Dec 21 2008

Happy Christmas

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With a little old driver so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick……
“The Night before Christmas” Dr. Clement C. Moore

A happy Christmas to everyone across the world
And a peaceful 2009

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Dec 20 2008

Holding on this Christmas

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My tipsy little Christmas tree sits jauntily in the dining room sporting the same dear old decorations its predecessors have worn for years. I love the sameness of it, the reassuring repetition, same old well worn, slightly shabby decorations, presents piling up on the floor, excited grand children arriving and trying to guess the contents. The cats bounce at the baubles, the dogs sniff out the chocolates. Fairy lights wink in the dusk, crackers on the table, fir crackles in the grate, yummy cooking smells from the stove; same old rituals, same old timetable, all so reassuring.

And this year, as the very bedrock of our society wobbles precariously around us and people around the world caught up in war and recession, famine and disease struggle to find enough to eat, to get medical help, keep homes and jobs, survive one way or another. At times like these that shabby sameness seems even more important than ever to hang on to. Christmas and New Year are for family and friends, for loving and sharing, a chance to give each other the free gifts of life: time, space, companionship, fun, laughter and love.

It’s hard though, as we face each new crisis, hear the news, read papers, watch television switch onto the internet, hard to hold the faith that we’ll get through hard times just as we get through the good times. Time passes.

The sheep are getting fat on the hill. They’ll be lambing in a few weeks time without a clue about interest rates; hedge funds have quite another meaning for them.sunset-sheepc.jpgSheep dogs aren’t interested in sub prime problems either, no mortgage on their kennel. Donkeys are just so pleased with their new hay and mineral derivative that they don’t care about the credit crunch either.donksa.jpg And the chickens don’t waste a thought on politicians.cockeralsb.jpg
Lucky them, I wish I could say the same! Instead I find myself wondering where on earth we’re going and fearing what the New Year may bring.

So unable to change the world I turn instead to cooking a Christmas feast for family and friends. It’s time for the traditional roast turkey and Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies; comforting once more in turbulent times.
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We had nineteen for lunch last Sunday which concentrated my mind wonderfully! We had a Glazed Ham, cold Rare Roast Beef with fresh herbs, olive oil and Japanese wasabi.

I made a Galantine of Chicken stuffed with marinated pork, juniper berries and spinach. A guest looked at the latter with suspicion “Why is that chicken so flat? Is it road kill?” How I laughed and thought serves me right for showing off; but it did taste good!

I grilled polenta and boiled Pink Firapple potatoes, made a salad of peas and broad beans with bacon and artichoke hearts. We had another of green leaves from the polytunnel, a third of shredded raw vegetables and grilled red peppers with plenty of garlic and olive oil.

For pudding I made tiny chocolate mousse in coffee cups, a Hazelnut meringue cake with apricot conserve and last years raspberries from the deep freeze.
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We had a big Tarte au Pomme made with windfall apples still lying in the garden, then sumptuous soft Brie with Italian Flat bread oozing raisins and grapes. I cheat with that making the dough in the bread maker then dividing it in half and pulling each half into a thin flat circle. I put the first circle on a baking tray and smother it with fat raisins and grapes. Then the second circle goes on top and I press more grapes into the dough, sprinkle with sugar and put it somewhere warm to rise for at least half an hour to an hour. It takes about twenty five minutes to bake in a hot oven at 200c. Served slightly warm and gooey it’s delicious with any soft cheese.

Galantine of Chicken….

from henceforth known as “Road Kill Chicken”!!

Large free range fresh chicken
Sharp filleting knife

2 large shallot or I onion
500gms minced pork
6/8 juniper berries
2 large cloves of garlic
tlb. spoon mixed dried herbs
zest and juice of a lemon
red wine
200grams (approx) chicken livers
2 handfuls blanched spinach leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Chop the onion, crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Strip the zest from the lemon and squeeze the juice. Stir all together into the pork with mixed dried herbs, a good slurp of red wine, salt and pepper.

Bone the chicken very carefully with a sharp knife. I prefer a filleting knife with a flexible blade and I leave the wing bones in to give a little structure. Be careful not to puncture the skin.

When the carcass and the thigh bones are removed open the meat out flat and season well. Press half the pork mixture into the chicken followed by half the blanched spinach. Arrange the chicken livers on the spinach then complete with remaining spinach and pork.
Carefully close the chicken and sew up using fine string and a larding needle. Press the chicken roughly back into a chicken shape. Wrap in tin foil and place in a close fitting dish. Stand the dish in a bain marie and cook at 180 for one and a half hours.

Test with a skewer; if the juices run clear it is cooked through. If the juices are pink continue cooking for a further few minutes and test again.

Take out of the oven. Drain the bain marie and put a heavy weight on top of the chicken till it is cold. Refrigerate.

Carefully remove all the string. Serve sliced on a large plate decorated with fresh sliced lemons and salad leaves.

Hazelnut Meringue Cake

This must be one of the best!
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2 x 20cm cake tins
4 egg whites
250gms castor sugar
150grms hazelnuts
150ml double cream
Compote of apricots
fresh raspberries
icing sugar

Grease tins and line with non-stick baking parchment. Oil again.
Heat the oven to 190c. Brown hazelnuts, cool, then grind till fine.
Whisk egg whites with half the sugar till stiff. Gently fold in remaining sugar. Fold in ground nuts. Bake for 30-40 minutes looking regularly; all ovens differ! The meringue should be lightly browned and dry but slightly chewy. Cool on a rack.
Meanwhile whip the cream to soft peaks.
Place one half of the meringue on a plate spread with cream and apricot compote. Place second meringue on top and smother with remaining cream and raspberries. Dust with icing sugar.
Serve the same day.

Postscript

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Dear little Minnie Mouse, died peacefully yesterday aged an amazing fifteen years old this month. She had a wonderful life on the farm, a charming, funny and a wild little terrier. She was champion ratter and a tenacious hunter when out, a sweet natured loving little dog at home. She gave us so much love and laughter over the years. She is buried beside her dear old friend Truffles, the chocolate Labrador, companion and co- conspirator for fourteen years of her life

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