FOOD statistics make bleak reading.
This makes the eating rituals of Christmas (and Hogmanay) all the more important. This is a time of year when people still think that they need to get back to family roots, to go home, and the highlight of the return is the large, full-dress meal. But why should it be so important to sit down with others at table? The sharing of food is so ancient a human institution that the custom hardly needs explanation. There was no table linen in our hunter-gatherer days, but the link between our elaborate, formal meals today and the huddled feast around the carcass of the fallen prey is an unbroken one. By eating together, we recognise our common humanity - we bond around the table, the unfortunate modern turkey our symbolic prey.
Of course there are other shared rituals which can provide the same sense of community, but one by one they are being whittled away. Rather few people go to church together these days - at least in our materialistic societies; fewer still sing or play music together; and even children are losing the art of playing with one another, preferring to spend their time in electronic isolation in front of their PlayStations. So eating together is one of the last opportunities to stave off the loneliness that will surely follow the complete atomisation of ordinary human community.
And this means that the sharing of food - and its celebration - at this time of year is something we should be whole-hearted about. We should cherish and celebrate this custom. But it helps, of course, if what we put on our tables is good to eat; there is nothing better than doing one's bit to keep community and family going, but at the same time having a thoroughly good meal. So this is where our chefs come in, missionaries all in the battle against fast food and fast meals. Let's take their advice.
"As a salad goes, this really has got everything - sweetness, bitterness, crunch and softness"
Jamie Oliver Fifteen Christmas salad
4 x 100g/31/2 oz balls of buffalo mozzarella
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 clementines, peeled and sliced into 0.5cm/1/4 in thick discs
2 handfuls of rocket, washed and dried
1 treviso or radicchio, roughly torn, washed and dried
a small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked
1 x lemon oil dressing recipe (see below)
4 slices of speck (smoked prosciutto)
a small handful of freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
aged balsamic vinegar
LEMON OIL DRESSING
31/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
10 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the dressing, put the lemon juice and oil into a jam jar and season. Tighten the lid and shake. Try out on a salad leaf and adjust seasoning to taste.
Get four individual serving plates out and tear a ball of mozzarella into rough chunks on to each plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and grate over the lemon zest. Arrange the clementine slices over the mozzarella - one clementine per plate.
In a bowl, dress the rocket, treviso or radicchio and mint leaves in a little dressing, reserving a few small picked mint leaves for serving. On a chopping board, lay out a slice of speck and use this to pick up and wrap about a quarter of the dressed leaves.
Place the little package on one of the plates, on top of the clementine slices. Repeat this for the other plates. Serve with a shaving of Parmesan, a sprinkling of mint leaves and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Eat immediately!
Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook is published by Michael Joseph, priced 26.
Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham PRAWN COCKTAIL
the heart of 1 large Little Gem lettuce, finely shredded
1 spring onion, white part only, very finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced
4-5 tablespoons of hand-made mayonnaise (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup (Heinz is best)
2-3 shakes of Tabasco
1 teaspoon cognac
tiny squeeze of lemon juice
200g/7oz cooked, whole, shell-on prawns, peeled (reserve two, unpeeled, for garnish)
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and white pepper
300ml/1/2 pint groundnut oil
100ml/31/2 fl oz light olive oil (not extra virgin)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons warm water
To make the mayonnaise, ensure that all the ingredients are at room temperature. Place the egg yolks, mustard and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and beat with a wire whisk until thick. Start to add the oils, one after the other, in a thin stream, beating continuously. Add a little of the lemon juice and then a little more oil. Continue beating, adding oil and juice in this way until both are used up and the mayonnaise is very thick and glossy. Adjust the seasoning.
Divide the lettuce between two dishes, sprinkle over the spring onion and cucumber and pile the prawns on top. Mix the mayonnaise, ketchup, Tabasco, cognac and lemon juice together. Spoon the sauce over the prawns and allow it to trickle between them. Dust sparingly with paprika and attach a small wedge of lemon.
The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham is published by Michael Joseph, priced 25.
Mary Berry AUBERGINE FIVE-NUT ROAST
1 medium aubergine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
175g/6oz shelled mixed nuts (such as Brazils, pine nuts, blanched whole almonds), chopped in the processor, but not too finely
50g/2oz shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
100g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
100g/4oz mature Cheddar, grated
100g/4oz frozen chestnuts, thawed and roughly chopped
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 x Italian Tomato Sauce recipe (see overleaf)
Preheat the grill, and preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas Mark 6. Line a 900g/2lb loaf tin, 17cm x 9cm x 9cm (61/2 x31/2 x 31/2in) base measurement, with foil and oil lightly.
