How to cook the perfect Christmas lunch
Jeremy Lee reveals the chef’s secrets to the main Christmas event: delicious turkey and all the trimmings
The truly great magic of Christmas is where it falls amid the seasons: the final farewell bid to autumn is made at the close of November swiftly followed by the mighty push through December to the big day itself. For sure, there are the presents and the parties and extraordinary cavorting during the preceding weeks, but it is the keenness of the cold and the great change in the seasons that so defines the quite magical reign of winter. And, oh my, how the appetite is quickened for Christmas foods so steeped in tradition for, come winter’s call, the kitchen is the true heart of the house. Here all is warmth and cheer, so, when the final preparations are made and the food is carried through to table, all there is to do is sit, fill your plate, fill your glass and raise your voice to join in the sheer and utter marvellous joy of good things well done for all.
Source: TheGuardian Read more for the recipes
- The Turkey
- Cumberland sauce
- Roast potatoes
- Giblet gravy
- Sprout tops
- Clementine sorbet
- Steamed fruit pudding
The buzz about ‘mad honey’, hot honey and mead
Would you eat honey that could send you mad – or even kill you? Here are three kinds of honey that pack a punch
After years confined to squeezy bottles and jars at the back of the cupboard, honey is finally getting the attention it deserves. It has always been revered for its health properties, even credited with promoting weight loss in this year’s “honey diet”, and there has been a spate of DIY beekeeping in a bid to combat dwindling numbers. But it is getting noticed for other reasons these days. New Yorkers are going crazy for an infused chilli version, and UK chefs and bartenders have rediscovered the joy of mead, that ancient – and very alcoholic – tipple. But by far the most intriguing example is Turkey’s “mad honey”. Here are the honeys that pack a punch.
Deli bal (or ‘mad honey’)
This amber-hued mutant’s effects range from a pleasant tingling to dizziness, blurred vision and impaired speech. Worse, it was once used as a weapon of war. In 67BC, King Mithridates’ army left chunks of “mad honeycomb” in the path of the Roman enemy, who gobbled it up, lost their minds and were promptly slain. The honey is also said to have medicinal qualities – from treating hypertension and diabetes to improving sexual performance – when consumed in small amounts. It is more or less confined to the Black Sea region. There, in humid conditions, apiarists herd bees to fields of special rhododendron flowers containing grayanotoxin, and the toxin spikes the resulting honey (incidentally, it is the same poison used by the chief antagonist Lord Blackwood to feign his death in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes).
If you do find yourself in the area and want a taste, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper than supermarket shelves. Ask nicely, and chances are most local shopkeepers will hand over a jar from a stash tucked behind the counter, adding to the old-world mystery of it all. But be very careful: do not spread it on toast, drizzle it over yoghurt or generally treat it like normal honey. A tiny spoonful on the tongue is more than enough; any more and you’re at risk of “mad honey poisoning”, which afflicts a handful of unwitting travellers each year. It is no laughing matter – it causes low blood pressure and heartbeat irregularities, and in extreme – and thankfully rare – cases, can be fatal. This is honey at its most hardcore.
From the sleepy Turkish mountains we jump to the lively streets of Brooklyn, where “hot honey”, a chilli-infused condiment, is making waves (and has even been tipped as the next sriracha). Leading the way is Mike’s Hot Honey, based on a sauce that owner Mike Kurtz discovered in a rural Brazilian pizzeria. Combining a secret type of South American chilli (which sits somewhere between jalapeños and habaneros on the spicy scale) with honey and a dash of vinegar, this is not for the faint-hearted. According to Kurtz, the reddish liquid initially tastes sweet, before making way for heat – and a slight smokiness – after a couple of seconds.
The home base for Mike’s Hot Honey is Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Greenpoint, which not only sells the sauce over the counter, but also showcases its versatility by drizzling it over pizza and ice-cream (apparently, it’s even better with ricotta on toast). Unfortunately, neither Mike’s nor any of its US competitors, such as MixedMade’s Bees Knees Spicy Honey or Negley & Son Spicy Honey, have yet made their way to Britain, although you can buy Mike’s online if you’re prepared to wait and don’t mind splashing out (it’s $10 for the honey and $24 for shipping). For the moment, it seems that Britain has only one hot(ish) honey product, courtesy of Hilltop Honey. However, the company likens its honey infused with chilli to sweet chilli sauce, which suggests that it doesn’t quite pack the heat of its US counterparts.
When it is time to put out the fire in your mouth, honey has the answer once again. Mead, AKA honey in alcohol form and the oldest alcoholic drink in the world (as well as being the source of the word “honeymoon”, from the pagan tradition of drinking mead for the first month of marriage), is enjoying a revival after years of being dismissed as beer’s daggy medieval cousin.
