A fun way to count down to the holidays

Poached fruits

Happy December 1 everyone! Thanks to The Guardian, we've found a fun version of an advent calendar to start the count down to Christmas. They've collected both recipes and gift suggestions from a variety of top chefs, including Heston Blumenthal, Raymond Blanc, Anissa Helou, Fergus Henderson, Tom Kerridge, Thomasina Miers, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Hopkinson, Cerys Matthews, Nathan Outlaw, Fiona Beckett, Simon Rimmer, Claire Thomson, Frances Quinn. 

Feel free to check out the entire list in The ultimate food lover's advent calendar. We thought the chef's tips from Raymond Blanc were particularly seasonally appropriate - check out the poached fruit idea for a clever way to save a bottle of wine:

"Always rest your meat:  Whenever you cook a large cut of meat, make sure you rest it after cooking: anything from 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the joint. This gives the residual heat time to penetrate and relax the meat, giving it more tenderness. You can have your meat cooked at least two hours before your guests arrive. Once rested, wrap the joint in tin foil and place in a preheated oven at 50C. This will keep the meat hot, but won't cook it any more, so it stays flavourful, moist and tender.

Roast joints on caramelised bones:  I always do this, for two reasons: bones add flavour and create a tasty jus; and the heat circulates around the joint, cooking it evenly.

Steeped winter fruits:  Instead of poaching winter berries in a large pan in a whole bottle of wine, put your fresh berries in a zip-lock bag with just one glass of boiled red or white wine, and poach in a saucepan of barely simmering water until just soft and cooked through. You really won't notice the difference.

Sprouts:  Don't waste time making a cross incision on the bottom of all your sprouts. A day ahead, blanch them gently for three minutes, refresh in iced water and store in the fridge. On the day, cut the sprouts in half and sauté them with smoked bacon lardons in a little duck fat until golden brown, and finish with some chopped cooked chestnuts.

Turkey: At my cookery school, I'm often asked how you cook a large turkey or goose for long enough to cook the legs without drying out the breast meat. Well, ask your butcher to remove the legs, and cook these a day ahead, until done. The next day, reheat the legs very gently, leaving you time to focus on cooking the crown to perfection.

Planning:  Don't leave everything to the last minute; spread the load over the preceding weeks or even month. Got a freezer? Then use it.

Pastry for the mince pies: Can be made in advance, rolled out to the right thickness and frozen. Make cranberry sauce a week in advance and store it in the fridge (if you freeze it, you can make it even further ahead). And make brandy butter up to a month ahead: roll it into a sausage shape, wrap in cling-film and freeze until needed.

Salt-baked vegetables:  Don't waste time peeling, chopping and mashing all your veg. Instead, try something different that saves time and has a real impact. A whole celeriac baked in a crust of egg white and salt is a revelation, and easy, too. The same goes for potatoes and swede. Just don't eat the crust.

Chocolate truffles:  For the easiest chocolate truffles, bring 300ml of whipping cream to a boil with 15g of honey, pour on to 300g of chopped 70% cocoa (ie good quality) chocolate, and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and amalgamated. This is the base for your chocolate truffles.

When the mixture has cooled to around 35C-40C, add whatever flavours take your fancy: orange zest and Grand Marnier; kirsch and morello cherries; rum and raisins - the options are just about endless. Once flavoured, pour the mixture into a small shallow tray, refrigerate until set, then cut into cubes, or roll into balls, and dust with cocoa powder.

Ham:  Replace the traditional ham joint with two ham hocks: they take less time to cook, they are cheaper and the stock from the cooking liquor can be turned into the most wonderful soups and sauces. You'll easily get two to three servings out of each hock, though I suppose that depends on how big your appetite is."



1 Comment

  • boardingace  on  12/6/2013 at 2:55 PM

    good info, and the ham sounds delish!

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