Guest Brixton food blogger, Lucy Ferguson, hosted a Christmas dinner for twelve in South London a few weeks ago – she gives us her tips for a (sort of) successful Christmas Day meal
X Factor has finished and River Cottage Christmas Special is on Television. It’s that time that our thoughts turn to why on earth we offered to cook Christmas dinner and how on earth to tackle it.
If any of you have seen my blog TV Dinners, you’ll know I’m an unconfident and indeed sometimes talentless cook. But recently I hosted a traditional Christmas dinner for twelve with all the trimmings – everyone ate too much, no-one died and nothing went wrong (well except for the bread sauce, but who cares about bread sauce?) If I can do it, I absolutely promise you anyone can. So here’s my hints, tips, cheats and workarounds for the big day.
1) Seek Help
Firstly – don’t worry about asking for help! Get everyone to muck in and bring a starter, or some cheese, or a whole pudding – or if that’s not feasible, then get people peeling, chopping and dishing up the mulled wine.
Everyone who came for dinner brought a component of the meal.
So as I had absolutely nothing to do with the starter I can tell you it was utterly lovely, boozy and light. We had beetroot, wrapped in smoked salmon, with a vodka horseradish crème fraîche.
2) Get merry
As well as a bit of alcohol in every course, it’s good to distract everyone with a variety of drinks. Bubbly, port, whatever. I managed to find this awesome punch bowl from a Tooting charity shop for a tenner the day before (I was actually on a hunt for additional knives and forks, which I forgot to buy, but you can see why). I’m not sure the image really shows just how big and insane this glassware is, it’s basically an elaborate bucket with twelve mugs attached. I filled it with mulled wine and put someone in charge of keeping everyone topped up
3) Do it early
The day before Christmas dinner (which will of course be Christmas Eve, if you’re being traditional) I poured over my trusty, battered, second hand copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas and got to work on making the bread sauce and the cranberry sauce. Delia’s homemade cranberry sauce is wonderful, it’s tart and rich with port and orange juice, it makes the whole house smell of Christmas and takes no time at all. Don’t know what all the Christmas fuss is about – oh, hold on…
…I have to admit I ruined the bread pudding. I think I used too much nutmeg and soaked the milk with the onion for too long – either way it was way too bitter, with a horrible aftertaste. So perhaps don’t use Delia’s recipe for this.
4) Get lots of rest
Not you, the turkey…
I ordered a 14lb turkey from my local butcher and got him to advise me on the cooking. He advised putting it into a oven bag to keep it moist and cooking for two and a half hours and resting for as long as possible. This is great advice, the longer you can rest the better – for one if you’re anything like me a 14lb turkey will take up a sizeable amount of the oven. I would never have thought it, but get it cooked and out of the oven TWO HOURS before you want to serve it! Sounds made I know, but I wrapped it in foil and wrapped it in a load of towels and it stayed hot for when we went to carve.
Incidentally, I don’t think there are many times I have more looked more stupid than when I tried to put an extremely heavy, extremely slippery with butter, 14lb turkey into a tightly fitting plastic bag. I tried dropping the turkey in, pulling the bag over the top, inching it over, like when you put a sleeping bag in its bag. It took forever and this gigantic bird kept slipping all over the place.
Once in the bag (don’t forget to pierce the bag, I did at first, it looked worryingly like it was going to explode) I followed Jamie’s advice and whacked the oven on full to heat up. Once the bird goes in, turn it down to 180.
As the turkey is resting, you can parboil any vegetables, then get them all in the oven to roast with stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, and if you’re that way inclined Yorkshire puddings, and serve it up to your guests. Hurrah!
What you eat after turkey is served is entirely up to you, but here’s what our group ate – unless you’re particularly keen on Man V Food style challenges, you may not want to copy…
For pudding we had a superb (I can again call it this, I didn’t cook it) Bread and Butter Panettone Pudding with lots of rum. Then Quality Street. Then chocolate brownies. Then meringue nests with brandy cream and raspberries. Someone was then caught dipping gingerbread men into the brandy cream (which certainly wasn’t me…) and everyone around the table had to try this, just to realise how terribly wrong that was. Then cheese and biscuits. Disgraceful. Expect January’s post to be about healthy food. Merry Christmas!
What are you having for Christmas dinner this year? Are you cooking or getting away from it all? Do you have a better bread sauce recipe? Let us know!
