Christmas!!!….yes, it’s just around the corner so naturally this week I’m sharing recipes with this in mind; recipes that are elegant enough to serve to guests yet substantial enough for a casual family dinner.
One of my all-time favourite cookbook writers is Delia Smith, I have her to thank for my love of cooking as it was through her ‘Complete Cookery Course’ that I started to cook properly back in the ’90s! Indeed, I still use a few of Delia’s recipes for our Christmas day menu, I will be sharing these with you just before Christmas, but this week I thought I would share one of her recipes which I return to again and again, ‘Curried Parsnip Soup’. This soup has a wonderful combination of flavours; the sweetness of the parsnip is cut by subtle curry spices and the slight acidity of freshly grated apple. It is great for a winter supper, particularly over the festive season, and also elegant enough to serve as a starter for a special meal. Menu Two, is a real treat, ‘Fillet of Venison with Red Wine & Chocolate Sauce’, I have served this on numerous occasions to guests and it has always received lots of compliments! You can prepare the sauce ahead of time so that you only have to cook the fillets of venison at the last minute – perfect if you have guests. I like to serve it with ‘Creamed Cabbage & Celeriac with Pancetta’, a luxurious side dish which complements the rich venison perfectly, as does ‘Gratin Dauphinoise with Gruyere Cheese’; both these side dishes can also be prepared ahead of time. Menu Three is a vegetarian recipe, ‘Sheepless Shepherds Pie’, admittedly it is quite involved, but it really is worth the effort. It would make a great meal between Christmas and New Year when you want a break from ‘meat-heavy festive dishes. It would also be good enough to serve up on Christmas day as a vegetarian option. Once prepared it can be refrigerated until needed, then all you have to do is pop it in the oven to serve – so, in fact, it is quite an easy option to have up your sleeve!
Obviously, we can’t celebrate Christmas without a cocktail so I just had to share one!… I happened to come across this recipe for a ‘Christmas Cosmopolitan’ online. It was posted on youtube by actor Stanely Tucci, the video is rather amusing but it was the cocktail that caught my attention; I love the twist on the original recipe (it uses pomegranate juice) and with its striking colour it makes the perfect aperitif to serve up over the festive season!…
Finally, I thought we should bring some festive spirit to our kitchens so I’m also sharing my very own Christmas music playlist – Christmas Music to Cook To…MenuMusic Six…listen to it here!… Enjoy!
Curried Parsnip & Apple Soup with Parsnip Crisps (Serves 6)
This is one of Delia Smith’s recipes which I return to again and again. It has a wonderful combination of flavours; the sweetness of the parsnip is cut by subtle curry spices and the slight acidity of freshly grated apple. It is great for a winter supper and also elegant enough to serve as a starter for a special meal. The parsnip crisps are a lovely addition, but honestly, if you don’t have the time or energy to make them the soup would still be delicious on its own!
700g parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch dice
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.2 litres vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Boullion)
1 medium Bramely apple (about 175g)
1 heaped teaspoon coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seeds
6 whole cardamom pods, seeds only
1 rounded teaspoon turmeric
1 rounded teaspoon powdered ginger
Sea salt and black pepper
- First of all, dry roast the coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds by placing them in a small frying pan over medium heat to draw out the flavour – after 2-3 minutes they will change colour and start to jump around in the pan. Remove and crush them finely with a pestle and mortar.
- Next heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until the butter begins to foam, then add the onion and gently soften for about 5 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for a further 5 minutes then add all the crushed spices, the turmeric and the ginger, stir and continue to cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the cubed parsnips to the pan, stirring well, then pour in the stock, season and let the soup simmer very gently for 1 hour, without a lid.
- Remove the soup from the heat and liquidize it until smooth. Return to the saucepan, check the seasoning and reheat gently. While that is happening peel the apple and grate it into the soup just as it reaches simmering point.
- Serve immediately garnished with the parsnip crisps (recipe below).
I like to use the whole parsnip to make these crisps; I use the long peelings of the skin and cut the flesh cut into discs – no waste!
1 medium/large parsnip
6 tablespoons of groundnut oil
- Using a potato peeler peel the skin of the parsnip into long strips. Then slice the flesh into thin discs.
- Place the groundnut oil in a frying pan and heat until very hot – almost smoking.