This restarted in the US, with more than 200 meaderies popping up in the past decade. And although Britain’s mead market has been slower to pick up, the arrival of Peckham-based Gosnells London Mead on the scene last year, joining stalwarts such as the Cornish Mead Co, seems significant. The drink is made via a similar fermentation process to cider, with apple juice swapped for honey. By substantially reducing the alcohol content from the traditional 16% to 5.5%, Gosnells offers a lighter and more accessible version, which found an immediate fanbase at Maltby Street market in London, The Table in Cambridge and Timberyard in Edinburgh, where it is served straight or in cocktails with gooseberry, sorrel stem, quail egg and vodka. Mead has also been championed by chefs such as Simon Rogan and René Redzepi. Signs are promising.
Between sending you crazy, spicing up your life and cooling everything down again, it seems that honey – in all its forms – has plenty of buzz about it.
Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a species of nightshade commonly known in British English as aubergine... – Wikipedia
There are few vegetables that I find distasteful, this great purple monstrosity is one of them.
They are related to tomatoes and potatoes (Solanum family), both of which I love. Technically, the aubergine is not a vegetable, but rather a berry.
Nutritionally, eggplant is low in fat, protein, and carbohydrates. It also contains relatively low amounts of most important vitamins and minerals. A 1998 study at the Institute of Biology of São Paulo State University, Brazil, found eggplant juice to significantly reduce weight, plasma cholesterol levels, and aortic cholesterol content in hypercholesterolemic rabbits. – Wikipedia
I know all this, but why does it have to be so obnoxious?
Then I found this, it almost seems appealing; appealing enough to try.
How to make the perfect baba ganoush
Is this delicious smoky dip the ultimate aubergine recipe – and which side of the great tahini divide are you on?
Everyone has their gastronomic tics – those dishes, or ingredients, or techniques, that suddenly make everything else on the menu look like ugly sisters. The word “smoky” generally does it for me, although I’m a sucker for a nice juicy aubergine as well, so if baba ganoush is available, you can keep your boring old hummus – my pitta is only going in one direction.
Like the ubiquitous hummus, this is a dish of indeterminate origins: Levantine is probably as specific as you can fairly get, because it pops up, under a variety of names, from Turkey to Egypt as a dip, a salad, or a vegetable side. It might be loose and smooth enough to scoop with bread, or so chunky you need a fork to tackle it – but never less, as Anissa Helou observes, than “exceptionally good”. And, with aubergine season drawing to a close, this is the time to tackle it.
Where there’s smoke …
Rebecca Seal’s baba ganoush.
Smokiness is what defines this dish, setting it apart from your common or garden baked aubergine. Ideally, I’ve found, this is best achieved over a hot barbecue, but unless the weather’s picked up dramatically in the last few days, you’ll be relieved to know other options are available.
Helou, writing in Modern Mezze, suggests pricking and grilling them, an option also given by Claudia Roden and Rebecca Seal in her book Istanbul. The latter two also, however, give the option of charring them directly over a gas flame, as in Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe. I find this, though much fiddlier and messier, gives a far better result: the grilled aubergines seem shrunken and almost desiccated, while the others are fairly bursting from their burnt skins.
David Lebovitz hedges his bets, charring them over a flame and then baking them in the oven until soft, but I’m not sure I see the point, as long as you bear in mind the advice given to Seal by Gençay Üçok of Istanbul’s Meze by Lemon Tree restaurant: “If you think the aubergines are done, they’re not done.” They need to be not just charred, but collapsing in on themselves, and decidedly soft all the way through.
Draining and chopping
Yotam Ottolenghi’s baba ganoush.
Once you’ve made a complete mess of your hob charring the skins, they need to come off – Ucok seems to think that some people rinse the aubergines in water to get rid of them, which he strenuously warns against, but none of the recipes I find dare suggest such heresy.
Scooping the flesh out of the papery skins is easy enough: Seal says that some Turkish cooks also reject any flesh that is even slightly discoloured, but, like her, I enjoy the “intense smoky flavour” these bits supply, so I won’t be wasting any.
Even after all that cooking, aubergines are watery little things, and if you’re not to stray into blandly soggy territory, you need to squeeze as much liquid out of them as possible. This is generally done with patience and gravity, but Seal and Roden both suggest squeezing the flesh out in a sieve, rather than letting it drain for Ottolenghi’s “hour at least, preferably longer”, and I must say that, if done diligently, the results seem just as good.
Ottolenghi may be averse to squeezing because he leaves his aubergine in “long thin strips” rather than mashing it gently, as Seal, Helou and Roden recommend. This makes it more of a salad than the dip I’m after – a bit of texture is welcome (Lebovitz whizzes his up in a food processor to give a smooth puree that reminds me more of hummus than anything else), but I also like baba ganoush to have a bit of creaminess about it.
