Wednesday 29 December 2010

Tweeting Christmas recipes: the fun, the festivities, and the failure

My cousin's trifle
My cousin Sarah's mulberry and raspberry Christmas trifle, which
 I whipped outside to photograph while the custard was being made.
I became a Twitter fan (oh, okay, a hopeless addict) this year, and this is the first Christmas in the four years I've been writing this blog that I have had the opportunity to engage, in real time, with people who've decided to give my recipes a whirl. 

(And what fun I had over Christmas! I joined my extended family in Franschhoek to prepare an extravaganza of a feast, to which we each contributed a course or dish; the trifle-in-the-making pictured left was one of two desserts made by my talented cousin Sarah Walters.)

I can't tell you what a kick it gave me to log in to Twitter over the past week to find many questions, comments and photographs posted by readers of this blog.

Not to say that I wasn't gnawing my knuckles at the thought of people putting faith in my recipes. I'm keenly aware that no matter how carefully I formulate and test a recipe, there is always a chance of failure: I might have made a mistake in writing down quantities, or left out a vital step, or neglected to explain the method clearly. (I experienced a spectacular failure myself when my huge Christmas gammon fell to soggy shreds in the pot last Thursday, but more about that later in this post).

It is hugely rewarding for me, as a recipe developer, to see my dishes being cooked by real people in real kitchens, and on such an important festive occasion. My Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke was the recipe most people made, with others trying my festive turkey stuffing, my Layered Christmas Ice-Cream Cake with White Chocolate and Berriesand several older recipes for salads, including the perennially popular Marinated Mushrooms.

Here are some of the pictures that were tweeted by readers who'd made the Coke-glazed gammon: don't they look scrumptious?

Glazed Christmas Gammon
Some of the gammon photographs tweeted by readers of this blog!
And here's a picture sent to me by Steve Mabbutt (one of this blog's most loyal and informed readers, and a cook of note), of his mise en place for the gammon:

Our own festive feast (traditionally served on Christmas Eve) was just wonderful. It's so special to come together as a family to cook, laugh and talk, to eat, drink and be merry, isn't it?

Even though we are (mostly) heathens of note, I've always found Christmas Eve to be the most magical and merry night of the year. Twinkling lights, frosty champagne glasses, glowing candles, presents rustling under the tree, kids whirling in giddy circles, spicy aromas drifting from the kitchen...

My family, starting the feast.
And then, as the evening blossoms into its fullness, singing of carols, snapping of crackers, stirring of gravy, carving of turkey, munching of chocolate, filling of Christmas stockings, putting-out of milk and biscuits for Father Christmas, and all the other treasured family rituals that make those marvellous and important memories.

And then there is (of course) the food. This year, my family pulled out the stops to produce a humdinger of a feast. My sister Sophie produced a seriously delicious dip of smoky aubergines, garlic and toasted pine nuts.

My other sister Karen roped in the kids to make what is always the star attraction of the feast: little pork sausages wrapped in bacon, with fresh rosemary. My sainted mother glided back and forth, with her usual poise and enthusiasm, dishing out champagne, encouragement and hugs to her adoring children and grandchildren.

The winning dish - in fact, one of the best things I've tasted this year - was a beautiful starter of smoked trout made by my uncle David.  In this truly gorgeous recipe (recipe here) piping-hot sesame oil is trickled over a bed of Franschhoek smoked trout, then topped with miso, soy sauce, black sesame seeds, fresh ginger, garlic, caperberries, dabs of home-made mayonnaise and great dollops of pink and black fish roe.  This was served on exquisite plates hand-made by David, each one embossed with our names.

Bacon-wrapped pork chipolatas, ready for the oven
 My sister Karen's pork chipolatas, ready for the oven
The starter was followed by a traditional turkey course, as demanded by the British-born men of my family (three brothers-in-law: a Scot, a Welshman and an Englishman). We made two turkeys for 20 people (each turkey with its own stuffing), plus potatoes roasted in duck fat, peas, gravy, bacon-wrapped chipolatas and a green salad. For dessert, my pudding-queen-of-a-cousin Sarah and her man Jim produced a mulberry and raspberry trifle and an incredibly delicious Nigel Slater cheesecake.

And finally: my Christmas-feast disaster. I bought an enormous (4.3 kg) bone-in gammon from a local supermarket chain that collapsed into sodden shreds when I cooked it.  I won't name the supermarket until they've responded to my complaint, but I will say that I'm annoyed and frustrated at having wasted both money and time on a clearly inferior piece of meat.

The joint looked beautiful, all right, when I bought it (it's the same joint, from the same supermarket, shown in Steve's mise en place picture, above) but within half an hour of my placing it in a flavoured, spiced stock, it began to swell alarmingly.  Some three-and-a-half hours of simmering later (well short of the cooking time recommended on the packaging) it began to disintegrate into tasteless grey shreds. I couldn't save it, because it fell to pieces as I fished it out of the stock.

All was not lost, though, because a foraging party found another gammon from another supermarket (this time, in Franschhoek) which held together as it boiled, and tasted delicious.

I've cooked many gammons in my life, always using the same cooking times, and this is the first time I've ever seen a piece of meat collapse in such a spectacular fashion. I fretted briefly over whether I'd done something wrong, or miscalculated the cooking time, but when the aforementioned Steve told me he'd had exactly the same disaster with his gammon, I realised that the fault lay with the ingredient, and not the cook  (Whew!)

I will get back to you with details when I receive a reply to the email of complaint I've sent the supplier.

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Hila said...

I can't believe David Walters is your uncle! I covet his things, TheHusband has promised we can get some things for the new flat once we're in there. Seems that he's been watching iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto because the hot oil over sashimi is something he does almost every time he has any kind of meat as the secret ingredient (fish, steaks, lamb, etc)

It looks like you had a very merry christmas, it made me kind of sad because although we are Jewish, my husband is a convert so his family are not and we had started celebrating it with them. It is such a happy time, so full of love and all good things.

I hope you have a fantabulous New Year and hopefully we do lunch in the new year :)

Steve said...

Sophie's "dip of smoky aubergines, garlic and toasted pine nuts" has started some Homer Simpson-style drooling here. Add it to the family recipes you're about to blog?

eatcapetown said...

beautifully written. Tom Robbins

Jane-Anne said...

Hello my friends, and thank you for these comments.

@LadyRaven, my uncle tells me he got the idea for the hot sesame oil from his friend Reuben Riffel's amazing cookbook, Food is Time Travel.

@ Steve, I'll get the recipe off her and post it in the next week or two

@Tom, thank you very much.