Forman and Field Christmas hamper

You’ll have noticed that posts at Gastronomy Domine have been a bit thin over the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve gone from a very pleasant part-time freelance lifestyle to volunteering considerably more than full-time for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, so meals out and recipe development have had to take a back seat.

Raspberry Pi is a educational charity set up by my husband, Eben (who most of you know as Dr W). Its aim is to democratise computing for people who can’t currently afford to own a PC, and to promote the study of computer science in schools, by producing a very tiny computer for very little money. We’ve come up with a Linux PC the size of a credit card which will cost around £15, which we should be launching by Christmas. There’s been press interest from Ukraine to Brazil; we’ve been on the TV and in the papers in the UK, have spent a few weeks on the conference circuit in America, and seem unlikely to get much sleep until we launch in December. Gastronomy Domine will be back to normal in early 2012, by which time the charity should be generating some money for itself so I can hand my work over to a paid employee. If you really can’t stand not reading me witter on before then, drop into the forums or visit the Raspberry Pi blog.

Back to the food stuff.

Opening hamper
Opening a hamper from Forman and Field with some help from Mooncake the cat, who seems unnaturally attracted to the smoked salmon

I got back from the US a couple of weeks ago, after a month of prattling on about computers. The jet lag after a month of gorgeous sunshine eight time zones away is something to behold. I wasn’t safe around knifes or saucepans, so it was a very great relief that Forman and Field had decided to send me a Christmas hamper to review a few days after my return. I’ve been stealthily working my way through it ever since: this was a generous and carefully selected set of gourmet bits and bobs, which really deserved some time to be taken over sampling it.

Forman and Field specialise in top-notch foods from independent producers all over the UK.  You might have come across their smoked salmon before, which is sold at Waitrose and really stands out against the competition. The London Cure in particular is really worth your time. It’s cured in much less salt than many smoked salmons, with a less dense smoke to it, all to showcase the taste of the fish itself. There was a handsome packet in here, with a soft flavour and firm bite, alongside a pack of wild salmon, smokier, richer and creamier than the London Cure. There’s no better way to eat this than on lightly buttered slices of rye bread.

More hamper contents
Ham, pork pie, lemon curd, lobster, cakes, and some mince pies hiding under the wood shavings

Potted lobster in a pretty little Kilner jar was the only thing in the box I wasn’t able to eat (anaphylaxis is nobody’s idea of fun, and while I do carry an adrenaline injector for allergic emergencies, I try to go out of my way not to have to use it). Dr W, though, pronounced it just the ticket; a little like potted shrimp but sweeter and juicier. Take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you serve it at room temperature so the butter can melt into hot toast.

Alderton ham from Nottinghamshire is carved off the bone, and glazed with marmalade. I made sandwiches with it and some of the British cheeses from Neal’s Yard in the hamper: a Colton Basset Stilton, which is one of my favourite cheeses in the world; some of Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire cheese; an unidentified Cheddar; and a bit of Caerphilly. That Colton Basset is stupendous on its own, but you can raise it to positive divinity by bringing it to room temperature and drizzling a little runny honey over it before you eat it with some crusty bread. An just in case that wasn’t enough on the savoury side, there was a handsome great pork pie from Mrs King’s in waxed paper, made to the same recipe since 1853.

It’s Christmas soon, so a little Christmas pudding and some mince pies were right at the top of the package. The pudding is the only thing I haven’t eaten yet. I’m saving it for December. Mince pies came with a lovely buttery, crumbly pastry and a mincemeat sharp with brandy. I ate them as a midnight snack with a hot buttered rum. A chocolate brownie cake and banana bread made breakfast in bed for the two of us on two weekend mornings, and the little Kilner jar of lemon curd was just right for elevenses on toast with a nice hot cup of tea.

I’d reached the bottom of the hamper, but for a box of impossibly glossy chocolates from Paul Wayne Gregory. Now. For my posh chocolate needs in the UK, I usually turn to l’Artisan du Chocolat, but three chocolates into the box I was swearing undying loyalty to Paul Wayne Gregory, and by the end of the box I was both feeling sick and wondering if he’d be interested in a bigamous marriage. I still can’t decide whether I’d like the last thing I ever eat to be one of his salted caramel chocolates, the passionfruit one or the popping candy one. These aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny, and then some.

Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates
Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates. Be still, my beating heart.

Forman and Field hit it out of the park with this hamper. There wasn’t a single dud in there. Every item in the hamper was something I’d consider ordering off my own bat. And there is nothing nicer than opening up a beautiful wicker box like this to rummage through on the living room floor, finding surprise after surprise. If there is a greedy somebody you love very much this Christmas, I can’t  think of a better present. The hampers are packaged with ice and insulation, so they arrive fridge-cold. Last orders for Christmas at Forman and Field’s website are on Saturday 10 December, with last deliveries on Friday 23. To celebrate the launch of their new website, they’re offering readers £5 P&P until the end of November.

