A taxi driver in London once gave me a first class lecture on the meaning and origins of the idiom to be “at sixes and sevens”. I don’t know how it came up, I remember he had an awful lot to say about everything and before I knew it he had given me the whole story of the disputing trade companies that were bickering over order of precedence. They were founded in the same year but it could not be established which was founded first. Both wanted to be sixth (in the order of precedence) so now they change their order every year and are permanently between sixth and seven. It was a short taxi ride, from Waterloo station to Knightsbridge, had it been longer I would probably know … everything.
The phrase is used to describe someone who is in a state of confusion or can’t make up their mind. Which is a perfect way to describe me in the last few weeks. All that lovely holiday food waiting to be cooked, the endless possibilities. I have been trying to restrain myself, I have gone to the market with a menu in my head, but then I end up buying all sorts of other stuff too. Let’s just say that rules have been broken. We’ve had two sets of breakfasts, lunches in the afternoons and dinners on “Spanish time”. I’ve had minced pies practically every morning for breakfast (some of them delivered to me in bed no less), it is an absolute Christmas ritual for me to have them throughout the holidays (and not just for Christmas). Starters and desserts have been served simultaneously on occasion, which is quite nice as some of them have never met before. I am not sure though, that the Eaton mess enjoyed sharing the stage with the oysters – desserts can be such snobs!
We, like the rest of France, have gone mad for seafood, a plateau de fruit de mer is one of the most traditional things to serve at Christmas and every market has been bursting with oysters and crevettes, bulots, tourteaux, lobsters and langoustines. We like to call our seafood platter “royal” a nod to my father I suppose because a royal seafood platter is his favorite thing to order in restaurants. He likes the extravagance of it and when he first met my husband he made a point of ordering the most sumptuous one. When Chinese people invite for dinner they like to have too much food as a way of showing their hospitality. Icelandic people, on the other hand, think it’s rude not to finish what they are served. So you can imagine the scenes, my father kept ordering, my husband kept finishing.
We’ve had our fair share of poultry, soups and stews and all sorts of vegetable cocottes. Chocolates, meringues, delicious puddings and turkish delights. I made a lovely lavender honey nougat that I just had to share with you along with the minced pie recipe that I am particularly fond of (although I probably should have shared it sooner so you could have enjoyed it longer). A cauliflower soup with Cantal cheese was particularly satisfying one grey day earlier in December and pink radishes have found their way into many dishes this year so I’m putting those too.
The best gift we’ve had this year was to have all our children at Christmas, to be able to share a table with all of them at this time of the year is pure magic. And what tables we’ve shared. We met up with the older kids in Paris where I was lucky enough to be invited to host a “Cooklette” (workshop) at one of my favorite stores, Colette. What better way to spend an afternoon in December than to teach a bunch of great kids how to make marmelade and scones à la Paddington bear, in honor of his upcoming movie. Such good fun. We had two dim sum meals at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Paris, Auberge des trois bonheurs. They have the traditional round spinning tables and the younger kids were so eager to get to their food that the dishes literally came flying off the table when they played roulette. Back in Bordeaux we took them all to one of the prettiest restaurants you can find, La Tupina, as a holiday treat. They have very classic Bordelaise food, great fries cooked in duck fat, quality meats and are a perfect setting for a family meal. We got such great service, a family of six children and numerous dogs is not always easy to cater to.
Which brings me back to the sixes and sevens. That phrase is taking on added significance for us these days, it’s the last Christmas we’ll have six kids, next year they’ll be seven.
