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We are now well and truly into Advent and since I have gotten my university graduation week out of the way, I am going to try to blog more regularly. This time of year is definitely one of my favourites. There is a wonderful festive atmosphere greeting me if I go into shops, switch on the TV, walk through the High Street after sunset, or indeed, read fellow bloggers posts. Unfortunately, for the past several years during which I was in full time education, I have had the displeasure of having the festive period dampened due to exams looming over my head or, latterly, a 12 000 word dissertation deadline. Therefore, this is the first year in many that I can fully embrace Advent and the countdown to Christmas. As the focus of this blog is food, I thought I’d list my Top 10 festive ingredients. These are the fridge and store cupboard ingredients that I think on their own, or when combined with others, epitomise festive cuisine. The list has not been compiled in any particular order with the exception of no. 1. which, for me, I guess, conjures up thoughts of the divinely gorgeous scents of Christmas cooking. Although, I realise that if you are a vegetarian this won’t be featuring anywhere in your own list – apologies for this!
So here goes,
My Top 10 Festive Ingredients:
This provides the BIG EVENT for a lot of us on Christmas Day and is a great lean and healthy meat if not smothered in an abundance of fat and butter to roast! The fact it is lean is one of the reasons I eat it throughout the year, usually in the form of turkey breast steaks which I can season in a variety of ways depending on my mood. I’ll be posting some ideas on various ways to use leftover turkey closer to Christmas.
Wensleydale with cranberries cheese
Wensleydale with cranberries is my personal favourite for a festive cheese but of course there is an almost never-ending list of seasonal cheeses or year-round varieties that make for a good cheeseboard. Cheeses are not only for the after-dinner cheeseboard, however, they are also great served in cubes as appetisers, melted in a fondue, or as something with which to stuff red peppers or make heavenly smoked salmon pinwheels. (Cream cheese works best for this.) In addition, baked Camembert be used for a super easy starter. Other great cheeses are Stilton, Brie, Arran cheddar cheese (a favourite of mine), gruyere, chèvre, and soft cheese seasoned with herbs and garlic (e.g. Boursin).
This is one of the key ingredients in the Christmas staple drink of mulled wine, as well as, festive hot milky drinks e.g. lattes, like my hot banana latte. Cinnamon is also a nice addition to Christmas biscuits (cookies for those in the USA) as it adds a festive flavour. And if you are a regular reader of my blog or if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I’m actually a huge fan of cinnamon year-round! TIP: For a very easy winter warming drink simply heat up some milk in a saucepan or in a microwavable mug with cinnamon and sweeten with honey. This is all natural and much healthier than ‘instant’ drinks in packets which have an assortment of artificial ingredients added.
Think fruits of the forest blackberries, black cherries, red currants, and cranberries. They can be used to make an array of festive jellies, desserts, winter fruit salads, and, moreover, make an attractive table decoration. Cranberries are key. Cranberry sauce is a must for serving with roast turkey on Christmas Day and in Boxing Day sandwiches. TIP: Here is a recipe of mine for a blueberry sauce, but if you substitute the blueberries with frozen fruits of the forest, you’ll get a lovely festive sauce. Blend with a hand-blender for a perfectly smooth sauce or strain it through a sieve to get a fruit coulis.
Now I’m not talking bog standard, chocolate, I’m talking fine dark luxury chocolate as it’s Christmas, which means the extra special varieties of foods come into play and it’s the season in which everyone deserves a treat. Give it, as it is, as an often fail-proof gift, or use it to make a luxury chocolate parfait, a rich chocolate cake, fondue or fondant cakes. It is also nice to melt some chocolate and make your own chocolate covered nuts and raisins as Christmas party snacks or accompaniments to desserts. TIP: See my post on Make-it-yourself Foodie-themed Christmas gifts for a great chocolate gift idea [COMING SOON!] Perfect for chocoholics’ palates, young and old.
A selection of varieties of apples: Pink Lady, British Cox’s, and Royal Galas. Yes, apples are popular in my household!
These are perfect for making Christmas chutneys as gifts or my winter-spiced apples [my recipe here] TIP: Thinly slice and bake in the oven to make apples crisps – add some cinnamon before baking so a festive smell is wafted through your home!
7. Cold meats (prosciutto, parma ham, black forest ham)
These make perfect appetisers for dinner party guests, cheeky snacks for whoever has the task of doing the cooking (!), salads for starters [like this parma ham salad I made], and fancy ‘pigs in blankets’ (sausages usually wrapped in bacon but these are cleaner alternatives as they should be nitrate free). If buying prosciutto, make sure to buy a genuine Italian product which should be dry-cured with salt only and thus is free of artificial nitrates which have been linked to migraines as a trigger . (From my own experience I can attest to this). Personally, Parma ham is my favourite prosciutto (Italian dry-cured ham). They never use nitrates or artificial products (see here).
One word: stuffing. Need I say more? But, seriously, sage is a crucial ingredient in many recipes for stuffing and adds a great flavour. It is also a herb which is an antioxidant and provides a great source of Vitamin K.
These make a great Christmas party snack. There are so many to choose from and they are easy to serve. Which is your favourite? I’m most partial to pecans and coconut. Mmm…pecans! Almonds are the key ingredient for marzipan, so if you wish to make your own, you’d better stock up on a lot of almonds now! Marzipan is vital for Christmas cakes and other traditional festive foods. Christmas puddings, the traditional Christmas dessert, moreover, also contain a variety of nuts. Although, for me, neither Christmas cake or puddings make much of a showing in my Christmas dinner. *Gasp*. Too rich and heavy for me! TIP: Nut roast is a great alternative to roast turkey for vegetarians.
An alternative to turkey for Christmas dinner, duck is a meat which a number of festive marinades can really compliment. Marinades and rubs for the duck really give the duck a festive taste and smell. So, for those who find turkey boring, or fancy a change this year, why not give duck a try?
There you go, that is my top 10. Feel free to reblog with a link to my post. The questions I’d love to ask you are – what is your top 10 or what do you think I should have included on my list that I haven’t? Comment below or tweet me @hldcblog.
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Have a great day,