A word of caution. Forman and Field use the Royal Mail as couriers, and last Christmas, when we had all that snow, the Royal Mail managed to lose a Pugh’s Piglets porchetta we’d ordered from them, only to deliver it a week or so later, smelling exactly like you imagine a porchetta that’s been sitting in a van for a week probably smells; they also delivered some Forman and Field foie gras and smoked eel to my lovely Mum several days late, which meant they missed the Christmas Eve gathering they were intended to feed. Probably down to the weather, but it made our Christmas run less smoothly than it should have done. At least they don’t use the Home Delivery Network.

Recipes from A La Carte magazine, Christmas 1984

The recipe I posted for sticky toffee pudding back in 2008 resulted in a comments thread full of people reminiscing about A La Carte magazine. Back when I was a horrible precocious kid, my Mum used to get the magazine monthly. It was a beautiful thing, with gorgeous photography (unusual for food publications in the 80s), and some masterful typesetting, which I used to think back to fondly when I started working in magazines myself twenty years later.

The recipes were heavily influenced by the extravagant, rich French style of dinner party cooking. Lots of butter and cream, everything spiked with as much booze as you could lay your hands on, and the sort of preparation that would have your mother sweating and swearing in the kitchen for entire afternoons as she stitched ducks and chickens together for hours at a stretch.

My Mum used to lay on the most fabulous dinner parties, where she’d cook from A La Carte and from books by those 80s superstar chefs like John Tovey, Robert Carrier and Raymond Blanc. I didn’t get to come downstairs to try the food, but I could smell it wafting up through the bannisters that overlooked the dining room, and sometimes got to sample bits in the kitchen while she cooked. I also sneaked downstairs in the mornings while Mum and Dad slept the night’s partying off to work my merry way through the leftovers, including whatever wine was left at the bottom of glasses, thereby starting early on a life of dipsomania. She’s amazing, my Mum. She used to make petit fours from scratch. She made lucullan heaps of fruit glazed with lightly beaten eggwhites and dipped in caster sugar so they shimmered as if coated in powdered diamonds. The table would be laid with silverware polished until you could kill an ant with the reflections off a spoon. And we kids would be packed away to bed after handing out the chocolate-dipped physalis, devils on horseback, freshly roasted almonds or whatever other pre-dinner nibble she’d settled on, so as not to aggravate the guests. It was enough to raise an appetite that, in my case, has not yet subsided.

Although A La Carte, with its complicated and time-consuming recipes, hasn’t survived, it turns out that a lot of those who subscribed to the magazine kept their copies to cook from. Mike Ratcliffe, a reader of this blog, very kindly sent me scans of two pages from the December 1984 edition. They include a Christmas pudding recipe you’d be well-advised to make now ready for December, a boned and stuffed turkey recipe that other commenters here have been waxing lyrical over, and a yeasted sugar tart that sounds just the ticket. (I think you can probably leave the smoked salmon ice made wobblesome with gelatine safely in the 1980s, though; and the Persian recipes on the second page lack the sort of spicing we’d be used to nowadays.) Click on the images to enlarge them to a readable size. If any other readers out there have copies of the magazine with scans they’d like to share, please send them to – I’d love to hear from you, and I know there are lots of people out there who have similarly happy memories of 1980s bacchanalia they’re just as keen as I am to reproduce.

A la Carte recipes, Dec 1984
A la Carte Christmas recipes, Dec 1984. Click to embiggen.
A la Carte Christmas recipes, Dec 1984
A la Carte Christmas recipes, Dec 1984, p2. Click to embiggen.


Roast goose with sage and onion potato stuffing

Roast goose
Roast goose

I’ve held off for couple of weeks post-Christmas on this, because I am assuming that today is approximately the day when most of you will be getting sick of your New Year’s resolution to avoid crispy skin, potatoes softened beautifully with goose drippings, and tender forkfuls of breast meat. Everybody else should herewith bookmark this page for Christmas 2011, by which time things festive will no longer cause your gorge to rise.

A goose this large will feed six or more, although you won’t have the great buckets of leftovers that turkeys generate. (All the better, to my mind.) And it turned out superbly; I’m not sure whether this goose or the obscenely juicy brined turkey from Christmas 2008 would win in a fight. Our goose was tender and moist, filled near unto bursting (you can see the straining of the gap where it was sewed shut in the picture) with one of the best stuffings I’ve ever made, all wrapped up in a golden, crispy skin. If you do end up cooking this for a family occasion, you’ll also find yourself the proud possessor of a massive tub of goose fat to pop in the fridge. My Mum suggested turning it into a fatball for the poor starving robins in the snow. I said pshaw, and chilled it in jam jars for future potatoes.

