I think it was Monsewer Eddie Gray who said 'hell is other people'. He was probably in a room full of relatives and neighbours on Christmas Day when the thought came to him. On what might seem on the face of it to be the loneliest day of the year, there are compensatory, if slightly melancholy, pleasures to be had if you're spending it on your tod.
This will be, if memory serves, my seventh Christmas Day on my own. I kind of enjoy it. If you number yourself, as I do, amongst the frazzled of mind, the wretched and heavily-laden, this is one day when the noise of the world stops. There'll be no bailiffs, no letters from the DWP, no calls from 'unknown number' today. And if you've managed to scrape a bit of money together, this is also the day when you really do need to treat yourself a little bit.
So here's a menu for one or two people. This is simple, delicious fare, but with more than a hint of the indulgence that the day calls for . And even if, for the rest of the year, you hold to the misguided notion that 'it's not worth cooking for one', I hope you'll indulge yourself just this once. Who knows? It might well become a habit.
And for your auditory delectation, there's a soundtrack to the day consisting of three yule-tastic Spotify playlists I've put together. Mambo Santa mambo!
breakfast: french toast with blueberry syrup
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs would be a great start to the day (I use trimmings from Asda at 90p for 120g), or French toast with maple syrup and bacon - a stone classic. But since bacon features in both lunch and supper, I'll be having this. With a glass of strawberry, papaya and apple juice.
The syrup is enough for two servings - keep the remaining portion to drizzle onto a bowl of greek yoghurt another day.
for the syrup:
60ml maple syrup
a squeeze of lemon juice
for the french toast:
1 large egg
a splash of milk
a pinch of salt
a pinch of cinnamon or a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
2 small, or one large, thick slices of bread
butter or oil
a scoop of whipped or clotted cream
a few blueberries
Make the syrup a day or two beforehand. In small saucepan, bring the 125g of blueberries and the maple syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the berries have broken up - five minutes or so. Now stir in the lemon juice, taste for sweetness and then, using a wooden spoon, push the syrup through a fine sieve and discard the pulp left in the sieve. Pour into a small jar and keep in the fridge.
Whisk the eggs, milk and salt together in a wide, shallow bowl. Add the cinnamon or vanilla if you fancy it. Soak the bread in the egg mixture, turning a few times. Fry in a little butter or oil until golden on both sides. Serve with the blueberry syrup spooned over, a few whole blueberries and, if you're feeling decadent, a dollop of cream. Fuck it, IT'S CHRISTMAS!
music: have yourself a very merry christmas! - 30 vintage yuletide crackers
lunch:roast pheasant, watercress, bread sauce, roast potatoes, redcurrant jelly and gravy
The great thing about this (apart from the taste, obvs) is that, once you've bunged the bird and the potatoes into the oven, there's no frantic vegetable preparation or dishes that need to go in the oven at different temperatures - just a final few minutes of making the gravy, reheating the bread sauce and plating up. I've never been one for 'all-the-trimmings' with roast poultry or game birds and so am serving this just with bread sauce, watercress and roasties. But if there's two of you, and you fancy some festive veg, try this recipe for brussel sprouts and hazelnut butter.
Pheasant is an affordable (£4.50 locally at the moment), simple to cook and, most importantly, scrumptious bird to serve for one or two people.
I bought a 375ml bottle of Marsala from Morrison's for £4.49, which I'll keep in the cupboard for cooking purposes. You can always buy a miniature of port from the local off-licence or pub. Or leave it out entirely and add a spoonful of redcurrant jelly to the gravy instead.
If you're serving this for one, halve the amount of potatoes for your roasties; then use the leftovers to make what is one of the world's greatest sandwiches for lunch on Boxing Day.
for the roast pheasant and gravy:
1 plump pheasant
1 dsp olive oil
1 large knob of butter
a sprig of rosemary
a sprig of thyme
2-3 rashers of streaky bacon, halved widthways
1 tbsp of madeira, marsala or port
1 tsp cornflour
300ml of chicken stock
salt + black pepper
for the bread sauce:
1 small onion, very roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
a pinch of nutmeg
250ml full fat milk
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
salt + black pepper
1 tbsp double cream (optional)
for the roast potatoes:
3 king edward or maris piper potatoes (about 600g total weight), peeled and quartered
groundnut or other vegetable oil
a couple of handfuls of watercress
First, make the bread sauce: place the onions in a pan with the cloves, bayleaf, nutmeg and butter. Pour in the milk. Bring to a simmer, remove from the heat, cover and leave to steep for an hour or more. Strain the milk into a jug, discard the onion, bayleaf and cloves, return to the pan, cover and set aside.
Next, add the quartered potatoes to already simmering, salted water and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully drain the par-boiled potatoes and allow them to cool and dry.
Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan.
