Christmas Food Produce
Plan ahead, bear food safety in mind, and don't try anything too different at Christmas
I love the winter months and the seasonal produce that comes with the arrival of early frosts. It's a gastronomic delight to indulge in the winter vegetables that are so rich and alive in individual flavours.
Jerusalem artichokes, Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, celeriac and salsify are bold and robust withstanding many culinary thrashings in stews, casseroles and bakes. Add into the mix the classic swedes, parsnips, turnip and beets and wow, do we have something to celebrate in December!
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That, by the way, is just the vegetables. The Cotswold cheeseboard has a life of its own in December. It's time to really embrace the hundreds of cheeses that we have in the region from the Ruddle Court in the Forest of Dean to Gorsehill Abbey in the North Cotswolds, over to Cerney goats' cheese near Cirencester and the Birdwood Blue Heaven and Scary Mary from Melissa Ravenhill and Godsells in the Stroud Valleys. There is no excuse for anyone living in the Cotswolds not to have at least one local cheese on their Boxing Day platter. With a plethora of quality farm shops, delis and markets allowing access to such products, we should be like rats to the Pied Piper of Hamlyn.
As for the meat and game - again they are there in abundance. Take your pick for your Christmas Day celebration. My personal favourite is venison - a fillet roasted gently in nut brown butter seasoned with juniper and hot oven-baked black mustard seeds. Serve that with some strongly peppered Brussels sprout puree, golden roasted spuds, a handful of wild mushrooms coated in a sprinkling of finely chopped tarragon and a rich red wine jus - oh happy Christmas!
Of course, it's a time of year when we turn to the festivities and feasts of Christmas. My advice is always the same at this time of year - keep it simple. There is nothing worse than trying out for the very first time a special dessert or sauce on the big day. It is likely to go wrong and your family and guests will not be amused. We are a nation of traditionalists. Even the oldest of Grandads or Nanas will notice if you do something fancy and different with the Brussels sprouts this year - so just don't risk it! Planning in advance is a real essential for anyone cooking this Christmas. This is especially so if you want to be able to relax and have a good time yourself.
I'm amazed every year with the Christmas Campaign about Food Safety. Last year I was on the GMTV Breakfast Show doing a live phone-in on the Turkey Helpline and the phone was hot with people confused and worried about how to cook their turkey or goose safely. For many - particularly newlyweds and the younger generation - it was their very first time at taking on the Christmas lunch. Confusion abounded from oven temperatures to understanding that a good test is that if the juices of any meat run clear, it is likely to be safe to eat.
To work out the defrosting time for your turkey, check the packaging. If there aren't any defrosting instructions, use the following times (Source: Food Standards Agency) as a rough guide for how long it will take to thaw your turkey, but remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.
� In a fridge at 4�C (39F), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg, but remember not all fridges will be this temperature.
In a cool room (below 17.5C, 64F) allow approximately 3 to 4 hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold.
At room temperature (about 20C, 68F) allow approximately 2 hours per kg.
The Food Standards Agency also has some great advice about general food hygiene when preparing meats at Christmas.
It's very important to keep raw poultry away from food that is ready to eat. This is because if raw poultry, or other raw meat, touches (or drips onto) these foods, bacteria will spread.Remember, bacteria can also spread from raw meat and poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. So, to keep your Christmas food safe, remember to do the following things:
Always keep raw poultry away from other foods, to help stop bacteria spreading.
Store raw poultry at the bottom of the fridge so it can't drip onto other foods.
Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw poultry.
Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, after touching raw poultry.
Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly in warm soapy water. (If possible, use a separate chopping board just for raw meat and poultry.)
Don't wash your turkey (or other poultry) - this is because bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria, so you don't need to wash poultry.
This advice applies to poultry such as turkey, chicken, duck and goose, and game such as partridge and pheasant.
Don't let the advice put you off. Millions of people have a safe and healthy Christmas meal, but the basics of hygiene do need to be applied.
Just to let readers know, this will be my last article for Cotswold Life for a while - although no doubt I will pop up in some form or another throughout the region over the coming months.
Next year is scheduled to be a real busy one for me as the campaign to achieve better school meals becomes tougher and tougher with the PR momentum dropping. Add to that my work with developing a quality and skills set-up to our tourism and hospitality industry that is ready for 2012 and beyond, and I felt it wise to step away from the writing for a bit.
I have enjoyed over five years of contributions to the magazine and have seen an amazing journey of food, drink and tourism during that time. Allow me though to get you to embrace one more key message. Despite all the issues from food safety to organics, local food to global, farm shop to supermarket, remember that above all food is fun.
It is one of life's greatest pleasures from the farm to the fork and the cradle to the grave. Indulge, have fun and shop guilt-free in one of the world most beautiful regions - the Cotswolds. Happy Christmas.