Geese were, of course, the upper-class Christmas comestible of choice in England until being supplanted by the filthy heathen turkey from America, which Dickens did a lot to popularise by putting one on the Cratchit’s table. Medieval swanks would spend a day’s wages on a fat goose (and they are fat, even if not raised for foie – be sure to remove the lumps of poultry fat from the body cavity before you begin cooking, and render them down in a pan over a low heat for the lovely drippings), which they would roast on a spit over a fire, the skin coloured with saffron in butter for a chi-chi golden tone. The goose tradition carried on until Dickens all but killed it with A Christmas Carol. These days, we all have ovens, and you can buy Heston’s gold leaf at Waitrose instead and poke at it gently all over the bird with a soft brush, if your family is the sort that really needs impressing, but I think the skin is perfectly golden enough if you cook it using the method below.

Potato stuffing is the perfect choice for a bird as fatty as a goose. Use a fluffy, floury potato; I chose King Edwards. The potato will soak up the bird’s delicious juices in a way that will astonish you, and takes on flavour from the sage, onion and pancetta it’s mixed with, which flavours also impregnate the flesh of the goose. A couple of sweet eating apples cut into small chunks and stirred into the mixture will collapse on cooking to give the whole stuffing a very gentle background sweetness which is glorious against the rich meat. Buy the best goose you can afford; the way your bird is raised, killed and butchered really does make a difference. We had a beautiful free-range goose, good-smelling even when raw, from Franklin’s Farm, which supplies my parents’ local farmers’ market.

To serve about six people you’ll need:

A goose weighing between 5 and 6kg
1 kg King Edward potatoes
100g pancetta
100g butter
3 onions
2 Granny Smith apples
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Leaves from 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 large handful (about 25g) sage leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt

Sauteeing stuffing ingredients
Sauteeing stuffing ingredients

Your goose should start off at room temperature, so make sure it’s out of the fridge for long enough to lose any chill.

Peel the potatoes, chop them into pieces about 1 inch square, and simmer them until soft (about ten minutes from the time they come to the boil if you start them off in cold water). While the potatoes are cooking, peel and core the apples, and chop them into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan, and saute the onion, apple and pancetta together with the thyme and bay until the onion is soft and sweet, but not coloured (about 8 minutes – see the picture for the sort of texture you’re aiming for). Remove from the heat to a very large mixing bowl with the buttery juices.

When the potatoes are soft, drain them and add them to the mixing bowl with the rosemary, sage and salt. Stir the stuffing mixture well to make sure all the ingredients are blended.

Remove any poultry fat from inside the bird’s cavity – if you’re lucky there should be at least a couple of fist-sized white chunks in there. You can use scissors to snip it into pieces and dry-fry it over a low heat to render it down for a jar of goose fat for the fridge if you like. It goes without saying that you should remove the packet of giblets too – if you want giblet stock, simmer them without the liver (which does not make good stock) in some water. You can use that liver – my Dad and I have a bit of a tradition of chopping it up and cooking it along with some good curry paste in a little bowl sat in some water, covered with some tin foil, then spreading it on toast for Boxing Day breakfast.

Heat the oven to 225ºC.

Spoon all of the stuffing into the bird, and use stout cotton and a thick needle to sew the gap shut. If you can’t face it, you can also use skewers to secure it, but this will be much less neat. Weigh the stuffed bird and put it on a rack in a large baking tray.

Cook the goose at 225ºC for half an hour, then bring the heat down to 180ºC, taking the opportunity to pour off the fat that will have rendered out of the bird in that first hour – save it for spuds. After the initial 30 minutes at 225ºC, cook the goose at 180ºC for 30 minutes per kg stuffed weight, pouring off the fat regularly.

Check that the juices run clear by poking a skewer behind the thigh. The juices should run clear. Rest the goose for ten minutes before carving.

Books for the foodie in your life this Christmas

A discussion about the Elizabeth David books that inspired last week’s Poulet Antiboise got me thinking about Christmas presents. I love a food book that’s capable of making me salivate at the writing as well as over the recipes, and there’s nothing better than a book that rewards dipping in and out as much as it does reading from cover to cover. (B, K and L, look away now – you may be receiving presents from this list this year.)

