The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Easy Entertaining.

I am extremely proud of my Welsh heritage and although there aren’t many exclusively ‘Welsh’ traditions, we do have some excellent recipes to satisfy the hungriest of guests over the Christmas period.

Feeding a party is quite a challenge, but sometimes, especially in the colder weather it’s nice to offer guests something a little more substantial that the usual mince pie and canapés. In fact, cooking a large pot of something delicious is far easier, creating less stress and allowing more integrated time with your guests.

Entertaining at Christmas shouldn’t be stressful. Make sure you have a really good cheeseboard, lots of decent bread and a generously filled pot of casserole, soup or stew. Obviously, mulled wine is essential, as is mulled cider, but a great casserole filled with slow cooked beef, game or a really good Cawl, the hearty Welsh lamb and barley stew which is served traditionally with Caws (cheese) and Bara (bread), is sure to satisfy the pickiest of guests. The beauty of many of these dishes is the simple fact that they look after themselves, require the cheapest cuts and are full of the most delicious flavours.

Beef Stew with suet dumplings, the Gascon favourite Poule au Pot or even a hearty vegan lentil and brassica stew – these are perfect for the cooler weather – they freeze well and hold well, allowing guests to dip in, at will over the course of the evening.

Entertaining shouldn’t be complicated, the company, candles and generously poured wine is the true focus of the evening. Sometimes the simplest foods prove the best, after all, we are heading for the most indulgent period in the culinary calendar so why not tuck into some family favourites – these comfort foods can be eaten without excuses – the diet doesn’t start until January, remember!


Remember, remember the 5th of November….

  

Admittedly, I’ve been a little lax with this blog in the last week – if was of course half-term and the days were spent juggling outings, appointments and ‘I’m bored’ – however I did notice (and possibly for the first time) Vast quantities of Christmas products in shops alongside Halloween things.

 When I was a child in the 80’s Halloween was very much on its own, it followed back-to-school which rather depressingly always fell in July and preceded Bonfire Night which, aside from fireworks and sparklers wasn’t really the big event (and foodie push) that it is today. 

Bonfire Night was never heralded by large adverts of rosy-faced children in knitted hats clutching rare breed hotdogs in brioche rolls with a side of ‘lighter style’ slaw – there weren’t any glamorous articles advising how to entertain with enamel mugs of hot chocolate or mulled wine, wrapped in rough linen with a cinnamon stick tied to the side with rustic twine. But it was a special occasion in so much as I was allowed a ‘mad cow burger’ with a floppy, melted piece of ‘fake’ cheese and lashings of overly sweet  ketchup – with a can of Top Deck shandy on the side. 

Historically, there have always been dishes associated with Halloween and Bonfire Night – Halloween cakes made to ward of the devil were often part of country culture and were made until the middle of the twentieth century. Bonfire Night with its Guy and fireworks required something easily left unattended so jacket potatoes were often eaten, having been abandoned to the wood or coal fired oven whilst the family watched the fireworks and then served simply with good butter and salt – to be eaten with a spoon – sometimes a luxurious glug of cream was poured into a hole made in the top. 

Today we are encouraged to used these events as a foodie platform – inviting some friends over to have supper after the display – providing a simple, autumnal, locally produced meal which showcases the ‘Best of British’ in a slow-cooked form (in case the display runs over) and can be served in pretty bowls with a torn chunk of artisanal bread, warmed of course. 

Yet, sometimes the best recipes are the most simple and it’s hard to go wrong with a good stew with local meat – here in Wales we make Cawl, a Welsh lamb stew which was served with wedges of cheese (caws) and bread (bara). 

Cawl is a glorious dish which can be made with pretty much any seasons vegetable, the fattier the meat the better and if mutton is obtainable – go for it. It has so much depth of flavour and can be left happily for hours whilst you go about your business. The most simple Cawl comprises meat, potatoes, onion and carrot, maybe a bit of turnip or swede and lots of seasoning. This should please all meat eating guests. Follow with some warm gingerbread, very traditional on Bonfire Night (especially the heavier Parkin with its oatmeally solidity) and a glass of ginger wine.  For children, toasting marshmallows is a must – there is something wonderfully decadent about the hot, crisp and gooey mallow, so hot that it almost burns the lips as it passes through. 

Mulled cider is perfect to offer guests and paper cups are fine – handmade pottery cider beakers, although they look splendid, do not fare well with darkness and children. I combine 2 litres of good, still local cider with 1 litre of cloudy Apple juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a good grating of nutmeg, a couple of tablespoons of clear honey, a thumb of ginger bruised and, finally, I stud some small apples with a couple of cloves and float them in the pan. Warm without boiling and serve.