Of all the meals I prepare over the festive period, Christmas day dinner is often the simplest, most relaxing and least taxing. The objective of the day is to be as sedentary as possible (almost sessile if I could manage it), chill out, dogs snoring at our feet in front of the stove while we read and listen to music or the radio (glass of fizz in hand, of course). It is quite an unusual event for us to sit down for any length of time and relax and to be honest, I never find it easy to sit still for very long.
Hence, a roast bird, in this case a free range bronze turkey was the very traditional choice. For one thing, nothing could be easer to cook, get your prep and timing right, and there is very little to attend to until gravy is required while the bird is resting. Ideal. Turkey is also still something of a novelty for us since we have only been post-vegetarian for the last few years, so it still retains its annual appeal. We prepared minced meat stuffing from the venison we butchered earlier in the year, as well as chipolatas, so there was little prep required, except a few roasters and veg – what we had available in the storage and the garden. Sadly, this is the end of our stored carrot supplies, but a fitting one.
I am not about to recount how one should go about roasting turkey and trimmings for the traditional meal on Christmas day – that has been done to death with a plethora of never-ending tips and suggestions being available about this subject everywhere you look online.
The real challenge on Christmas Day for us is not that of cooking the meal but an exercise in moderation. We almost achieved this, although a sensible but difficult decision was taken to omit cheeseboard. What a couple of lightweights we have become!
The dogs also got the opportunity to appreciate Christmas dinner – the one day in the year when they get to eat something else other than their own food. It was very difficult to get them to sit for this photo as Darwin (at the front) kept enthusiastically swinging his paw up in a powerful left hook to indicate he was ready to receive!
The favoured nut featured in a somewhat makeshift dessert of bits and pieces, which turned into an unintentioned Hazelnut-Fest. The highlight was our favourite ice cream, one for which I am eternally grateful for discovering in David Leibovitz’s book ‘The Perfect Scoop’, the quintessentially Italian Gianduja – hazelnut and milk chocolate. This is the only ice cream I find difficult to stop eating. It is super-smooth, rich, creamy sumptuous and decadent.
Traditional gianduja chocolates, with the same basic mix of hazelnuts and good quality milk chocolate contained in this ice cream, are made in the Piedmont region of Italy where some of the world’s most flavoursome hazelnuts are grown. Even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, if there is any ice cream worth the effort of hand churning, it is this one to re-create the lush flavours of this Italian classic. Make sure you source good quality milk chocolate with at least 30% cocoa solids. The Co-op’s own Fairtrade milk chocolate works well and is 30%. The original recipe suggests discarding the nuts after infusing, but this is wasteful and keep them to include in a cake.
250ml whole milk
500ml double cream
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
115g milk chocolate, chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
- Toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 170C for 10-12 minutes, let them cool and rub off most of the papery skins with a tea towel.
- Blitz them in a food processor until quite finely ground.
- Warm the milk with 250 ml of the cream, sugar and salt in a pan. Once warm, remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts.
- Cover and let the nuts infuse in the mixture for at least an hour (I sometimes leave this for several hours to intensify the flavours).
- Chop the milk chocolate and put in a bowl. Heat the remaining 250ml of cream until almost boiling and pour over the chocolate, stir until it melts into the cream. Set a sieve over the top of the bowl.
- Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a sieve into a pan, squeezing the nuts to extract all the flavour. Re-warm this mixture.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mix back into the pan.
- Stir constantly over a medium heat with a spatula until the mix thickens to coat the spatula.
- Pour the thickened mix through the sieve and onto the cream and milk chocolate mix, add the vanilla.
Cool over ice and refrigerate before churning either by hand or using an ice cream maker.
For the ultimate hazelnut overdose, I served the gianduja ice cream with my home-made muscovado and hazelnut meringues and Frangelico, hazelnut and cranberry biscotti (recipes will be subject of future post). I added a Lindors hazelnut praline chocolate on the side and accompanied the whole indulgence with Frangelico hazelnut liqueur. OTT hazelnut heaven.