So I’ve made a short list below of some of my very favourite books in this genre. Most aren’t the Jamie-Gordon-Nigella sort that you’ll find displayed in your local bookshop for Christmas; those folk get enough marketing help as it is. Each of these books has something out of the ordinary about it; I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The Art of Eating
The Art of Eating

The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992) was an American gastronome and prolific author absolutely preoccupied with food; she’s considered the creator of food writing as a specific genre. Her writing is full of an immense love of life, art and the joy of food; eating it, preparing it, growing it, travelling vast distances to find it, and sharing it; all without a trace of the food snobbism that infuses such a lot of later writing on the subject. Her style is so conversational and so engaging that to read her can feel like sitting over a pot of tea and gingerbread (or a bottle of champagne and some oysters), nattering away as you chew. Five of her very best books of essays: Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets, are collected in this fat 50th anniversary edition.  Unfortunately, and unconscionably, the book is out of print in the UK, but second-hand copies are still to be had for a sensible price on Amazon Marketplace in hard- and soft-back editions. If the book-lover in your life cares more about what’s inside the covers (as she should) than whether the corners are a bit bent, she’ll thank you for this. It’s a book to be dipped into – a wonderful bedside companion, with occasional trips down to the kitchen to try out some of the recipes scattered through it.

Here are Mary Frances’ opening paragraphs on snails. How could you not want to spend 750 pages in this lady’s company?

I have eaten several strange things since I was twelve, and I shall be glad to taste broiled locusts and swallow a live fish. But unless I change very much, I shall never be able to eat a slug. My stomach jumps alarmingly at the thought of it.

I have tried to be callous about slugs. I have tried to picture the beauty of their primeval movements before a fast camera, and I have forced myself to read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica the harmless ingredients of their oozy bodies. Nothing helps. I have a horror, deep in my marrow, of everything about them. Slugs are awful, slugs are things from the edges of insanity, and I am afraid of slugs and all their attributes.

But I like snails. Most people like snails.

Forgotten Skills of Cooking
Forgotten Skills of Cooking

Forgotten Skills of Cooking I bought Darina Allen’s latest book after spending the afternoon with her back in October; it’s the only book in this list to be published this year. Your gift recipient probably has a few shelves groaning under the weight of cookery books, many of them full of broadly similar recipes and techniques. He is very unlikely to have anything like this one. Forgotten Skills is full of the recipes your great-grandmother was making before mechanisation and processing; here, you’ll learn to make your own butter, yoghurt, black pudding, gorse wine, preserved meats, smoked fish, cheeses – it’s by far the most exciting cookery book I’ve seen this year, and deservedly won 2010’s André Simon prize. There’s more to this book than recipes; you’ll learn about raising chickens; building smokers; judging the tenderness of a freshly shot bunny; and jointing, trussing, boning and plenty of other butchery and husbandry skills.

For more on Darina and her cookery school at Ballymaloe, see this post from last month.

The Man who Ate Everything
The Man who Ate Everything

The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate Jeffrey Steingarten’s writing was, back in 2005, one of the things that encouraged me to move away from educational publishing and start writing about food instead; here was someone treating food writing in a way which somehow achieved the magic combination of being blithe and hilariously funny at the same time as being considered and near-scholarly. He was American Vogue’s food correspondent, and his lucid, witty and punctilious approach to eating is a joy. “I like salad, eaten in moderation like bacon or chocolate, about twice a week.” Here, you’ll inhale the fumes of carbonised pizza through Steingarten’s pages as he tries to hack his home oven to reach the temperatures of a commercial pizza oven; learn that the air in Alsace is “as crisp as bacon and as sweet as liver sausage”; discover exactly what Joël Robuchon’s recipe for chips is; and find yourself in possession of useful photocopiable pages on Venetian seafood vocabulary for your next holiday. These books are cheering, life-enhancing and, for the committed foodie, almost as much fun as eating. Buy yourself a copy too.


Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Michael Ruhlman’s little book is based on a very simple premise: that of the chef’s database. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen you’ll probably be familiar with the giant spreadsheet which tots up food costs, helps with menu planning, sub-dishes and aids in ordering. The useful part of such a database for the home cook, and the part that Ruhlman is concerned with here, is the breakdown of basic recipes – cake batters, bread doughs, all kinds of pastry, cookie and biscuit and so forth – into the ratios of ingredients that go to make them up. Adjust the ratios, and your bread dough becomes a pasta dough; your set custard a crème Anglaise. Alongside the elemental recipes you’ll find examples of ways to expand them (so that set custard and a pastry dough become a fine asparagus quiche), with encouragement to expand on these ideas and experiment yourself. It’s a very useful little book that lives on my desk rather than in the kitchen.

Ruhlman’s webpage points you at the inevitable iPhone app associated with the book. I haven’t played with it yet, but it looks jolly if you are not the sort to get upset about a phone caked in batter.

Endpapers detail from They Can't Ration These
Endpapers detail from They Can't Ration These

They Can’t Ration These This book is for the forager in your life, who should already own Richard Mabey’s little pocket-sized Collins Gem edition of Food for Free (only £2.50 on Amazon at the time of writing – go and grab a copy). The Vicomte de Mauduit was writing in the Second World War, when foraging had become something of a necessity rather than the jolly middle-class weekend yomping exercise it is these days. (And no bad thing, that; as the Vicomte says, “And when Peace will again come on Earth, the people of Britain, already made conscious through food rationing that meals no longer consist of a hot and then cold “joint with two veg”, will find this book a practical and valuable guide to better things”.) The recipes and foraging tips are alternately delicate and delicious-sounding – faux-capers made from nasturtium buds, beechnut butter, the tips of hops treated like asparagus – and the sort of thing that you would only go near in extremis; the starling, frog and hedgehog recipes can probably be left well alone in these fat years of the 21st century. I am depressed to learn that Mauduit was captured by the Nazis after the fall of France, and disappeared in Germany; I hope he’s looking down on us from whatever cloud Sydney Smith and his trumpets are parked on, stuffing his face with foie gras accompanied by those lovely-sounding nasturtium buds and some rowan jelly.

This is a simply beautiful edition from the Persephone Press, whose output is really worth getting to know if you love books. It’s one of those books as lovely to look at and handle as it is to read. I was particularly taken with the endpapers (when do you ever have occasion to say that?), which are absolutely in the spirit of the rest of the book, taken from a fabric design in potato-print made on sugar paper in paint from 1940.

The Oxford Companion to Food
The Oxford Companion to Food

The Oxford Companion to Food My lovely mother-in-law gave me a copy of this hefty encyclopaedia of food earlier this year, and I’ve been dibbling in and out of it ever since. Unusually for a reference book, this is an occasionally opinionated and often very funny treatment of its subject; it’s also exhaustive and enjoyably comprehensive. Did you know that the long bones of the giraffe do not yield good marrow, or that its tongue is the only eatable part of the beast? That the mahseer is the most famous angling fish of India? That if you buy fish in a Finnish market, you’ll be given a free bunch of dill?

There’s something on nearly every page here which is new to me, or which I only know the barest outlines about: Babylonian cookery, an 18th century portable soup for travellers (a sort of precursor of the stock cube for the upper sets), the brief Victorian fashion for something called paper bag cookery. There’s room on everyone’s shelf for a book like this, which has the potential to entertain you just as much as it educates.


Apologies for having had such a quiet week or two, blog-wise. As frequently seems to happen at this year, I am a bit low on batteries, and I’m not feeling brilliantly creative. All should be well again in the New Year – I’m off to Morocco tomorrow for the festive season, to enjoy some lovely recharging sunshine, snail soup and shish kebabs. And a lot of things cooked in pointy earthenware pots.

In the meantime, you’re probably after some Christmas recipes. Fortunately, we have plenty of those around here. Here’s the main event – a turkey recipe which is, uncharacteristically for turkey, so good you’ll be tempted to cook it when it’s not even Christmas. It’s brined overnight, leaving it juicy and succulent (the juices will spurt when you prick the thigh to check for doneness), the flesh infused with aromatics from its night-long submersion. If there are too few of you to justify a turkey, try a roast duck with prunes and pancetta, which is just about as Christmasy as it gets with its port and cherry gravy. And here’s a really fine ham for Christmas Eve.

You’ll want some trimmings. Chipolatas wrapped in pancetta and stuffing balls always go down well, alongside some cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Try a maple-mustard glaze on your vegetables, or cook the cabbage/chestnuts side dish that’s mentioned in the duck recipe above. And nobody can say no to a crunchy spiced parsnip.

You’ve probably bought your Christmas pudding, and you already know how to make mince pies. If you want something to drink alongside them, try some hot buttered rum (but beware – you’ll inevitably drink too much, because it’s hopelessly good). This is an especially good drink for those with cold fingers and toes. Mulled wine is another fantastic loosener-upper, and you’ll find present-opening is even more fun with a glass by your side and a little plate of cherry and almond cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Hot buttered rum batter

For years, I thought I didn’t like hot buttered rum very much. An oily smear of butter floating on a thin pool of rum-flavoured hot water – nobody’s idea of fun. And then last winter, I saw someone in a restaurant at Lake Tahoe (Ciera at the Montbleu hotel – pricey but pleasant) drinking a creamy, hot, cinnamon-smelling glass of something wonderful. I asked the waiter what it was – hot buttered rum. I ordered a glass: rich and buttery, spicy, full of heat and kick from the rum, and silky smooth. How did they get it to emulsify in the glass like that? The waiter said he wasn’t allowed to give me a recipe, but did say that the chef made it with a sort of batter he prepared using butter and ice cream, and kept it in the freezer. It’s the ice cream which makes the mixture, butter and all, emulsify so pleasingly and creamily in the glass (or mug, if you’re at home); and a tub you’ve made for yourself will keep for months in the freezer, so it’s an excellent thing to have on hand for surprise guests. As far as Christmas/winter drinks go, this one’s approximately 100% bad for you (do not do what I did last night and have four of them in a row if you don’t want to feel a bit unwell), which unfortunately means it’s also about 100% delicious.

