Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Boxing Day

Our tradition during the Christmas Season is to have a Boxing Day party.

So, while Christmas for many is a time of plenty and friendship, it can highlight the poverty or loneliness of some people's lives. December 26 celebrates the Feast of St Stephen, or Boxing Day as it is known in Britain. It was on this day, we are told in the carol that “Good King Wenceslas looked out

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,

Though the frost was cruel;

When a poor man came in sight

Gathering winter fuel

King Wenceslas took the poor man food, drink and firewood, to cheer and warm him with the spirit of Christmas.

In Britain, Boxing Day originally got its name from the custom of distributing the money put in alms boxes for the poor people in a town or parish. The day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and the money distributed by the priests. This custom, which dates back to Roman times, was stopped during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. 'Christmas Boxes' then became gifts of money, or tips, given to servants, trades people and those who had provided services throughout the year.

While the Feast of Stephen is specific to the Christian Tradition, the sentiments of King Wenceslas are not confined to one faith.

We host an open house on Boxing Day where we ask our friends to bring a donation to our parish food bank, and leftovers from their own Christmas celebrations to share with each other. It’s a relaxing time now that the mad rush of getting ready for Christmas is passed.

We always make mulled wine, have hot dishes, desserts and other things for everyone to share – and are humbled by the generosity of our neighbours and friends.

The Bloody Mary Party

This was a much more sedate affair than some of our parties. We had the Christmas Eve blowout the night before and were due to go to the Four Seasons for brunch on Christmas Day. There were a group of us going, so we suggested stopping by our house for a bloody mary to sweep away any cobwebs that had accumulated the night before. This was easy, but so worth doing.

We made up pitchers of tomato juice and vodka (2.5:1 ratio tomato juice:vodka) and chilled it. On the counter we put out a variety of additions:

Limes cut into 1/8ths
Martini olives
Celerey sticks
Cocktail onions
Pickle spears
Pickled jalapaneos
Habanero vinegar
Chilli salt
Worcestershire sauce

We had an ice bucket handy and appropriate glasses. Simply gave the guests a glass of ice and vodka/tomato juice and ncourgaed them to add their own fixin's. I think if we didn't have somewhere else to go, we would have stayed all afternoon with these. They turned out quite well!

Christmas 2010

It all started innocently enough. Madame and I were in Bastrop for a wedding in September. In came a text saying, "My mother in law is out ot town and we don't have anywhere to have Christmas Eve dinner, can we come to your house?" This would have been fine, except I had no idea who it was from!. My telephone had conveniently deposited all its contents into the bit bucket a couple of days before. So after some signaling back and forth, we established that it was our very good friends Etienne and Leigh who were in need of Christmas Eve support. Their usual hosts (Leigh's parents) were out of town.
Realizing that Christmas Eve was likely to be a big deal, we assembled a table for 8 and started planning a menu.
Etienne and Leigh had had an amazing foie gras dish at Gordon Ramsay's in London, had acquired the cookbook and wanted to make it. They also had a tradition of a spicy carrot soup for dinner. I make a Christmassy Salad, have to have Christmas pudding with brandy butter and figured we could make all the accompaniments. The main course had yet to be determined.

Oh and just to add to the complexity, this happened..

Foie Gras with vegetables a la grecque and brioche toast
Ingredients - The marinade
1/4 cup Sauternes
1/4 cup Calvados
1/4 cup medium sherry
Method - marinade
Combine liquids in a small pan and boil gently and reuced by half. Allow to cool.

Ingredients - Foie gras, marinade
1.75 lbs fresh grade A foie gras
1 recipe of marinade
Method prepare the foie gras
Separate the lobes of the foie gras, remove the veins and other sinews, also any blood spots. Handle it as gently as possible. Pour the marinade over the foie gras and cover, refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Make a parchment sling in a loaf pan, sprinkle pink salt in the bottom. Layer the foie gras in tto the pan. Cover with another layer of parchment paper, and press it down with another breadpan. Bake in a 200F oven for 45 minutes. When the foie gras is cooked, remove from the oven, weight it down with canned foods still in the pan. Refrigerate, still weighted overnight. Remove as much of the congealed yellow fat as you want.

