Over here in the UK, Christmas Dinner is fondly referred to as Christmas Lunch. It's usually served early to mid afternoon on Christmas Day . . . so it's a late lunch or very early supper, planned to be finished by the time the Queen's speech is broadcast on the afternoon telly. This always occurs around 3 PM, so by then most people will have stuffed themselves with an enjoyable meal and then be sitting back to enjoy the rest of their Christmas Day.
I thought that it would be fun this week to go through a variety of courses and recipes for Christmas lunch. That way you might find some new ideas, or new ways of presenting old ideas and still have time to make any purchases needed in order to be able to prepare them.
Today I am doing starters, or first courses. I can promise you there is nothing here that is complicated or incredibly labour intensive. Most have aspects which can be done ahead of time, which is always a bonus. During my years as a personal chef, I got to be quite good at putting together easy and delicious starters for the many, many dinner parties I catered to. These are some of the best!
*Pickled Prawns on Bitter Greens*
Plan ahead as the prawns need at least an hour to marinate. Pretty, colourful and delicious.
185ml of verjuice (3/4 cup Can use lemon juice if
you are unable to get verjuice)
2 TBS caster sugar (superfine)
1 bay leaf
1 short cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely diced
2 pounds of cooked tiger prawns, peeled, deveined, leaving tails intact
1 3/4 ounce mizuna leaves
1 3/4 ounc rocket leaves (arugula)
1/2 head of radicchio, leaves torn
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
Combine the verjuice, sugar, and bay n a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat gently for 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.
Place the cucumber, onion and prawns in a non metallic bowl. Add the verjuice mixture and stir well. Cover and chill for at least one hour.
Place the salad leaves into a serving bowl. Remove the prawns from the marinade and toss together with the salad leaves. Combine the olive oil and 2 fluid ounces (1/4 cup) of the marinade by whisking together in a small bowl. Drizzle over the salad and serve.
Note: if desired the salad leaves and prawns can be divided amongst 6 individual chilled serving plates and drizzled with dressing to serve.
*Seared Scallops with Parsley and Lemon Butter*
These are really special. A bit on the pricey side, but then again, it is Christmas. Amazingly quick and easy too.
18 scallops on the shell
60g unsalted butter, chopped (`/4 cup
the finely grated zest of 1/2 unwaxed lemon
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 TBS finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Remove the scallops from the shells using a sharp knife. Rinse and dry the shells. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to combine.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the oil. Sear the scallops in two batches for 30 seconds on each side, or until golden brown, adding a little more oil if necessary. Remove from the pan and place on the prepared shells. Drizzle with a little lemon butter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve.
This needs a chilling time of at least 3 hours, so do plan ahead. It is a lot easier than it looks. Impressive.
4 pounds of raw large prawns, peeled and deveined
50g of unsalted butter (1 3/4 ounces)
2 tsp sea salt
60ml of thick cream (1/4 cup)
2 TBS roughly chopped fresh tarragon
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
2 TBS freshly snipped chives
chopped fresh flat leaf parsley to serve
crisp melba toasts to serve
Lightly butter 6 1/2-cup ramekins. Set aside.
Place the prawns into the bowl of a food processor and chop roughly, only a couple of pulses.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped prawns and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes or until the prawns are pink and just cooked through. (Do not overcook or they will be rubbery.) Remove from the heat immediately and stir in the cream, lemon juice, tarragon and chives.
Divide the mixture between the prepared ramekins, pressing down to remove any air bubbles. Allow to cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or until set. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley to serve, and serve along with some crisp melba toasts.
*Spiced Butternut Squash Soup*
Serves 4 to 6
A delightfully spiced soup topped with a delicious ginger cream swirl. Fantastic!
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
750g of peeled butternut squash, chopped (1 3/4 pound)
1 litre vegetable stock (4 cups)
100g of bacon lardons (3 1/2 ounces)
1 TBS finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (Cilantro)
For the Ginger Cream:
90g ounces sour cream (1/3 cup)
2 1/2 fluid ounces double cream (1/3 cup)
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBS finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
Place the cumin seeds into a small frying pan. Heat over medium heat until they become very fragrant. Remove from the heat and crush using a pestle and mortar until finely ground.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat to soften without colouring. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, ground coriander and chilli flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add the squash and stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the squash is very soft.
While the squash is cooking, fry the bacon lardons in a small frying pan until golden brown and crisp.