In August, Joe Coulson wrote us a post on summer sports in Brixton. Now he shares his tips for keeping moving in the cold winter weather
(Photo: Matthew Bluett)
As any cliché-loving sports coach will tell you, winter is the season in which champions are made, and that’s not the only reason to keep running & cycling through the cold weather.
There are surely few more simple pleasures than spinning through the city on a crisp clear night, with your tyres humming frostily beneath you.
So here are some Brixton-bespoke ideas for enjoying your running and cycling until the spring.
Cunning running. A bit of inventiveness is all you need to keep running once the ice arrives. Last year, I found that outside Olive Morris House on Brixton Hill, with its overhanging shelter, made a great ice-free spot for the odd interval session. Better still, ask Father Christmas for a set of snow-cleats for your trainers and then when everyone else is fighting to stay upright, you’ll be granted exclusive use of a pristine white running wonderland.
Circuits in the park. If you’d prefer a bit of company, why not head down to the park for some circuit training? You’ll get the benefit of a good hour’s cardio work while improving your speed and core stability. A cheap pair of football boots is a wise investment when it gets muddy though. One Element run sessions on Streatham Common and across London, and Community Circuits run sessions in Brockwell Park.
Winter swim. You can swim outdoors through the winter at the Serpentine or Tooting Bec if you join and — whether you’re indoors or outdoors — getting involved in something like winterswim is a great way to stay motivated.
Weatherproof your ride. Never mind mudguards and waterproofs, the secret to happy winter cycling starts with a good base layer. One well-known brand claims to have been worn continuously for 40 days at sea during a round-the-world record attempt, so a few chilly early morning commutes through London shouldn’t be a problem. To keep your bike ship-shape, Brixton Cycles will sort you out with the essential degreaser and lube you need.
Eat like an explorer. There’s a reason why the diet of choice for the high-altitude, sub-zero explorer includes soup, stew and hot tea: you get warmth, much-needed fluid, and food all in one go. I reckon Kaosarn is a hard-to-beat bet in Brixton for a warming winter meal, but — further afield – why not try Galapagos Foods in Battersea for a bowl of hearty homemade soup?
What are your top winter exercise tips?
Joe Coulson blogs here
It’s okay to talk about Christmas now that December has begun. Here, Brixton food blogger Miss South introduces us to the delights of the German Lebkuchen
Christmas is coming! Which means you’re either running around like a headless chicken trying to do all your shopping or you’re cosied up indoors enjoying the season. Either way you’ll need a simple seasonal treat to see you through. Brixton may not have a German market (although it has every other sort) but don’t let that stop you from indulging in these traditional German biscuits or Lebkuchen.A spiced cookie similar to gingerbread, these are bursting with festive flavours and are the easiest thing in the world to make. Best of all, you can get everything you need to do so in the wonderful Nour Cash and Carry for about a third of the cost of popping to Tesco. So stock up and impress everyone this year with freshly baked biscuits in no time.
(Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food)
250g plain flour
85g ground almonds
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, mace, allspice (use all or just which ones you have)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml clear honey or 100ml honey and 100g dark brown sugar
1 lemon , finely grated zest
FOR THE ICING
100g icing sugar
1 egg white , beaten
Preheat your oven to 200C and melt the butter, honey and sugar together on the stove. Measure your dry ingredients into a large bowl and then add the liquid when completely melted. Combine together well until a slightly fudgy dough. This should take about 5 minutes.
Pinch off walnut sized pieces of the dough, roll into a ball and then flatten out on a lined baking tray, leaving enough room to spread out slightly. The dough should yield about 30 cookies so you’ll probably only be able to bake half at one time. Cover the dough to stop it drying out in this case. You can also freeze the cookies and simply cook for a minute or two longer when needed. Just put some greaseproof paper between them when freezing.
You want to cook the biscuits until golden and still slightly soft so check after 10 minutes but don’t be surprised if they need up to 15 minutes. Leave them on the tray for about 2 minutes to firm slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes so you can ice them.
The icing is firmer with the egg white and less likely to drip, but if it’s a waste of an egg for you, just mix the icing sugar into a stiffish paste with some water and use that instead with the back of a teaspoon or a pastry brush. Allow to dry for a moment or two and then get stuck in!
These are equally good with a cup of tea as with some mulled wine. They are soft and chewy, thanks to the almonds, with a warming tingle of spice than knocks the shopbought ones into a cocked hat. Simple enough to make with the kids, they’ll impress everyone this Christmas and keep well in a tin if you happen to have any leftover. I have a feeling they’ll be a Christmas tradition in your house year after year…