To Make Festive Meals a Piece of Yule Log!
Anyone who knows me knows that one of the quickest ways to my heart is via a cookbook. Preferably a nice new glossy one. And if it happens to be crammed full of Christmassy recipes, this is the reindeer on top of the iced cake!
For ’tis the season where we have every excuse under the winter’s sun to get creative, flambe our puds, go all out bells and whistles in an attempt to wow our guests (or not!) depending on how our timings, plans and ideas that were probably too big for our bellies, turn out.
And so I have enlisted the help of My Super 7 Christmas Cookbooks (in no particular hierarchical order). These pomegranate seed jewels in the festive crown will have you transformed into Delias, Nigellas, Mary Berrys and Gordons (eek!) in next to no time. No need to thank me, just save me an egg nog… or two.
1) Good Food – Christmas Made Easy, BBC Books, edited by Mary Cadogan
Contributors to this beauty of a book on all things edible and Noel range from John Torode to Ainsley Harriot, James Martin to Joanna Farrow – whose Little Pear and Ginger Christmas Puddings look utterly divine on the front cover… and her Christmas Crown Cake is positively star of the show (its fairy tale style icing houses a magical tea tree light!)
What I particularly love about this compilation is the variety of style from so many top chefs. Mary has also thrown in a very useful four week planner too, utterly middle-class but all great fun to see what one ought to be up to on the social circuit!
Helpful time plans are included for the turkey… which I so want to serve the delectable sounding Port and Lingonberry Gravy with. Despite having no clue where to obtain the latter. Aha, but they even list stockists…
Yes, we have all the usual suspect Christmas recipes, which we want and need, but we also have some exciting variations and easy twists on them too. And that is the key to this book; simplicity. Vegetarians are catered for with mouthwatering and hearty concoctions such as Ratatouille with Goat’s Cheese and Herby Crumble, Cranberry and Pistachio Rice and Festive Butternut Squash and Stilton Pie.
Which is enough to make me turn momentarily herbivore. Add to that the intriguing Fruit Liqueur Jelly recipe that is Beaumes-de-Venise (after seeing its almost transparent golden hue, I’d happily bathe in one of those) and you have a wonderful book to come back to season after season for inspiration.
2) Delia Smith’s Christmas, BBC Books, written by Delia Smith
I have to confess; a self confessed bakeaholic I may be but this is the first of Delia’s books that I have ever opened! I know, I know. Perhaps it was the teaching-us-to-suck-eggs style cooking of the naughties that led me to avoid her recipes like the plague. But my was I wrong.
There’s a reason Delia is the heralded Queen of the Kitchen. Brimming with so many goodies, it’s just impossible to know quite where to start with this book. First off: I love the idea of the breakdown of shopping lists (including one for all of the non-general kitchen items).
Normally it’s The Duchess who’d put organisation before the fun of the cooking, but I am in complete agreement with the two Ds on this one. It just makes the festivities that much more enjoyable when we’re stocked up and good to go… and Delia leaves no stone un-turned! I also love the ever practical list of recipes which can be frozen for up to a month. What a fab idea for saving time, when, let’s face it, you want to be joining in with everybody else and experiencing full throttle merriment.
And as for the recipes, well, once again I also don’t know quite where to begin! The traditionalist in me adores the entire section dedicated to Christmas puds and mincemeat. It’s all very well having new ideas and spins on yuletide recipes, but there’s a lot to be said about honouring and getting the basics right. Our rich food heritage is something to be proud of, after all. But alternatively the Truffle Torte, Caremalised Orange Trifle (you’ve just got to have a trifle at Christmas!) and fabulous gift boxed idea of the Buttered Toffee Brazils, really have my mouth watering… And with some truly inspired canapes and nibbles, a whole chapter devoted to veggies and an awesome selection of alternative meat recipes featuring goose, duck and game, this book, an oldie but goody though it may be (which I promise is by no means an inference to Delia’s age), is simply a must for all kitchen bookshelves.
I’d love more imagery to accompany it, true. But then we have No 3) in our cookbook list for that. And heck, sometimes half the fun of doing anything in the kitchen is, frankly, having no flippin’ idea what the end result will look like!