Velouté of cauliflower with Cantal
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 medium-sized cauliflower head, coarsely chopped
A sprig of thyme 200 g/ 7 ounces Cantal cheese, shredded (or any of your favourite cheese)
30 g/ 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
130 g/ 4 ounces slivered almonds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
A dash of piment d’Espelette A few sprigs of fresh chive, finely chopped
In a large pot, bring 750 ml/ 3 & 1/4 cups water to a boil and add coarsely chopped cauliflower head, thyme, nutmeg and potatoes. Cook for 30 minutes on a medium to low heat or until vegetables are tender. Add more water if necessary. Off the heat, mix the soup with a blender until smooth. Return the pot to the heat, add the shredded cantal cheese and simmer for a few minutes ona very low heat, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Season with salt & pepper. Add the butter and stir. Set aside. Preheat a pan on the stove. Pour the almonds in the pan and roast, shaking the pan every 10 seconds to prevent from burning. The almond slivers are ready when they turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes max. Serve soup in individual bowls, sprinkle with finely chopped chives and slivered roasted almonds, plus a dash of piment d’Espelette (optional). Season accordingly.
Roasted pink radishes & carrots with balsamic vinegar & rosemary
Serves 4 as a starter
Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 420 F
1 large pink radish, sliced finely
A bunch of small organic carrots
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
A drizzle of olive oil
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the vegetables on a roasting tray, drizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and finely chopped rosemary. Roast for 20 minutes. Place on a serving plate and scatter pomegranate seeds all over. Drizzle with additional olive oil and balsamic vinegar if desired. Season to taste if necessary.
This is a lovely recipe, so simple and delicious. I enjoy preparing mince pies in advance, so they are ready to be popped in the oven anytime. One of my favourite treats for the holidays, I especially like to have them for breakfast. So festive!
For the pastry: 240 g/ 1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
360 g/ 3 cups plain flour
130 g/ 2/3 cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 full egg
1 egg yolk
Makes approx 18 small mince pies.
Preheat oven to 200°C/ 390 F
Mix the flour and butter, then gradually add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Mix until crumbly, then add the egg and egg yolk. Shape dough into a ball and cover with cling film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.
Quick & easy mincemeat:
60 g/ ½ cup dark raisins, chopped
60 g/ ½ cup golden raisins, chopped
80 ml/ 1/3 cup calvados (apple brandy)
60 g/ ½ cup candied orange, chopped
30g/ 2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped
Zest of half an orange
Zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons brown sugar (cassonade)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 beaten egg, for the eggwash
Icing sugar, to serve
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, cover and leave to macerate overnight. Use as pie filling. Line mince pies patty tins or small tartlet moulds with the pastry. Place one and a half teaspoon of mincemeat and cover with a pastry disk. Press on the edges to seal. Prick the center of the mince pies with a small stick. Brush the pies with a beaten egg. Bake for 18 minutes, or until pies are golden brown. Leave to cool 5 minutes one pastry rack before unmoulding. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve with heavy cream and redcurrants.
Lavender honey nougat
180 g/ ¾ cup lavender honey
300 g/ 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1 egg white
200 g/ 1 ½ cup mix of unsalted pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and finely chopped dried apricots
½ tsp vanilla essence
You will need a candy thermometer.
Note: I used a small mix of cornflour and icing sugar and lightly sprinkled on the parchment paper to avoid stickiness.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 320 F
Prepare a pan (I used a 23cm/ 9-inch silicone round pan) – lightly oil the pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Roast the almonds and pistachios in a 160°C/320 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure to shake the pan once in a while to prevent the nuts from burning. Set aside.(tip: rub the nuts in the hands when they have cooled down to get rid of excess peelings). Combine the lavender honey, sugar and water in a saucepan and heat on a low heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Once melted, increase the heat slightly until the temperature of the mixture reaches 140°C, turning into a light golden thick syrup. Immediately take off the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff, and slowly add the honey/sugar syrup while whisking. Be very careful to add slowly, as it is very hot. Continue to whisk until the mixture is very thick, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Fold in the mixed nuts and apricots. Pour the nougat mixture in the prepared pan. (I did not use wafer paper to line the top or bottom of the pan, that is why I used a silicone mould to facilitate the unmoulding step. You can find wafer paper in specialized baking/kitchen stores.) Smooth the mixture with a spatula. Leave the nougat to set, uncovered, for at least 3 to 4 hours in a cool and dry environment. Unmould the nougat on a parchment paper covered cutting board and cut desired chunks.