Christmas food can be anything you want it to be. You don’t have to cook turkey. I cooked turkey for years. I didn’t even eat it, and not all of my family were that keen either. I did it because, well, it was tradition. One year there was a disaster. The cat got the bird. I had to think of something else to do. Pronto. After a little persuading of the family, I opted for a buffet. Not your picky bits of brown food, but proper dishes – Indian meals, Chinese influenced dishes, meat, seafood and vegetables. I can’t remember the exact menu, it was very much a ‘seat of your pants’ type affair, but I do remember it worked very well. We picked and nibbled. We ate what we wanted when we wanted to. There was something for everyone, and no one complained about the leftovers!
Deciding to cook a non-traditional meal at Christmas can be very liberating. Of course there are different roasts you can try instead of the turkey – Pork and beef work well with all the trimmings – but why not opt for something completely different? Maybe something you can make in advance and chill or freeze so you don’t spend all your time in the kitchen on Christmas eve/day?
As a vegetarian I have suffered many a well-meaning nut roast. Done well, it can be a delight; done badly, well, the adjectives ‘dry’ and ‘cardboardy’ spring to mind. If you want a veggie centrepiece, you could try layering a few goodies like cranberries or parsnips into your standard nutloaf recipe to ring the changes and add a bit of colour, texture and moisture. I’ll upload one of my recipes later in the week, so check back to the recipe section. Something else I’ve been keen on over the last few years is a vegetable jalousie. It’s basically an excuse to shove everything you like between sheets of flaky pastry. I use mushrooms, cranberries, onions, parsnips, nuts and blue cheese. It’s extremely rich and a little goes a long way. It’s also something that your non veggies friends and family will love. It hits all the right spots: savoury, sweet, creamy, crunchy and satisfying. You can serve it with all the usual suspects, or incorporate some of them into the dish itself. It freezes well and can be eaten hot or cold. Again, I’ll upload the recipe later.
Another festive pastry option is a Wellington, vegetable or meat, which will capably fill the roast meat podium as a top star. The recipe is straight forward. The challenge is to cook the pastry to a golden crispy lusciousness without overcooking the meat.
Finally, on the pastry front, a tarte Tatin – beetroot or onion – are fun to make, easy and impressive to look at, as well as tasting amazing.
You don’t have to cook something complicated for it to be tasty and look impressive. Get the best ingredients you can afford and cook them sympathetically, with a few garnishes and trimmings, and you’ll be guaranteed a delicious meal.
As a vegetarian I don’t want lasagne or veggie burgers for my Christmas lunch, but neither do I need extravagant or exotic creations. Good food, well cooked, is always the best option – veggie or carnivore.
Christmas may not be the time to challenge yourself with ingredients you’re unfamiliar with, or recipes that are hard to follow, so cook to your skill level, and add more expensive ingredients for that touch of celebration. It will create less stress in the kitchen and mean you don’t end up a frazzled wreck.
If you’re catering for lots of different tastes and dietary requirements, it’s reasonable to ask people to bring a dish of their own. No one person should be responsible for cooking Christmas lunch (unless they want to be!) This works especially well if you do decide to go down a hot buffet route. All you need to do then is reheat dishes that have already been prepared. Doddle.
Whatever you decide to do, remember no one is making you cook sprouts, or cranberries, or even roast potatoes. Cook what you like, what you enjoy cooking, and the meal will be memorable – for the right reasons.
Photo: Festive Veggie Jalousie Copyright Highland Home Cook