Archives for December 2011

How do I put together a Christmas cheeseboard?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 16:20 UK time, Wednesday, 21 December 2011

With everything else you have to get ready for Christmas cheese can be an afterthought  - a hastily grabbed block of cheddar, a Stilton or even a pre-selected assortment of supermarket cheeses. But given cheese can make an entire meal when appetites are flagging (and save you having to cook yet again) it’s worth giving it a bit more thought.

The classic way to put together a cheeseboard is to have a selection of different types colours and shapes of cheese such as a goats’ cheese log, a Camembert or Brie, a hard cheese like a Lancashire, a ‘stinky’ washed-rind cheese such as Epoisses and a blue. Many would also want to include a flavoured cheese like a garlic and herb-flavoured wheel or a cranberry-studded white cheese (of which purists tend to disapprove). It’s a pretty safe strategy but carries a downside which is that younger softer cheeses can either be unripe and not have a great deal of flavour or, if you buy them perfectly matured, won’t last more than a couple of days.

 

Cheeses

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Nigel Slater's tastes of Christmas past

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Nigel Slater Nigel Slater | 10:54 UK time, Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Everything I eat at Christmas has its roots in Christmases past. Sometimes my own, sometimes imaginary.  The cake I bake now is based on one I made with my mother when I was nine, albeit a lighter, spicier version. The first course I am producing this year - sweet and sharp sea bass - is based on the tropical fruits that appeared in our house at no other time of year (if there were passion fruits or a pineapple in the fruit bowl it must be Christmas); the main course is a simplified version of our traditional family roast dinner. Even the cocktail I will be drinking is based on the brandy we used to put in the pudding. I can trace almost everything on the table to a childhood Christmas treat. 

The table groans with nostalgia. I only have to stick my thumbnail into the skin of a clementine and the Christmases of my schooldays come back as fresh and clear as ice. A sniff of the sherry, Marsala or Madeira bottle and it can only be one time of year.

Tangerines

The smell of clementines heralds the arrival of the festivities

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Lorraine's tips on surviving Christmas

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Lorraine Pascale Lorraine Pascale | 10:55 UK time, Monday, 19 December 2011

There is so much pressure to make sure everything goes right and when I cook for family gatherings, I sometimes I think ‘why did I sign up for this again?’ But I have found that these top tips have enabled me to get through relatively unscathed and actually really rather enjoy it!

Lorraine Pascale

 

1. If you find all too late that the turkey does not fit in your oven (and I am not ashamed to say I have been there) then just get your best pair of scissors and cut the bird up into pieces- wings, legs, thighs, breast - and roast it. That way, it will cook much more quickly and will remain a lot more moist, too.

2. Give yourself a break - there is no need to cook everything from scratch. Being a last minute Larry when it comes to family gatherings, there are some things I buy ready-made with no shame whatsoever - things like pigs in blanket, easy to make at home, but still take up time. I buy cranberry sauce and then just add some orange zest or Cointreau at home. And with stuffing and canapés - if you buy the best ones you can afford and then scatter them with fresh herbs, no one will be any the wiser.

3. Draw up a little timeplan starting from the time you want to serve the meal and then work backwards to where you are now. (See my sample timeplan below.)

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BBC Food Christmas TV preview

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 14:56 UK time, Thursday, 15 December 2011

It’s almost here – the Beeb’s pre-Christmas week chock full of food specials. Being a natural planner I can’t help but want a bit more advanced notice of what to stock up on to re-create all the special treats coming our way.  So here is my Christmas gift to all those other fretful holiday cooks – a little sneak preview of what’s on offer.

First – party nibbles. Get in plenty of ready-made all-butter puff pastry. (In what parallel universe does anyone have time at Christmas to make puff pastry? What would you have to forego – presents? a tree?)  In addition to my personal addiction, sausage rolls, you can use it to make Lorraine Pascale’s easy mince pie stars. Simply cut out squares, spoon a little ready-made mincemeat in the middle, flavour with aromatics (peel, vanilla, etc.), fold, glaze and bake.

Maple glazed mince pies

The Hairy Bikers get their vol-au-vents out (Ho ho!) for their Christmas party, and also give their tarts a hearty stuffing (Ho ho ho!) of bacon and eggs, and cheese and pickle. Their guest pastry chef, Brett Pistorius, also whips up trayfuls of tiny chocolate fondants and shot glass trifles that look brilliant if you’re having a big party.

 

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Christmas brunch ideas

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Rachel Manley Rachel Manley | 11:41 UK time, Tuesday, 13 December 2011

I love having people over for brunch, it’s so much more relaxed than lunch or dinner and it somehow feels so decadent (champagne for breakfast? Yes, please!). Christmas Day is the perfect time to have a full-on brunch: it will fill everyone up until the main event and if, like me, you’re not in charge of the Christmas dinner - it can be a nice way to contribute to the festivities.