To make the ginger cream, combine the sour cream, cream, ginger and lemon juice in a small bowl, beating together until slightly thickened. Fold in the chopped coriander.
Blend or process the soup until smooth. Return to a clean saucepan and reheat gently over low heat. (This much can be done ahead and reheated on the day.) Ladle the hot soup into heated bowls and top each with a dollop of the ginger cream and a sprinkle of fresh coriander and bacon lardons. Delicious!
Rich little tartlettes with a delicious filling of chestnut mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and Madiera.
For the Pastry:
100g (7 TBS) unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus more for greasing
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting (2 cups)
For the Filling:
1 1/2 TBS unsalted butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
8 roasted chestnuts, peeled and roughly chopped
200g chestnut mushrooms, chopped (a scant half pound)
2 TBS Madiera
150ml double cream (5 fluid ounces)
1 large free range egg, plus 1 egg yolk
fine seasalt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley to serve
First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and then rub in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add a little cold water, just enough to bring the dough together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Divide the dough in half.
Butter and flour 12 3-inch patty tins.
Roll out each half of the pastry to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds. Place each into the prepared patty pans. Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Melt the butter with the oil in a small skillet. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes until softened, without browning. Add the chestnuts and mushrooms and cook, stirring for several minutes. Add the Madiera and cook for a few minutes longer. Set aside and let cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6. Take the patty pans out of the fridge. Line each with some baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Carefully lift out the paper and beans. Reduce the oven temperature to 190*C/375*F/ gas mark 5.
Whisk the cream, whole egg and egg yolk into the cooled mushroom mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture between the baked cases. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin. Scatter with chopped fresh parsley and serve.
*A Festive Prawn Cocktail*
Very pretty and always very popular. You can make all the elements ahead of time, just putting together the final cocktails quickly at serving time. (Toss the avocado cubes with a bit of lime juice to help prevent browning, or cube them at the very last.)
125ml of tomato ketchup ( 4 fluid ounces, 1/2 cup)
1 tsp chilli sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 1/2 pounds of cooked tiger prawns
2 ruby grapefruits
1/2 small head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 ripe avocados, peeled, stoned and diced
For the Mayonnaise:
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp english mustard powder
1 tsp salt
300ml peanut oil (10 fluid ounces, 1 1/4 cups)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
white pepper to taste
Make the mayonnaise. Put the egg yolks into a bowl and add the mustard powder, salt, and white pepper to taste. Beat together well. Using a stick blender or an electric whisk add the oil one drop at a timeat a time, making sure that you work very slowly and the oil is incorporated as you whisk. Do not try to rush this. Once the mixture begins to thicken and stiffen, whisk in the vinegar and then continue to dribble in the remaining olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly until you have used up all the oil and you have a thick mayonnaise.
Mix the mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, chili sauce and Worcestershire Sauce together in a small bowl. Cover and chill until required.
Remove the heads from the prawns and peel off the shells, leaving the tails intact. Slit along the length of the back of each with a very sharp knife and remove and discard the dark vein. Set aside.
Cut a slice off from the top and bottom of each grapefruit. Peel off the skin and any pith with a sharp knife. Cut in between the membranes to section into segments.
When ready to serve, make a bed of shredded lettuce in the base of 8 chilled glass dishes. Divide the prawns and grapefruit segments and avocado cubes between them. Spoon over the mayonnaise dressing. Serve with a garnish of lime slices and dill sprigs.
*Chicken Liver pate*
Serves 4 to 6
A delicious pate which goes great with melba toasts, or crisp crackers.
7 ounces butter (7/8 cup)
8 ounces chicken livers, thawed if frozen
2 TBS brandy
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
150ml double cream (5 fluid ounces)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh bay or sage leaves
melba toast or crisp crackers to serve
Melt 1 1/2 ounces of the butter in a large heavy skillet. Once it begins to foam add the chicken livers and cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side. They should be browned on the outsides and still pink in the centres. Transfer to a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
Stir the brandy into the frying pan, scraping up any browned bit with a wooden spoon. Add this to the food processor along with the chopped sage and 3 1/2 ounces of the remaining butter. Process until smooth. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and process until thoroughly combined and smooth. Divide amongst individual ramekins, smoothing the surface over.
Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan. Pour the melted butter carefully over top of the chilled ramekins to cover the pate, discarding any milky sediment left in the pan. Decorate with a sage or fresh bay leaf. Allow to cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator.
Serve with melba toast or crisp crackers.