Slice the aubergine thinly lengthways. Arrange on a large oiled baking tray in a single layer, brush or drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook under the hot grill for about 5 to 7 minutes each side until the aubergines have softened and are beginning to turn golden. The aubergine will cook to a deep brown once in the oven, so don't worry about getting too much colour at this stage. Once you have turned the aubergine slices over, do keep a close eye on them as the second side will colour more quickly than the first side. Allow to cool slightly. Use to line across the base and sides of the prepared loaf tin, all slices going in the same direction.
Melt the butter in a medium pan, add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Spoon into a large bowl and leave to cool. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with plenty of seasoning, and stir well to mix.
Spoon into the loaf tin, pressing the mixture down firmly. Fold the ends of aubergine over the top of the filling and cover the tin with foil.
Cook in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn out on to a serving plate, remove the tin and garnish with sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.
Slice thickly to serve and serve with the hot Italian tomato sauce.
If you wish, you can prepare the nut roast the day before. Keep in the fridge then cook as directed. Alternatively it can be made and cooked up to two days ahead. This also freezes very successfully. Turn out of the tin, allow to cool, then wrap and freeze for up to a month. To reheat, put the nut loaf on to a baking tray and cover with foil. Reheat in the oven preheated to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas Mark 4 for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until piping hot throughout.
ITALIAN TOMATO SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 x 500g/1lb 2oz cartons tomato passata
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
2 tablespoons red pesto
a little Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons caster sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium pan and cook the onion and the garlic over a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning to serve.
Mary Berry's Christmas Collection is published by Headline, priced 20.
Gary Rhodes ROAST TURKEY AND CRANBERRY WELLINGTON
1 x 2.25kg/5lb turkey breast, skin removed
salt and pepper
16-20 rindless rashers of streaky bacon
500g/1lb 2oz puff pastry
flour, for dusting
1 egg, beaten
cranberry sauce, to serve
For the stuffing:
2 onions, finely chopped
knob of butter
225g/8oz pork sausages, skinned
150g/5oz dried cranberries, roughly chopped
150g/5oz unsweetened chestnut pure
100g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
For the sauce:
25g/1oz butter, plus an extra knob
50g/2oz shallots or onions, sliced
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
400ml/14fl oz red wine (approximately 1/2 bottle)
300ml/1/2 pint stock or tinned consomm
1 heaped teaspoon plain flour
The natural shape of the turkey breast does not really suit the rolled and wrapped Wellington. So, first trim off the wider meat at the thicker neck end to establish a more cylindrical shape. The trimmings from a breast of this size should be about 350g/12oz which is enough to make the stuffing. Once trimmed, tie the breast in sections, leaving a 2.5cm/1in gap between each one, to secure its cylindrical shape. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large frying pan or roasting tray. Season the turkey with salt and pepper, then fry, turning, until golden brown all over. Remove from the pan and leave to cool. The breast can now be chilled to firm and set before the string is removed.
To make the stuffing, cook the chopped onions in a knob of butter until softened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Roughly chop the turkey trimmings, then blitz in a food processor until smooth. Add the skinned sausages and continue to blitz for a further 30 to 40 seconds until mixed in. Season with salt and pepper and add the eggs, blitzing them into the meat for a further minute, until the texture has thickened. Remove the stuffing from the processor and put into a large bowl. Mix in the cooked onions with the remaining stuffing ingredients. The stuffing can now also be chilled while the pastry and bacon are prepared.
The streaky bacon first needs to be rolled out thinly to extend the length of the rashers and help them wrap around the turkey and stuffing. The easiest method to follow is to lay four or five rashers between two sheets of cling film and simply press with a rolling pin as if rolling pastry. Peel away the top layer of cling film, remove the rashers and place them on a tray. Repeat the same process until all are rolled, then chill until needed.
Roll the puff pastry on a floured surface into a rectangle approximately 46cm x 35cm/18in x 14in. Lay the bacon rashers on top of the pastry, leaving a 3cm to 4cm (11/4in to 11/2 in) border around the edge and slightly overlapping each rasher as they are laid. Covering the pastry should use 14 or 15 of the rashers. Spread three-quarters of the stuffing over the bacon, first mixing well to loosen if chilled and set, reserving a quarter to finish the covering. Remove the string from the turkey and lay it, presentation-side down, on top of the stuffing. Spread the remaining stuffing along the top of the turkey. Lift four or five of the bacon rashers and stuffing at a time over the turkey breast and press against it. This is a simple operation and the stuffing holds well. Continue until all the rashers from both sides have been lifted. The remaining rashers can now be laid lengthwise along the top to cover the extra stuffing. Fold one long side of the puff pastry over. Brush the other with beaten egg along the edge before lifting and sealing in all of the ingredients. Now brush both ends with egg before folding both on top. Turn the Wellington over and place on a large greased baking tray (alternatively the tray can be covered with greased parchment paper or non-stick sheets) and chill until needed.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Place the Wellington in the oven and bake for 11/4 to 11/2 hours. After the first 45 minutes of baking, brush the Wellington with egg to help colour the pastry. For the most golden of finishes, brush again with egg about 15 to 20 minutes before it is due to come out of the oven.
