2 December 2008

Christmas Bells Are Ringing...

So with all the feasting that ensued on the night of The Christmas Dinner, I entirely forgot to take a photo of the actual roast chickens. However, as the following photo essay demonstrates, there's still plenty to see. I'm seriously exhausted, and it's pretty late so I'm going to be dialogue-lite and let the pictures largely speak for themselves.

Above: I whipped up some pomegranate ice cream on Sunday morning, after I returned from the vege market. Literally - get it - Whipped? Cream? Okay, I told you I was tired, which is a perfectly legitimate excuse for dodgy puns.

Nigella keeps her pomegranates close and her cranberries closer. It's a great thing that these berries are so expensive because she puts them in everything. Oh, I can't be snide though because they really are rather Christmassy, the frozen ones looking like holly berries in thawing snow, and their fresh sourness can perk up otherwise heavy fare quite effectively.

Cornbread, Cranberry and Orange Stuffing (adapted from Feast)

This mixture is so delicious it almost didn't make it into the chicken. Don't for goodness sake be put off because you have to make cornbread first, it's the easiest thing in the world and the recipe can be found here.

In a large pot, simmer 300g cranberries with the juice and zest of an orange. Add 125g butter slowly till it turns into a glossy, pinky-orange sauce, then crumble in the cornbread and stir to combine. When you're ready to bake it, stir in 2 eggs and stuff your bird and roast, or spread it into a loaf tin and bake it at 180 for about 25 minutes.

Above: In front, Pear and Cranberry stuffing, and in the back, the cornbread stuffing. I may have made a bit extra so that they could stand in as another vegetarian dish. Inexplicably, I never liked stuffing as a child so you can see I am making up for lost time here.

I bought a brace of peppers at the market on Sunday morning and roasted them as soon as I got back. They seemed to just get silkier and more delicious as the day went on and were perfect served at room temperature, so the rich olive oil, clean fresh pomegranate, and salty caper flavours shone through vibrantly.

Chargrilled Peppers with Pomegranate (Nigella Christmas)

6 red and/or yellow peppers (although I got 7 to allow for muck-ups and nibbling-while-cooking)
Seeds from 2 pomegranates (although one is more than fine, Nigella)
2 T fresh pomegranate juice (just give the fruit a squeeze while seeding)
2 t lime or lemon juice
60ml extra virgin olive oil
15ml garlic olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
3 T drained capers

Set your oven to very, very hot - like 250 C. Cut the peppers in half, removing seeds and stalks, and place cut-side down on a baking tray. Roast in the oven till they blister - about 15 mins. Remove and carefully chuck them all into a bowl, quickly covering it with gladwrap till the peppers cool down considerably. From here it will be very easy to remove the skins - just pull them off. Tear the peppers into strips and place them in a serving bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature. I made mine at about 11am and served it at 8pm, so it benefits from a bit of a sit. I just kept it covered and on the bench, although it won't come to any harm in the fridge.

The involtini is another one that tastes best when it's not piping hot. This turned out to be an amazing combination of flavours and textures, so much more than just a token vegetarian dish. There was hardly any left afterwards but what was there made for a luxe lunch the next day, microwaved for a bit and served with salad and leftover roast veges.

Above: The marvelously summery Sangria (and yes, we used those tacky plastic ice cube things...well, they're practical! And this was hardly a classy joint to begin with.)

Poinsettia, a mix of cranberry juice, cointreau, and sparkling white wine (1 litre, 125 mls, and 750mls respectively) is an enchanting combination that completely owns Buck's Fizz in terms of festive drinkability. Tip of the cap to Nigella, for all that she half-heartedly protests that she's not much of a drinker, she can certainly navigate her way round a liquor cabinet.

The table! We managed to fit eight of us around it, not entirely comfortably though...

Above: The roasted pepper salad and boiled new potatoes with mint from our herb patch. Notice the gorgeous yellow bowl which was a Christmas present from the parents last year, and the beautiful Christmas crackers which were really way too classy for us. They contained real presents, like pens, corkscrews and measuring tapes. Nifty or what? True to form, as well as forgetting to photograph the chicken, I forgot to bring the parsnips out of the oven at all until after we finished the main course. They instead became a refreshing palate cleanser between meals, something to consider for your next dinner party perhaps...After dinner we played charming parlour games (well, we played Scattergories, is there a more satisfying game for bookish, wordy BA students to tackle?)

Drama! Tim is the only one in our flat capable of turning jelly out of a mould. He may be the only person in the world who can do it...perhaps we can never know.

The white chocolate almond cake was utterly gorgeous, although the problem with cakes that have white chocolate in them is that you quite often can't actually taste the white chocolate as much as you'd like (who am I kidding, as much as I'd like.) So I upped the ante by drizzling over a melted milky bar, Jackson Pollock-styles (hey, I got an A in an essay about him in first year, I feel sufficiently qualified to pay homage to him via the medium of baked goods.) This is a fantastic cake for entertaining as you can make it in advance and it keeps beautifully, but looks rather impressive as far as puddings go. I'm not sure if it was supposed to rise much - or whether it has something to do with our oven - but the cake rose hugely then sunk, leaving a crevice that I filled with chopped pistachios (it was going to be silver cachous but they were $5.50 for a small cannister at New World - um, no thanks - and besides, the still-festive pistachios are actually pleasant to eat.)