3) Delia’s Happy Christmas, Ebury Press, written by Delia Smith
So why would I list two Delia Smith books in a row? Well, quite simply this is an updated version of the former classic, but it also has many new and innovative twists… taking us right up to Hogmanay.
However, I feel there is a place in the kitchen for both. Delia’s first Christmas book is smaller and more suited to those who want to keep things fairly traditional. And this, her larger volume, takes things one step beyond for those who want to be a little more experimental.
So having both is a surefire way to ensure you have all Christmas culinary eventualities covered! Standout recipes include A Very Special Seafood Risotto, Chocolate and Sour Cherry Crumble (surely THE ultimate winter warmer of a pud and utterly delectable with a dollop of clotted cream), Scots Trifle with Drambuie, Eighteenth Century Chestnut Stuffing (I am intrigued!), Mulled ‘Wine’ for Drivers (what a fab idea), Orecchiette with Walnut Sauce, Roast Loin of Pork with Crackling and a Confit of Spiced Prunes and Apricots… I could go on. And on. And on.
Basically, Delia succeeds once again by offering up a widespread selection of recipes to suit all ages and taste buds. Just like the book that went before, vegetarians will not be disappointed. And those with a sweet tooth will be utterly spoiled for choice. There is even a really fab ‘Armchair Shopping’ page so readers can do nothing more laborious than switch on the laptop and order special ingredients required by some of the recipes direct from stockists.
4) Nigella Christmas, Chatto & WindusNigella Christmas, Chatto & Windus, written by Nigella Lawson
Open any Nigella book and you will be welcomed with the most wonderful backstory as to why these recipes were lovingly sewn together.
Nigella Christmas is definitely no exception, getting us right to the heart of the Christmas spirit and ready to roll up our snowflake-jumpered sleeves to attempt to create – or indeed find, in the case of that glorious Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake’s ‘Holiday Fir tin’; turn to page 199 when you do bag yourself a copy and you will let out a wondrous ‘ahhhhh‘ in recognition… It’s the imagery; it’s the gloss and shine and veneer, it’s the immediate transportation to our own dining tables, we’re there already.
We can practically smell, taste and touch the food Nigella writes about. Christmas Salad heightens our sensory perception, Sticky Gingerbread takes us to a German Christmas market without even leaving our armchair, as does the Festive Couscous lead us to a Moroccan souk, just the thought of the Cornish Champagne Cocktail brings the biggest smile to the stressed out and un-prepared among us, and Turkey and Glass Noodle Salad has us rather unusually looking forward to Boxing Day with the in-laws.
Then with the thoughtful inclusion of showstoppers such as Bourbon Glazed Ribs, Roast Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Buttermilk Blue Cheese Swirl, Gleaming Maple Cheesecake and Wasabi Crab Cakes, we have the perfect book to dip in and out of all year round. Those of us looking for the traditional will not fall short of the mark either; from Aromatic Christmas Ham to Cranberry and Apple Chutney, Roast Goose with Pear and Cranberry Stuffing to Rum and Brandy Butters, every meal, nibble and eventuality has been addressed!
In fact, the only difficult thing about this book is how to choose which of these pictures of gorgeousness you’ll be serving up first. And for that I suggest the ruby red Poinsettia. Perhaps with good reason Nigella featured this fizzy cocktail as the very first recipe in her book…
5) Christmas with Gordon, Quadrille, written by Gordon Ramsay, with Emily Quah
The title alone may seem like a nightmare to the anti-cursing brigade, but there’s no denying this man’s ability in the kitchen. And here at TGH we kind of like – alright, we really like – that Gordon doesn’t mincemeat his words or opinions… But neither does he get into great poetic Nigella-esque food descriptions.
For me personally, that’s all part and parcel of the festive season and any epic cookbook; an excuse to curl up and daydream via the senses. But I suppose there are times when you just want to cut to the chase and get on with it. For such Christmassy occasions, THIS is your book. And Gordon is your man.
Whether you want to create a simple seasonal party, lunch/brunch, full-on Christmas menu or pudding, you’ll find your perfect recipe in and among turkey, goose, Beef Wellington and sea bass, a stunning Christmas Bombe made with supermarket Swiss roll (an instant winner with those of us pressed for time), Pear and Amaretto Cheesecake, Shallot and Goat’s Cheese Tarte Tatin and Provencal Christmas Bread. Oh, the latter is delicious by the way… especially with a great hunk of melted butter.
