I have bemoaned on many occasions the fact that we Brits are so unimaginative in our veg cookery. Unadorned, often unseasoned, boiled vegetables are not only depressing, they scream of a cook who, quite frankly my dear, doesn't give a damn. While Christmas Day requires tradition, there's no reason why old favourites can't be given a twist.
I'm not Jamie Oliver's number one fan: in fact I wouldn't make it into the top hundred (million, even); however, I caught a few minutes of a recent programme which gave me a couple of ideas. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing them with you.
My previous attempts at glazing carrots have been fairly unsuccessful. Despite using just a small quantity of liquid as instructed, by the time the carrots were cooked, there was always a puddle of slightly sweet gloop and no glaze. The trick is to leave the carrots whole. By the time the carrots are done, very little liquid remains. Turn up the heat for the last minute or two until it has almost evaporated and you are left with - cue roll of drums - glazed carrots.
A little pile of diced carrots just lowers the spirits. A whole gleaming specimen, on the other hand, shouts generosity and care. Make more than you think you need - people will happily have seconds.
4 whole carrots peeled; (some leave the tops on - I don't); juice of 1 orange, or 2 or 3 clementines; generous chunk of butter; 1 tsp sugar; water; salt; chopped parsley or coriander to garnish (optional).
Put the carrots horizontally in a pan with the orange juice. Add enough water to half cover them, then chuck in the butter, the sugar and some salt. Bring to the boil and simmer. Cooking time will depend on the size of your carrots, so keep an eye on them. When they are a minute or two from being done, increase the heat to reduce the liquid to a sticky glaze. Don't overcook your veg. If necessary remove them from the pan while you reduce the liquid. Garnish with the parsley or coriander.
Two years ago, Tom Cooks! produced an article with 10 ways of cooking sprouts. Are they little green nuggets of delight, or, according to my chum Sublime Lesley (no relation to Mrs J), evil balls of green bitterness? Whether you like them or loathe them, they are part of our Christmas tradition. I plan to try this eleventh way at the weekend with a brace of pheasants donated by our good pal Karen P. Again, exact quantities are difficult. In the demo I saw with a very large frying pan filled to the brim with sprouts, the bold boy used four rashers of bacon. I may update this recipe next week.
You want the sprouts shredded as finely as possible. Even if your knife skills are good, I would recommend using a food processor.
Quantity of Brussels sprouts, finely shredded (see above); smoked streaky bacon, finely diced; butter; Worcester sauce; salt; water; olive oil.
In a large frying pan, preferably a high sided one, gently fry the bacon in a little olive oil until the fat begins to emerge. (I would say ooze, but as L hates the word, I won't.) Throw in the sprouts with some salt and toss them in the fat for a minute or two. Add a little water - emphasis on little, as you want them to steam not boil - and a good chunk of butter. Turn up the heat. Keep an eye on the liquid. Use no more water than you need, but make sure your pan doesn't boil dry. Stir from time to time. When the sprouts are tender, add Worcester sauce. For his very large panful, Jamie used about 5 tbsp. Taste as you go.
The main components of your traditional Christmas dinner - in order of importance, roast potatoes, roast potatoes, roast potatoes and turkey - are fairly beige. A feast is about colour. You now have the orange and the green. These are great, but there is something imperial about the colour which this dish provides. (As an aside, have you ever paused to wonder why those who named so many of our foodstuffs were colour blind? White wine is yellow: red wine and red cabbage are both purple.)
We digress. A couple of points. Red cabbage always takes longer to cook than you think. That's the first reason not to make it on the day itself, when hob space is at a premium. The second is that this is one of these dishes which really does taste better the second day.
Use a large heavy pan with a tight fitting lid.
Ingredients (Serves 6+)
1 small to medium red cabbage; 1 onion chopped; 30g butter; 2 apples, peeled, cored and diced; 2 tsp dark brown sugar; 3 - 4 tsp balsamic vinegar (or whatever type you have, provided it's not malt); small pinch of ground cloves; s & p.
Remove the hard centre core from the cabbage, then shred. I find the easiest way to do this is to quarter it length ways, and cut the core at an angle. You then have conveniently flat sided pieces to shred. Rinse in a colander. I have no idea why red cabbage tends to develop a slightly blue-ish bloom. No need to pat it dry.
Sweat the onion in the butter until soft. Add the cabbage along with the apples, sugar, cloves and about half the vinegar. I suggest keeping some vinegar in reserve in case your final version is a little bland. Season with s & p.
Put the lid on and cook over a low heat, stirring every quarter hour or so. You shouldn't need more moisture, but keep an eye on it just in case. The recipes I have seen suggest that it will take a couple of hours. I find it usually needs a little more. Taste from time to time. It may well need more s & p and, if it seems a little bland, another drop of vinegar will perk it up.
Tom Cooks! will return in January
Can you spare a little cash for a charity cookbook this Christmas?
Neighbour and friend Allison Tait has edited a selection of food and drink recipes. Ormidale Eats & Drinks is 60 pages of mixed recipes, including one from Tom Cooks! All proceeds will go to Community One Stop Shop, a registered charity based in Broomhouse, which provides food and support services to people rather less fortunate than the readers of Tom's Food!
You can contact Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org or, better still, come and meet her at her Christmas stall on Saturday 11 December at 4 Ormidale Terrace, Edinburgh from 2 - 4. Free mulled wine and mince pies. Allison suggests a donation of £5 per book. Tom's Food! readers are expected to cough up a tenner each (or more).