One word springs to mind when I think of Christmas – FOOD. When I was younger I would count the months, weeks and days before our yearly trip to the wholesalers. It was the one time of year that I was allowed to run riot around the isles, picking up whatever I wanted (within reason), pop in into the supermarket trolley and devour as much of it as I could over the festive period. Granted, most of what I put in the trolley was pure rubbish – fizzy laces, flying saucers, space invaders, jelly babies, fizzy drinks, you name it, I got it.
I have to say though, that I didn’t join in with the rest of the family when it came to breakfast on Christmas day. As everyone else tucked into their smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, I was left to enjoy scrambled egg on toast. My tastes have come a long way since then and smoked salmon is one of my favourite breakfast foods. And of course I love a good fry up – every once in a while.
I have been busy tasting lots of Christmas foods over the last week and here is my guide to the best foods for the Christmas period this year. I’ve set it up into sections – Christmas dinner, Christmas day breakfast, stocking fillers and the best bits for the all-important Christmas snacks. After all, what else is there to do when you’re stuck in the house for a few days in the depths of winter?
Macbeths butchers is a small family run business, based in Forres, Scotland. They rear traditional Scottish beef using Highland, Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus breeds on their own farm and are supplied free range chicken and rare breed pork from neighbouring farm Geddes Free Range. Macbeths has, quite rightly, won a number of gold taste awards over the last couple of years. Head to their website to find out more.
Their pork sausages won not one but two Gold Taste awards in 2010. They are made with lean pork shoulder, which would explain why they didn’t leak fat all over the pan, something I’m not overly fond of! (Priced at £4.25 for 500g)
The dry cure back bacon, also winner of a Gold Taste award was delicious and didn’t shrink in the pan, unlike a lot of supermarket bought bacon I’ve had in the past. (Priced at £3.49 for 250g)
The black pudding won a Gold Taste award in 2009 and arrived neatly sliced. I fried both for around 7 minutes on each side. It wasn’t like cheap black pudding that I have had before – it was extremely flavoursome and had a lovely course texture. No surprises as they have been refining their recipe for 20 years! (Priced at £3.58 for 5 slices).
Other Christmas breakfast foods I would recommend
Clarence Court Burford Brown eggs – these eggs have the most fantastic golden colour yolks and produce a deep orange scrambled egg. They are without a doubt my favourite egg brand. If you want to try something different, they have a whole range of eggs, from Duck to Quail and a wide range of seasonal eggs. They even sell quails eggs in a Christmas tree shaped pack for the festive season. (Pack of 6 Burford Brown eggs is priced at £2.09).
Frank Hederman smoked salmon. I first tasted this salmon at Eat Like a Girl’s market in Covent Garden where she served it with her home baked soda bread and pickled cucumber. It was totally delicious. Frank Hederman produces some of the finest fish around, including smoked silver eel, smoked mackerel and smoked mussels. Visit the website for further information.
Denhay. The Dry Cured Unsmoked Back Bacon from Denhay is something else! I recently used this in a spaghetti carbonara recipe one evening, followed by a cracking bacon sarnie the next morning. Thick, flavoursome and not too salty, this is some of the best bacon I’ve tasted in a while. The Dry Curing technique sees a mixture of dry sea salt and nitrate, which is hand applied and rubbed onto the meat. The loins and bellies are then cured for between two and three weeks. Selected sides are then gently smoked over beech wood logs. (Priced at £2.99 for 200g).
Macbeths butchers provided me with a rolled sirloin fillet to test. The meat came from a highland cross shorthorn animal reared on their Edinvale farm. All of the animals on the Macbeths farm are grass fed and not fed any growth promoters or pumped full of nasties. (Priced at £28.95/kg).
Riverford Organic Farm. Be sure to order your veg box for the Christmas period. I have been to the fields where these very veggies grow and I can vouch for the fact that they are lovingly attended to, picked and delivered fresh to your doorstep the next day.
After dinner cheeses – Westin Gourmet provide customers with really great tasting cheeses in bulk at wholesale prices. I tried a large wheel of brie, which was smooth and creamy. The perfect addition to your after dinner cheese board.
Neal’s Yard Dairy – need I say more?!
