The Christmas period is fast approaching and now is the time for gathering friends and families for a festive feast… the perfect time to show off!
While most of us like traditional fare at Christmas, that doesn’t mean you can’t ring the changes by tweaking and improving cooking methods or finding new ways of serving the regular ingredients.
Take greens for example, there are those who love them and those who hate them, that’s why I want to show you how to spruce them up and make them exciting to the point where people are fighting over the last spoonful!
Below are a couple of recipes which will help brighten up the dinner table this Christmas, both in colour and in taste!
And what better way to finish off than with a bloody delightfully messy Christmas mess!
Sprout tops with bacon and onion
Serves 6-8 sharing
Sprout tops are one of the most flavoursome greens and they have the hint of a Brussels sprout with the texture of healthy greens. They’re probably a bit more versatile than the sprout itself and can be served with anything from chestnuts to bacon.
You can cook these in advance and drain them under a cold tap to stop them cooking further and discolouring. They can then be simply mixed with the cooked bacon and onions, buttered and seasoned and either reheated in the oven with foil while the partridge is cooking or in the microwave.
1.5kg sprout tops, stalks trimmed, washed and large leaves halved
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
250g piece of smoked or unsmoked streaky bacon, rind removed and cut into small rough cm cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gently cook the onion and bacon in the butter in a covered saucepan for 4-5 minutes, stirring every so often, until soft, then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile cook the sprout tops in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes until tender, then drain in a colander, gently squeezing out any excess water. Toss the sprout tops with the onions and bacon and season to taste. Reheat as above.
Crispy prawn kale hearts
This is a version of the crispy seaweed you often see in Chinese restaurants – which isn’t actually seaweed at all, but shredded and fried spring greens. I normally deep fry my prawn shells or use them to make a broth or bisque, but a few weeks back I thought they maybe rather good, dried and blended up like the dried fish topping you get on that Chinese seaweed.
1 head of curly kale, washed, trimmed and torn into 2-3cm pieces, then dried
Vegetable or corn oil for deep-frying
Flaky sea salt
A handful or so of cooked prawn shells and/or heads
1tsp dried chilli flakes
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
Deep-fry the curly kale in handfuls at a time, moving it around in the pan with a slotted spoon for a couple minutes until crisp, then transfer to some kitchen paper and scatter with a little salt.
Now deep-fry the prawn shells for a couple minutes or so until very crisp, then drain on some kitchen paper and leave to cool. Chop the prawn shells as finely as you can with a heavy chopping knife or blend to a coarse powder in a food processor with the chilli and some salt to taste. If the prawn shells aren’t really crisp then transfer to a baking tray and dry them out in the oven for a few minutes. To serve arrange the crispy kale on a serving dish and scatter over the prawn shells.
Although cranberries are not British, along with turkey they have become a symbol of our Christmas Day celebrations. Cranberries have a lot more going for them than just serving as a turkey accompaniment, and along with chestnuts you can create interesting desserts and savouries.
You don’t need to go to the trouble of making fresh meringue unless you really want to: there are plenty of good ready-made examples on the market that will do perfectly well in this dish.
500ml double cream
80g caster sugar
2tbsp icing sugar
150-200g ready-made meringue
For the cranberry sauce
200g fresh cranberries
1 small stick of cinnamon
Juice of 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.
Make an incision in the top of the chestnuts with a small, sharp knife and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, then remove and leave to cool. Meanwhile put the cranberries, sugar and cinnamon into a heavy-based saucepan with the orange juice and cook on a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and then simmering gently for about 20-25 minutes until the cranberries have softened.
Check the sauce and add a little more sugar if you think it’s necessary. Leave to cool.
Peel the chestnuts, removing as much of the brown skin as possible and then place them on a baking tray lined with foil; dust them with the icing sugar. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning every so often. Whip the cream and sugar together until stiff; you can do this in a mixing machine if you wish.
To assemble, stir about two-thirds of the cold cranberry sauce and two-thirds of the chestnuts into the cream, spoon on to the meringues and then arrange on individual plates or on one large serving plate. Spoon the rest of the cranberry sauce over and scatter the chestnuts on top.