I made up a few different sets of batter from recipes I found on the Internet. None of them really hit the spot; in common with a lot of American recipes, I found most of them very, very sweet and a bit bland, relying on the vanilla ice cream for much of their flavour. The recipe below is my take on things, rather less sugary than most of the US recipes. I’ve also used maple syrup along with soft brown sugar for its flavour; and I’ve spiced quite aggressively, especially when it comes to the nutmeg, which has a wonderful affinity with rum. Allspice, like the rum, is Jamaican in origin, and works incredibly well here. And don’t save this mixture just for dolloping in your hot rum and water: as I write this, I’m drinking a lump of the stuff dissolved in a strong mug of coffee, and it’s heavenly.

Things like this make winter a bit less grim.

To make just over a litre of batter to keep in the freezer, you’ll need:

500ml vanilla ice cream
500g salted butter, softened
200g soft brown sugar
200ml maple syrup
1½ tablespoons allspice
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 whole nutmeg, grated

Let the ice cream sit at room temperature until it’s the texture of whipped cream. (You can also make this once the ice cream is completely melted, but I prefer the lighter texture you can achieve using a half-melted tub.) In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to cream together the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup until you have a thick, fluffy mixture. Dump the spices on top with the ice cream and continue to whisk for about five minutes, until the batter is smooth and light. Transfer to containers for freezing.

When you come to make up your drink, just put a dollop of the mixture at the bottom of a mug or glass (I like about three heaped teaspoons in a small mug – your mileage may vary) and add a measure of rum with a small pinch of salt. The salt won’t make the drink salty, but it will act to lift the buttery flavour. Pour over water straight from the kettle to fill the mug, stir until the batter is dissolved, sit down in front of the fire and get drinking.

Roast duck with prune and pancetta stuffing

If you ever find yourself doing a Christmas dinner for just two people, you’ll find you could do a lot worse than to roast a duck. It must be the weather and the dark evenings, but I’ve got a lot of time for some of the more Christmas-tending ingredients at the moment, which is how I came to stuff this bird with prunes, pancetta and allspice, alongside some Savoy cabbage lightly sautéed in bacon fat with chestnuts fried to a crisp on the outside (very easy – use vacuum sealed chestnuts or roast your own, fry them in bacon fat until gold and starting to crisp on the outside, then throw in the cabbage, stirring for a few minutes until it’s all wilted and coated with fat), a great mound of mashed potatoes spiked with nutmeg, and a cherry and port gravy. Apologies for the picture quality. I’d been at the port.

If you are feasting, one medium-sized duck split between two people makes a spectacular and plump-making meal. The bird might look big when you buy it, but it’ll lose a lot of mass when you roast it and its layers of fat render off. A duck’s breasts are also much less muscular than a chicken’s, so there will be less meat than you might expect – but you will end up with a nice big jar of duck fat that you can put in the fridge when you’ve finished, so it’s not all bad.

I’ve stuffed the bird’s cavity with a sweet and spicy breadcrumb mixture. It looks a bit dry when you pack it into the duck, but the bird will baste the stuffing with fat and juices as it roasts, and you’ll find you have a savoury and tender stuffing at the end of the cooking time. We ate the lot in one go. This is a special meal for a special occasion – but I found that it’s also perfect for an ordinary winter’s Wednesday night when you’re feeling all loved-up.

To serve two, you’ll need:

Duck and stuffing
1 medium duck with giblets
100g soft white breadcrumbs
10 soft prunes
10 spring onions
150g pancetta cubes
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
A generous amount of salt

Duck giblets
500ml water or good chicken stock
200ml port
200ml cherry juice
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon soft butter
A grating of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Remove the giblets from the inside of the duck along with any poultry fat in the cavity – you can just pull the fat away from the body using your fingers. Use it to make gratons for a cook’s treat if you fancy.

Saute the pancetta cubes (use lardons of bacon if you can’t find any pancetta) in a dry pan until they have given up their fat and are turning crispy. In a mixing bowl, stir the cooked pancetta, with any fat, into the dry breadcrumbs, and add the raw spring onions, chopped small, with the prunes, quartered, and the allspice. You won’t need any salt; there is plenty in the pancetta.

