Christmas has arrived at the Manor again and in honour of our favourite celebration we held a dinner inspired by some of our favourite festive Nigella recipes. We used Feast, Nigellissima, Kitchen and Nigella’s Christmas as our guides to put together a filling and enjoyable banquet. We’ve always felt that the Manor is at its best as a winter venue and so it was an absolute joy to have an excuse to get the tree and decorations out particularly early!
We welcomed our guests in from a particularly chilly night and led them up to our cosy library with roaring fire and Christmas carols. We had a mixture of new and repeat guests who were all looking forward to some Christmas fun!
The cocktail for the evening was a ‘yule mule’ a vodka based tipple with lime juice, cranberry and ginger beer. This was paired with canapes that included bocconcini, or ‘golden balls’ – little mozzarella pearls coated in breadcrumbs and fried til golden and crisp. Also on the agenda were sticky and moist chipolatas in a moreish ginger and mustard glaze. Finally the canape we’ve been excited about for ages was mini meatzzas. A meatzza is Nigella’s bizarre attempt at combining a pizza but instead of bread, the base is made of meat! She makes giant ones but Susie adapted the recipe and formed mini bite size beauties. They were a revelation for us, elegant and fun – plus they did indeed taste of pizza!
Our amouse bouche for the evening was shots of creamy chestnut and lentil soup with bacon crumble. This was warming, thick and comforting. It was made using some homemade chicken stock and local bacon from our favourite farm shop, Keelham Farm. This was swiftly followed by a starter of pink picante prawns. This consisted of prawns cooked in pink peppercorns, cardamom and white wine, atop a salad of fennel and lemon. The heat of the spices was a enjoyable hit when paired with the crisp sour salad and sweet prawn. We had three prawn haters in the room and yet all all plates came back clean – result!
The main event was a decadent pork loin stuffed with cranberries, Christmassy spices and more pork and wrapped in…. bacon, more pork! These looked like giant pigs in blankets when we were preparing them for the oven earlier in the day. We reduced Nigella’s suggested cooking time to ensure the pork retained its juiciness and we toned down the sweetness in the stuffing so that it wasn’t too overpowering. This was served with goose fat Italian style roast potatoes, green beans with an amazing pistachio pesto and balsamic onions. This rich plate of food was topped off with a gravy of cranberry and port – all very festive indeed! The sweet elements made this dish quite unusual but the saltiness of the bacon and beans and vinegary onions helped balance it all out for enjoyable eating.
The star of the plate was perhaps the shard of crispy crackling. We have a fool proof tip for making this, which we discovered quite by accident. For perfect crackling remove the skin from the joint of meat and cook it seperately. Get your butcher to score it for you. A few hours before you’re cooking it, place the skin in a baking tray and salt generously. Now leave for a few hours and lots of liquid will leach out. Pour off the liquid and dry the skin with a paper towel. Now salt again and then roast in a hot oven for about an hour. You should get lovely, crispy, puffed up crackling – yum!
To help cleanse palates our sorbet for the evening was a lusciously ruby red pomegranate and grenadine. This was sweet and juicy and a lovely way to prepare for dessert. Speaking of which this was an amaretto semifreddo – a kind of semi frozen ice cream. Nigella’s recipe for this is really simple but the strong almond flavours make it taste very refined and elegant. The fluffy, creamy texture was a bit like eating a cloud! This was topped with a ‘golden gleaming’ sauce (i.e. an excuse to get more amaretto in!), crumbles of amaretti biscuit and a Christmas ginger biscuit. Teas and coffees followed with a petit four of chocolatey Christmas rocky road.
So, Nigella did not let us down at all with her Christmas recipes. Everything was fairly straightforward to cook and was accessible. Plus all the flavours were bold, exciting and enjoyable. We hope our guests felt the same way too judging by the clean plates!
Susie and I are also very proud of ourselves as we were without our two helpers and yet despite doing all of the cooking, serving, washing up and photography by ourselves the Manor seemed more serene than it has ever been before – who needs helpers?! (actually, we do need them!)… Anyway, we have one more event this year and then we’re looking forward to a bit of a rest over Christmas and new year! Merry Christmas!