Release your Wild Christmas

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It’s been several years since I bought a shop bought Christmas cake. It’s one of the many things that are just so much better when they’re homemade.

Yes, I know it’s quite a lot of work steeping dried fruits, chopping peel, and if you do it the old fashioned way as I do, (without a food processor) heavy mixing. But it’s so worth it.

This way you build arm muscles that Rambo would be envious of. These come in useful at Christmas when arbitrating family squabbles, prising the bottle of Sherry from Granny’s vice-like grip or having to carry the turkey and trimmings without aid of lifting equipment to the table.

And it also means that you can whip the things that you like into the mixture. For me that’s loads more cherries and orange peel, which I love, and less dried figs and horrid crunchy currants, which I certainly don’t love. Let the goodness in and the evil fruits go suck.

I’ve also experimented with different types of alcohol to soak the fruits and “feed” the cake in the weeks before icing. Tradition dictates brandy. I often use Pousse Rapiere (local orange flavoured armagnac) and I know folk who use Amaretto for a strong, almond scented hit. Bring it on, baby. You’re in charge!

And the decoration. Express your inner self in creating something unique and very you. I can confidently say that we were the only home in the world with a Christmas cake last year triumphantly displaying a Father Christmas peeing up against a fir tree. This fabulous creation above is from the pages of the Wright Report blog, and how magnificent is this.

Get wild this Christmas.

You know you want to.

Phabulous Pho

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I’m not quite sure how I’ve never really explored this before, as London now has Vietnamese eateries popping up all over the place like mushrooms in October, but the fact is that I had my first proper Pho only a few weeks ago.

Noodles, broth, sliced meat or prawns and a plate of aromatic herbs to add to your bowl, this is a very satisfying – if bloody messy – way of eating.

After my first experience, which left me drenched in broth after trying to slurp from the frankly awkward and inadequate spoon that was provided, I decided that a bib was definitely an essential for any future visit.

It’s not a good look to be left wearing a damp, chicken broth scented and beansprout-bedraggled blouse after a meal, and vague dabbing with the paper napkins provided didn’t make much of an impact.

It’s a testament to its deliciousness that despite what seemed at the time like total immersion in the Pho, combined with faint incredulity at the name of the place (which basked in the unforgettable if somewhat dubious name of The Bang Bang Vietnamese Kitchen) that I decided that this was definitely a keeper.

Here to more phabulous phos and other Vietnamese eating experiences.

Exotic fruitiness

Planning a rather rich and heavy lunch today of roast leg of lamb on a base of haricot beans, garlic, carrots and onions, I was a bit stumped when it came to the dessert.

Nothing I could think of was going to be light or zesty enough after the mammoth lamb frenzy that was to precede it.

Then I thought about fruit salad.

The problem with this is that Luffy’s head remembers the fruit salad of the seventies. Which largely came out of a tin and was drenched in syrup.

Cubes of pale, vague fruitiness floated listlessly around in the bowl interspersed with halved, super-pink things that I thought were probably cherries.

Everything tasted the same.

Now I’m relieved to say the fruit platter that I’ve just prepared looks nothing like that.

It has pomegranate, figs, dragon fruit, grapes, passion fruit and pineapple, all piled up in a glistening pile of exotic fruitiness.

Haven’t we come a long way!

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Strange containers and other tales

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One day in the not too distant future, when this incredibly stupid fad of serving up food in bizarre and unnatural containers has long since faded, we will look back at these times. And weep.

What possessed them? Future generations will ask with a superior smile.

Fancy trying to eat your stew off a garden trowel, or your ice-cream out of a tin mug, they’ll say. Maybe it was the fluoride in the water back then. It must have addled their brains.

And do you know what, I think that perhaps they’d be right.

London, a plea from the heart. Will you STOP and desist from this very puerile trend.

If I wanted to drink my beer from a jam jar, eat my steak off a bread board or pick my chips out of an aluminium bucket I really would expect to be carted off in a white van with nicely padded walls.

Or be making it up as a fairy story to tell my grandchildren on cold winter nights around the fire.

Please bring back cutlery and plates.

Luffy Rant over. Deep breaths.

Pickled eggs

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Most people’s exposure to pickled eggs are probably those in the large glass jar that always sits on the counter of the local fish and chip shop.

Perfectly white, floating in clear spirit vinegar, and acridly pickled.

It’s no wonder that most friends consider them the food of the devil.

However, a well pickled egg can be a thing of beauty, and partner has a real weakness for them.

I pickle mine in an apple cider vinegar spiced with peppercorns, cardamon, mustard seeds and dried chillies. After a few weeks seeping in this solution they certainly take on a bit of a kick and aren’t for the faint hearted – ending up more like devilled eggs.

But they’re a world away from the industrial ones in the chippy.

Why not put up a few jars of pickled eggs with your Christmas stash of pickles and chutneys? Great for clearing congested nasal passages, scaring unwanted visitors and perking up all sorts of cold meats and cheeses…

Fish Pie for Supper

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Armed with cod, salmon, prawns, a monkfish tail, a nice piece of smoked haddock that I’d been saving in the freezer for just this purpose (as rare as hens teeth in these parts of France) I felt that it was time for fish pie.

I’m sure that we’ve all got our own recipes for fish pie, and I’m no exception.

It changes depending on what fish I’ve got, but the basics remain the same.

Fish cut into generous chunks, scattered with fat prawns, a lemony white-wine based sauce, mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream and chopped chives, and a final topping of parmesan and breadcrumbs.

I convince myself that because fish is so good for us that the butter, cream and mashed potatoes don’t count. Of course they don’t.

Probably because we live so far from the sea, good fish is a luxury here, and when I find it I snap it up and freeze it until my stash is large and varied enough for this. When the event horizon is reached, it’s time for a cook-up.

And because we don’t have it often, it feels like a real treat.

Fish pie for supper with a nice glass of chilled Sancerre. Luxury!

A Pudding in the Pantry

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The weekend dawned warm and humid, and as the day progressed the temperature rapidly climbed into the thirties.

This on a date in late October when it would normally be struggling to hit ten degrees centigrade. People locally had started lighting their fires and knitting socks for the winter. I was starting to worry that the wood stash hadn’t arrived.

So I’ve done it again. I’ve chosen the hottest October day in this part of France since 1954 to boil the hell out of three Christmas puddings.

It’s a gift. Clearly.

Having said that, I have to admit that there are certain compensations.

I am smug, smug, smug at having three plump puddings sitting in my pantry looking luscious, all ready for Christmas. Full of sultanas, figs, apricot, apple, sugared orange peel, nutmeg and orange-scented brandy.

You can’t beat a homemade Christmas pudding.