Sunday, 13 December 2009

A time for feasting

My first true taste of Christmas this year came last weekend, at the inaugural Festive Feast For Those That Love to Eat, which took place at Mudchute Kitchen

Whilst at the backbone of the menu were Christmas staples, such as chesnuts, roast ham, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, the end result was a spread of vibrant, earthy, dishes that were undisputedly representative of what Mudchute Kitchen is all about.
I've tried my hand at home-smoking before, but still got immense pleasure from preparing the appetiser of potted mackerel on toast. Returning to the smoke house to retrieve the fish, after the scent of burning embers have permeated their flesh for almost 12 hours, was quite a thrill; Eight butterflied fish, sat glistening in the soft, December sunlight. 
The flesh was then flaked into chunks, seasoned with pepper and paprika, and potted with home-smoked clarified butter. Spread roughly onto hot, toasted soda bread, it's the essence of simple cooking that allows the ingredients to do the work for you.  

The centre piece of the main course, for the carnivores at least, was a huge leg of ham, studded with cloves, and glazed in Philippa's home-made Seville orange marmalade. The ham is boiled with bay, stock veg, peppercorns, and garden herbs, then roast outdoors in the wood oven, giving a wonderfully caramelised coating to the meat, and a slick of thick, sticky sauce. 
As well as a celeriac gratin, with blue cheese and walnuts, there was a spread of salads including a sumptuous platter of warm, earthy beetroots, accompanied by lentils and goats cheese, all subtly swapping flavours as they melted into one another; crisp, zingy 'pickled' cucumber with dill, fennel tops, and shallots; a parsnip remoulade, moistened with a light creme fraiche dressing, sweetened with honey and dates, and topped with fresh chesnuts; a show-stopping bowlful of pears, wood-roasted with butter and cinnamon, and nestled in a bed of watercress. 
For dessert there was a huge rice pudding, given a middle-eastern twist with cardamon, orange, cinnamon and rose petals. Finally we served platefuls of Persian candy floss, called pashman (that's the phonetic spelling - apologies in advance to any Iranian readers) - long strands of pure white spun sugar, with a subtle hazelnut-vanilla flavour, that has to be seen - and tasted - to be believed. It also happens to look like Santa Claus' beard, which rounded off our non-traditional take on Christmas dinner.   

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