The 9th [nearly] annual Christmas stuffing post

I didn’t do one of these posts last year because my campaign to have something other than turkey for Christmas dinner finally paid off — we had beef. But we’re back to turkey this year; turkey, prunes wrapped in bacon, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and two types of stuffing. Both stuffings, as usual, were made with a base of sausagemeat, bread, onion, and celery; one was chestnut and mushroom (again), and for the other one, I added pecans and dried figs steeped in Marsala. Which was very nice, though I do say so myself.

Followed by (shop-bought) Christmas pudding, which was alright, although personally I’d rather have trifle every year.

Also the Sri Lankan Christmas cake recipe I’ve done for the past two years, and a ham boiled in ginger beer and baked with a brown sugar and mustard glaze.

The 8th annual Christmas stuffing post (and trifle and cake)

This year: a return to the old standby of chestnut and mushroom for the savoury one, and apricot pineapple and ginger for the fruity one. If you really want to details of the recipe, check back to previous stuffing posts.

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And this year I made a trifle because I’m not a huge fan of Christmas pudding and it seemed like a sufficiently Christmassy alternative. From bottom to top, it’s chocolate sponge, cherries in syrup, grated chocolate, vanilla custard, cherry jam, whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries, gold balls and iridescent sprinkles. A Black Forest gateau type thing.

To be really picky, it could have have less sponge and/or more liquid to soak it in (I would have added booze but I was serving small children), and more custard. But it was nice anyway.

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And I made a christmas cake for the first time this year. It’s a Sri Lankan recipe from Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook, and it’s very much in the mould of a traditional European Christmas cake, but with more spices and a more interesting mix of fruit. I substituted ground almonds for the semolina for gluten-free purposes. It turned out really well, recognisably a Christmas cake but much better than the usual. Note, though, it is seriously rich: one slice is almost too much to eat at a time.

The 7th annual Christmas stuffing post

It’s time for the most pointless Christmas tradition of them all! We’re having goose this year instead of turkey, but naturally I’m doing stuffing to go with it.

As usual I’ve made two versions using a base of sausagemeat. Normally they both have sausage, onion, celery, breadcrumbs and egg, but my sister isn’t eating wheat, so this time I skipped the breadcrumbs. Hopefully it won’t adversely affect the texture too much.

I was bored of doing chestnut and mushroom, but my mother insisted that the meal had to include chestnuts somewhere, so one stuffing is apple and chestnut. It has Bramley apple, chestnuts, parsley, thyme, some Calvados and the liver from the goose.

The other one is a repeat from 2007: cherry, apricot, almond and ginger. Dried apricots and sour cherries, some almonds, candied stem ginger, a pinch of mixed spice and some brandy. Oh and the cherries were a bit old so I soaked them in Grand Marnier overnight first.

The 6th annual Christmas stuffing post

The annual Christmas stuffing post may be the most pointless of the arbitrary traditions that have accreted themselves onto this blog, but it doesn’t take long to do, and what better time of year for arbitrary traditions? So here we go:

As usual, two stuffings both made with a base of sausagemeat, breadcrumbs, onion and celery. The more savoury one has returned to the usual chestnut version, after a brief dalliance last year with pistachios. This year the fruity one is pineapple and ginger, using dried pineapple reconstituted in a bit of water and candied stem ginger.

Christmas food debrief, bitterns etc

I should note in advance: the bitterns are not part of the food debrief. I daresay they turned up on Henry VIII’s dining table, but not mine.

Food notes: the fruity stuffing was good, the pistachio one mainly tasted of parsley and garlic, which was pleasant enough but not very christmassy. The prunes in bacon were delish, a much better addition than sausages in bacon. Cooking a whole boned ham leads to Too Much Ham. I’m quite glad I did it this once, but I won’t again.

And actually I don’t think I’m going to do turkey next year; even with a (very expensive) free range organic slow-grown turkey, cooked beautifully, though I do say so myself, it’s just a big boring. The stuffing is much better than the actual bird. Maybe I’ll do a big joint of beef instead.

I had a great day birding today: I’d heard via the London Wetland Centre’s Twitter feed (@wwtlondon) that the cold weather had produced an unprecedented influx of bitterns. They aren’t sure whether they’re from elsewhere in the UK or from the continent, but yesterday and today they’ve had 6 or 7 on site. Now bitterns are notoriously skulky and difficult to see, being streaky reed-coloured birds that live in reedbeds — and incidentally, I believe the American Bittern is rather easier to see than the European, for comparison — and last time I went bitterning at Barnes I saw diddly-squat, but I figured I’d never get a better chance.

