The nineteenth day of July in the nineteenth year of the millennium beginning in 2000, a special day – our nineteenth wedding anniversary.

A picture of me with the prawns with flames from the flambe with Pernod

The final stage for this excellent starter, flambe with Pernod or Ricard

We don’t usually celebrate our civil wedding as it doesn’t mean much to either Petronela or me (memorable mainly for the unusual happenings associated with it); we celebrate the anniversaries of our church wedding three months later, on 29th October.

Christmas dinner

It was not ‘all the 19s’ which made us make an exception this year but the fact that our 2018 Christmas dinner has been sitting in the freezer since December. Both of us were struck by ‘the bug’ rampant at the time and could handle neither cooking nor eating. We did intend to make it our Easter feast but unexpected guests put paid to that.

Prawns flambéed

The highlight of the feast was what we think is the best starter ever: giant prawns flamed in Pernod (or Ricard). The recipe comes from a much-missed blog – My French Heaven. The prawns had sat for a while in oil with chopped garlic ready for flambé when we were struck down so the whole thing was bunged in the freezer. It didn’t suffer for its 6 month plus freeze.

Nor did the venison steaks for Petronela and wild duck breasts for me – washed down with an excellent Romanian Murfatlar Feteasca Neagra wine: 3 Hectare.

 

First Christmas (part) with Petronela, 20 years ago. Just work colleagues then, as was Ana Maria on my other side – still a good friend

We are just two – my wife Petronela and me – for Christmas since my mum died. This year we are having our 18th Christmas together but it’s the 20th year we had a part of Christmas together. Twenty years ago I was living in the students’ hostel of the high school at which Petronela and I taught, she as history teacher and head of humanities, I as a volunteer English teacher (so living for free in the hostel). I invited some teacher colleagues for a ‘party’ in my little room and Petronela was one who came (my plan? 😜).

Stockings awaiting Santa

Even with just the two of us we like to make Christmas Day ‘special’, but a time of peace with no stress. So each year it becomes more and more simple. On the other hand, it always begins, after seeing what Santa put in our stockings (yes, we hang stockings like a couple of children) over coffee and (for me) tea, with the same ‘luxury breakfast’: smoked salmon (three different cures this year) with the ‘best scrambled eggs in the world’, as I learned from my mother, and ‘bubbly’ – Freixenet cava; it began by being the only ‘special’ bubbly we could find in Romania 18 years ago or at least one we could afford but, not a follower of fashion, I have not been diverted by the more recent craze for Prosecco (not as good anyway) nor champagne which we could now afford. Same with gin: the latest craze is expensive weirdly flavoured gins and expensive (in it’s true meaning, costing more than it’s worth) tonic; we both like gin and tonic but either Gordons or the excellent one at a good price from Aldi are good enough for us.

 

This year there was something new; usually we do not have any special meal on Christmas Eve but having received something very special from my dear Latvian blogger friend Ilze, and told they – grey peas – were a Christmas dish, I made to Ilze’s recipe, with onion and bacon, and had as the introduction to Christmas. Delicious! Ilze says they should be accompanied by kefir; having been to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds a couple of days before that was easy to follow. Usually we buy the similarly tasting Romanian  ‘sana’ or ‘lapte batut’ there. 

Latvian ‘grey peas’ with onions and bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast we open little presents to each other, found below the Christmas tree. Petronela will always find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish cream and a bottle of Drambuie, I will unwrap a bottle of Scotch, among them and these will keep us going till it’s time to prepare Christmas dinner, not lunch but at about 7pm.

 

I titled this post ‘Christmas simplified’: gone are the days when I’d slave in the kitchen preparing classic French cordon bleu cuisine (neither of us much like turkey or traditional ‘Christmas pudding’). Now we rely on Marks and Spencer which has never let us down. So this year the starter was ‘king prawn and poached salmon terrine’, delicious enough to tempt us to eat two portions each! Main course was rack of venison, easy enough to roast leaving me only to prepare roast potatoes and parsnip, with lightly steamed brocolli, kaylettes, brussel sprouts and runner beans – easy enough. This washed down with the excellent Romanian red wine, from the fetească neagră grape grown in the Murfatlar region, ‘3 hectare‘, brought from Romania. Thanks to the double portion of starter neither of us could eat everything on the plate and needed a rest before the ‘Belgian chocolate and toffee sponge pudding’, an amazing creation with a chocolate flecked with gold dome being inverted over the steamed sponge and left to melt – very tasty if a bit too sweet, as I shall report to M&S, but a good finisher nevertheless.

Happy day

So, a lovely happy day, for the most part immersed in the astoundingly beautiful Romanian carols (I like to sing the English ones but most of these cannot match the Romanian ones for beauty), responding to some WordPress Christmas blog posts, sending and receiving Christmas greetings to dear friends in far off places (some made through WordPress blogs) by email or Messenger and chatting more, and exchanging photos, with one throughout the day – I won’t mention who so as not to embarrass her; let’s just say I’ve come to love her close immediate family though we’ve met only on the wonder of internet.

So, that was our Christmas ‘simplified’. Nothing special for today – Boxing Day – except to laze about, doing nothing special after clearing up the chaos in the kitchen (we don’t believe in ruining a good meal by clearing up after, not even loading the dishwasher!).

I hope you all had an equally happy Christmas Day as we did; I know some of you were not very well but I trust that despite this you had a day of peace and contentment.

Now, in our little household, we move on to New Year, a really big ‘celebration’ for most Romanians, made even more so for us as Petronela’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve so, following Romanian tradition, we have ‘open house’ with the table full of Romanian delights, of which more at the time.

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

A beautiful crisp, sunny Yorkshire day.

(Click any picture to see it larger)

Breakfast

Roger pouring Freixenet bubbly at the breakfast table

Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, Irish potato farls and Spanish Cava – Freixenet

Presents, Romanian carols, walk, Betty’s Hot Chocolate (present), Calvados, Queen’s Christmas message, English carols (more…)

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Venison last year for Christmas dinner so I wondered what I could do for something different this year. I settled on wild boar from Ballinwillin House Farm in County Cork, Ireland. It arrived today, just as requested, brought by DHL (and what an excellent tracking system they have!). There are only two of us so I ordered a four bone rack; it looks great. I especially like the look of that black-speckled skin over the substantial layer of white fat. (I also ordered some belly and both wild boar and venison sausages, so bringing the total cost up to the level meriting free delivery). I will, of course, let you know how it tastes on the day.

A case of stouts and porters (more…)

First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve

Practice

35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

To all my followers, and anyone else who might drop by, wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate this Christian festival, and wishing you a wonderful time whatever festive occasion you might celebrate if not.

Our Christmas Tree - 2012

Our Christmas Tree – 2012

The smoked salmon and scrambled eggs are eaten, the bottle of champagne still has a little in it (but not for much longer), and the brioche dough is in the warmest room in the house (the boiler cupboard) for a few hours for its first rising. I didn’t get to it last night so that was my first job this morning – among opening presents, making breakfast, delivering Christmas cards to my neighbours … who says only the ladies can multi-task ;).

More on the Christmas Dinner later.