Claudia Roden’s baba ganoush.
Happily, as it’s another ingredient I carry a candle for, garlic is number two in the basic trinity of baba ganoush. Quantities vary, with Helou going for a modest single clove to six aubergines, while Roden uses a clove per aubergine. I like a hefty whack of the stuff, so I’m copying her, but if you’re shy, by all means add it to taste.
The final element of every baba ganoush, mutabal or patlican ezmesi is lemon juice – and again, quantities vary. Helou is once more parsimonious, as is Ottolenghi, while Roden merrily squeezes in as many lemons as she uses aubergines. I’m not going to go quite so far: too much citrussy sourness spoils the smoky richness of the aubergine, but the dish should have a certain zing nevertheless.
Tahini and other additions
David Lebovitz’s baba ganoush.
The great rift in matters baba ganoush seems to be over adding tahini: Seal and Ottolenghi leave it out, and Lebovitz adds a very generous 130g ladleful, which may help to explain why his silky smooth baba ganoush tastes so much like hummus. The dish is pretty good without it, but I love the way the sweet nuttiness works with the creaminess of the slow-cooked aubergine, so I’ve added just a little – not enough to overpower the other ingredients, but certainly enough to make its very Levantine presence felt. Roden also, unusually, adds Greek yoghurt to her recipe. It is lovely, but I feel it robs the dish of its lemony, garlicky punch, so I’ll be leaving it out.
Herbs and spices
Anissa Helou’s baba ganoush.
Lebovitz adds chilli powder, “and sometimes a pinch of ground cumin” to his dip; both ingredients that work well with aubergine and tahini, but neither absolutely necessary for the proper enjoyment of the dish.
Ottolenghi adds 75ml olive oil to his, which makes sense as he’s not using tahini, but as I am, I prefer to do as Helou suggests and ring the dish with oil instead in the traditional fashion, so each dipped pitta gets a little of both. Helou and Ottolenghi also suggest garnishing the dish with pomegranate seeds, which look pretty if you have them, but are less vital than the chopped herbs that most people suggest as a topping.
Parsley and mint are the most usual choices; Ottolenghi uses both, and Helou suggests either/or, while everyone else plumps for one or the other, except Lebovitz, who goes for parsley or coriander. I’m not sure about the latter’s soapy flavour here: the peppery sharpness of parsley seems more fitting, but best of all, in my opinion, is sweet mint, which pairs very nicely with the aubergine.
Lebovitz and Seal stir some of the herbs into the dish itself, which I like – it guarantees a burst of freshness in every mouthful, and stops the greedy stealing the garnish. After all, this is a dish that’s all about sharing.
The perfect baba ganoush
2 large aubergines (about 650g)
Juice of 1 lemon, plus a little extra
2 tbsp tahini
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp chopped mint or flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Blacken the aubergines over a gas hob or barbecue, turning regularly with tongs, until completely charred and collapsed (you may wish to surround the rings with foil, as it can be messy). Allow to cool.
Slit the aubergines lengthways and scoop out the flesh in long strands, discarding the skins. Put in a sieve and leave to drain for 30 minutes, or squeeze out if you’re in a hurry. Season.
In a serving bowl, stir the lemon juice into the tahini until it loosens up. Add the garlic and two-thirds of the chopped herbs, and season again to taste. Add a squeeze more lemon juice if necessary.
Mash the aubergines gently with a fork, and then stir into the tahini mixture. Top with the remaining herbs and the pomegranate seeds, if using. Pour a moat of oil around the edge and serve.
Tahini is a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds used in North African, Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Tahini is served as a dip on its own or as a major component of hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. – Wikipedia
The Arab world has given birth to many thinkers and many inventions – among them the three-course meal, alcohol and coffee. The best coffee bean is still known as Arabica, but it’s come a long way from the Muslim mystics who treasured it centuries ago, to the chains that line our high streets.
Think coffee, and you probably think of an Italian espresso, a French cafe au lait, or an American double grande latte with cinnamon.
Perhaps you learned at school that the USA became a nation of coffee drinkers because of the excise duty King George placed on tea? Today ubiquitous chains like Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Costa grace every international airport, and follow the now much humbler Nescafe as symbols of globalisation.
Coffee is produced in hot climates like Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia, and you could be forgiven if you thought it is a product from the New World like tobacco and chocolate. After all, all three became popular in Europe at more or less the same time, in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
In fact, coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea – Yemen and Ethiopia.
Although a beverage made from the wild coffee plant seems to have been first drunk by a legendary shepherd on the Ethiopian plateau, the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and cafe both derive.
