JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas plans

The idea of a low-fat Christmas sounds inherently horrible; if Christmas is a celebration, there should be feasting and plenty. The problem is that if you are serious about making a life change, then it needs to encompass all areas of your life. Last year was the first post-heart attack Christmas, and we were nearly 20 for dinner. No-one sitting at the table guessed that Christmas dinner was well within our rules, with, I think, the sole exception of the brandy butter. It took lots of research, and the usual amount of planning, but I really wanted to make our traditional Christmas dinner fit into our new way of eating, and without anyone feeling deprived.

Just one problem … I didn’t have a blog this time last year, I didn’t write anything down - and now I can’t remember exactly how I did it. So I’m going to have to do all that research all over again.

I expect we started with smoked salmon, probably on bread, and sprinkled with coarse black pepper and lemon zest. This year, I’m not going to bother with the bread, I’ll just fold the salmon onto cocktail sticks. Less filling, prettier, less conventional. All those fish oils really are good for the brain, for the heart, and for the taste buds.

Next – well, turkey, obviously, cooked upside down so that the juices run into the breast. Also a baked ham (easy to cut off the fat if you need to). There’ll have been cranberry sauce, bread sauce made with skimmed milk which is no problem whatsoever if you flavour it well with bay and nutmeg and cloves. Roast potatoes, clearly, and then lots and lots of veg – carrots, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, leeks, roasted onions (probably cooked in their skins, so that they steam, because all you have to do to prepare them is cut a little bit off the bottom so that they stand up straight), maybe some roast garlic. The key thing in a low fat diet is to regard the meat as an accompaniment to the vegetables, that way you get the balance right on the plate. I don’t think I did sausages, because, hey, isn’t there enough here already? I know I made a stuffing, it’s just that I can’t remember what it was; it will have been a departure from the normal sausage-based stuffing, because sausages are right off our menu, being pretty full of saturated fat. There are two options here, one is to say, it’s Christmas, I’m buying the very best sausages I can find (almost certainly at Henley farmers’ market, where you can buy them from the man who kept the pigs and then made the sausages) and we will eat them; the other is to research a really good stuffing recipe. I may end up doing both.

I remember very clearly that I decided not to make a Christmas pudding. None of us is very keen on Christmas pudding, so it wasn’t a big issue. I tried to move away from this particular tradition, but various guests said it wouldn’t be Christmas without a plum pudding. So I stood in the supermarket for a very long time, reading all the ingredients of all the puddings, until I found one which had a low fat content and a good lot of fruit. I made sure there were lots of little bowls of nuts and fresh dates dotted about the table, and that there were mandarins within reach of everyone. This year it will be easier, because I’m not cooking on the 25th itself, so I’m going to make a pudding which is a cross between meringue and Christmas cake. Recipe to follow when I’ve experimented with it. Meringue and fruit is the perfect low fat pudding, because the fat in an egg is all in the yolk; when you think of meringue and fruit, you tend to think summer berries, so Pavlova or Eton Mess. I am going to turn the whole thing on its head, and combine Christmassy soaked dried fruit with the meringue mix itself; it should cook into a gooey meringue. If it’s a disaster, I’ll just crumble it up into some fromage frais for a Christmas Mess!

We had cheese, too, the fantastically smelly Vacherin, which is made in the Alps from the milk which comes from the first spring grass which grows after the snow melts … if you’re not going to eat much cheese, you need to make it worth eating, and memorable. Cheese biscuits are a surprisingly fat-ridden product – we now use Matzos.

Here’s a recipe from Elizabeth David’s Christmas, which I bought last year to give my plans a boost (and which annoyingly began to fall apart the very first time I opened it, and which is now little more than a loose leaf folder of pages falling out). I didn’t do it, but it sounds ideal. It’s a great read, and full of unusual ideas, because ED didn’t enjoy Christmas, so didn’t feel the need to slavishly follow its traditions.

Rice and almond stuffing for turkey

1 teacup of risotto rice
60g sultanas
a big bunch of parsley
30g chopped onion
a strip of lemon peel
60g of shelled almonds (skin still on)
the turkey liver
60g butter (here I would use olive oil, judging the amount by eye)
juice of half a lemon

Cook the rice for 15 minutes in plenty of water. Soak the sultanas in warm water. Chop the parsley, onion and lemon peel, also the almonds. Lightly cook the liver in the oil, then chop it. Mix everything together, adding a little oil at the end.

ED says that the rice is flaky, light and dry when it emerges from the bird, because it isn’t bound with an egg. I would be very tempted to add an egg (probably just the white) to the mix, because it would make it much easier to serve and to eat.

No comments: