Before you know it, Christmas festivities will be upon us: “Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la, la” and all that but somehow I can’t help wondering if Roald Dahl was right when he said he loathed Christmas, with all its flaky, “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
And let’s not forget the fake fir trees assembled in Shanghai. Personally I blame the Americans: no sooner have they wiped the cranberry sauce off their faces from Thanksgiving (was ever a festival more ironically named?) when the streets are chock-a-block with holly and tinsel.
Muzak carols echo relentlessly in every mall, while TV and the internet are cluttered with festive sales. The new spirit of Christmas is consumerism on steroids; forget about the season of giving, it’s the season of maxing out your credit card till you hear the Chinese squeal. Dahl once mentioned how much he likes children who make their own cards, not being a fan of the ones with “a colour photograph of the senders standing proudly in front of the fireplace surrounded by their offspring.” As he sarcastically observed, “One can be half-blinded by the smug self-satisfaction shining out of their faces.”
Three things define America’s Christmas season: Amazon, shopping and the economy. Inevitably, consumer culture has transformed Christmas into the busiest time of the year.
Here’s something to consider; if Christmas is supposed to represent love, sharing, charity, selflessness, and community, then why does it cost so much?
Now that I’ve let off some steam, let me get down to the things I enjoyed at Christmas when I was an innocent little boy who still believed in Santa. For starters, there’s plum pudding. My mother made a kickass version with suet, flour, eggs, almonds, candied peel, orange zest, spices and dried fruit that had been soaked in army rum for weeks. Man, it was insane.
Halfway through lunch, our family retainer, Mary, would fire up the steamer and carefully lower the pudding, encased in silver foil, into its mysterious, bubbling depths.
The moment the meal was over, the pudding would be ceremoniously unwrapped and the lights would be turned off while my father would pour a small ladle of brandy over the top before flambéing the pudding. We children would carefully pick through it to see if we had been lucky enough to get the magic ingredient, a 50 p coin, in our slice. Oh inflation, where is thy sting?
I’ve never been a fan of turkey even if some of my Parsi friends rave about it; it’s a silly, leathery bird that tastes very much like blotting paper dredged in chicken soup. And yes, I’ve tried the brined butterball turkey, which still tastes like blotting paper which has been left way too long in salty soup.
Give me goose or duck, any day, preferably on the 25th. Jamie Oliver is a bit of a prat but he does know how to duck, if you will forgive a ghastly pun. He recommends marinating the bird overnight in ginger, garlic, chilli, 5 spice powder, sea salt, soy sauce and hoisin and then sticking it in an oven for 2 hours with a pan below to catch the drippings. The pan contains duck giblets (spare parts) and onions which caramelise beautifully through the cooking process and can be used to make a super tasty gravy to serve with the duck.
In order to maintain the ideal moistness and flavor, you could slice a blood orange in two and stick both halves in the cavity during the roasting process. If you are an evolved chef, you could pull out all the stops by adding some cranberries to the caramelised onion, stock made from duck bones, pan scrapings, honey, rice wine vinegar and some orange juice to make a truly divine gravy. Goose works just as well but is far more of a challenge to source, so unless you’re the ambitious Type A sort, stick to Donald.
Pork chops, marinated in homemade barbecue sauce, lightly pressure-cooked and then glazed in the oven make for a good Christmas main course, served with steamed bokchoy and baby potatoes roasted with rosemary and garlic.
Or perhaps glazed ham, studded with cloves and sliced pineapple, served with mashed potatoes and freshly ground mustard.
For my vegetarian friends, I make a mushroom ragout, which is quite simply done with vegetable stock, white wine, herbs, shallots, garlic and tomato puree, enlivened with fresh thyme and parsley and finished off with freshly cracked pepper. A spinach and mushroom quiche is another great option which you might want to order ahead since the pastry can be quite a challenge for the amateur baker.
Beetroot and kale salad, apple walnut and rocket salad with feta, carrot and raisin salad with ginger-lemon juice and freshly toasted almonds are excellent alternatives to boondi raita. A Mexican salad with chickpeas, rajma and baby corn, drizzled with a tequila, lime and chilli salt dressing is a Narcos option El Jefe would approve of.
Prawn cocktail is kind of exotic but only if you have nice simple friends who were not on Ranveer and Deepika’s guest list. If you’re bored with the ketchup-mayonnaise version, try hung yoghurt blended with green chilli, spring onions, parsley, sea salt and lime, plus a dash of Tabasco. Steam the shrimp for two minutes in salted water with dash of turmeric, drain and cool, toss with the green goddess sauce and serve in a chilled martini glass with black and green olives for garnish.
If plum pudding is too much of an ordeal, think of a simple ginger cake topped with caramelized apples, cinnamon and whipped cream.
6 slices of bread, toasted, cut in triangles and spread with cream cheese.
3 avocados, pitted, cleaned and lightly mashed.
Juice of 1 lime, few splashes of Tabasco to taste
Red and yellow capsicum sliced fine, finely chopped coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Pretzels (for the tree base)
*Make the guacamole with the avocados, lime juice, salt pepper and Tabasco and finely chopped coriander.
*Cut the toast into triangles and place a pretzel into the base of the triangle to make your tree.
*Spread cream cheese on toast and top with guacamole.
*Arrange finely sliced capsicum on trees decoratively.