Roasting Chantenay Carrots

For our Christmas lunch I roasted some Chantenay carrots. This was a pack of different coloured carrots from Waitrose, I cleaned and peeled them before coating them in herbs and olive oil and roasting in the oven.

They were tender and full of flavour, certainly would do these again.

What we had for Christmas Lunch

I like to record what we had for Christmas lunch, so next time I can improve on what we had.

This time we ordered from M&S and had three roasts.

For the third year running we had a Three-Bird Roast.This year was turkey, stuffed with chicken, duck and (gluten free) pork, orange and panettone stuffing).

This was rather good, not enough duck, but still very good. I felt I cooked it well and leaving it to rest meant it was easy to carve and the slices stayed together.

I also cooked a Dry-Aged Rib of Beef. This I sealed in a hot frying pan before moving to the oven. After cooking I let it rest and carved. The beef was beautifully tender, though not as much flavour as I thought it was going to have.

The final of our trio of roasts was the Stuffed Pair of Partridges. These were smaller than I thought they would be, almost quail sized. I think I overcooked these, so they were a little dry.

We had a range of stuffing and trimmings. Though I forgot to cook the Yorkshire Puddings.

Overall I was pleased with the meal (I was catering for ten) though I was disappointed with my roast potatoes. I think I didn’t par-boil them for long enough, and the oven was a little too crowded as well. Something to think about for next year.

We now have a tradition of having our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. We’ve done this for ten years now. We do this for a few reasons. On Christmas Day itself, the children are often too excited to sit down for a long meal, so don’t eat or enjoy the meal or the occasion. It also usually means I spend a fair few hours in the kitchen, which means I miss them opening and playing with their presents. I also find it quite demanding to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, whilst creating a wonderful dining experience.

Having the meal on Christmas Eve means that we can both spend a bit more time preparing the meal (less stressful in itself) and enjoy eating the meal (as do the children). As a result for them it helps pass the time on one of the more exciting days of the year as they anticipate the arrival of a sleigh full of presents being pulled by eight tiny reindeer!

As to what we eat on Christmas day itself, well we have lots of lovely leftovers, cheeses, pickles, hot bread, etc…. quick and easy to prepare and delicious.

Time for some festive carrots

For Christmas lunch this year we also had some nice festive carrots. I was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe for carrots that I saw on a television programme a few years ago.

I took a frying pan, this I filled with evenly cut carrots, either whole or halved in the main. To this I add a large knob of butter, a splash of white wine vinegar, the juice from two clementines (you could use similar citrus fruit, or one orange). I also added some fresh mixed herbs. I then covered the carrots with boiling water and turned the heat on.

Then let the carrots bubble away gently on the stove top for about 40 minutes. Once the water has evaporated, the carrots should caramelise in the remaining sweet and sour reduction, I always let the carrots brown slightly on the edges.

The result is tender, slightly pickled carrots, full of festive flavours.

Time for Christmas Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage
Image by Ralph Klein from Pixabay

For Christmas lunch this year I did some festive red cabbage.

Ingredients

knob of butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced or chopped
1 x 500g (or half a) red cabbage, shredded finely using a food processor (white core discarded) or with a knife.
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
splash of Port
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp soft brown sugar
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 tsp redcurrant
2 tsp cranberry sauce

Method

Heat the butter and oil in a large lidded saucepan. When hot, add the onion and fry gently until softened. Stir in the spices and season. Add the cabbage and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glossy. Stir in the sugar, apples and Balsamic vinegar, add a splash of port. Cover with a lid and let it cook gently for 30 minutes.

At this point I set it aside while I cooked the rest of the lunch. Ten minutes before I served lunch, I put it back on the heat and stirred.

Stir in the redcurrant and cranberry sauce (you don’t need to use both, you could use one or none) and cook for a further 10 minutes. If you aren’t using the sauce, taste the cabbage and add a little more sugar if it’s too tart for your taste.

This I served with roast festive meats.

Time for a Christmas Meal

Generally this time of year would be the time for Christmas meals, whether that be friends or family. I have been planning our traditional Christmas meal (for Christmas Eve) but in the past I have been to various Christmas meals for various things. 

My work would do a regular Christmas event with a meal, we didn’t have one last year (2020) due to the lockdown. I also didn’t go to the meal in 2019, as the one before in 2018 had been terrible. Rubbish food and awful service, didn’t want a repeat of that experience. I did  though have an excellent meal with the team I was in, in 2019 at the Mud Dock Cafe. Then I had a tasty homemade chestnut and parmesan gnocchi in a truffled mushroom and spinach cream followed by a rather delightful selection and beautifully presented board of cheese.

