Friday 23 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #27


Today's Challenge: Fast from... all out of season foods.

For various practical historical reasons, I've often not been able to cook a traditional roast on Christmas Day and we've made a virtue out of necessity and roasted a bird on another day. In the past it was usually after Christmas itself but in recent years it's had to be brought forward because of practical arrangements with the farm which supplies our bird of choice, goose. Actually, this works out rather well. Roasting a goose is quite an undertaking, not because it's inherently any more complicated than roasting a chicken or turkey but because geese give off a great deal of fat as they cook. By a great deal, I mean a medium sized goose will give off around a litre and a half of fat! This has to be regularly poured off and the process is best done without a million and one other distractions because the pan with the roasting bird which has to be tipped up is heavy to manhandle and the fat is not only copious but very hot. I find it easier to do all this not on Christmas Day itself. So the goose hunts closer to the winter solstice than Christmas Day these days which seems not inappropriate.

Goose is one of the few foods that remains resolutely seasonal - traditionally, geese were reared over the spring and summer, and fattened during the early autumn ready for killing and eating either at Michaelmas at the end of September, Martinmnas in mid-November or Christmas. That remains true today. Here in the UK, you cannot buy fresh goose in March or June, say. For me, its seasonality is one of its attractions and because it is expensive, we generally only ever have it at Christmas. It therefore remains intensely evocative of this and no other time of year. 

Although red cabbage is available throughout the autumn and winter, for me, a bowl of braised red cabbage, spiced with cloves and cinnamon and cooked long and slow in the oven with red onions, apples, some demerara sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar is also always very much associated with Christmastime. It accompanies roast goose or game beautifully and has the great advantage of being better made ahead and chilled (or frozen) and then reheated when required.

The same better-if-prepared-ahead characteristic applies to the potato and celeriac purée. This is a Delia Smith recipe from her 1990 book, Christmas. The vegetables are cooked, drained and then mashed together with sour cream, salt and plenty of black pepper. I like to dust the surface with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg too. 

Both the red cabbage and the potato and celeriac purée sit happily in a bain marie in my upper oven while I deal with Mrs Goosey in the oven below!

This year, my Christmas guests arrived this afternoon so today has marked the beginning of Christmas celebrations here. Advent has felt appropriately observed and abstemious enough to sharpen the anticipation of a little uninhibited feasting over the next few days, without a feeling of boredom or déjà vu. That in itself has been quite a precious Christmas gift. 

tea with unsweetened soya milk
apple juice
Greek-style yoghurt

leftovers from the fridge

black tea
baby Christmas cakes with marzipan and fondant icing*

*These cakelets are a forerunner of my Christmas cake proper. I use a, slightly adapted, version of the BBC Good Food boil-and-bake recipe by Sara Buenfeld for the cakes.  For the marzipan, I use Delia Smith's almond paste recipe in her Complete Cookery Course. I can't give you a link to the marzipan recipe itself because it doesn't seem to exist in any On-line form. It's a cooked almond paste so it's slightly more complicated than some but I think it's unbeatable - it has an excellent flavour and texture and it's easy to work with. It's also suitable for anyone who shouldn't eat raw eggs. I've made it every year for over 30 years now and although whisking the eggs and sugar over hot water for 12 minutes, (which is what's involved), is time-consuming, it's non-negotiable. Hell will have to freeze over before I'll willingly abandon it!

The fondant icing recipe I've only come to in the last few years but am a convert to it for icing these little cakelets, even though I still use a classic royal icing mix for my big Christmas cake. You can find the recipe I use here. The flavour of the homemade stuff, I'm afraid, does knock the spots off what you can buy. Not worth it perhaps if you know people are going to leave the icing on the side of their plates uneaten, but if it's there to be eaten and enjoyed, (and in this house that's what it's there for), then it's worth the trouble. I started making fondant rather than royal icing for these mini cakes in order to use a rather jolly, snowflake-embossed rolling pin my mother-in-law gave me a few Christmases back. I love the effect this has - the raised white-on-white design is understated but elegant. 

The world divides into dyed-in-the-wool Christmas-cake-lovers and others. I know some people really don't like the classic, British Christmas cake. Too much dried fruit. Too much sugar in the marzipan and icing. Or just too much, all in. But for me, this is one of the great culinary triumphs of British baking; one of the highlights of Christmas and I love it. 

In fact, in all truth, I'd be happy to pass up all other Christmas food and just have the cake! 

roast goose with herby stuffing** 
apple sauce made from cold-stored apples in the garage 
braised spiced red cabbage with apple and onions
potato and celeriac purée
pigs in blankets

mince pies with damson and hazelnut mincemeat and Cointreau and clementine cream***

**The stuffing is my mother-in-law's recipe which is very good with chicken, turkey or goose and yes, I do use it to stuff the cavity of the bird. So long as the bird is fresh, not frozen, and has had a bit of time out of the fridge before cooking to take the chill off it, I find this is fine. If you cook stuffing separately, you miss out on the unctuous joy of the meat juices and fat seeping into the stuffing during cooking. 

It's made from a loaf of two-to-three-day-old homemade 50% wholemeal / 50% white bread, de-crusted and whizzed to crumbs in the food processor - about 400g for Mrs Goosey today, lots of chopped fresh herbs from the garden (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, hyssop, summer savory - whatever is still going in the garden basically), salt, pepper and boiling water to mix. It has no fat - plenty of that drips through as the goose cooks. And it has no egg - the egg added to stuffing is what makes it stick together but it also makes it tough, I think. I much prefer the looser, almost melting texture of this stuffing and just add enough boiling water to the mix to allow it to coalesce enough for me to get it into the cavity of the goose easily.

***One of the few things I buy in over Christmas rather than make from scratch - I've tried to do a homemade version of this but have not found a satisfactory recipe that actually produces the equivalent of the commercial stuff. If anyone reading this has a good, thick Cointreau cream recipe, please do share it with me.  
E x

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