Christmas is a time of tradition and indulgence, says Maria Broadbent, of CASA in Bury St Edmunds, and she shares some of her own family favourites
It’s OK – we can talk about Christmas because it’s now November!
In the past year, I’m sure we all know at least one person who has cut out certain food groups, for health or ethical reasons, from their diet. This can prove a challenge when catering for a mixed bunch of guests. Add into this that we have all become more aware of excessive wastage, unnecessary packaging and food miles. However, this is also the time of year for tradition and indulgence – it’s all about balance and moderation!
As this is a food page, I am not going to focus on all the unnecessary plastic toys, single use items (this is not just plastic) and ‘gift packs’. Instead, I want to explore the Christmas traditions that date back to my childhood and beyond.
This Sunday, November 24, is Stir up Sunday!
This is the traditional date when all the family would take it in turns to stir the Christmas pudding mix and make a wish. So, turn off the TV, put iPads and mobiles in a drawer and step back in time. You can also, as long as house rules permit, sneak on some Christmas tunes and pour yourself a glass of something. My Christmas guilty secret is Harveys Bristol Cream and Jim Reeves’ The 12 Songs of Christmas – nostalgia overdrive.
Auntie Gladys’s Christmas Pudding Recipe
This is a lighter in colour, but not lighter on booze! A ready-made one of these was brought as a gift for my mum around 40 years ago by a visiting, elderly aunt. My mum was so impressed with it, we have had it every Christmas since!
Got the bug now for making home-cooked food?
Here are two of my Christmas dinner must haves. These can also be easily made vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free. I will put the original recipes only here – but should you want some ideas for alternative ingredients for this or any other recipe you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily advise!
Proper Bread Sauce
The secret her is leaving the milk to infuse.
Traditional Chestnut Stuffing
This also makes a great meat replacement for the turkey for vegetarian guests – the beauty of this is you are not making ‘special’ food. You can simply serve a slice as it is or add a few additional chestnuts and make a ‘burger’ shape. Level up and wrap it in puff pastry with a spoonful of cranberry and roast ‘en croute’.
Footnote: And when someone recently said to me, ‘Who has time to make Christmas pudding?’ I replied: “Everyone has time for anything – it is just a case of priorities.”
And it’s definitely worth the effort.
½lb mixed peel
½lb shredded suet
½lb soft brown sugar
4oz self-raising flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Milk to mix
1 grated carrot
1 lemon – grated rind and juice
1 orange – grated rind and juice
1 Bramley apple – peeled and grated
Clean and prepare the fruit.
Use a large bowl to mix.
Ideally leave to stand overnight (so if you can make it on Saturday then stir, make wishes and cook on Sunday!)
Put into a pudding basin that has been greased – cover it with greased, pleated, greaseproof paper. Traditionally this would then have been wrapped in fabric (cotton – such as an old pillow case cut up). Then tie with string – this creates a cradle/handle. Alternatively, you can use foil.
Steam for 4 hours – don’t forget to top up with water.
This will keep for months!
Re-heat before eating and don’t forget to flame it when you serve! This works best if you gently heat the brandy in a metal ladle over a flame first. . . but please be careful.
1 large onion – peeled and cut into quarters
1 blade of mace
1 bay leaf
4 whole black peppercorns
1 all spice berry
½ pint of full fat milk
2oz dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons double cream
Salt and white pepper
Put the onion, spices and milk into a microwaveable bowl or saucepan and bring almost to the boil.
Cover and leave to stand for a few hours – preferably overnight.
Strain the liquid.
Add the bread crumbs and butter.
Season to taste – add the cream and serve at once.
HOW TO MAKE DRIED BREADCRUMBS FOR BREAD SAUCE, STUFFING ETC
With a food processor:
You will need: 2 slices at least one day-old bread, crusts removed, if you prefer.
To make dried breadcrumbs, tear the bread up and dry it out in a low oven first, then process it.
Other ways to make breadcrumbs:
You can also make dried breadcrumbs by bashing up pieces of dried bread and rolling over the pieces with a rolling pin. You can put them in a plastic bag to do this and they won’t fly everywhere.
Pack or tin of chestnuts – coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12oz breadcrumbs – soaked in milk then squeezed out
4 white onions – chopped
2 eggs – beaten
1 teaspoon each of chopped thyme and parsley
2 sage leaves chopped (optional)
1 lemon – rind and juice
Nutmeg – grated to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry the onions in the oil – until soft and transparent.
Add the herbs – cook for one minute.
Put all the other ingredients into a large bowl.
Remove pan from heat and add to the other ingredients.
Season to taste.
Allow to cool.
You can freeze it at this point.
Put into a shallow oven proof dish or tray – cook for 30 minutes at around 180 degrees centigrade.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street,
Bury St Edmunds
Tel 01284 701313 casabse.co.uk
Debbie Rodman | Editor Culture | Iliffe Publishing Ltd
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* Please note I work Monday to Thursday
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