I’ve put together some ideas and tips to make your Christmas brunch a stress-free affair. And why not have a special brunch on Boxing day, or even better New Year’s Day when a fry-up can be the best medicine.

American pancakes

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25 Christmas treats for the freezer

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 10:13 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

I can’t stop making lists. Christmas is too good an opportunity to make all my favourite cakes, cookies and tiny tartlets that I have to organise each foray into the kitchen with military precision. But Christmas is also a time to be sociable – so making things ahead of time means I don’t have to spend the week before the big day hidden away in a flurry of icing sugar.

This year the freezer is stepping in to give me a hand. From constructing my gift hampers to wheeling out yet another special dinner after Boxing Day, it’s all about choosing foods that can remain on ice until I’m ready for them.

Jammy biscuits – cut into heart shapes – are on the list for this week. Freeze the sandwich halves, let them defrost uncovered, then stick together with jam and clotted cream when it’s time to construct the hamper. Other biscuit options include Nigella’s (really very) intense chocolate cookies, gingerbread tree decorations, and Simon Rimmer’s chocolate harlequin biscuits. My mum, who was known to make at least five different sorts of Christmas cookie, made these as pinwheels by rolling the two sorts of dough together like a roulade, then slicing and baking.

Chocolate cookies and milk

Nigella's Intense chocolate cookies

Mince pies likewise can be frozen and whisked forth with great confidence when the neighbours pop round. If you’re using (shah!) ready-made frozen pastry, it’s probably best to bake your pies, cool and then freeze them. You can freeze the whole uncooked, filled pies in the tartlet tin, then gently pop out into a freezer bag. Straight from the freezer into the oven for half an hour at 200C – tip top. For the mincemeat-resistant, little sweet shortcrust pastry cases can be filled with jam or chocolate and ginger.

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A Scandi Christmas

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Katharine Reeve Katharine Reeve | 14:45 UK time, Tuesday, 6 December 2011

We look to the Mediterranean for summer recipes, so it makes sense, surely, to take a look at the snowy lands of Scandinavia for inspiration this Christmas. The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland all share culinary traditions, but also offer their own variations on common themes. My Swedish experiments have involved the unfamiliar flavours of caraway, cardamom, and dill; a rather unsuccessful first attempt at pickling herrings; and my dog developing a very Scandinavian obsession with cardamom after witnessing me hard at it with the pestle and mortar. I have designated 2012 my year of cooking Scandi-style, and this month sees me limbering up with a Swedish Christmas Eve meal.

Swedish Lucia rolls

Saffron-scented, sweet yeasted rolls are great for tea or breakfast.

The start of the Scandinavian Christmas season is marked by St Lucia’s Day on 13th December – a warning to winter demons of the imminent return of the sun after long winters of arctic darkness. This traditional festival features a  ‘queen of lights’ – a young girl in a white dress and a crown of lingonberry twigs and fairy lights – leading local street processions where children hand out saffron buns from baskets. These Lussekatter or St Lucia buns are typical of the Scandinavian penchant for sweet, yeasted buns flavoured with cinnamon and ever-popular, cardamom.

In Scandinavia, the main celebration meal takes place on Christmas Eve, and the day before will have been spent decorating the tree and preparing delicacies for the days ahead. Homes will be decorated with evergreens and flickering white candlelight, accompanied by the scent of spices, pine needles, and, no doubt, a warm vat of Gløgg spiced wine.

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Are canapés just too retro?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 15:10 UK time, Friday, 2 December 2011

With the beginning of the festive season upon us, it’s time to dust off those party food recipes and break out the foil platters. But what to put on them? Cheese and pineapple?  Bleugh. Especially if presented as a ‘hedgehog’. Celery filled with cream cheese? Worse still, particularly if its stringy. Liver paté and cucumber on (soggy) Ritz crackers. Hmmm, I think I’ll give that a miss too. . .

There must be some legacy from the 70s we actually enjoy. Vegetarians aside, in all the years I’ve hosted parties I’ve never known anyone greet a plate of hot sausages with anything other than rapture. You can keep your sushi platters and your filo-wrapped prawns: the bangers will be gone quicker than you can say Abigail’s Party.

Stilton and toasted walnut balls

Some cheese on sticks we can get behind - Stilton and toasted walnut balls

Then what about vol-au-vents? Turns out that’s controversial. I have a sneaking fondness for them, particularly if filled with a gooey mushroom filling but as a friend pointed out recently they’re disgusting cold. Blinis on the other hand are rather good especially topped with fake caviar. I was offered some at a party the other day and wolfed my way through them in no time. (I was amused to see one supermarket refer to canapés as ‘tasty bites’ which is what my grandmother used to call them.)

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