I hope all my readers have had a lovely Christmas! I’m typing away listening to a gale blowing and watching soggy London snow stick to my windows and not to the ground! I guess it is kinda festive with some hot coffee and my trying to shoehorn in more of the mountain of gluten free joulutorttu and pepparkakkor that I made. This Christmas has been a bit of a strange one for me, we decided not to travel up to North Yorkshire because I was supposed to be working Christmas eve (joys of restaurant life), but a broken ankle meant that I wasn’t working, neither was I really in a condition to be on a farm in the middle of nowhere without getting very bored!
So The Pet Finn and I decided to have our first London Christmas with just the two of us, and in spite of the stupid ankle and intermittent cold/flu that just won’t go away, we have had a lovely time! We got the chance to catch up with lots of friends who we haven’t seen for ages, and The Pet Finn did a very convincing turn as the Joulupukki (Finnish Santa) delivering gifts at the Finnglish Christmas eve party we went to. This is where/why there was another mountain of joulutorttu and pepparkakkor, which went down very well along with my mum’s red cabbage recipe which has been a mainstay of every family christmas dinner since I can remember, it also goes really well in the boxing day leftover sandwiches, and brought a little taste of Yorkshire to proceedings!
Christmas had also got off to a good start when I got two wonderful parcels in the post, one was a care package from Finland with Finnish Chocolate, Salmiakkikossu, and foraged, dried Black Trumpet and Funnel Chanterelles. The other was a pile of gorgeous cookbooks from Bloomsbury Publishing who has picked me out as the winner of their Christmas Competition. I rarely win anything so it was a lovely surprise, and means I have some serious festive reading on my hands. I received Nuno Mendes’ Lisboetta, Ed Smith’s On The side, Jesse Dunford Wood’s Modern British Food, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s More Veg, Tom Kitchin’s Meat & Game and Paul Hollywood’s A Baker’s Life. Some of the books feel more naturally “me” but I think it is always interesting to see how different chefs interpret dishes and combine flavours!
So onto the main event, what did I make for Christmas Dinner? Well “No Turkey!” has always been the rule, and up in the Northernlands we usually pick up a free range duck or goose (as in running around the farmyard, and more than once have nearly caused me to become unshipped from a baby racehorse I have been riding through the village kinda free range), and some fresh seafood from nearby Whitby. Cooking Christmas dinner has usually been a joint task between my mum and I, and in recent years has required a little voodoo to prepare things that are gluten free, and relatively low lactose with making sure that they are also safe for my nut allergy suffering cousin. All after looking after 20 or so horses and a rag-tag bunch of dogs, cats, Hens Marans and rescue battery hens.
This year, I somehow managed to make a rod for my own back by telling The Pet Finn that Italians eat their way through The Feast of the Seven Fishes. He then decided this was an excellent idea and so I had to get planning. Some of the dishes I had thought of making didn’t make it off the drawing board because being hoppalong meant that food shopping and negotiating overcrowded supermarkets on crutches while people claw for the last packet of pre-made pigs in blankets was challenging, quite a few of the shopping expeditions required cocktails to calm the nerves!
On Christmas day my hangover conspired with this rotten cold/flu virus that keeps coming and going and meant that I didn’t have quite the appetite I had imagined so since this has been the first year when I could do christmas exactly on my own schedule that is what I decided I would do, so we spread the food over both Christmas and Boxing day. This felt like such a great luxury, time to spend as you want and then just whipping something tasty up when it took my mood…
The first thing I made was the traditional Christmas breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, although sadly no delicious eggs from the Marans (James Bond’s favourites, and what is Christmas without rewatching a bond film you have seen so many times that you can recite the lines, bonus points if it an old one when the scenery wobbles!) but I picked up some free range organic eggs from the local deli and they were a perfectly tasty, if less golden alternative. I served it up with some mini rieska, a Finnish flatbread traditionally made with mashed potato and a rye flour mix, which I swapped out for a mix of GF plain flour, teff and sprouted quinoa flour, and a scoop of Abba Black Caviar from Scandinavian Kitchen for added nordic points.
I then made some potted prawns, I had originally planned on using the prawns differently but feeling coldy and rubbish I decided to switch a few of the dishes to things that could be slowly picked at curled up on the sofa, and were easy to make! Lots of cayenne pepper and freshly grated nutmeg in the butter and a sprinkle of aleppo pepper flakes on top. Make up some skinny gluten free toasts (like the ones described here) and snack to your heart’s content!
Later I made up some scallops with champagne and roe cream (probably too much cream, but that is what bread is for right?). I also cooked some samphire and finely chopped some of the dried black trumpet chanterelles which arrived from Finland and made a nice savoury hit against the sweetness of the scallops, and made all that sauce all the more tasty for dipping toast in!
The next day for brunch I made some savoury baked custard with smoked mackerel, this is super easy to make, and was velvety smooth and a decadent start to the day. I made a few quick pickled radish quarters, some salad leaves and dill, and then made some more of the skinny toasts, this time topped with grated parmesan. My mum made this when she was on starters/desserts duty for Christmas dinner a few years ago and I forgot how good a savoury baked custard can be!
Next up was something a little lighter, I made some gravadlax with gin, grapefruit and beetroot, riffing on my favourite Finnish drink Lonkero, the original gin in a tin (or on tap). I trimmed the salmon down rather than curing the whole width of the filet because the edges and middle can be a bit tough (think of the piece of the salmon that your nigiri sushi is cut from and this is the best piece!) and will only get tougher after a couple of days curing with salt, sugar, citrus and alcohol. The offcuts from the salmon made a delicious salmon, dill and potato soup that we ate for lunch on Christmas eve, so nothing was wasted. The celeriac remoulade was a shock winner after the Pet Finn forked it dubiously and asked if it was coleslaw, but was quickly brought round after he realised it was packed with dijon mustard and grated fresh horseradish! The offcuts of the gravadlax weren’t wasted either, I chopped them up and mixed with little pieces of fresh grapefruit, dill and a little gin, and served with the slices.
I made Janssoninkiusaus, aka Jansson’s Frestele, aka Jansson’s Temptation, and here the anchovies that you use are super important! I got some by The Fickle Fish at Planet Organic and they were mind-blowingly addictive. I had to stop myself scoffing the leftover ones while I was waiting for these to cook! This is essentially a particularly dirty potato dauphinoise that drops the cheese in favour of salty, savoury smoked anchovies. If you want to make some I recommend taking the effort to infuse some herbs like bay leaves and thyme, as well as peppercorns into your cream to add to the flavour.
The main event was Joulukala (Christmas fish) with a collection of the Finnish accompaniments. I used cod loin, again a bit of a nod to Whitby for our Finnglish feast. For the side dishes I made porkkanalaatikko (carrot casserole flavoured with nutmeg, I omitted the rice because I wanted to keep the meal a bit lighter), lanttulaatikko (swede casserole with cinnamon, a flavour combination I will certainly be repeating), palsternakalaatikko (parsnip casserole with sweet mustard) and mini roasties, which are actually pan fried because it is quicker and they get more evenly golden and crispy! I made a creamy dill mustard and champagne sauce and topped with some champagne soaked cranberries.
I think salads and much lighter food will be in order for the next few days, even though my fridge is currently groaning under the weight of the Christmas cheese run!