It is a dark and cold day and raining hard as I prepare to write my muse for this month. The kitchen is warmed by the Aga, so most of the time I don’t notice the chill in the air. Such days lead me down an unstoppable slide towards comforting winter cooking and, as such, I hear the slow bubbling of a rich chicken stock on the stove, which is filling the room with a warm, comforting aroma. Lighting the wood burner now would transport me to a winter haven.
I casseroled a chicken yesterday evening and it cooled on the doorstep overnight carefully sealed to stop it being plundered by local scavengers. It’s the stock I’m really interested in rather than the chicken on this occasion, although I shall use both to make this month’s Truly Scrumptious recipes. My stock should be rich and thick, having added some roasted squash, a few soft tomatoes, carrots, tarragon and some ends of leeks and celery. Yes, most of my fridge’s bottom drawer and some leftovers. I’m also going to use my stock to make a walnut soup for lunch. The recipe from Tamsin Day-Lewis describes the walnut soup (which is only walnuts – freshest you can find, garlic, stock and cream) as robust yet delicate. It’s highly unusual, however, and I am hoping it may be something rather different for Christmas. I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t freeze well either, so I thought I would give it a try.
My heart sinks when I see all the festive goods on sale, the advertisements showing tables groaning under the weight of Christmas dinners, frozen cheesecakes and canapés, or obscenely enormous turkeys. It surely isn’t about the volume of your offering, but rather simple quality. Christmas to me is not just one meal but many; a series of mini feasts for people you may not see on the day itself. I feel something mildly festive is called for, that is refreshingly simple and this is what I am planning for my Boxing Day with family and for kitchen suppers with friends. No-one should be found sobbing at the stove any day, and absolutely never at Christmas, but I have no doubt some of us may have done so in the past, possibly through frustration and disappointment at that longawaited masterpiece of culinary expertise that didn’t quite turn out as expected. So, my mantra this year, is keep it fresh and simple. We need a light touch and a sense of fun, tinkering with recipes as we see fit. Be inventive with your leftovers, like the two recipes overleaf, where I suggest using cooked ham and the pickings of your Christmas turkey, chicken, duck or goose.
Buying the right food is not always about spending more. It is more about the quality of your raw materials. The simpler the dish, the more exposed the quality of your ingredients and we are lucky in living where we are as the quality from Buttlings and Ludwell Stores is beyond question.
Here’s to many stress-free and genuinely truly scrumptious celebrations, whether enjoyed on your own or with others.
Roasted Ham, Squash and Marmalade
Approx. £6.50 when all ingredients bought at Buttlings and Ludwell Stores.
A wonderful, if odd mix – the salty ham and bitter marmalade cut through the creamy squash. Serve with winter watercress salad and tiny baked potatoes rolled in sea salt.
200g cooked gammon torn into large chunks – avoid the ham cube look! (If you are cooking your own, use ham hocks)
1.5kg squash – Prince Crown, Sweet Mama, Acorn or Butternut are best
2–3 tbs rapeseed oil or olive oil
6 bay leaves and sprigs of thyme (both optional)
6 tbs orange marmalade (with rind)
1 tbs pink peppercorns (optional but adds a lovely colour and mild crunch)
Preheat the oven to 190°C / gas mark 5 (AGA roasting oven, middle shelf)
1. Cut the squash into wedges, scooping out the seeds. Put squash into a roasting dish (same one you will serve from), season well and trickle with the oil. Roast for 25–30 minutes
2. Remove the squash from the oven and add the ham chunks with the bay and thyme together with the pink peppercorns
3. Mix the marmalade with 3–4 tablespoons of the ham liquor (if you have cooked them yourself) or hot water and spoon over the ham and squash.
4. Return the tray to the oven and cook for a further 20–25 minutes until glazed and bubbling. Serve with watercress salad and baby baked potatoes rolled in sea salt.
Egg Noodles, Poached Chicken and Greens
Approx. £2.50, excluding the left over poultry, when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
Great for using left over chicken, duck, goose or turkey and when you have a great stock on the go. If you want extra protein or are making a vegetarian version, add a simple egg pancake (2 eggs beaten, cooked in large flat pan, rolled up and cut into slices)
1 small head of spring greens or kale or Savoy cabbage (150g approx)
2 nests of fine egg noodles, crushed lightly
1 garlic clove finely sliced
½ thinly sliced red chilli (optional)
dash soy sauce
1 tsp lime juice (a squeeze worth)
chicken, duck, goose or turkey pickings
750 ml chicken stock
2 eggs, beaten and seasoned (optional)
1. Prepare your greens by roughly shredding and rinsing well
2. Bring your stock to a simmer and add the greens, then the noodles, garlic and chilli
3. Cook for 3–4 minutes or until the noodles are just tender
4. Add the cooked chicken or turkey to warm through
5. Taste and adjust seasoning, add the egg pancake slices if using (see above for method), add a dash of soy sauce and lime juice before serving in warm bowls
A truly, truly scrumptious duo of quick, fresh recipes for any occasion or season!
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.