Season the pheasant inside and out. Rub with the oil and place the herbs and butter in the cavity. Cover the breasts with the bacon and place in a roasting tin.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, fluff each chunk all over with the tines of a fork. Place in a second roasting tin, curved side down (this will make them less likely to stick) and drizzle with oil, making sure each chunk is completely coated.
Pour 100ml of the stock into the tin that the pheasant’s in. Place both roasting tins in the oven for 45 minutes. Baste the pheasant occasionally and remove the bacon after 30 minutes (or when it's nice and crispy) and keep to one side. Turn and baste the potatoes every 10 minutes or so.
10 minutes before the pheasant and potatoes are ready to come out of the oven, finish making the bread sauce: add the breadcrumbs to the milk and place the pan over a low heat. Simmer for five minutes or so, stirring occasionally and season. You can add a little cream if you fancy it. Keep warm.
After 45 minutes remove the pheasant and rest it while you make the gravy. The potatoes should also be done by now – golden and crunchy.
Skim off most of the fat from the juices in the pheasant roasting tin. Place over a fairly high heat, splash in the madeira/marsala/port and stir. Mix the cornflour with a little water and stir this in. Add the remaining 200ml of stock. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and season.
Serve the pheasant with the reserved bacon chopped up and scattered over a handful of watercress, plus the bread sauce and roast potatoes, with the gravy and redcurrant jelly on the side.
I'd be gloriously happy with just a single wedge of Vacherin Mont D'Or or Stichelton, accompanied by a perfectly ripe Comice pear, to follow the roast. But as this is a day for pushing the boat out, might I suggest these three British beauties:
BEENLEIGH BLUE is made from unpasteurised ewe's milk, one of only three blue ewes' milk cheeses made in Britain. It was created in the 1980s by former banker Robin Congdon who used his previous experience making Roquefort in France when creating this creamy and crumbly cheese. The rough, crusty, natural rind is slightly sticky and has some patches of gray and white moulds. It has a moist and crumbly texture with a patchwork blue green mould running through an ivory paste. The flavour is rich and slightly sweet. Probably my favourite blue cheese.
TUNWORTH is a Camembert-style, pasteurised cow's milk cheese made by Stacey Hedges and Charlotte Spruce in Hampshire. The milk is bought in from a neighbouring pedigree herd of Holsteins. At the end of 2006, Tunworth won the Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards. It has a nutty flavour and creamy texture.
CHILDWICKBURY is a pasteurised goat's milk cheese hand-made by Elizabeth Harris on the Childwickbury Estate near St Albans in Hertfordshire with a recipe that causes the curd to set in less than four hours. This cheese is tangy with a slight sweetness to it.
Whatever cheese you get, please don't buy it from a supermarket - get it from a cheese shop where it will have been properly looked after.
something to go with your coffee
Chocolate and cream. Simple as. Excepting that it's a messy old business - pans, bowls, spoons, work surface and hands all covered in chocolate and cocoa powder. So make these a day or so before and chill in the fridge.
makes about 16
225g of the best 70% dark chocolate you can afford, in small chunks
150ml double cream
cocoa powder for rolling
Put the chocolate chunks in a large bowl and place this over a pan of simmering water to melt the chocolate. At the same time, heat the cream gently in a small non-stick pan until just below boiling. Pour the cream into the chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon. Let the mixture cool and then refrigerate for up to an hour, so it's set firm enough to shape.
Have a saucer of cocoa powder ready. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into small balls, then roll in the cocoa powder - it matters not a jot if they're a bit rough and ready. Chill.
music: a rhythmn 'n' soul xmas shindig!
afternoon tea: charlie's rhubarb and ginger cake
One of the nicest things I ate this year was this cake. There's a group of local citizens called The Band of Bakers who get together now and again to show off their baking skills. At their first meeting a chap called Charlie Fox (Twitter name: @charliethefox) brought along this beauty. He'd adapted the recipe from an old newspaper cutting, and subsequently shared it on their website. You can find it here. The photo above is of one I made. This cake is an absolute stonker. Make it a day or so beforehand. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a mug of Assam tea.
supper: spiced tomatoes on toast with crispy bacon
One of my all-time favourite late evening suppers. If you can't get hold of any hot pepper jelly, a sweet/spicy chutney is just fine.
2-3 (depending on size; they need to cover your toast when squidged on top) juicy tomatoes, halved
salt + pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 dsp mild curry paste
approx. 1 tbsp hot pepper jelly
a thick slice of sourdough, toasted
3 rashers of streaky bacon
1 dsp parsley
Season the tomatoes. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and fry the garlic for a minute. Add the curry paste, let it bubble away for a minute, then place the tomatoes cut side down in the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning once or twice, until they're almost collapsing. At the same time, grill the bacon until it's nice and crispy. Spread the pepper jelly on the toast and spoon over the tomatoes and juices. Top with the bacon and sprinkle with the parsley.
music: a very indie christmas!
A Very Merry Christmas Everybody!
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014