Sarah is a passionate and creative cook, which is just as well because she loves variety, and the toddler in her life loves pasta.
An Alternative Christmas Dinner
Don't get me wrong, traditional Christmas dinners are a powerful thing. We probably all carry around memories of one particularly good Christmas where everything was just right, and we can still taste the various foods we tried that day.
However, what exactly is a traditional Christmas dinner? To a great extent it comes down to where you are from, but even then there might be regional differences. Of course, our individual families shape our expectations of a Christmas dinner, as well. Is it turkey or goose? Or maybe something else entirely, like carp? Are there any Christmas foods you loathe (like . . . maybe sprouts, does anyone actually have time for sprouts?) but for some reason always find their way to the Christmas table? And then, of course, there's a timing issue—is Christmas dinner actually served up midday or at actual dinnertime?
None of these questions really matter while you are single and spending the holidays with your own family because it will be business as usual, and you'll be in your comfort zone. But for most of us, there comes a point where we experience our partner's family Christmas—and we might just walk away from it feeling a bit deflated.
Maybe you live very far away from your family and can't be with them this year. If it's just you and a significant other or friend in the same boat, going all out and buying a roast with all the trimmings is overkill. You'll have more food than you could eat, and the two of you would be slaving away for hours, as well.
So, why not push the boat out a bit and do something different. You might not enjoy your grandmother's legendary home-cooking, but you'll also feel a bit more relaxed.
Obviously, the duck breast is kind of the star of the show, but let's talk purple cabbage first for one reason and one reason only: You need to prepare this component in advance. Although you could make it on the day of the meal, I'd urge you to start sooner for two reasons:
- It's less work on the big day.
- It tastes better when it has had a chance to sit in your freezer overnight.
But just because it isn't the star of the show, I would argue that it's the second-in-command on your plate. Duck is very greasy and the tanginess of the cabbage cuts through that beautifully. It is also the one thing on your plate that is infused with Christmas-spice, so it will bring some festive cheer to your palate.
- 1 purple cabbage, cut into slices and then short strips
- 1 large apple, any sour variety that holds its shape will work
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 juniper berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 1 large bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
Depending on how big your cabbage is, you might need a large pan and you'll end up with plenty of leftovers. However, the cabbage will keep really well in the fridge, so fear not.
- Put the cut up cabbage, apple, spices and the vinegar into a pot (you can add a bit more vinegar later if the cabbage needs it).
- For the first few minutes on the heat, stir it carefully so that everything is coated by the vinegar and doesn't burn.
- Put a small glass of water into the pan and once it's boiling put a lid on and walk away.
- Cook for about 15-20 minutes if you are going to re-heat the next day or up until 30 minutes if you are winging it on the actual day.
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I know that some people are intimidated by duck and never make it at home. That's a real shame because with a bit of knowledge you can't really mess it up even if you are making it for more than two people.
Personally, I like duck breast pink. It's your party though, so feel free to put it back if you look at it and it's too pink for you.
- Duck breasts (1 per person)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small glass red wine
- 1 pint duck or chicken stock
As I said, this one doesn't have to be daunting. The secret to stress-free cooking here is to put the oven on a really, really low heat. In my oven, I'd put it on 100 degrees Centigrade.
- Take a sharp knife and criss-cross the fat. I know people who trim the fat but I personally don't—you'll lose a lot of it in the pan anyway. Then put salt and pepper on both sides of the meat.
- While you are cutting, get a large frying pan or skillet really hot on the hob.
- Place the duck breasts skin-side down into the dry pan and fat will start to render out pretty much straight away. Leave them like this for a bit so that the skin has a chance to lose as much fat as possible and take on a nice brown colour (remember that the temperature in the oven is so low, no additional browning will happen then).
- Once you are happy with the skins, turn the duck over and seal the meat side as well. This will only take a few seconds though as you are not trying to cook them through.
- Take the pan off the heat. Transfer the duck breasts to the oven with the skin-side up so that any additional fat can run off. If you have one, put a meat thermometer into the largest breast. 62 to 65 degrees Centigrade will give you a lovely pink breast.
Now would be the point where you can get your potatoes on the boil. While the potatoes are just boiling, this gives you the chance to get a nice gravy on.
- Use some (definitely not all) of the duck fat and transfer to a smaller saucepan.
- Stir in the red wine and stock and let it reduce.
- If it's not thick enough by the time your potatoes are boiled, add some cornstarch dissolved in cold water to give it some body (but I find if it simmers away in the background that's not always necessary).
Mashed potatoes are amazing provided they are made from scratch (personal opinion here), and it's definitely one of those things where leftovers will be appreciated the next day. So, I'll leave the amounts you want to make entirely up to you.
- 1/2 kilogram potatoes (any variety recommended for mashing)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup double cream
- 1 stick butter
- Salt and pepper
You probably already know how to make mash; I'll therefore keep the instructions brief. If you need further guidance, please just leave a comment and I'll expand on this section a bit.
- Heat up your milk and cream just before you drain the potatoes (I heard that makes mash creamier). Put a bit of butter over the potatoes while you are waiting for the milk-cream concoction to heat up.
- Using a potato masher, start to break down the potatoes and then add the liquid bit by bit until you have your desired consistency. Should you run out of hot milk before the mash has reached a silky texture, feel free to add a bit more cold milk or just butter.
- Season with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg.
Assemble and Serve Immediately
Congratulations, your alternative Christmas dinner has now been completed. I hope you find that it wasn't that much effort (even though I appreciate there have been lots of steps I explained), but that it was still a delicious substitute for your traditional Christmas dinner.
Obviously, it's not just for Christmas. This combination makes an elegant wintery meal if you ever need to impress a special person in your life.
© 2018 Sarah