eve?

With Christmas Day about as organised as it can be in advance, aside from some veg that may be prepared ahead of the big day to allow extra time for a glass or two of festive merriment, thoughts for now turn to Christmas Eve. A small family gathering and an assortment of flavoursome but not overly filling nibbles, and drinks. We like our food, but the last thing we want is to start Christmas Day with full bellies and small appetites. Christmas Eve this year is something of a Guinea Pig. As it is just family, who are particularly supportive of my creativity and experimentation in the kitchen (as indeed I am of theirs) this is a good opportunity for us to try some new things. Later on, I’m going to make a chicken liver paté. It’s not particularly difficult and again there are plenty of recipes out there if you wanted to make some for yourself. I’m adapting a recipe that I found last christmas and have been looking forward to having an excuse for giving it a bash. If it’s any good, I’ll let you know and share it if anyone wants it.

I promised that I would share the recipe for my Port and Cranberry Sauce, which incidentally goes really well with the chicken liver paté and a bit of rocket salad dressed in lemon juice, smeared over a bit of toasted granary bread. Of course, I made it with the intention of serving it on Christmas Day but I may just keep a little bit to one side. So, here it is:

I have found that there are lots of recipes for cranberry sauce out there. This one is just one that I have landed on after tweaking others over the years. I’m not done experimenting just yet but the current version, or ‘Jon’s Cranberry and Port Sauce Mk VII’, is pretty good.

Ingredients

1 mug of light brown sugar, 450g of Cranberries, 1 stick of cinnamon, 2 small wine glasses of Port, 4 cloves,  the zest and juice of three small clementines and the zest of a whole lemon, 4 bay leaves, a good pinch of salt.

Instructions

Start by adding the brown sugar to a saucepan on a low heat. When the sugar starts to melt, pour in the port. If you let the sugar melt first, a lot of it won’t be dissolved. In fact it will probably toffee-fy and you’ll end up scooping it out (Not every attempt I’ve made at cranberry sauce has been a successful one). Heat this and before it starts to boil (which won’t take long as alcohol boils at 22ºC less than water), add the cranberries. Now add the zest of the clementines and the lemons and squeeze in the clementine juice.

Sling in the cinnamon, bang in the bay leaves and cast in the cloves. Give it a quick stir, so that the added flavourings are submerged and not just floating on top. It’s a TV Chef trick to show all the lovely herbs and spices floating on top and looking all pretty. ‘Most’ of the time, that is purely to stimulate the viewers’ visual taste buds.

Allow to simmer over a low heat for 15-20 minutes. At this point, you might like to add a pinch of salt. Salt is great at helping to bring out certain flavours and also helping them to merge. Cranberries can be sour, which is one of the reasons we use the sugar. They can also be a bit bitter, and the sugar and the salt really help with that. Of all the recipes I have looked at, not one says to add salt. This is something I think works but if you’d rather proceed without, that’s completely understandable.

Give the sauce a stir and if you would like it a little thicker, leave it a bit longer but continue to stir every few minutes. You may want to have a taste and decide if now is the right time to remove the cinnamon stick. If you think there is enough of a cinnamon taste and you wouldn’t want it to be any stronger, take the stick out. Cinnamon is lovely, but can overpower, so if you decide to leave it in, have a taste every few minutes so that you don’t overdo it.

Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency you can either pour into jars to cool, or straight into a serving jug or bowl. The sauce will keep in sealed jars for quite a while and a bigger while if you keep it in the fridge. It will certainly see you through Christmas and New Year and if you’ve still got any left after that, perhaps you’d better find a different recipe? If you want to make this in advance, you can reheat on the day. It will still be just as good. In fact, in my experience, a few days in the fridge actually seems to help.

 

Please excuse me for a moment… I’m off to the pub.

I’m back….. I finished off the day with a couple of beers at The Goods Yard in Broadstone with a mate, before coming home and putting my chef’s hat back on and making the Chicken Liver Paté for tomorrow night whilst listening to The Pogues and Jonah Lewie. The paté is in the fridge now and that will be the first thing I look at when I get up bright and early tomorrow morning. I tried a bit before it went to bed for the night and I’m feeling extremely pleased with myself. A bit like a child when their teacher tells them that their work is absolutely beautiful and it’s going to go up on the wall with a big red “A+” on it. I’m my harshest critic so if something is bad, I will know that I must try harder next time and I don’t need to be told. When something is good, nobody else needs to try it. I will tell them how good it is and they can watch me enjoy it and listen to me making ‘yummy’ noises.

That’s pretty much it for today. I’m very excited about breaking out the canapés tomorrow and really looking forward to the Christmas Day goodies that we’ve made already, preparing the bird tomorrow, and also getting some of the veg preparation done and out of the way.

Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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