Stuff the mixture into the cavity of the duck, packing it in firmly, and seal the open end. Some sew their ducks up; I like to use a few toothpicks to keep the cavity closed, which is quicker and less messy.

Prick the duck’s skin all over with a fork, rub the whole bird with about a tablespoon of salt and put on a rack in a roasting tin. (The rack is there to stop the duck from sitting and cooking in its own fat. If your rack is a very shallow one, be prepared to drain the fat from the bird a couple of times as it cooks.) Put in the hot oven, turning the temperature down to 180°C after 20 minutes. Continue to roast for an additional 35 minutes per kilo (15 minutes per pound). Rest for 15 minutes in a warm place, uncovered, before carving.

While the duck roasts, prepare the gravy. Begin by making a giblet stock (I used a home-made chicken stock as the base for the giblet stock, which might be overkill, but it did taste fantastic) by simmering the giblets very gently in 500ml water or good chicken stock for 1 hour in an open, medium-sized saucepan, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. Strain the resulting stock – it should have reduced by about a quarter.

Add the cherry juice and port to the saucepan, and bring the heat up a bit – it should be chuckling rather than giggling. Reduce the mixture in the pan by about half. When the duck comes out of the oven to rest, mix the flour and butter together until you have a smooth paste, and whisk it into the gravy in the pan over a medium flame. Keep whisking until the gravy becomes thicker and glossy. Grate over some nutmeg and taste for salt and pepper.

The duck will have a crisp skin and a light, savoury spiced stuffing. Slosh the gravy all over your plate and get tucked in.

Cherry vodka

A quick and dirty one today – I’m in Cardiff to celebrate my sister-in-law’s PhD graduation. I am now officially the only Upton of my generation who can’t put the word ‘Dr’ in front of her name. Rats. (And congratulations, Stevie! I envy you the Tudor bonnet you get to wear for the ceremony like you wouldn’t believe.)

Cherries come into season just in time for you to lock them up in a cupboard with sugar and vodka until Christmas. Brandy is a traditional medium for fruit infusions; if you prefer to use that, the method will be the same. The five months between now and then will be just long enough for the liqueur to age into something nicely rounded and rich – an ideal tipple for Santa to enjoy with his mince pie. As always with fruity infusions, the making of this stuff is as easy as anything. You’ll need:

500g cherries
1 litre vodka
5 heaped tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Halve the cherries, keeping the stones embedded in the fruit for their almondy fragrance (I should pre-empt the inevitable “but you will die of cyanide poisoning!” comment – you won’t), and put them in a large Kilner jar or another large, airtight vessel. Pour over the sugar and almond extract, and top the lot off with the vodka. Seal, and forget about the jar for half a year or so, straining into bottles when the liqueur is ready. Note that the colour will leech out of the cherries, leaving them greyish and unappetising-looking in December; some like them with ice cream, but I prefer to just consign them to the bin and busy myself with the interesting part of this recipe (the vodka).

You can use dessert cherries (which is what I’ve used here), or sour bird cherries. I have a tree full of bird cherries in the garden, but they all grow so high I can’t actually reach any – plus, the birds seem to get a kick out of them, so I leave them where they are. If you’re using a sour cherry, double the amount of sugar in the recipe.

Christmas stuffing and chipolatas

I mentioned the other day that you’re best off not stuffing the cavity of a turkey or, for that matter, a chicken – it increases the cooking time to an unacceptable length, and quite honestly, stuffing is just nicer prepared outside the bird, where it has a chance to go crispy on the outside. The trimmings are one of the most important parts of a Christmas dinner, but they can be a bit of a faff to prepare, so I like to assemble and cook mine on Christmas Eve, and heat them up at the last minute on Christmas Day – you really can’t tell that the stuffing and chipolatas have been reheated, and they’re absolutely delicious.

Buy the very best chipolatas you can find. I was in Yorkshire for Christmas, and went to Booths, which is a simply fantastic supermarket. Quality and choice here is better than at any of the supermarkets we have here in Cambridgeshire (even Waitrose); I ended up with a pack of chipolatas flavoured with chestnut purée which were as good as any butcher’s sausage. Unfortunately, Booths only operates in Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, so the rest of us are stuck with having to make a trip to the butcher’s for the chipolatas and for the sausage meat which goes in the stuffing, which should be of the best quality you can find.