Owen Potts’. For some, Christmas isn’t complete without Turkey. And Turkey isn’t complete without cranberry sauce. But if you find some cranberry sauces too tart, Owen Potts’ has created the perfect alternative – sweetened with honey. (Priced at £1.89).
Other Christmas dinner foods I would recommend
Goose fat. Catusse is my favourite. I first tried cooking roasties with Goose fat when I tried the recipe from Valentine Warner’s ‘The Good Table’. If you haven’t tried it yet because you’re worried about the high fat content, now is a good time to do it. Christmas is not a time for calorie counting. (Priced at £3.99 for 350g – available from Waitrose)
I was sent a hamper from Asda to try their Extra Special Christmas range. Leiths school of food and wine has given their seal of approval so I thought I’d test them for myself and see.
All butter mince pies. I found the pastry crispy and the filling was lovely, spicy and very Christmassy. (Priced at £2 for 6)
Stollen. The almonds and hazlenuts were a little soft for my liking but the cake itself was lovely. The rum is not overpowering and the cherries add a nice sweetness and texture. (Priced at £3.89).
Belgian chocolate Florentines. These are absolutely delicious and perfect for those who are not able to splash out on unneccessarily expensive brands, or don’t want to spend time in the kitchen making their own. I have tried to make my own before and I’m not sure I’d bother again when you can buy such fantastic ready made ones. (Priced at £2.70).
Forest fruit crumbles. I liked these but I found the jam ever so slightly over powering. I liked the fact that they were small and bite sized – so you can have a small sweet treat, which is if you don’t end up eating five in one go. (Priced at £1.50).
Castle MacLellan pates. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without pate, would it? Catle MacLellan have three delicious flavours, perfect for the festive period – Chicken Pâté with Brandy, Duck Pâté and Smoked Salmon Terrine. My particular favourite is the Smoked Salmon Terrine – a tasty blend of smoked and poached salmon, cream cheese and crème fraiche with a hint of horseradish and lemon. (Priced between £2.49 – £2.99).
Fudges. If you’re planning a showstopping cheeseboard this Christmas, it won’t be complete without a range of delicious biscuits. Fudges is a family run bakery based down in Dorset (run by the Fudges!), which produces a tempting range of sweet and savoury biscuits. The biscuit selection contains the buttery Rosemary Rounds, the rustic Oat Crackers and Malted Wheat Biscuits, along with Oat and Seed topped Flatbreads. (Priced at £3.45).
Other Christmas snack recommendations
Fortnum & Mason white chocolate Florentines. These are some of the best Florentines that I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into. Rich and buttery with just the right amount of crunch, covered in utterly luxurious Belgian white chocolate. (Priced at £7.95 for 150g).
Sharpham park. Perfect for the health conscious out there – click here to see why. I would absolutely love to receive any of these as gifts. The spelt rigatoni tricolore is the prettiest pasta I have ever laid my eyes on – I almost didn’t want to eat it. But of course they’re going to make their products look pretty, Sharpham Park was founded by Roger Saul, founder of Mulberry. (Priced at £3.99 per pack).
Sharpham Park organic spelt shortbread and oatcakes. The perfect stocking filler for your foodie relative or friend. I was impressed with both products – the texture is slightly more coarse than the wheat flour alternative but that is no bad thing. The shortbread was delicious and buttery. And as spelt is so high in iron, zinc, riboflavin and other vitamins and minerals, it is one of today’s healthiest grains. (Oatcakes priced at £2.25 and Shortbread priced at £2.95).
Choconchoc. I had seen this brand before when I was perusing the chocolate shelves of Selfridges and Peter Jones in Chelsea. I love the different shapes that they create. I was sent samples of the cow with a santa hat on and a Christmas present. Each one is filled with delicious handmade white and dark Belgian chocolates and dusted with pretty edible glitter. The chocolates are created in a Somerset barn and are the perfect stocking filler for all ages. (Priced at £10 for a pack of 4).
Le Palais des Thés. This luxury French tea brand produce rare and legendary teas from around the world. I tried the thé des songes leaf tea (flavoured Oolong) Red Caddy, which was delicious, light and floral. The perfect (and healthy) treat for a cold winters day. Exclusively stocked in Harvey Nichols (£12.95 for 125g).