Ingredients camomile gelee
The foie gras is to be served with a gelee made from camomile tea and sauternes, piped between batons of foie gras.
500 ml Sauternes
150 ml Camomile tea (made from 1 teabag)
6 leaves gelatine
Method - gelee
Make the camomile tea, add to the Sauternes and boil in a saucepan until reduced by half. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 3-4 minutes and then squeeze dry
Gently stir the gelatine, one sheet at a time into the reduction. When all the geklatine has been incorporated, chill te misture in an ice bath. Stir occasionally to make sure it sets up evenly. When it has mostly set, put the gelee into a piping bag with a plain nozzle. Block the tip of the nozzle with wadded up cling wrap until ready to use. refrigerate.
Meanwhile make the brioche using this recipe
Unmold the foie gras and cut into 3/4 inch batons. Place 2 batons on each plate, parallel and 3/4 inch apart. Pipe the gelee between the batons.
Cut the brioche into thin slices and toast each slice lightly on both sides. Serve 1 1/2 slices of toasted brioche with each plate of foie gras.
We served it with a fermented aperitif made from maple syrup and some blanched vegetables a la Grecque

The piquant carrot soup
This soup is traditional in Etienne and Leigh's world, and so it became the second course. Delicious - and easy to make - especially for me, Etienne did all the work!.
3T butter
4 Cups carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch slices
2 Cups washed, thinly sliced leeks (white and ligh green only)
1 1/2 Cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1T peeled, grated ginger
1t Salt (more or less to taste)
1 (or more) dashes of Tabasco, depending on how piquant you want it
2 1/2 C Chicken stock
2 C Whipping cream
1t White pepper
4 Oz chopped crystallized ginger

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Gently sweat the carrots, leeks, potatoes, onion and the ginger for about 10 minutes. Salt the vegetables, add the chicken stock and Tabasco. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, covered. The vegetables should be soft and fully cooked. Puree the soup in the blender in several batches (take care not to fill the blender more than 1/2 fiull and make sure you cover with a tea towel to prevent the possibility of scalding). At this stage the soup can be held - for up to 2 days.
To serve, reheat the soup to almost boiling and stir in the cream. Do not allow it to boil after the cream has been added. Check the seasoning by adding some white pepper and extra salt if necessary. Serve piping hot in bowls with a few pieces of chopped crystallized ginger.

The Christmassy salad.
This dish appears elsewhere on this blog, so I include a link to it here

The Main Course
It is always a treat to have an excuse for a nice piece of beef. I went to Hirsch's (in Plano) and bought a prime rib roast (Prime Grade - not just the confusingly named Prime Rib!) which we cooked the way that Heston Blumenthal recommends in his book, "In Search of Perfection".
As accompaniments we had braised red cabbage, blue cheese gnocchi, mushroom ketchup and some oven roasted carrots and green beans.
The meat is also described on the blog - here
I (mostly) followed this recipe for the gnocchi. Used some Crater Lake blue cheese from the Rogue River Creamery as the filling for the gnocchi

Mushroom ketchup (adapted from Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection")
This is a highly flavored brown ketchup that Chef Blumenthal recommends with the beef. It takes a couple of days to make and is sooo worth it. It is made in 3 parts.

Mushroom juice
3 lbs of white mushrooms chopped fine in a few pulses of the food processor
2T table salt

Pickled Mushrooms
1lb cremini ("Baby Bella") mushrooms - stems removed and quartered
4 oz sugar
1 1/4 C red wine vinegar

Ketchup Base
2 1/2 C Mushroom juice
Pickled mushrooms (drained)
1/2 C red wine (I used a Shiraz because that was what happened to be open)
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/4 t ground mace
1 t whole peppercorns
4 cloves
1 shallot roughly chopped
4t cornstarch
3T cold water

Starting 48 hours before you wish to use the ketchup, prepare the mushroom juice. Simply sprinkle the salt over the chopped mushrooms, put in a colander to drain and catch the juices. You should have about 2 1/2 cups juice after 24 hours of straining.
Meanwhile make the pickled mushrooms. Dissolve the sugar in the viunegar by bringing to boil in a small pan. Pour over the muschrooms, cover and chill for 24 hours/
Place the mushroom juice, wine, vinegar, pepper, cloves, mace, and shallot in a pan and reduce the liquid by about 1/2. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid. Make a slurry with the corn starch and water. Return the liquor to the pan, stir in the cornstarch slurry and bring to the boil gently, whisking occasionally. It should thicken considerably, resulting in the ketchup base.
Strain the pickling juice from the mushrooms and add the mushrooms to the base, cover tightly and chill before use.

