At the Table
I love the whole ritual around this special day of Christmas and I wish there were more days that we celebrated like this in our calendar.
It never ceases to amaze me how people spend their Christmas Day.
I spoke to one person recently who had obligations to three different groups of family, so she had breakfast with one, lunch with another and dinner with another. She commented that by the time she got to the end of the day she had eaten too much and was exhausted by the whole day of socialising.
My family gather in the late morning for a glass of champagne and a light brunch, then the family socialises, opens presents and I cook the main meal, which we normally eat mid-afternoon.
I don't know why it has evolved this way. Growing up, my family always had Christmas lunch, so probably I was wired that this was the time of day to celebrate with food.
I have morphed slightly, thank goodness with my own version of a meal in the middle of the day, and added the brunch so that my family doesn't just consume the champagne before the main meal is ready.
As my family have dispersed and the numbers have swelled with partners and babies it is not always everyone who sits around the table, and if they were all present we would have to construct a massive table to accommodate them all, especially with a few friends added for good measure.
I rarely cook the traditional dishes any more and look further afield for special ideas to titillate the taste buds. I particularly like thinking about the brunch dish and what that might be.
Brunch offers such great options, both sweet and savoury, and if you wanted to spend the rest of the day at the beach you could make the brunch the Christmas meal and make 4-5 dishes to offer family and friends. If it is just the starter for what is to come, then it is best to keep it light and probably only provide two options to stave off the hunger pangs.
Brunch is such a great meal for any weekend, in fact. Apparently the concept was dreamed up in the UK at the end of the 19th century and the word is a composite of breakfast and lunch.
I first came upon it when I lived in the States, where brunch was adopted with huge relish and is a ritual on Sundays throughout the country, to be enjoyed with the Sunday paper and a bunch of friends to while away the majority of the day.
The menu is usually more varied than a breakfast and includes more lunch-like options, although egg dishes tend to reign supreme. Eggs Benedict has to be the famous option but other dishes such as crepes and omelettes, sweet and savoury, soufflés and roulades, as well as pastries sweet and savoury are all quite common as well as Mexican dishes such as huevos rancheros, one of my particular favourites.
I have selected three particularly festive brunch dishes for you to try, either on Christmas Day - or any other day, in fact. Cheese roulade. Blueberry and almond pastries and crab crepes.
Merry Christmas everyone.
BLUEBERRY AND ALMOND PASTRIES
Serves 4 - double the recipe to serve 8
1 sheet of puff pastry
50g of butter
50g ground almonds
50g castor sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup of blueberries
Castor sugar and icing sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 190. Put the butter, almonds, flour, sugar, egg and vanilla essence into a food processor and process until smooth.
Cut the pastry into four squares.
On top of two of the squares spread almond paste, then top blueberries.
Place the next piece of pastry on top of the first square and repeat with the almond paste and blueberries.
Press the top piece of pastry down gently. Dust with caster sugar.
Bake until the pastry is golden.
Remove from the oven and let the pastry cool.
Dust with lots of icing sugar and serve.
You can cut each in two.
CHEESE ROULADE WITH FRESH BASIL AND SMOKED SALMON
450ml warmed milk
100g parmigiano reggiano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g ricotta cheese
2 tbs of chopped chives
4 tbs of fresh basil leaves chopped
Preheat the oven to 190.
Line a Swiss Roll tin (approximately 26cm x 28 cm) with buttered baking paper.
Separate the eggs.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the flour.
Cook gently for about 2 minutes.
Whisk in the warm milk and stir constantly for about 5 minutes.
Fold in half of the parmigiano and season.
Let the mixture cool a little and then add the egg yolks.
Whisk the egg whites and fold into the mixture.
Pour the mixture into the swiss roll tin and bake for about 15 minutes until it is puffy, golden and set.
Meanwhile, mix the ricotta with the herbs.
When the roulade is cooked, remove from the oven.
Put a rectangle of baking paper on the bench and sprinkle over the remaining parmigiano.
Turn the roulade out on to the baking paper and quickly cover with the ricotta mixture.
Roll up the roulade and serve with some slices of smoked salmon.
Make a crepe batter
This makes 8 crepes
8 tbs flour
1 cup of milk
Pinch of salt
40g of butter - melted
Mix ingredients to a smooth batter and pour of the mixture into a lightly buttered hot pan to evenly coat the pan.
Turn once. The crepe should be as thin as possible and evenly browned.
Repeat with the remaining batter to make 8 crepes.
Set aside, covered, while you make the filling.
Crab filling for the crepes
400g of crab meat (you can use canned crab meat if you have to)
2tbs of coriander or parsley
3tbs of sour cream
2tsp of chopped jalapeno pepper
Juice of 2 limes
Combine the crab meat with the other ingredients and mix well.
Spoon on to crepe, roll up and serve immediately.