Pariya chocolate Pashmak. This really impressed me – extra fine silky strands of chocolate flavoured hand woven Persian fairy floss. I had to take quite big handfuls to get the full chocolate hit but when I did it tasted delicious. A quirky little stocking filler. (Priced at £9.95 per pack).
Indulge in a delicious white chocolate champagne truffle with the Harvey Nichols Marc de Champagne Truffle Trinket Box. Smooth milk chocolate butter combined with Marc de Champagne and dusted with extra sweetness. It’s the perfect stocking filler or a gift for guests. (Priced at £5.95).
The Garlic Farm. Rhubarb and pear chutney may sound strange but don’t knock it until you try it! The rhubarb provides the tang, the garilc the texture and the pear juice sweetens the lot. Delicious and perfect with cheese. The apricot, garlic and ginger may also sound a little… different, but the flavours match so perfectly, you have to try it. My favourite though was the onion marmalade with garlic. (All priced at £3.50 per jar).
The amount of times I’ve drooled over the delightful looking chocolates at MELT in Selfridges is ridiculous. MELT is one of my preferred chocolate brands. Not only does the chocolate taste delicious, it is fun too. The MELT hot chocolate blocks are probably my favourite and at £2.50 (or 4 for £8) they don’t break the bank. But if you’re wanting that something extra special this Christmas, why not go for the MELT Christmas golden ball, filled with chocolate pearls. (Priced at £50).
Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn. This is, without a doubt, the BEST popcorn that I have ever tasted. I opened my bag of Mince Pie (yes, really) popcorn and before tasting was slightly dubious. I’ve had many a sweet treat that claims to have a certain flavour but that ‘flavour’ always gets masked by something less pleasant. Not with this popcorn. Chewy, spicy, boozey, fruity, nutty AND buttery, my bag was devoured literally within five minutes. I wish I would have savoured it but I just couldn’t. If mince pie flavour isn’t your thing, there is a wide range of other gourmet flavours, including savoury options such as Goats Cheese & Black Pepper, Mature Irish Cheddar. Sweet options include Toffee Apple & Cinnamon, Caramel with Belgian Chocolate and Smooth Caramel, Vanilla & Cream Cheese. Wow. (Priced from £4 per pouch – 3 pouches for £12 or 6 pouches for £19.95).
Jelly Belly. Do I need to say more? This bumper gift pack with no less than 50 flavours will keep kids and adults alike very happy this Christmas. (Priced at £22.98).
You can also have a bit of fun with Jelly Belly Cocktail Classics. Inspired by the most elegant of shaken, stirred and poured cocktails, Jelly Belly bean mixologists blended the finest ingredients in the perfect balance to transport you to the golden age of the cocktail. They left out the distilled spirits so these “mocktails” have all the flavours and none of the hangover. (Priced at £5.36 for 125g).
Biddenden Monks Delight strong spiced cider is sure to warm the cockles this Christmas. Mull it and sip to your hearts content. (£4.51 per litre).
Bolney Wine Estates. It’s always good to support local produce isn’t it. Bolney Wine Estates is about as local I can get in terms of wine. I tried three bottles and was utterly impressed. The estate lies in a fantastic south facing position on the beautiful South Downs and is a family run business, which has been going since 1972. The 2009 Lychgate Red is a medium bodied smooth dry red wine and was incredibly easy to drink! It is made from a blend of Dornfelder and Rondo grapes and was aged for six months in a one year old oak barrel, half French oak, half American oak. I enjoyed a glass with a joint of beef and it matched perfectly. (Priced at £121.44 per case – £10.65 per bottle).
If you’re after more or a celebration drink, the Cuvée Rosé 2008 is perfect for you. Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, this wine was aged for 18 months and goes perfectly as a pre dinner tipple. I tried a glass with pan fried sea bass and it matched very well. (Priced at £284.88 per case – £24.99 per bottle).
I also tried the Cuvée Noir 2009, which surprised me. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it but it was surprisingly light, fruity and delicious. Made from 100% Dornfelder grapes. (Priced at £239.28 per case – £20.99 per bottle).
I have thoroughly enjoyed testing a lot of these Christmas foodie treats and I recommend each one of them wholeheartedly. I wish you a Merry Christmas.