Remove from the oven. Leave to rest for 15 to 20 minutes, then lift carefully with two large fish slices, transferring it to a carving board.
While the Wellington is baking, make the sauce. Melt the knob of butter in a saucepan and, once bubbling, add the sliced shallots or onions. Cook on a medium-to-high heat until well coloured and taking on a rich deep colour. Add the honey and continue to cook for a few minutes more, until bubbling well and approaching a caramelised stage. At this point, add the red wine vinegar and red wine, bring to the boil and reduce in volume by half. Add the stock or consomm and bring back to a simmer. While the stock is warming, mix the flour with the measured butter. Spoon and whisk well into the sauce until completely mixed in. The flour serves as the thickening agent, but this small quantity doesn't make it over-starchy or too thick. Bring the sauce back to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for a few minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and season, if needed, reheating before serving. The turkey Wellington is now ready to carve and serve, offering the sauce separately.
Should other items such as roast potatoes or roast parsnips be cooked in the same oven with the Wellington, extra cooking time will be needed, as these items draw the heat from the Wellington. An extra 20 to 30 minutes will cover the lost heat.
Gary Rhodes: The Cookery Year is published by BBC Books, priced 15.
Nigel Slater ROAST POTATOES
900g/2lb floury potatoes, such as King Edwards
lard, dripping or fat from the roast
Peel the potatoes. Cut them into a comfortable size (you know how big you like your roast potatoes to be), but not too small. Put them in a saucepan of cold water and bring them to the boil. Add salt, a teaspoon or so, and turn down to a simmer. The water should be at a rolling boil. Give them a good five minutes, probably a bit longer, until they are slightly soft around the edges.
Drain the water off, then return the pan to the heat. Shake the pan so that the edges of the potatoes are slightly scuffed. This will give them wonderfully crunchy, frilly edges. Tip the potatoes into a shallow metal pan in which you have heated the fat, be it lard, dripping or even olive oil. Roll the spuds in the fat, then bake in a preheated oven at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 until golden and crisp. A good 45 minutes, maybe longer. Move them only once or twice during cooking, otherwise the edges will not crisp and brown.
Tip off any extra fat, sprinkle the potatoes with salt and return them to the oven for a few minutes longer till they are golden brown and crisp. Eat while hot, though they are pretty good eaten when almost cold, or prised away from the roasting tin the next day.
Nigel Slater: Real Cooking is published by Penguin, priced 12.99.
AINSLEY HARRIOT PARSNIPS ROASTED WITH ROSEMARY AND HONEY
40g/11/2 oz butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium parsnips, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon clear honey
3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Heat the butter and oil in a medium-sized roasting tin on the middle shelf of the oven. Add the parsnips and seasoning, then turn to coat in the hot fat. Cook for about 40 minutes, until golden brown, turning the parsnips halfway through the cooking time.
Remove the roasting tin from the oven, add the honey and rosemary to the roasting tin and mix so that the parsnips are well coated. Return the tin to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Ainsley Harriott's Feel-Good Cookbook is published by BBC Books, priced 20.
SOPHIE GRIGSON FRIED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND CHICORY WITH GARLIC AND CHILLI
SERVES 3 TO 4
500g/1lb 2oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 large head chicory, sliced into discs
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 dried hot red chilli, crumbled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Maldon salt, or ordinary salt
Slice half the Brussels into 5mm/1/4 in thick discs, and quarter the remainder. Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the sprouts and fry, stirring lazily, for about 4 minutes. Now add the chicory and continue with that lazy stirring for another 6 minutes or so. Scatter over the garlic and chilli, and fry for another minute or so. Season with salt, and drizzle over the vinegar. Stir once more, then taste and adjust seasoning.
Vegetables by Sophie Grigson is published by Collins, priced 25.
Nick Nairn Christmas sponge pudding
150g/5oz brown breadcrumbs
25g/1oz plain wholemeal flour
120g/41/2 oz soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
zest of 1 orange
120g/41/2 oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the bowl
60g/2oz course-cut marmalade
250g/9oz good quality mincemeat
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Armagnac
1 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, plus 1 tablespoon water to mix
40ml/11/2 fl oz hot water
You'll need a 3 pint pudding basin with a well-fitting lid. Butter it generously, remembering to butter the lid. Set aside.