Above: The official pudding table: the white chocolate almond cake, the "tortova", pomegranate ice cream, red and green jelly, and strawberries, also virtuously purchased from the market. The chocolate torte turned out to be marvelous, somehow crisp and chewy at the same time and punctuated by welcome chunks of dark, dark chocolate.

It was altogether a fantastic meal shared with fantastic people, although it was such a shame that Emma couldn't be there. She was however present in our minds and hopefully gets back to New Zealand asap safe and sound!
In other news: I'm reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Tim found an old copy somewhere while dropping some stuff off at the Salvation Army, and I do love old books, (not those horrible shiny reissues with conceptual cover art) so he grabbed it for me. It was one of those that I knew I should have a look at one day, but the curmudgeon in me has this thing where the more a book is recommended to me, the more I stubbornly refuse to read it. I don't know why, perhaps hype annoys me, but that's certainly the reason I've never read The Kite Runner. Anyway, To Kill A Mockingbird is really very good, (she says condescendingly - didn't it win the Pulitzer or somesuch?) I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I've also recently read Nigella Lawson's unofficial biography, forwarded to me by the ever-thoughtful Linda. It is a cracking read, I think I devoured it in a day or two on my lunchbreaks at work but...it's really not very well written. It quotes her cookbooks as though they were interviews - as though I don't know them all word for word anyway - but it's worth it for the luscious pictures of Nigella. What a beauty. I must say, it's not a good book for the self esteem, as it constantly reiterates how goddess-like and creamy and striking she is and it can leave the reader feeling somewhat homely. I definitely recommend it for a bit of light reading though. Okay, this suddenly turned into Laura's book corner, so I'd better get going...
Next time: I attempt chocolate macaroons (the quick, chewy kind, not the faint-making Hermes kind) and make Ed Victor's Turkey Hash with the scant leftover roasted chicken from the Christmas dinner.


  1. Your Christmas table looked very festive Laura. I was also impressed that I could SEE the bench in the background. After all that cooking, you still managed to have the kitchen tidy. Well done.
    Hannah has finally finished all exams so we are all relieved

  2. Ditto on the kitchen background- shiny, polished bench top... The Christmas dinner looks fantastic and I look forward to you re-creating some of these over summer. Hope Emma gets back safely - the Bankok drama seems to be almost over according to the news.

  3. Laura! Sorry no comment for so long. But golly gosh heavens to murgatroid (sp?) that dinner looked fit for Baby Jesus to eat (maybe blended a bit first though)

    Glad you are still cooking with gusto. Can I book myself in for next year's dinner? I will bring some left over antibiotics, spare scrubs and some unused syringe (for basteing the Turkey)

    Missing the random phone calls! T'rah!

    Scotty x
    PS hi tim love your work

  4. I too was going to comment on the clean and tidy kitchen LOL. The feast looks fabulous.
    Re 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - when I went to Wku College as an adult student last millenium, it was a book we studied in 6th form English and I found it very moving. Gregory Peck is in the movie and that is worth seeing too.

  5. Hi Laura.
    I have no idea how I stumbled across your blog, but it's pretty cool. Nice stories, good photos - an all around good time.
    I'm over in the States and I'm trying to figure out how you already had Christmas Dinner down under. Last I checked NZ was not a month ahead of the US! Over here, as you may know we call it Thanksgiving - so I'm perplexed a bit. LOL

    Anyhow, if u care to - you can always check out what is going on over at http://cyber5.wordpress.com and see if I may be blogging about food or some other random thing over here.

  6. Viv: Was the flat *that* messy when you came down? ;) how fantastic for Hannah!

    Mum: Well, she's back safely which is a relief to us all. I can definitely recommend everything I made too :)

    Scotty!: O hai! Please can we leave turkey basting out of it, but you are so welcome at next years dinner. You missed out on some fantastic vegetarian treats! But I guess travelling the world is also exciting. Have fun :D

    Lynn: I'll have to hunt out the movie. Not before I've finished the book though lol. Can't wait to see you this Christmas!

    Cyber5: Well hi there. Sorry to have confused you - here in New Zealand we celebrate Christmas on the 25th just like most other places...but you know, lots of people have Christmas get-togethers beforehand, and this was one of them. I'm sure in America there are office parties and the like leading up to the big day? And who wouldn't want the chance to eat as much Christmas food as possible :)

  7. Laura, that looks a fab feast. Glad it went well!

  8. what a completely fabulous feast Laura! And your photos are just stunning!!!!Well done!

  9. Hi Laura, this is your Nana!! Looking forward to seeing you at Christmas and tasting some of your delights, I have been salivating about. Can you believe you have 34000+ hits on your site. A very dedicated band of enthusiasts!
    Counting the days to Lynn arriving back. love and hugs, Nana

  10. I swear she stole the poinsettia from me! Only I freeze the cranberry and cointreau to a slush first, so you have a delayed bleed of the red up through the sparkling wine.

  11. Laura your pics just get better and better, fabulous!
    Quite a feast you cooked up, I must try the Poinsettia cocktail.

  12. hello from the dirty south, im sorry i didnt text you back on sat, have no money on my phone! its very different living without you guys tho! hope to be up and pestering you all asap and as much as possible.

    also, im coming to xmas dinner next year. hopefully no political turmoil in asia will keep me away!