Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook Cooked
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The evergreen cover and title picked out in fairy-light colours says it all. Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook comes with a generous sprinkling of nostalgia and an emphasis on family and fun. The book itself, with heavy matte pages, exuberant food photography, archive shots, and candid Oliver family snapshots is simply gorgeous. Extra brownie points go for an excellent index and for having not just one but TWO ribbons, one dark and one light green, with which to mark your favourite recipes.
Dedicated to his adored Nan (AKA Tiger) who passed away in 2013, Jamie Oliver claims this Christmas cookbook will be his one and only. It certainly looks the part, but does it deliver as a practical aid to the home cook? This average housewife put Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook, to the test, chapter by chapter.
The first recipe in the book is for prawn cocktail. At first glance, it is a standard layering up in a cocktail glass of lettuce, prawns and sauce. The Marie Rose is made, as it always was made, with shop-bought mayonnaise and ketchup, but with the additions of yoghurt, lemon, brandy and Jamie Oliver’s trademark ingredient, Worcestershire sauce. The standard frozen prawns are replaced by a jubilant medley of smoked salmon, brown shrimps, little and king prawns. In essence, Jamie Oliver takes a familiar dish, one which we all agree to eat on Christmas day more because it is tradition than because we like it, and jazzes it up to become a dish with real appeal. It’s not difficult, but it does require more effort, both in the sourcing of ingredients and in the preparation.
Jamie works the same magic on that most ordinary of seasonal first courses; the bowl of soup. He suggests roasting butternut squash, garlic and apples in the oven before combining them with a heady mix of herbs and spices. The result might just as well be called pureé of comfort.
This pattern is repeated throughout the entire book; there
are lots of clever ideas, but no tricky techniques to master and very few
unfamiliar ingredients. This is not a book about shortcuts, cheat’s methods or
easy-peasy ways to get a turkey cooked. It’s all about putting in a little
extra effort to make something special, because if you won’t do it at Christmas,
when ever would you? This is a book to make the traditional Christmas favourites
taste the best they possibly can.
Other starters include old familiars like smoked salmon pâté and pork terrine while pink gravadlax and beetroot carpaccio are offered as colourful alternatives.
The Main Event
There are six pages devoted to prepping, cooking, carving and generally admiring a turkey.
After that comes a clever recipe for Turkey Wellington. Let’s just say the turkey is well covered.
Alternative roasts include salmon en-croûte, goose, duck, and a cost-effective meatloaf. With typical generosity, Jamie provides not one, but four recipes for roast chicken. We enjoyed the curry butter chicken.
Veggie & Vegan Plates
I’m not entirely convinced whether a whole roast celeriac looks like a convincing vegetarian main course or an escapee from the Dr. Who Christmas special. Mushroom vol-au-vent or vegan Moroccan m’hanncha will surely make a delicious change from the ubiquitous nut roast.
The Wonderful World of Potatoes
Yes. A whole chapter devoted to the humble spud. In brief: best roast, hasselbacks, creamy al forno, champ pie, Tuscan roast, baked cheesy mash, balsamic roast and pommes Anna.
The balsamic potatoes, which actually list ‘a little faith,’ as an ingredient demanded testing. Par-boiled wedges of potato were roasted with red onion, garlic, thyme, butter and a truly unreasonable quantity of balsamic vinegar. I may have been somewhat cavalier while tossing my spuds which resulted in a good deal of brackish mush around the dish. ‘Charmingly ugly’ is the look Jamie aims for so we got close enough. These tasted like a great packet of salt and vinegar crisps but lacked the crunch. Kind of good and kind of weird was the verdict.
Glazed carrots, roast parsnips, red cabbage... all of the usual suspects, but each dressed to impress. Again, every recipe is about giving people what they expect but surprising them with terrific flavour. Jamie Oliver likes to give the impression of being laid back and casual, but in fact his recipes are all about paying attention to detail.
