Earlier this December we got the tree up and cooked up a melange of festive treats for our annual Christmas supperclub. Initially we’d picked the new Rick Stein ‘Road to Mexico’ book as our inspiration, to give a bit of a Central American twist to the traditional festive fare. However once we’d seen the book and accompanying series we were disappointed to find it a bit dull (sorry Rick!). Cue Nigel Slater to the rescue with his very endearing Christmas Chronicles offering – a festive take on his gorgeous kitchen diaries. And so our new theme was born – apologies to those who were looking forward to Rick, I’m sure we’ll revisit him again sometime in the new year!
The good thing about Nigel is that his recipes can be very simple but with some unusual and unexpected flavour combinations. So hopefully our menu did not let down, especially as it tried to veer away from boring Christmas fare. We started proceedings with a cocktail that was two weeks in the making. Sweet muscat wine, brandy, sugar, orange peel, dried apricots and star anise were steeped for a fortnight. Nigel serves this chilled as an after dinner tipple, but we lightened ours with a bit of prosecco to make a very seasonal aperitif.
Our canapés were mini versions of some of Nigel’s strong supper dishes. First up was a tiny version of his smoked fish pie. Rather than being topped with mash, these were little puff pastry parcels filled with a filthy filling of smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, cream and tarragon. I massively over estimated quantities and so now have a few large ones in the freezer ready for a rainy day! Second up were mini dishes of a leftover Christmas staple, bubble and squeak. This was brought bang up do date using sweet potatoes and Kale, paprika and chilli. To make this more luxurious, blue cheese was added to the mix and this was all topped off with a fried quail egg.
Our soup offering was a simple cauliflower and leek soup topped with a crouton of sourdough and toasted cheese. I made the soup a little more festive with the addition of chive oil and crushed pink peppercorn, which gave it a lovely peppery after taste. The crouton was homemade sourdough, courtesy of the fab course I did at Leeds Cookery School, and topped with Leeds Blue (a locally made Pecorino courtesy of our friend Mario Olianas, an award winning cheesemaker).
Also for the second of the starters, we looked to Italy for inspiration. Susie made little balls of gnudi, a light dumpling made from ricotta and parmesan. These need a minimum of 24 hours chilling on a bed of semolina to to form a skin that holds the dumpling together. This is an important step as they will disintegrate upon boiling otherwise! The dumplings were sat atop a herby pesto made of basil, pine nuts, lemon and avocado for extra richness.
We served the best of the meats for our main courses, and no turkey was to be seen anywhere! First up was an amazing piece of pork belly from the guys at Tancred Farm. They’re based out York/ Wetherby way and are always at the Leeds farmers markets. They rear their own pigs and the meat is of an incredible quality and at competitive prices as you’re buying straight from the producer. I braised the belly in pear cider for 3-4 hours, pressed it overnight, marinated it in miso, mustard and honey and then roasted it until it was soft, charred and crispy round the edges. The pork was super moist and the marinade an amazing musky, umami – I’m putting it on everything from now on, it’s even good on a piece of meaty cod! It was served up with a lightly pickled pear, roasted slices of pumpkin, dukka (a dry nutty, seedy, spice mix), pork jus and crackling crisps. Very colourful on the plate and full of bursts of flavour.
Our final meat celebration was a meltingly tender seared beef skirt from the wonderful butchers at Keelham Farm Shop which is literally on Susie’s doorstep. This was sat atop a mound of creamy, cheesy spinach polenta and then brought together with a fresh, zesty, herbed gremolata.
Our final course was Susie’s decadent Christmassy dessert of set chocolate mousse, which was served with a mascarpone cream, salted caramel sauce and hazelnut praline. A brilliant combination of rich chocolate, sweet caramel, creamy mascarpone and the crunch of the nuts and caramel.
We’ve become a bit infamous for our not so petit fours (aka Grand Fours) and so not to be out down I rustled up Nigel’s fig and orange shortbreads. These are a cross between a fig roll and a mince pie. Essentially its a sweet, nutty, zesty shortbread dough with a figgy filling baked inside. They’re not too sweet and have a drier texture than a mince pie. We served these in halves as they were so humongous!
As it’s Christmas we sent our guests home with little take home treats as a gift. These included yet more humongous shortbreads and a mini Christmas cake topped with a marzipan star. Nigel has a few cake recipes in the book, and this basic one is a light fruit cake that focuses on fruit and citrus zest rather than spice. So if you’re not a Christmas cake fan, you might still like this.
So that’s it for this year. We do technically have a Georgian lunch in early January – unless Susie gives birth early! In which case I might have to weigh up how much I can do on my own! Although I’ve had lots of lovely offers of help, so I might be ok!
In terms of the rest of 2018, we’re likely to be back once Susie has settled into motherhood. In the meantime I’m in the process of setting up some events with a twist for Feb and March. I’ll be going on tour in the North Leeds area, as a big proportion of our customer base is from there. It’ll be the same Manor experience but in an exciting new venue. Watch this space for ticket details. I’ll try and get these out before Christmas in case people want to buy tickets as a present for a loved one. If you’re not already signed up to the blog then make sure you do as that’s the best way to be alerted once tickets go on sale.