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Now that it is all over until next year (!) here is a Christmassy poem by Tess Kincaid

There’s a place for us,
an oasis between fruitcake
and watering the tree,
with hot-and-cold running kisses,
that stretch restless,
from the hearth
out to the snow,
where I push you back pink
and holiday-faced,
knowing this smiling garland
around our necks
links forever compatible.

IMG_2391

Christmas shopping in the rain …

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

For the base:

8 egg whites
500g caster sugar
4 teaspoons cornflour
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

650ml double cream
10 passionfruit
10 fresh or canned lychees, drained if canned
300g raspberries (frozen are fine)
25g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and draw a rough 25cm diameter circle on it; I pencil round a cake tin that size.

Whisk the egg whites until satiny peaks form, then whisk in the sugar, a tablespoonful at a time, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla extract over the egg whites, and fold in lightly with a metal spoon. Mound the meringue on to the baking parchment within the circle and, using a spatula, flatten the top and smooth the sides.

Put in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 120°C. Cook for an hour. Then turn off the oven and leave to cool completely. Once it’s cool, take the meringue disc out – and you can keep it in an airtight container for a couple of days or freeze for a month.

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, invert the cooled meringue disc on to a large plate or a stand you can serve it on, and peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until thickened but still soft, and pile on to the meringue – on the squidgy part that was stuck to the baking parchment – spreading it to the edges in a swirly fashion.

Cut the passionfruit in half, and scoop out the seeds, and any pulp and juice, into a bowl. Peel the fresh lychees (if using) over the bowl to catch any juice, then remove the stones, tear the lychees into pieces and let them drop into the passionfruit. Tear the drained, canned lychees (if using) likewise, and drop them in, too.

Leave the passionfruit and lychees sitting in their bowl for a moment, while you liquidise the raspberries with the icing sugar in a blender.

Dollop the cream-topped pavlova with the passionfruit and lychees, and their juices, then zigzag some red, red, red raspberry sauce over the top, putting the rest in a small jug for people to add to their slices as they eat.

MAKE AHEAD TIP Make the meringue disc and store in a deep, airtight container for up to 2 days. About 3-4 hours before serving, top with whipped cream and keep in the fridge. Just before serving, add the fruits and raspberry sauce.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

1 large or 2 small onions
100g streaky bacon
large bunch of parsley, from which you can get a good 2 handfuls of leaves
75g butter, plus more for greasing dish and extra 15g for buttering top (if not stuffing turkey)
250g vacuum-packed whole chestnuts
250g breadcrumbs
1 x 435g can unsweetened chestnut purée
2 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
good grating of fresh nutmeg

Peel and roughly chop the onion and stick the pieces in the processor with the bacon and parsley. Or chop finely by hand.

Melt the 75g butter in a largish, heavy-based pan and, keeping the heat fairly low, cook the processed mixture until it softens, about 10 minutes.

Remove to a bowl and, using your hands, crumble in the chestnuts so that they are broken up slightly, then mix in the breadcrumbs and chestnut purée. This isn’t very hard to do by hand (a wooden spoon and brutal manner will help), but an electric freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment is the agreeably lazy option.

If you are making this in advance, then let it get cold now, otherwise beat in the eggs, season with only a little salt (remember the bacon will contain some) and a good grating of fresh nutmeg and fresh pepper.

If you want to stuff the turkey with this on Christmas morning, be my guest; otherwise butter your dish or foil container, add the stuffing, spread the 15g butter on top, and bake, uncovered, in the oven underneath the turkey for 30-40 minutes, depending on how full your oven is.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

150g currants
150g sultanas
150g prunes, scissored into pieces
175ml Pedro Ximénez sherry
100g plain flour
125g breadcrumbs
150g suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 x 15ml tablespoons honey
sprig of holly to decorate
125ml vodka to flame

Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre basin, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you’re unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride-instilling size of this, plus it’s wonderful on following days, microwaved in portions after or between meals, fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts. But it wouldn’t be out of the question – and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season – to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins – a 2 pint one for you, a 1 pint one to give away. Three hours’ steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it’s had its first steaming, and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.

Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes in a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.

When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients, either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas. Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly. Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my double-decker couscous pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.

When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.

On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours’ combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.

To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono-Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)

Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

This involves a simple, but amply satisfying procedure. In advance, as soon as you get your bird home, remove any trussing, take out the giblets and stash them separately in the fridge. Before putting the turkey in the fridge, wash the inside of the bird with cold running water. Drain well and blot dry with kitchen towels.

The important thing is that you take your bird out of the fridge a good hour before you want to start cooking it, so that it’s at room temperature before you begin. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Now comes the bosomy bit. You take your turkey and, using your fingers, wiggle some space between the skin and breast of the bird, being careful not to tear the skin. (Mind you, turkey skin is so tough, you’d probably need talons to rupture it.) Into this space you’ve made, squeeze good sausage meat, or the contents of your favourite butcher’s sausages (900g of either should be enough for a 5.5kg turkey), pushing, pressing and coaxing so that it covers the whole breast.

Then, from on top of the skin, mould it a little with your hand so that the breast is voluptuously but smoothly bulging. Secure the flaps of skin over the cavity with a metal skewer so that the sausage meat doesn’t escape during cooking.

The skin really crisps up as this turkey roasts, and the sausage meat, which drips down into the breast as it cooks, keeps the meat from drying out. To ensure the turkey doesn’t brown too rapidly, cover it loosely with a sheet of buttered foil until halfway through the cooking time about 2 hours 40 minutes total for a 5.5kg bird with its sausagey faux-bosom). You could then dispense with the chipolatas (or stuffing if you can live without it), so this is a good way of cutting down on dishes to prepare, without making huge sacrifices.

How many tags can I attach to one post, a recipe for soup? A lot.

A rather elaborate recipe for people with a bit too much fucking time on their hands … which pretty much sums up the British Empire. Cheap tea and slavery.

Peeling and grating ginger … I mean, come on, who the hell wants to do that? Oh yeah, remember your ruler to measure 1cm of a cinnamon stick. Fucking hell. Now where is that coriander I always buy at Christmas when I go to Bury Market and Cheetham Hill Road which I only do once a year when there are no buses and ice on the pavement?

Merry Christmas!

Something a bit spicy is always welcome to cut through all that rich booze and food during the Christmas festivities and making a mulligatawny soup would be ideal. No two mulligatawny recipes are the same, however – as the recipe would have been brought over from colonial India and it all depended on whatever leftovers you had to hand. This soup is not an excuse to just bung all your Christmas Day roast leftovers in a pot with a bit of curry powder, cross your fingers and hope for the best …

For the soup:

1 tbsp ghee or butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
a small piece of root ginger, peeled and grated (save peelings for stock)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
1cm of a cinnamon stick
a handful of curry leaves
a pinch of saffron strands
the black seeds from 10 cardamom pods
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp tomato purée
2-3l stock from the carcass
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rough cm dice
60g yellow lentils (dhal)
150g cooked chickpeas (optional)
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into rough cm dice
1 large potato, peeled and cut into rough cm cubes
4 tbsp coconut milk
the meat from the carcass and legs of your turkey or goose
2-3 tbsp chopped coriander

For the stock:

the carcass from the turkey or goose, preferably with some meat on
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
8 cloves of garlic, halved
the peelings from the root ginger
20 black peppercorns
2l chicken stock

First, make the stock: put all of the ingredients in a saucepan, add the chicken stock and top up, just covering the bones with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, skimming every so often; then strain through a sieve and when the bones are cool enough to handle, remove all the meat you can and put to one side and discard the bones and vegetables.

To make the soup, melt the ghee in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently cook the onion, garlic, ginger and all of the curry spices for about 5 minutes without colouring and stirring every so often. Stir in the flour and tomato purée then gradually whisk in the stock. Bring to the boil then add the carrot and lentils, season and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the lentils are beginning to get soft. Add the chickpeas (if using), parsnip and potato and continue simmering until the potato and parsnip are cooked. Add the coconut milk, meat and coriander, simmer for a couple of minutes and re-season.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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