For Christmas trimmings (or trimmings for any poultry or game you happen to be roasting for a non-Christmas occasion) you’ll need:

85g Paxo sage and onion stuffing mix (I know, I know – bear with me here)
250g good-quality sausage meat
1 Braeburn apple
2 banana shallots
1 pack vacuum-sealed chestnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
75g butter
Boiling water
Salt and pepper

16 chipolata sausages
16 strips pancetta

Paxo stuffing mix? Well, despite the memories you may have of childhood Paxo made up by your grandmother to the packet instructions (dusty, squashy and very little fun), it works really, really well when you combine it with sausage meat. The recipe for Paxo is more than a hundred years old; it was invented by a Manchester butcher in 1901. I’m using it here because the wheat and barley rusk that forms the crumbs contains a bit of raising agent, which will make the texture of your stuffing very light, with a crisp outside – and the dried sage and onion are actually really good against a porky background.

Put the stuffing mix in a large mixing bowl with the butter, and pour over boiling water, according to the packet instructions. Stir well and cover with a teatowel while you chop the apple, shallots and chestnuts into small, even dice, and chop the sage finely. When you’re done, the stuffing mix should be cool enough to handle. Use your fingers to mix the sausage meat very thoroughly with the stuffing mix, then add the chopped apple, shallots and chestnuts and sage with a little salt and some pepper, and mix with your hands until everything is evenly distributed. Form into spheres about the size of a ping-pong ball and lay on well-greased baking trays. (The stuffing balls will almost certainly stick a bit, but you can prise them off relatively easily with a stiff spatula.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Wrap each sausage in a strip of pancetta. You don’t need to secure these with a toothpick (as well as saving you time, this also avoids any Christmas day toothpick-embedded-in-palate accidents). Arrange the sausages on another well greased tray.

Bake the sausages and stuffing balls for between 35 and 45 minutes (the cooking time will depend on the characteristics of the sausages and sausage meat you have chosen). The stuffing balls should be browning and crisp on the outside, and the pancetta crisp and golden. Remove from the trays when cooled, and move the stuffing balls and wrapped sausages to oven-proof bowls. When you come to serve them, just reheat at 180°C (350°F) for 12 minutes.

Cranberry sauce and bread sauce

These two sauces, one American and one thoroughly, thoroughly English, are an essential part of my Christmas dinner – it’s just not Christmas without them. Cranberries are incredibly tart when raw, and I consider them pretty inedible (despite the Finnish habit of eating them raw, with shaved ice and caramel). This recipe is very easy, and it transforms them; cooked until they pop with sugar and a lovely lemony liqueur, a lot of the bitterness vanishes. The sauce is the perfect accompaniment to your turkey or goose on Christmas day, or to some Christmas Eve ham.

If your only experience of bread sauce so far is the stuff you reconstitute from a packet, you are likely to have read the title of this post, pulled a face and sworn never to make it yourself. You’ll be missing a treat – made properly, it’s a creamy, fragrant cloud that you’ll find yourself slathering all over a good roast dinner, potatoes and all. The trick is in infusing the milk with aromatics like bay, shallots and plenty of cloves for a good long time, so that the sauce is rich with flavour. (A bad bread sauce is a bland nightmare.) I make this year-round, and it’s great with any roast poultry or game birds. It’s also extremely good cold as part of a Boxing Day leftovers sandwich.

The cranberry sauce can be made well in advance, and keeps for weeks, covered, in the fridge. All the preparation for the bread sauce (setting the milk to infuse, making the breadcrumbs) can be done the night before you eat, which means that you won’t be in such a rush to pull the different elements of your meal together on Christmas Day.

To make the cranberry sauce you’ll need:

350g raw cranberries
200g sugar (granulated or caster)
30ml Limoncello liqueur
zest of 1 lemon
60ml water

This is hopelessly easy. Just stick all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a brisk simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, until all the cranberries have popped. You’ll be able to hear the individual berries pop as they heat up, which is somehow rather pleasing. The cranberries are full of pectin, so the sauce will solidify as it cools. Keep it in the fridge until you need it, and stir through briskly before serving so it doesn’t look like a chunk of jelly.

To make the bread sauce, you’ll need:

1l full-fat milk
200g fresh breadcrumbs (just put 200g of crustless white bread in the food processor and whizz)
3 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
2 shallots
20 cloves
10 black peppercorns
100g salted butter
100ml double cream
1 teaspoon salt

Cut the shallots in halves and press the cloves into them. Put them in a large saucepan with the milk, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and salt. Warm the milk to the barest simmer – the milk should be shuddering rather than bubbling. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and leave it in a warm place overnight. (I put mine on top of the boiler.)

About an hour before you plan to eat, sieve the solid ingredients out of the milk and return the liquid to the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir in the breadcrumbs and cream. Remove from the heat again and lay a piece of cling film right on top of the sauce (this stops it forming a skin). The breadcrumbs will swell with the milk, stiffening the sauce. When you are ready to serve the bread sauce, bring it up to a simmer again and stir in the butter. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if you think it needs it.