I've been cooking such a wide variety of things for so many years (boned quail in the late 80s when a waitress said 'isn't it nice to order something you could never cook yourself?', salmon mouse rolled in salmon the first time I cooked Christmas lunch for Simon's family) that it's hard to remember what's new in our repertoire but there a couple of standouts from things we tried this year. Roasted butternut squash, first as a side dish with roasted chicken and then as a pasta sauce with a plenitude of toasted pine nuts.Chorizo scramble (first as the contents of a breakfast burrito and then just as breakfast). And pie...
I think of pastry as a nice idea I'm not going to get around to making and I only buy ready-made when I can find the all butter version. The Waitrose in Wandsworth carries it so I tucked some in the freezer and when we were looking at the remains of the roast chicken and wanting something warmer than sandwiches (see: this English winter - bearable but darn cold) I thought 'we have leeks and carrots, we have chicken and we have pastry - pie!' Most of the chicken pot pie recipes say make the sauce in the pan you saute the leeks in; we tipped blanched carrots and softened leeks and shredded chicken into the pie dish and re-used the pan. Simon showed me that the secret to roux is to use more butter than I think and just about the same amount of flour and it browned to the perfect colour for sauce veloute. A few hours before I had stripped the carcase, put it in a pot with water and a couple of chicken and duck carcasses from the freezer and left it to simmer; it did that perfectly but it also condensed itself and we caught it at exactly the moment when we could rehydrate the chicken bisto we'd just made. Stir that into the roux and yum, gravy to pour into the pie dish and top with pastry. Note: you can roll pastry out on a silicon cookie tray but you *will* need to flour it or it will stick. We have a couple of individual pies tucked in the freezer from that, and I feel confident that I can throw pies together in future.
I cooked Christmas lunch again this year, because Simon's mum was feeling rather under the weather, but she'd ordered a frankenbird of turkey, duck, chicken fillets wrapped around prune and rum stuffing and latticed with bacon so I only had to add the juices to the gravy, add sweet potatoes to the roasties, point Simon at the carrots and broccoli, roll the smoked salmon and slice the avocado for starters and enliven the bread sauce with saffron and shredded garlic bread. Assembling blinis isn't quite cooking either, so it was still a Christmas off. We're living out of the freezer until we go away; a delightful dinner with friends tonight will be followed by speedy sausage meatball spaghetti to close out the year in frugal but tasty style.
Chop tinned tomatoes in the tin with scissors, tip into a casserole dish with herbs and whatever sliced peppers and halved chrery tomatoes you can find in the fridge then squeeze chipolatas or even full-size cheap sausages straight into the tomatoes as meatballs; the fat from the sausages cooks into the sauce so you don't need to add oil. I tend to coarsely grate in garlic or slice it into chunks for this, but I skip the whole slicing and sauteing onions step - you can get this in a dish and in the oven in about 12 minutes. cook for 20-30 minutes or until the meatballs look done, serve with pasta - which these days we cook by boiling for two minutes with the lid on, then leaving in the covered pan for the same time you'd normally boil it for and draining. This gives you al dente that you have to leave for a very long time to overcook, it seems to stop the pasta sticking and it saves gas ;-)