Exmouth Palm Trees & Snow
Misty Exmouth Beach
Baked Figs with Goat's cheese, walnut bread & honey
Trifle with soaked clementines, Marsala custard and cranberry & white chocolate panettone
The Christmas vibe starts for me around the 1st December. I don’t like the idea of getting too worked up about it before then as I’m always cautious of being caught up in a wave of commercialism. When it comes to planning my Christmas day menu though it’s no holds barred and I try to come up with something a little different. My aim is always to get the balance right between tradition and novelty. Rather selfishly this is all for me I might add as JC would willingly go along with the same dinner every year. For the last 2 years we have hosted Christmas at our house and provided JC’s mum with a well earned rest after more than 20 years of shouldering full responsibility for the day.
Last year I managed to get the balance of work to hostessing just right, but this year excitement took over and I set the bar perhaps a little too high. The weekend before I had made my Cranberry & White Chocolate Panettone ready to use this as the base for my trifle so that, at least, was done and dusted (with flaked almonds). Christmas Eve night was a tad fraught as I worked until 7pm and then crammed in some preparation for the day grating the chocolate onto my individual trifles at 10.30pm before making my way to bed with plans for the day whizzing around in my head. We have started Christmas day every year for the past 5, by heading down to Exmouth beach to watch JC’s dad run into the freezing cold sea with a host of other brave and mad people and it’s a ritual I love. We sip coffee from flasks whilst shaking our heads at a spectacle that is so very British. We listened to stories on the radio on the way there on others who were planning to take a ‘dip’ in the Serpentine, having broken through the ice in order to do so. For me swimming is something that should be saved for temperatures above 30 degrees, but it’s a great way to kick off the seasonal celebrations. Just as we were leaving, I was told by a lady on the beach that there was a marquee selling cups of gluhwein, something I hadn’t seen in previous years. As I was driving in icy conditions I thought better of it, but it would have topped off the morning nicely. I made a mental note to grab some next year.
Returning back home, we had 2 hours to prepare for the arrival of JC’s mum, dad and nan who had returned to their own place to defrost JC's dad. I had created a list of seemingly never-ending jobs that absolutely ‘had’ to be done before they arrived in true Christmas day style. The bathroom needed cleaning, the lounge needed vacuuming, the bin needed emptying, clothes needed to be folded & put away and that didn’t take into account any of the food preparation. In all honesty it took the pair of us about an hour to sort all of this out and I chuckled at myself for creating a mountain out of a mole hill once again. Once that was out of the way I set to completing the remaining food related tasks. My menu looked like this:
Jamie’s Baked Figs with walnut bread, goat’s cheese, walnuts & honey; Nigella’s Ham in Cola, Sweet Corn pudding, potatoes roasted in goose fat, broccoli & carrots; Trifle made with Cranberry & White Chocolate Panettone, clementines soaked in Grand Marnier and Marsala custard.
The panettone was actually a tricky character to create, as with the very cold winter we have been having I struggled to get the yeast to come to life and it ended up a little heavier than it should have been. The flavour and texture were perfectly acceptable though, particularly given that I would be covering it with the clementine soaking liquid. We had a slice (just to test of course) not long after I baked it and it was very good. The white chocolate I used was Green & Black’s and it gave a lovely alternative texture, providing isolated lumps of creaminess, working well against the tart cranberries. The rest of the trifle came together easily as I pulled elements from several recipes to meld a host of Christmas flavours. I soaked the clementines in vanilla sugar and Grand Marnier although with hindsight I would have increased the volume and heated these to a more syrupy consistency.
My Christmas Eve preparation consisted of completing the trifle above, baking 2 loaves of walnut bread and simmering the ham in the cola. The walnut bread recipe was from the River Cottage Bread book and was incredibly easy to make. I found it to be a little too salty for my liking, but aside from that I would without doubt make this again. This was to be warmed and used as the base for my starter. All of this preparation was definitely worth it as on Christmas day I actually felt quite in control. JC went out on his bike briefly on our return from Exmouth beach and I got the figs into the oven for their 3-4 hour cooking session. I set the table, finished my house cleaning duties and began to settle into the Christmas spirit. Following a quick change into Christmas garb (floaty skirt and feathery cardi), I then toddled into the kitchen to peel the veg. By this point I was genuinely mellow and couldn’t wait to see John’s family. There is something to be said for organisation and discipline no matter what anybody says otherwise. Having said that I did panic on Christmas Eve so perhaps a small dose of frenzy before the actual day is acceptable.
Excuse the lack of ham & sweet corn pudding photos by the way. The speed with which I tried to dish up the dinner before the freezing cold temperatures turned the meal into a cold disaster meant that I completely forgot to take any snaps. I even had the help of a production line in the form of JC’s mum and JC himself and I still managed to take my eye of the ball. I think 2 glasses of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene and Lejay Lagoute Crème de Framboise hadn’t helped. I was busy having a truly merry Christmas and lost the blogging plot. Anyway, all courses were received very well and you will just have to believe me when I say that the ham was wonderful and the sweet corn pudding was perfect with it as Nigella had suggested – I didn’t doubt Nigella for a moment. This American influenced main course was right up my street. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for the turkey and sprouts brigade, but I really enjoyed it. It was warming and out of the ordinary, as was the residual snow that coated our back garden (out of the ordinary, not warming of course). The whole day was pretty much as you would hope a Christmas day to be. I just wish we could order a snowfall every year. As my sister reported on her own 38 degree day by the pool in Perth, I felt very lucky to be experiencing a Christmas straight from the front of a Hallmark card (or any other company producing festive cards). I’ve now got 364 days to come up with my 2011 Christmas menu.