- First fry the parsnip discs in the hot oil until they are golden brown – 2-3 minutes. Then fry the peelings in the same way, adding more oil if needed.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Venison with Red Wine & Chocolate Sauce (Serves 4)
This is one of my favourite recipes, it’s from Gordon Ramsay’s cookbook ‘Sunday Lunch’. I have served this on numerous occasions to guests and it has always received lots of compliments! You can prepare the sauce ahead of time, so that you only have to cook the fillets of venison at the last minute – perfect if you have guests. I like to serve it with ‘Creamed Cabbage & Celeriac with Pancetta’, a luxurious side dish which complements the rich venison as does ‘Gratin Dauphinoise’ (either simple style or with Gruyere Cheese); these side dishes can also be prepared ahead of time (recipes here).
*The recipe calls for ‘raspberry vinegar’, if this isn’t available you could substitute it with sherry vinegar.
200g smoked bacon lardons
4 garlic cloves, peeled, left whole and crushed lightly with the blade of a knife
250g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
A few thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
350ml red wine
1 litre chicken stock
4 venison fillets, about 150g each, trimmed
1 teaspoon raspberry vinegar (or sherry vinegar – see note above)
20g dark chocolate (I use Lindt 70%)
Sea salt and black pepper
*4 small square sheets of foil, about 20cm x 20cm, dull side buttered or you could use butter wrappers.
- In a large saucepan, sauté the lardons, shallots and garlic with the herbs and crushed peppercorns in a little olive oil, for about 6-8 minutes until the shallots have softened. Add the red wine and boil for 10 minutes until reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and keep boiling until reduced to a syrupy consistency. This may take up to 20-25 minutes. Pass through a sieve into a clean pan, taste to adjust the seasoning and put to one side until needed.
- Heat a little oil in an oven proof frying pan. Season the venison fillets and brown them in the hot pan, allowing 2-3 minutes each side. Remove the pan from heat and loosely wrap each fillet in the buttered foil or butter wrappers (to help retain the moisture). Put the pan in a preheated oven, 220’c fan, cook for 8 minutes, turning the fillets halfway through. Allow to rest in warm place for 5 minutes or so.
- While the meat is resting, gently reheat the sauce and add the raspberry vinegar (or sherry vinegar). Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the grated chocolate until it melts and the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Cut the venison into thick slices and arrange on warm plates, then pour the sauce around. It is delicious served with ‘Creamed Cabbage & Celeriac’ and ‘Gratin Dauphinoise’ (recipes below).
Creamed Cabbage & Celeriac with Pancetta (Serves 4)
This is a wonderfully luxurious way of serving cabbage, the flavours of the celeriac and carrots are fantastic alongside the cream. It goes well with beef and game dishes. You could prepare it up to stage 2 and leave it to one side, then reheat when needed, adding the cabbage and cream just before serving – this makes it an easy dish to serve to guests.
100g streaky bacon, chopped
400g carrots, peeled and diced
½ celeriac, peeled and diced
50g unsalted butter
1 small Savoy cabbage, trimmed and finely shredded
200ml double cream
Sea salt and black pepper
- Heat a little olive oil in a large sauté pan and fry the chopped bacon until golden brown. Add the carrots and celeriac, sweat the vegetables for 6-8 minutes until softened.
- Add the butter and stir through the cabbage. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Pour in the cream and simmer to reduce slightly. Season generously with salt and pepper before serving.
‘Staple Side Dish’ – Dauphinoise Potatoes with Gruyére Cheese
This is one of two recipes that I have posted for Dauphinoise Potatoes; the other recipe (here) is slightly simpler to make and not quite as rich (that’s if Dauphinoise Potatoes can be ‘less rich’!). Either recipe goes very well with the ‘Fillet of Venison with Red Wine and Chocolate Sauce’ (above), but I particularly like this recipe with the Gruyére cheese as it is richer and more unctuous!
I found this recipe in ‘At Home in the Provence’ by Patricia Wells, who in turn took if from renowned French chef, Joël Roubuchon – so it comes well endorsed!
500ml whole milk
250ml double cream
125g grated Gruyere cheese
1 kg firm fleshed potatoes (such as Charlotte), peeled and sliced very thinly
1 plump clove garlic, peeled and halved
45g unsalted butter, diced
Freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and black pepper
- In a large saucepan bring the milk to boiling point. Add the cream and three-quarters of the cheese. Stir to blend and melt the cheese. Season which salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add the potatoes and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cook over a low heat for about 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
- Rub a baking dish with the garlic. Transfer the potatoes and their liquid to the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the butter.