And sure enough I had six sightings of bittern, each closer and clearer than the one before. The water was mainly frozen over, and they were presumably desperate enough for food that they were stalking along the ice just by the edge of the reeds, with their surprisingly large feet sliding with every step.

I also had great views of water rail, the bird you may remember me mentioning before which has, according to the book, ‘a discontented piglet-like squeal, soon dying away’. I saw four pairs, including telescope views of a pair preening each other about thirty feet away.

And my last special bird of the day was jack snipe, a smaller, less elegant and generally more self-effacing version of the normal snipe, but my second lifer of the day after the bitterns.

So some early contenders for the Bird Of The Year Award 2010. I do btw still intend to do BOTY 2009, but it can wait until my computer has been fixed. Using the iPhone for blogging works better than you might think but it’s no substitute when it comes to long posts with links and pictures.

The 5th annual Christmas stuffing post

As usual, I’ve made a base of sausagemeat, onion, celery and breadcrumbs, and split it into two batches.

To one I added dried apricots and dried barberries which I reconstituted in champagne (but only because there was half a bottle of flat champagne in the kitchen). Then a pinch of mixed spice.

The second stuffing had pistachios, lots of flat-leaved parsley & a bit of thyme, some chopped green olives, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Incidentally, my computer problems are back and so the final entry to my advent calendar will have to wait until when and if I get it running again… hopefully at least before midnight.

4th annual Heraclitean Fire Christmas stuffing post

Because arbitrary traditions are important at Christmas.

As usual, I made a base of sausagemeat, celery, onion and breadcrumbs, and also as usual half of it is chestnut stuffing. But this year’s second, ad-libbed recipe has toasted almonds and dried apricots and peaches soaked in amaretto.

Now I ought to get on with roasting the ham that has been simmering away the whole time. Happy midwinter festival, everyone.

Stuffing, woodpeckers and James Brown

Well, both stuffings were good. The (more experimental) ginger one tasted great, though a little unexpected in an otherwise very traditional Christmas meal.

The local Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming this morning. They are always a very early sign of spring, but December still seems freaky. It’s been a weird old winter, weatherwise, and my woodpeckers are hardly the only sign of it. The newspapers have been going through one of their periodic phases of interest in climate change as a result, but I daresay they’ll move on to something else soon enough, and no-one’s behaviour will have changed much.

The other curious nature observation of the week was a heron in the garden with a pair of crows taking turns to sidle up behind it and try to tweak its tail feathers. Apparently for no reason other than a bit of fun.

The death of James Brown was sad news to wake to on Christmas morning. I listen to a variety of music – pop, soul, reggae, hip-hop, soukous, techno – but what it all has in common is that it has a bit of a groove to it. So as you can imagine, James Brown, the most sampled man in the world, has an important place in my personal musical pantheon. One of the great artists and great entertainers of the twentieth century. From a groove point of view, perhaps the greatest of them all.

2nd annual Heraclitean Fire Christmas stuffing post

I’ve been making stuffing for Christmas lunch today. So since it’s practically traditional (i.e. I did it last year), here’s what I’ve made: some chestnut and prune stuffing and some ginger and almond. Both are loosely inspired by reipces I’ve seen somewhere but with a bit of tweaking by me. Both are made with a base of sausagemeat, onion, celery, breadcrumbs and egg.

The chestnut and prune was made with the addition of the liver from the turkey, chestnuts, prunes, brandy, and fresh parsley and thyme.

For the other, I added crystallised stem ginger, toasted flaked almonds, some lemon zest, mixed spice and Cointreau.

I’ll report back on how they are to eat. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Stuffing update

My apricot, cherry and almond stuffing worked out well. If anything it slightly removed the need for cranberry sauce – the sour cherries have a similar fruity/sour thing going on, so you don’t really need both.

Today I shall mostly be making wild mushroom soup.

Anyone need a good stuffing?

I’ve made like, really a lot.

But it should freeze OK. One batch is a chestnut stuffing from a Good Housekeeping book (sausagemeat, onion, celery, chestnut mushrooms, breadcrumbs, herbs, chestnuts, egg and brandy), which I’ve made before and is nice. The other is my own invention – sausagemeat with onion, dried apricots, dried sour cherries, egg, brandy and a little mixed spice. On Christmas Day I’ll let you know how it turned out.

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