Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Catching up

The month of September didn't seem to leave much room for blogging. There was a lot of sugar used in my kitchen on jams, jellies and preserves, and a lot of digging to do in the allotment. October too was spent knee deep in mud, and November work related panic set in. December was a blur of fairy lights, forced paperwhites, evergreen wreaths, hazelnut caramels and an awful lot of mulled wine. Not to mention munching on manchego with my mother's homemade quince paste, and too many mince pies, clementines and slices of italian chocolate christmas cake. Divorced parents means two christmases, a beef wellington with dauphinoise potatoes for one, and roast goose with chestnut and apple stuffing and roast vegetables for the other. Desserts ranged from a wonderful figgy pudding, citrus and ginger fruit salad, to chestnut pudding and, I think best of all, warmed preserved damsons with hazelnut meringues and in which floated clouds of whipped cream.

The upside of being so tardy here is that I can now give the edited highlights, the recipes and meals that have stayed with me not just on the day, but a whole three months later. Perhaps not the way blogging ought to be done, but here goes.

Much of the work related panic in November was due to us taking a lovely break in Bordeaux and the Dordogne for a blissful few days. We got there via Paris which was engineered by me as a way of stopping to stock up on Valhrona Chocolate from the wonderful G. Detou on rue tiquetonne. I also ogled chocolate shop windows and ate the most wonderful crepes which started an autumn love of caramel beurre sale.

I played owning my own castle in Monbazilliac, which sadly is likely to remain a long-cherished dream for decades to come. I'm particularly in need of a bread oven and an apple store, not to mention a cellar of vintage Bordeaux.

There were about a million clementines eaten over December in our house

And because our flat is tiny (or 'bijou') we had no christmas tree but instead a lovely jasmine plant decked with silver baubles, which smelt divine

Between the family we baked three christmas cakes this year, my mothers recipe, Nigel Slater's, and a chocolate Italian christmas cake from the River Cafe. The chocolate one certainly had its devotees, but doesn't really fit the british christmas cake tradition. Its excellent for those who don't like traditional fruit cake, and as a change for those who do. My mother's recipe won out in the taste tests, and not because its the one she makes every year but because it was considerably moister. Which is not to say that Nigel's wasn't excellent, but next year we'll be making my mother's and the River Cafe chocolate one. Two christmas cakes is enough for any household.

Of course the stars of the christmas meals were the goose and the beef wellington, but playing a decidedly important supporting role were two wonderful salads.

The first figs baked at 200 oc with translucent strips of pancetta wrapped around them and then, when the pancetta was crisp, nestled on top of frisee, rocket and baby chard. The dressing for this was the fig juices, some very good balsamic and extra virgin, and a little pepper (there being enough salt in the pancetta). It was the perfect christmas salad; light, and yet rich in flavour, the hot salty pancetta with the sticky sweet fig and the earthy leaves.

The second was a traditional celeriac remoulade. Previously I have always spurned this, as I have all other salads which involved mayonnaise . I think this must be a lingering reaction to the school salad bar, and I think it still tends to be the right reaction when presented with salad drenched in mayonnaise. But it turns out that homemade mayonnaise is not only wonderful to dip chips in, or turn into aioli, but also to turn the humble celeriac into a thing of beauty. Clearly, everyone except me knew this, but for me it was a revelation. So in the last week I've made celeriac remoulade three times. It takes patience (especially as I lack a mandolin) but my knife and emulsifying skills are improving.

One preserve I will be re-making next year was the bottled damsons. Nothing so simple (far simpler than jam) but nothing so good. All that they required was to make a simple syrup, in which was also boiled a cup of damsons, a clove and a stick of cinnamon. This was then strained onto the uncooked damsons, which had been rinsed and put in sterilised jars. The lids were put on the jars (as per the instructions of whatever preserving jar you use) and they were then heated in the oven at 180 oc for half an hour. Three months later they were delicious with cream and meringues, but I'm sure the other jars will make their way into fools, pies and be poured over icecream as the year progresses.


These little bulbs were only thinking of making an appearance at Christmas, but now are putting a concerted effort into flowering for the new year. The pine boughs around them, however, have been consigned to the recycling.