And Gordon has come up was some innovative and out-of-the-box ways to use up all of that smoked salmon, ham, Stilton and turkey which is all too often lurking around at the back of the fridge – although it has to be said that only happens with the latter in this house! Gordon admits that some of these recipes do require a little more effort than others, but then again it’s the time of year for extravagance, and with the radio on, a glass of red to hand a la Keith Floyd on a winter’s afternoon, there is perhaps no better place to be than in the warmth of your kitchen with one of the UK’s most celebrated chefs.
6) Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection, written by Mary Berry
Just the mention of Mary’s name and I come over all Christmassy. How many TV chefs do we know who sound like they’ve stepped out of Santa’s kitchen and into Lapland?
Whilst Mary’s yuletide wonders may also seem in sync with Delia’s delights, her easy to use, tried and tested approach has been a winner for generations of home cooks. And that’s the proof in the pudding. So what can we expect?
Well, Mary dazzles us with a tempting array of goodies from Frangipani Mince Pies, Five Nut Roast, Roast Turkey and all the Trimmings, Ginger Spiced Pudding, Jumbo Prawns in Teriyaki Sauce and Beef with all the accompaniments. But this book is so much more. We’re positively armed with shopping lists, menus, freezer tips and timings for recipes. In fact this really is the perfect all rounder.
And if you are finding yourself in the potentially daunting position of hosting a large number at your abode for Christmas lunch, Boxing Day, or any other festive get-together, trust me when I say you could not do better than to rely on this book as your bible! But what is also great about this compilation is that many of the recipes can actually be put into practice throughout the year…
Mary’s Yorkshire Pudding recipe is our constant guide when we’re making our a big Glass House roast dinner and never fails to wow the guests. Beautiful pictures and a delight to read make this a lovely gift for another or the perfect run-up-to-Christmas treat for yourself!
7) Primrose Bakery Christmas, Square Peg, written by Martha Swift
What repeatedly draws me back to this book is its stunning photography, but also the fact that it can be used at any time throughout the year. For some this may not seem quite traditionally festive enough, but the essence of celebration is surely not lost in any of the ‘alternative’ recipes featured in the book.
Frankly, sometimes we want to be eating anything other than our twelfth mince pie in a row… at which point a Toblerone Cupcake, a Crunchie Cupcake or a Pink Lemonade Cupcake would be most welcome. And then there are the Eggnog Cupcakes!
Martha Swift really gets it: the run up to Christmas is all about that extra bit of twinkle and pizzazz. And this book delivers both with punch and in mulled wine glasses full. In fact, Martha kindly shares with us over 100 ideas for showcasing our wintry kitchen abilities, still retaining more than a hint of customary cuisine with a fantastic recipe to construct a Gingerbread House from scratch, edible Christmas gifts, cinnamon infused loaves and the perfect Yule Log.
Then there are Popcorn Baubles (to decorate the tree and/or eat…) and even a decadent Christmas Pavlova Wreath! As usual, the ever helpful Primrose Bakery give us step-by-step, scene-by-scene guides for the trickier things so we can recreate something that’s almost as stunning and masterful as their original. Admittedly, Boston Cream Pie and Apple and Custard Cupcakes may not scream Santa and Rudolph to all of us, but their inclusion does give this book longevity for every season. Just one of the many reasons why I love this American-inspired bakery so much.
So there you have it!
I hope I’ve persuaded you not to buy the supermarket’s own brand of Mince Pies this year! Get out into the kitchen and create your own. It’s so much more fun and rewarding; I grant you my permission to sip mulled wine (or something stronger) with the quintessential carols on… or to listen to Slade as you carefully cut out your star shaped pastry tops. And you’ll be treated – well, as long as you don’t get too tipsy that you burn everything to a crisp – with something which tastes far superior.
Heck, you may even enjoy it so much that you make spending more time in the kitchen your only New Year’s resolution of 2016!
Feel free to send me your proof-is-in-the-pudding style pics and we’ll collate a festive foodie adventure collage in our Glass House kitchen…