Braised red cabbage
This has become a staple for us - many holiday dishes need something to cut through the richness. The slightly vinegary red cabbage does the trick.
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 gala apples peeled, cored, sliced and placed in the vinegar to prevent browning
1 yellow onion
3T vegetable oil
1 head red cabbage thinly shredded
4 cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 inch cinnamon stick
Salt to taste
up to 2T sugar (depends on tartness of apples)
Add the vegetable oil to a dutch oven over low heat. weat the onions for a few minutes. While the a=onions are sweating, tie the spices up into a cheeseloth "package" - making retrieval of the spices easier at the end of the dish. Add the spice package, cabbage, apples, vinegar to the pot, stir and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Taste after 1 1/2 hours to check the seasoning and acid/sweet balance. Adjust with salt//vinegar/sugar. Simmer for a few minutes longer and serve hot as a bed under the meat.

Of course that has to be Christmas Pudding (plum pudding). It is sort of like a steamed fruit cake. Sounds weird but is the one must have dish for me at Christmas. My parents send us a Christmas hamper from that wonderful store Fortnum and Mason on the years we don't visit England. There is usually a Christmas Pudding in the hamper. We typically eat them well after their sell by date. This year's was in the hamper 2 years ago.....The Christmas pudding is an excuse to have a "sauce" that we simply call brandy butter. Shoe leather would be delicious with brandy butter. It is so easy to make. It used to be my job to make it in my grandmother's kitchen years ago. Now that mantle is passed on to my nephew Sam. However since he was not on hand, I became 9 years old again and made brandy butter. No need for the recipe for the pudding - we just follow the directions on the box. However it is served lit. We warm a little brandy in a pan over low heat (put the brandy in the pan before turning on the flame), when the brandy is warm, pour over the pudding and light. Makes an impressive entrance.

Ingredients - Brandy butter
6 Oz salted butter (I am sure purists would use unsalted, but my granny always used salted) at room temp
6 Oz confectioners (icing) sugar
4T  Brandy - don't bother with the finest coggnac here

Method - Brandy butter
Beat the butter alone until slightly fluffy, add the sugar in 3 additions beating hard between additions. When the mixture is light, add the brandy and beat until incorporated. Cover and allow to cool for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Coffee, etc
We roast our own coffee, and for Christmas we chose a Brazilian Joao de Campos Yellow Catuai coffee. We buy all our beans from Sweet marias - they are extremely reliable and fun people to deal with. Internet + cheap shipping is a wonderful thing. We served chocolates from Morgen Chocolates in Dallas and for those wanting to try it a Chateau de Breuil VSOP Calvados.

Needless to say this was a fun event - fortunately Etienne and Leigh stayed over, and everyone else was local. The roads were safe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


One of Madame's co workers has had a hankering for scones. So I was press ganged into making some. Luckily they are pretty easy to make. I like them roundand just over an inch in diameter. Also she wanted raisins in them. Now raisins and scones are an odd pair - it's too easy to burn the raisins on the edge, so I have a novel technique....

8 oz self rising flower sifted twice
1 1/2 oz. Unsalted butter at room temperatiure
3/4 oz superfine sugar
pinch salt
a scant 2/3 cup of milk (whole milk)
1/4 cup raisins

Pre-heat oven to 425. If you have a baking stone, remove it first, otherwise the bottoms will brown too quickly.

Rub the butter into the flour. Add the sugar and salt. Mix with finger tips and then add most of the milk. Collect the dough into a ball, and if it won't come together add a little more milk. Turn ut the dough onto a work surface and form into a rectangle about 5x3 inches. Press the raisins into one half of the dough. Cut the dough and cover the raisins with the half you cut off.press the dough out so it is about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut the dough into small rounds about 1 inch + in diameter. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Bake on upper third of oven for about 8 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for a further 5 or so, until they are golden brown and delicious.

Remove from sheet and allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter or clotted cream and strawberry jam.