Qahwa originally meant wine, and Sufi mystics in Yemen used coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.
By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554.
In Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul attempts were made to ban it by religious authorities. Learned shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol, and some remarked that passing round the coffee pot had something in common with the circulation of a pitcher of wine, a drink forbidden in Islam.
Coffee houses were a new institution in which men met together to talk, listen to poets and play games like chess and backgammon. They became a focus for intellectual life and could be seen as an implicit rival to the mosque as a meeting place.
Some scholars opined that the coffee house was “even worse than the wine room”, and the authorities noted how these places could easily become dens of sedition. However, all attempts at banning coffee failed, even though the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-40). The religious scholars eventually came to a sensible consensus that coffee was, in principle, permissible.
Coffee spread to Europe by two routes – from the Ottoman Empire, and by sea from the original coffee port of Mocha.
Both the English and Dutch East India Companies were major purchasers at Mocha in the early 17th Century, and their cargoes were brought home via the Cape of Good Hope or exported to India and beyond. They seem, however, to have only taken a fraction of Yemeni coffee production – as the rest went north to the rest of the Middle East.
Coffee also arrived in Europe through trade across the Mediterranean and was carried by the Turkish armies as they marched up the Danube. As in the Middle East, the coffee house became a place for men to talk, read, share their opinions on the issues of the day and play games.
Another similarity was that they could harbour gatherings for subversive elements. Charles II denounced them in 1675 as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”.
A century later Procope, the famous Parisian coffee house, had such habitues as Marat, Danton and Robespierre who conspired together there during the Revolution.
At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and that it should therefore be baptised.
Austrian coffee drinking is said to have received a big boost when the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 was broken, and the European victors captured huge coffee supplies from the vanquished.
Perhaps that is why, to this day, coffee is served in Vienna with a glass of water – just like the tiny cups of powerful Turkish coffee with its heavy sediment in Istanbul, Damascus or Cairo. Is this just a coincidence, or a long forgotten cultural borrowing?
The beverage we call “Turkish coffee” is actually a partial misnomer, as Turkey is just one of the countries where it is drunk. In Greece they call it “Greek coffee”, although Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians and others do not seem to care overmuch about the name.
At the moment here in Brazil there is a novela (soap opera) that I enjoy, Salve Jorge, quite a bit takes place in Turkey in both Istanbul and Cappadocia; where the sophisticated Brazilians and Turks are often found sipping raki.
So what is raki?
Raki is considered the national drink of Turkey.
“An unsweetened, anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink that is popular in Turkey and in the Balkan countries as an apéritif. It is often served with seafood or Turkish meze. It is similar to several other alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean, Albanian regions, the Middle East e.g., pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak, and aguardiente.” – Wikipedia
Traditionally consumed either straight with chilled water on the side or partly mixed with chilled water. Ice cubes are sometimes added.
Dilution with water causes raki to turn a milky-white color like ouzo.
Mezze, with or without drinks, is a selection of small snacks, hot or cold, spicy or savory; they maybe as simple as cubes of white cheese or more sophisticated like walnuts and hot pepper sauce, or meatballs.
It is written, almost indelibly, “red meat – red wine; white meat – white wine”, but is this necessarily true?
Are you having a turkey Christmas dinner?
If so, what are you going to drink with it?
What wine with turkey?
It’s a question that comes up at Christmas. But if you think about it, the answer can be as simple as – what do you like?
For that Christmas turkey, there’s a good match for every taste – whether you or your family and guests prefer white, red, or rosé …
If you and your guests prefer dry white wines, dry and oakey Chardonnay is the favorite choice with turkey depending on the particular tastes of your family and guests. Sauvignon Blanc or a White Burgundy are also good all-around choices that pair well with everything from mashed turnips to turkey stuffing.
If your guests prefer their wines on the sweet side, White Zinfandel is the all-purpose favorite to go with most of your turkey feast.
Or, head for the German wine aisle at your favorite wine shop to pick out a light but slightly spicy Gewurztraminer that’s always a good match for the holiday bird. A slightly sweeter Riesling will also pair well with any dish at a Thanksgiving or holiday table. If the label says ‘Kabinett’, the wine is made from the earliest harvest. That means the Riesling will be a dryer wine. A Spätlese is a bit sweeter, but still retains the dryness of the wine — and is usually a favorite in American homes. An Auslese will be even sweeter and makes a better match for the dessert than the turkey.
If red wines are normally your favorite, Pinot Noir is the perfect red wine for holiday feasting. More robust than white wine, Pinot Noir has very little tannin and will likely blend well with the entire holiday meal. Serve it slightly chilled.
Text modified from: chiff.com