I am not attending an office Christmas meal this year, my (newish) team is rather geographically dispersed, but I did recently attend a festive gathering of our Scout Leadership team (I am a trustee). We went to the Fork ‘n’ Ale Taproom & Kitchen in Weston-super-Mare.

I drove down to the seafront, parked my car and walked to the taproom, it was blowing a gale and it was bitterly cold. I was reminded of Bill Bryson, who in Notes from a Small Island said of Weston-super-Mare.

First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Being born was easily the most remarkable achievement of your whole life. And think: you could just as easily have been a flatworm.

Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you were not. Soon you will cease to be once more. That you are able to sit here right now in this one never-to-be-repeated moment, reading this book, eating bon-bons, speculatively sniffing your armpits, doing whatever you are doing – just existing – is really wondrous beyond belief.

Third, you have plenty to eat, you live in a time of peace and ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ will never be number one again.

If you bear these things in mind, you will never be truly unhappy – though in fairness I must point out that if you find yourself alone in Weston-super-Mare on a rainy Tuesday evening you may come close.

It wasn’t Tuesday! Well at least it wasn’t raining, though I wish I had worn a hat. I opened the door to the Fork ‘n’ Ale and the wash of heat was welcome and needed.

First things first after finding everyone, was to buy some drinks. They had a really interesting selection of beers. As it was festive I went with the Christmas Nectar, a light beer which was delicious.

The service was excellent, friendly, warm and efficient.

For my starter I had the pulled chicken and maple bacon terrine. It was supposed to come with toasted chunky bread, but we had chunky bread (untoasted).

It was certainly an interesting concept and though I enjoyed the dish, I think it was something I wouldn’t have again. The bread was excellent though.

The turkey choice on the menu was a breaded turkey escalope with ham, and though it was turkey, the dish didn’t sound very festive, so I went with the lamb.

This was a lamb shank with a red currant and port gravy. It came with roasted potatoes carrot and parsnips. I don’t think it came with the butternut squash mentioned on the menu! Served alongside were the Forks collard greens, which was peas, beans, courgette and cabbage. 

The lamb was kind of what I was expecting, slow cooked lamb in a delicious gravy. The lamb was very tender and I enjoyed it. I expected it was brought into the pub and then heated as required and served, nothing special, but still tasty.

I did think though that the accompaniments were excellent, the roasted parsnip and carrots were delicious and I really enjoyed the collard greens. I could have done with a few more potatoes, but they were nice and crisp.

I would have preferred cheese and biscuits to finish, but that wasn’t on the menu, so I went with the brownie and ice cream. They had run out of coffee ice cream, so we were given a choice of a range of flavours. I went with vanilla.

The brownie was moist and had a rich chocolate flavour. That was a great end to the meal.

I have in the past had some terrible festive meals, this one was rather good. Some interesting choices made about the menu, but I did think there was some really tasty food on offer.

I had never been to the Fork ‘n’ Ale pub before to eat, actually not been there to drink either. They have a great choice of beers and the food was interesting, I think I would visit again.

Christmas Dinner

I do like to document what we had for Christmas Dinner, it helps with remembering what we had in previous years and avoid making the same mistake if we got something which didn’t work.

This year we repeated what we had last year with a Three-Bird Roast from Marks & Spencers. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions we didn’t get a second roast (but I was tempted) as I wasn’t catering for guests.

As is our tradition, we had our Christmas meal on Christmas Eve.

 Along with the roast we had roast potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, truffled cauliflower cheese, red cabbage, brussel sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta, and a range of vegetables.

Served with some homemade gravy, pigs in blankets and a range of stuffings. I cheated this year and bought a range of stuffings. 

Christmas Gravy

Over the last few years I have taken a different approach to making gravy with our Christmas lunch.

In the past I would utilise the cooking pan that the roast meal had come in to make the gravy. It would have to compete for hob space with the vegetables and pan frying the brussel sprouts. It would all then be a bit of a stress to ensure everything was cooked and the gravy arrived on time.

I have started now to make the gravy first! This does mean I can’t use the roasting pan, so I create my own roasting pan.. I use a roasting pan, into which I add some chopped root vegetables. These are usually carrots, onions, parsnips, leeks, as well as some mushrooms. I also add some chicken, either wings or drumsticks. I add some olive oil and garlic to the pan. I then roast this in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, the idea is that the chicken is cooked and there are juices in the roasting pan.