- Place in a preheated oven, 190’c fan, for about 1¼ hours.
- Serve immediately.
Sheepless Shepherd’s Pie (Serves 6-8)
This meatless shepherd’s pie makes a great vegetarian feast. The rich combination of braised lentils, mushrooms and vegetables are the perfect substitute for lamb. It has complex flavours – the secret ingredient is pickled walnuts which lend a dark nuttiness and piquancy that really lift the whole dish. The topping is a caramelised celeriac mash rather than potato – it really is delicious! This recipe is from Rosie Birkett’s cookbook ‘The Joyful Home Cook’. The recipe calls for the lentils to be soaked before use, however you could use ‘Merchant Gourmet’ Puy lentils which don’t need soaking.
200g green or puy lentils, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained (or use no-soak, see above)
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
2 celery sticks, trimmed and finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
½ x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
30g butter, plus a couple of knobs for frying the sage and greasing
6 sage leaves, plus 3 for pie topping
400g field or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
500ml vegetable stock (I use Swiss Marigold Boullion)
1 teaspoon honey
80g pickled walnuts, chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of the vinegar
100g brie, cubed
For the Celeriac Topping:
100ml whole milk
1 celeriac (400-500g) peeled and cubed
50ml double cream
Nutmeg, for grating
10g Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the lentils and one bay leaf. Cook for 15 minutes, or until tender, skimming away any surface scum. Drain and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add another bay leaf, the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, chilli flakes and a large pinch of salt, fry for 8-10 minutes until the onions have softened and are starting to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until they start to break down into a sauce. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Melt the butter in another frying pan over a medium-high heat and stir in the 6 sage leaves and add the mushrooms plus a good pinch of salt, fry for 6-8 minutes until they have given up most of their moisture and are deeply coloured.
- Add the mushrooms to the tomato pan, along with the lentils and pour over the vegetable stock. Return this pan to a medium heat, stir and cook for 5-8 minutes until the stock has reduced. Season with pepper, stir in the honey, pickled walnuts and vinegar and the cheese, remove from the heat.
- Now cook the topping. Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the remaining bay leaf, the cubed celeriac and a good pinch of salt. Cover and turn the heat to low-medium. Slowly cook, so that the milk starts to evaporate, steaming and caramelising the celeriac. Gently shake the pan every few minutes to stop the celeriac sticking to the bottom of the pan – and if it gets too dry add another splash of milk. Cook for about 15 minutes until tender. Finally add a tablespoon of boiling water and give it a good stir, scraping up any bits from the bottom.
- Put the celeriac in a food processor, add the cream, butter, a good grating of nutmeg, the Parmesan and salt and pepper. Blitz until smooth and creamy.
- Finally, put the lentil mixture in a buttered pie dish and top with the celeriac mash. At this point, for added luxury, you can melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and fry the remaining 3 sage leaves until crisp, then pour them over the pie, or you can simply top with a few knobs of butter.
- Bake the pie in a preheated oven, 180’c fan, for 25-30 minutes.
And A Little Treat…
Christmas Cosmopolitan (Serves 1)
I happened to come across this recipe for a ‘Christmas Cosmopolitan’ online. It was posted on YouTube by actor Stanely Tucci, the video is rather amusing but it was the cocktail that caught my attention; I love the twist on the original recipe (it uses pomegranate juice) and with its striking colour it makes the perfect aperitif to serve up over the festive season… Enjoy!
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
25ml Cointreau ⠀
25ml cranberry juice
25ml pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 Sprig of Rosemary, 1 mint leaf and 1 raspberry for garnish
- First prepare your cocktail glass; put the sugar on a saucer, then dampen the rim of the glass with a wet piece of kitchen roll and dip it into the sugar so that you create a sugared rim.
- To make your garnish, thread the rosemary sprig through the mint leaf followed by the raspberry.
- Place the pomegranate seeds in a cocktail shaker, use a wooden spoon or pestle to muddle them (mush together).
- Add the Cointreau, vodka, cranberry juice and pomegranate juice, then add a large handful of ice. Shake well for 15 seconds until very cold.
- Strain into the prepared cocktail glass and garnish. Merry Christmas!