There are no fewer than four recipes for Brussels Sprouts. We felt obliged to test the Mustard Brussels Tops, which were steamed, bathed in a mustard emulsion, and tossed with pickled onions. The sprout-haters in our audience remain unconverted but our resident sprout-enthusiast declared these the best sprouts he had ever eaten. That’s a win.
Gravy, Sauces and all the Trimmings
Twelve pigs in blankets, four types of sauce (bread, cranberry, horseradish and mint), three types of gravy (dark bone, get-ahead and vegan), two bowls of stuffing and a whopping great Yorkshire pud. All that’s missing is the pear tree.
Turkey pie, turkey risotto, turkey falafel, turkey chilli, turkey stew, turkey chowder, turkey sloppy Joes...do people ever stop to wonder why they have so much leftover turkey?
This is a big chapter and includes a recipe for home-made
pasta which strikes me as optimistic in the extreme. Jamie’s winter ragù,
made with leftover roast beef, was deeply satisfying and went down a treat with
his cheesy baked mash.
Spectacular Festive Puddings
Pride of place goes to Jamie’s Nan’s Christmas Pudding recipe. If you don’t have your own Nan’s pudding recipe, this would be a nice place to start.
Next up is his Mum’s retro trifle complete with packet jelly, instant blancmange and Bird’s custard. I can tell you from experience that this is a complete show-stopper. It is generally greeted with a deep sigh of relief that dessert won’t be in any way restrained or sophisticated followed by a meleé of well-dressed guests diving in like pigs at a trough.
We tested and loved the panettone bread and butter pudding. Jamie uses the panettone crusts to create an effective tart crust making this a more presentable version than the average. Brown sugar sprinkled on the tin gives a caramel crunch to the outer layer and bitter marmalade was a genius addition. This is a fantastic recipe.
Alternatives, if you really need any, include an elegant chocolate pot, labour-intensive poached pear Pavlova, tiramisu, pannacotta, banoffee Alaska and winter bombe. Apple granita and apple carpaccio bring up the guilt-free rear guard.
Afternoon Tea & Sweet Treats
Lest your jeans still fit, a second chapter of sweet temptation covers Christmas cake, mince pies, gingerbread, brownies, churros and more. This brings me to my only serious gripe with the whole book which is that there is no recipe for mincemeat. In a Christmas cookbook of over 400 pages, this is an almost unforgivable omission. Jamie suggests adding butternut squash to shop-bought mincemeat; is he stone mad?
Cannoli brandy snaps proved easy to make and even easier to eat. The Sicilian style ricotta filling was a triumph.
The classic Yule Log with chestnut filling and chocolate buttercream was almost painfully sweet but an unbeatable centre-piece for a gathering of children.
Cute Edible Gifts
Save your waistline by making these delicious treats and then giving them away. It’s a good plan but seriously, what are our chances of sticking to it? Included are truffles, biscotti, Florentines, rocky road, honeycomb, lemon curd, piccalilli and more.
We made 54 pieces of fudge. We succeeded in giving away a dozen pieces and scoffed the rest ourselves.
There always comes a day, as the new year looms, when we suddenly crave a leaf of lettuce. Jamie didn't go overboard on this chapter, but that was almost a relief. Choose from a spinach and bacon salad, Waldorf salad or roasted carrot salad. There are also a couple of buffet stalwarts like winter slaw and a retro layered salad.
Dips, Bites and Handheld Nibbles
Perhaps better titled "Party Central," this is the chapter which best displays Jamie Oliver’s innovative skill. Can you imagine a quesadilla made from quinoa and filled with Brussels sprouts? Add to that a cheese board tutorial, half a dozen variations on blinis, four different sausage rolls, samosas, bread buns and dips galore.
We baked a Camembert and took the extra five minutes to make Jamie's suggested additions (rosemary, chilli, garlic and black pepper). The result was phenomenal.
Listen, if you are still with me at this stage go ahead and buy the book. You know you want to. Irresistible drinks include white Russian, hot buttered rum, pink pepper Negroni and seven potential Prosecco variations.
We tested a Manhattan, perhaps two, and agreed that Jamie Oliver’s Christmas is likely to be very merry indeed.