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil, making sure that it's big enough to hold your pudding basin. Place the breadcrumbs into a large mixing bowl with the flour, sugar and spices. Using a grater, zest the orange and stir this in as well.
Melt the butter in a medium pan over a gentle heat, add the marmalade and mincemeat and mix well. Pour the melted ingredients over the flour and sugar and mix together thoroughly. Add the Armagnac and stir again.
Whisk the eggs until frothy and beat into the mixture until well blended.
Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tablespoon of cold water. Stir this into the pudding mixture, which should begin to bubble and increase in size.
Pour the mix into the pudding basin and cover with the lid. Put some tinfoil or cling film over the lid to hold it in place while it's cooking. When your saucepan of water is boiling add an upturned plate or metal trivet to the bottom of the pan and gently place the pudding basin on top. You want the water to reach about halfway up the side of the basin. Cover and simmer the pudding for two hours, checking frequently, as the water will need topping up during the cooking period.
When cooked, carefully remove the basin from the water. Unwrap cautiously, as there will be a lot of steam escaping, and turn the pudding out onto a serving dish.
If making in advance, keep in the basin and allow to cool. Cover with cling film and store in the fridge until needed. Re-heat in the microwave.
To serve, heat the 60g/2oz of marmalade with the water until melted. Using a pastry brush, paint the outside of the pudding with the mix until glossy. Slice and serve hot.
n The Nick Nairn Cook School runs classes for all tastes and abilities. Tel: 01877389900, www.nicknairncookschool.com
Nigella Lawson EASY HOLIDAY TRIFLE
700g/1lb 9oz dried apricots
1.5 litres/21/2 pints water
150g/5oz caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange or 1 tangerine
6 cardamom pods
1/2 pandoro cake or a 500g/1lb 2oz piece
250ml/9fl oz double cream
250g/9oz tub Greek or wholemilk yoghurt
3 tablespoons runny honey
4 tablespoons pistachios
4 tablespoons flaked almonds
Put the dried apricots into a saucepan with the water, and add the sugar and juices from the lemon and tangerine or orange. Bruise the cardamom pods with the back of a knife to release the seeds, and add to the pan, giving a stir as you do so. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Or, you can just bring the pan to the boil, turn it off immediately and let the pan stand, cooling, overnight.
Drain the apricots (discarding the cardamom seeds and husks as much as possible) and put the cooking liquid back into the saucepan, then boil over a high heat for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce to a syrupy consistency. I stop when I've reduced the liquid to about 350ml/12fl oz. Leave to cool slightly before you go on to the next stage.
Cut the pandoro into 1cm/1/2in slices; this should give you about eight long stripy slices in total. Line a wide and not-too-deep glass bowl with four of the slices of pandoro, and then spread half of the warm apricots over the cake. Pour half of the syrupy liquid over the pandoro and apricot base.
Do the same thing with the other slices, except lay them the opposite way in the bowl so that the dish is evenly covered in pandoro. Add the remaining half of apricots and then the syrup, and leave to one side to let the cake absorb the liquid. I like to leave this overnight or for a day, clingfilmed in the fridge.
To make the trifle topping, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form - be careful not to overwhip it - and then add the yoghurt and beat or stir together just to combine. It should be soft and light enough to spread easily over the top of the trifle in a not-too-thick layer.
Drizzle the honey over the top with a teaspoon, chop the pistachios into splinters and mix them with the flaked almonds, then scatter both over the top of the trifle.
Feast: The Food That Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson is published by Chatto & Windus, priced 17.99. Nigella Lawson 2004.
RACHEL ALLEN LITTLE HOT AFTER-DINNER SHOTS
200ml/7fl oz brandy or whisky
200ml/7fl oz stock syrup (see below)
8 tablespoons softly whipped cream
For the stock syrup:
This is the basic stock syrup recipe used for things such as cocktails and poaching fruit. It keeps indefinitely and it is very handy to have. (Makes 150ml/5fl oz)
200g/7oz caster sugar
200ml/7fl oz water
To make the stock syrup, place the ingredients in a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, boil for two minutes and allow to cool.
Place the brandy or whisky in a saucepan with the stock syrup and heat very gently; do not boil. Divide between eight little glasses. Dip a spoon into boiling water and spoon on the cream, allowing it to slide off the spoon and sit on top of the sweet brandy or whisky. The cream should not sink. Serve immediately. sm
Rachel's Favourite Food at Home by Rachel Allen is published by Collins, priced 17.99.