Thursday, 8 December 2011

Death of Christmas

Do you know how strange Christmas seems to people who haven't experienced it from a very young age? It's mental. My parents have always attempted to make it special but it's never been particularly successful. My mother's 'roasts' were covered in korma ingredients and sultanas and stuck in the oven until they were as dry as the desert. When I took over the reigns of cooking, Christmas dinner involved more conventional foods but still, the magic wasn't quite there. The only proper Christmas I've experienced was several years ago now where I spent it with a friend's family. It was AMAZING. Since then I've totally understood why people get so excited about it. Unfortunately, since my parents' Christmas still lacks presents and alcohol, I've not managed to recreate it even now I know how it's done properly. Thankfully, the last week of university term encompasses all the fun things about Christmas. Even when that last week is mostly in November.  This year was no different - there were sing-a-long carols, secret Santa and two Christmas dinners. One was with friends and involved no cooking. The other was with people who do my subject and involved helping cook for fifty. FIFTY.

I was in charge of roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and pigs in blankets. Before the dinner, I'd had a dream where I poisoned everyone and so I sent 29309039430 emails organising times/places and detailing the action plan with military precision. Unfortunately, the night before preparation day, a friend's surprise birthday party got carried away and I ended up drinking shots of Sambuca with lemon (try it, you will never look back) and dancing to 'calypso' in an empty club. I think if I were in Pirates of the Caribbean, I would definitely be Calypso. To make matters worse, I woke up not-alone and absolutely mortified by the strangeness of my behaviour from the previous night. I remember being offered braces as a kid (my mouth looks like a hand-grenade was set off in there) and refusing them because I thought my teeth were cool and unique. Now, I no longer take unique as a compliment. It's more a testament to my total lack of capacity to act like a normal, non-socially retarded person at the times it is most necessary. So, when the hour for preparing 15kg of potatoes dawned, I was busy pondering such questions as 'why do you insist on behaving this way?', 'what is wrong with you?' and 'why did you think it was better to be on time rather than to shower?' Ergh. Potato peeling helped.
The potatoes were peeled, chopped, parboiled and placed in their baking trays the day before, the pigs were placed in their blankets (awww) and covered in Bourbon, chilli powder and honey. Despite all this preparation, T -3 until T +0.5 were still the most stressed I've been this term. All I had to do was melt goose fat, season and slather the potatoes in goose fat. But this is very complicated when you're making do with ancient university accommodation ovens and having to run between three kitchens wearing black tie. But it allll worked out OK. Some potatoes were more crispy than others and the little pigs weren't covered in a sticky glaze as I'd wanted them to be since a lack of equipment necessitated giving nothing any room to breathe. Anyway, the whole experience was lots of fun (apart from when I thought I was going to pass out from not eating/heat/champagne) and I have newfound respect for the contestants of Masterchef. 'Cooking doesn't get tougher than this.'
This is the recipe I based my glaze for the pigs on. Roast potatoes were parboiled until it was possible to be fluff their edges up and then covered in hot goose fat, salt and pepper before going in the oven for an hour at 220°C. This is the recipe for the stuffing for the turkey - I can't take credit for these. People much calmer and more competent than myself were in charge of these elements.

Glaze for the Pigs in Blankets
The quantities here were used for 100 chipolatas wrapped in 100 strips of smoked, streaky bacon.

50ml bourbon whiskey
8 tbsp clear honey
1 heaped tbsp chilli powder

Mix the ingredients together. Wrap sausages in a strip of bacon each. Drizzle with the glaze, making sure you cover everything thoroughly. DON'T overfill the baking tray like I had to. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes at 200°C.

Sage and Onion Stuffing
The Presidents elected to use the Mrs. Beeton recipe whereas I usually a method that cooks the onions in butter rather than boiling because I worried that this recipe would bring tears to the eyes with the amount of onion. It worked very successfully though, perhaps because the recipe was amended to use half the onion recommended.

20 onions
50 sage leaves
1kg breadcrumbs
200g butter
5 eggs
Salt and pepper

Boil the onions for 5 minutes. Add the sage leaves for the last 2 minutes of boiling.
Chop sage and onion very finely.
Combine with breadcrumbs and butter.
Season.
Bind with beaten egg and make into balls.
Bake at 220°C for around 30 minutes - until crisp and resembling stuffing..

Stilton and Walnut Tart (for the vegetarians)
This recipe was adapted. Again, this wasn't me!

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
600g onions
375g pack ready rolled shortcrust pastry
200g Stilton
50g pack walnut pieces
Dried cranberries, for topping

Thinly slice the onions. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and fry until softened and lightly browned.
Add the vinegar, season, then cook for a further 5 minutes, until lightly caramelised. Leave to cool.
Unroll the pastry and use to line a 23 x 33cm / 9 x 13 inch shallow oblong tin
Spread over the onions, then crumble the stilton on top and scatter with walnuts.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 220°C until the pastry is golden and the cheese has melted.
Top with chopped, dried cranberries.

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