So it was a revelation when I worked out that the early Christians had tagged the celebration of Christmas onto the long-standing Pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. Suddenly it made sense; we, in the land Down Under, were having Christmas at the wrong time of the year! So it also makes sense that celebrating the Shortest Day, or as a Southern hemispheric pagan would call it; Yule, has become a good excuse for getting together with friends for a feast.
Looking back, I held my first Yule dinner about 10 years ago and have tried to celebrate it in some way every since. Some years it has been the large dinner party with all the bells and whistles, sometimes it is just a nice meal with the family. But when I have time, I do prefer the former, which I did on this past Saturday night.
Having done a few of these dinners over the years, I have a few constants: there is always a roast of some sort. Mulled wine or cider, or mead is also on the menu, and we finish with some sort of pudding. Lots of red and green and candles for table decorations as well as oranges and lemons and gifts for the guests. But there are always a few new recipes that I end up trying out.
The first new addition this year was baked camembert, which Hubby spotted while watching the TV series Cheese Slices. A wheel of camembert (preferably from Normandy) is doused with red wine, herbs and garlic and baked in the oven in the wooden box it comes in, and then dipped into like a pseudo-fondue. To me it initially seemed like a waste of good camembert, but it looked so mouth-wateringly good (and so suited to a cold night) that I had to try it.
|Ready to Go - garlic slivers inserted, topped with thyme and rosemary and a good red wine|
This was served with mugs of Mulled Cider. For some reason I have always been a fan of "mulling" - its sounds so cool and ye Olde English. I stumbled across a packet of "mulling spices" in a country shop one year which was my first foray into mulling and I have tried different versions each year. I think as long as you have oranges and lemons and cinnamon & cloves, the rest is variable. Just be sure not to let is sit for too long as it can become a bit sour with the spices: I learnt this from a pub in Salamanca (Tasmania) where they had a crock-pot of mulled wine on the bar; the first mug was delicious but a later glass which was near the end of the pot wasn't nearly as good.
This year's mulled cider recipe had cardamon pods, as well as whiskey and cointreau added so it packed a punch and definitely helped warm us up!
Main course was Roast Turkey, being that I had made roast pork the last time we had our guests over and one of them is not a fan of roast lamb. And instead of my triple-roasted potatoes, I made Tartiflette, which is a French Style cheese and potato bake (it's so helpful having a friend who's French so I can make these dishes!). Slices of par-boiled potato were mixed with a sauce consisting of fried bacon and eschalot with sour cream and chopped parsley. The whole thing was put in a casserole dish and a wheel of camembert (or reblochon, if you were making it in France) was chopped up and place on top before being baked in the oven. Not for the faint of heart or those with high cholesterol! But as you can imagine it was delicious. And to offset that, blanched carrots and broccoli to make it slightly healthier!
Dessert took a bit of deliberation this year. Previously I have favoured sticky date pudding with caramel sauce; I make individual puddings in a muffin tin, slice them in half and serve with a scoop of ice cream in the middle. Then I was leaning towards chocolate, with a Heston Blumenthal Liquid Centre chocolate pudding, but it got passed over due to the fiddly factor. I toyed with the idea of a chocolate hazelnut cake as that seemed seasonal, but it didn't have the ooey-gooey pudding factor. So I settled on Walnut and Honey pudding, which I had made for a Mother's day dinner so I knew for a fact that my dessert-avoiding Hubby liked it!
So that was the menu, but another big part of Yule celebrations for me is the Table. I am a big fan of a Well-Set table; a chance to get out the Good Crockery and the butter dishes and matching serviettes, so this is always a chance to go all out. And to give the Christmas decorations a mid-year airing!
This was my Yule table from 2011...
... candles, oranges and lemons, some ivy from my garden and plates of gingerbread and shortbread biscuits. Plus 'noodle boxes' filled with cranberry and pistachio sable biscuits as a bonbonierre gift for my guests to take home. Most of these found a place at this years' table, but had a new 'gift' idea for my guests.
I had spotted Gingerbread Boxes in the Coles Christmas magazine, and they seemed so simple but effective that I had to give them a try.
You start with making the normal gingerbread recipe, but cutting it out into squares.
|It's hip to be square|
Next the sides are joined together with piped melted white chocolate. I had to work quickly as it was so cold in my kitchen that the chocolate was re-solidifying in the piping bag!
Once they had set, the seams were covered with royal icing and cachoos to make it look pretty. I had made a few stars with the last bit of the gingerbread dough so they were stuck in the 'lids".
|"Edible ball bearings - genius!"|
|Too pretty to eat (well almost)|
And the finishing touch was a plate of "Winter Spiced Madeleine's" brought by one of my guests (Madame Clochette herself), which meant that yes, we all had a great time on the longest night of the year.