Having taken the roasting pan out fo the oven I place it on the hob, if required I add some extra fat, usually butter and let this melt before adding a couple of spoonfuls of flour. This is then whisked into the melted butter and cooking juices to form a roux. I then add some port (or red wine) and chicken stock and let the gravy cook for a while. Strain and place in a saucepan. This can now be heated up later when you’re about to serve, you could even use the microwave if you are short of hob space.  I do find it easier to heat up the gravy than make it from scratch as I am about to serve hence making it first.

It’s the most delightful time of the year…

The first post on this blog was the 26th June 2007, however that didn’t mean that’s when I started drinking coffee and eating food.  However it does mean that I didn’t really record some great meals and food.

On this day fourteen years ago, back in 2006, I went to London for a meeting and had one of the most delightful tasty meals that I can remember.

The meeting was at The Jolly’s Hotel close to St James’ Park. The hotel was all dressed for Christmas so was full of decorations and Christmas Trees.

It was a good meeting as I recall, but then it was time for a break. We had lunch in the hotel and we went down to the dining room. In front of me was this amazing display of Italian antipasto, salami, olives, anchovies and a range of salads. I thought what a wonderful delicious looking buffet. However I was little concerned about the amount of salt in the food so I asked one of the waiting staff if there were some more non-salty choices as I didn’t want to have too much salty food. He then pointed me over to the other side of the dining room where there was a carvery counter. I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was probably the best carvery I have ever had. They had a huge choice of meats, I went with some beef and new for me some veal. Adding all the trimmings, I sat down, it was absolutely delicious. The roast meats were tender and full of flavour. The trimmings were exciting and tasty.

After that it was back to the meeting and alas work.

It was one of those meals that I wish I could have again. I always meant to return to eat there again, however I never had a meeting in the hotel again, and never had a chance to go there to eat. Now fourteen years later I seriously doubt that even if I did go there it would be a similar wonderful experience.

Christmas time at the Mud Dock Cafe

December is often the time for office Christmas meals. With the number of staff in our office, the main Christmas meal we have is often dictated by the availability of the venue and to be perfectly honest I have not been too impressed with the food at the last few I have been to. The fact you also need to order your choices weeks in advance is also a little annoying. What I fancy eating in November, may not be what I actually want on the day. Then again do you really go to an office Christmas meal for the food?

Having missed the main office Christmas dinner (intentionally) last December, I was looking forward to our team Christmas meal which was taking place the week after. There was only going to be a few of us so it wasn’t going to be that massive crazy kind of event. The plan was to have a meal at the Mud Dock Cafe in Bristol.

We had a meeting before heading off to the venue. What I did like about this meal was that we could choose from the menu. As I looked over the menu we were impressed with the salad that a neighbouring table was eating. However we couldn’t work out what it was and didn’t appear to be on the menu. I then cheekily asked the neighbouring table what they had ordered, they were very happy about the query and told us it was the Caesar Salad from the specials board up on the wall!

One of my colleagues was impressed enough that he ordered the salad for his meal.

It looked really impressvive and delicious. Though I was tempted by the salad, in the end I went with the Festive menu. For my starter I had the ballotine confit of turkey leg, cranberry compote and dressed leaves.

This was rather tasty, though as with these kinds of dishes, I could have done with more bread.

I wasn’t sure what kind of main course I wanted, but when I read truffled mushroom I went with the homemade chestnut and parmesan gnocchi in a truffled mushroom and spinach cream.

This, though rather hot (as in temperature) was a rich comforting plate of food. It was tasty and I really enjoyed it.

I was persuaded to have a desert, so I went with the selection of West Country cheeses.

A rather delightful selection and beautifully presented board of cheese.

Overall it was one of the better Christmas meals I have had. It was nice to have a choice and choose on the day, rather than days or weeks in advance.

This year I don’t think we will be having any kind of festive office meal but if and when we can do that kind of thing, I hope to return to the Mud Dock Cafe.

Time for some red cabbage

red cabbage
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

The way I cook red cabbage, usually for Christmas, but nice for anytime of year.

Ingredients

knob of butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced or chopped
1 x 500g red cabbage, shredded finely using a food processor (white core discarded)
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
splash of Port
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp soft brown sugar
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 tsp redcurrant or cranberry sauce (optional)

Method

Heat the butter and oil in a large lidded saucepan. When hot, add the onion and fry gently until softened. Stir in the spices. Add the cabbage and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glossy.

Stir in the sugar, apples and Balsamic vinegar, add a splash of port. Cover with a lid and let it cook gently for 30 minutes.

Stir in the redcurrant or cranberry sauce (if using) and cook for a further 10 minutes. If you aren’t using the sauce, taste the cabbage and add a little more sugar if it’s too tart for your taste.