Advent 2018
On The First Day of Christmas
3 Syllabubs
I'm staying with Flora and Wee Emma in the posh part of Edinburgh, and this being the first day of advent we though we might start off with a carol-inspired meal - thus Partridge with the fruit of the Pear Tree. We figured we should get in early due to the difficulty of cooking swans-a-swimming, never mind maids-a-milking, and ignoring the anachronism of the Twelve Days of Christmas being supposed to start on Christmas day.

It's also the opportunity for me to begin pre-Christmas trials of some potential 2018 starters. First up is a jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil.

At the same time a chance to get the damn roast brussels sprouts right - having messed them up pretty badly last Christmas. I don't know what went wrong then - they turned out overdone and leathery. The instructions are clear on the need to lay them out in not much more than a single layer, cook them for 30 minutes, and turn them every 10 minutes. Perhaps we failed at all three?
Anyway, this time I paid attention to all the rules and they came out just fine. Bodes well for the big day, if anyone else can be persuaded to go anywhere near roasting them again.

Maybe this is a good place for a quick chat about the capitalisation of foodstuffs? There seems to be general agreement that one should capitalise those parts of food names that are, look like, or derive from, proper nouns. Which seems perfectly reasonable and consistent until you realise that hardly anyone capitalises french fries, there's widespread disagreement about cocktails like bloody marys, margaritas or manhattans, and some names which look like they're proper nouns are actually derived from something else and so definitely shouldn't be capitalised. And then you have parmesan - which isn't even the name of the city of Parma, it's just that it can somehow be traced to the city name Parma (apparently it's the French take on the old Italian adjective parmesano meaning of Parma). Further complicated by having (along with other foodstuffs) protected legal status, that might also have capitalisation implications.

So what's a food writer to do? Instead of assiduously researching each term's etymology and then still agonising over the capitalisation, I'm inclined to make 'em all lower case and let god sort 'em out. (did you see what I did there?).

For what it's worth, here's what the Guardian and Observer Style Guide has to say about artichokes:
jerusalem artichoke
nothing to do with Jerusalem: this jerusalem comes from the Italian for sunflower

Un-Roast Partridges
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with White Truffle Oil
The first of this meal's nutty roots - and a contender for Christmas Starter 2018.

Roast Partridge Caramelised Pears
Partridges roast with rosemary, sage and thyme, and finished with a cider and cream sauce.

Salsify Gratin
A simple cream bake with a breadcrumb crust, brings out the natural nautical nuttiness of this sadly neglected European root.

Duchess Potatoes
Smooth, creamy, cheesy and crunchy potatoes.

Roast Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
A lesson in how not to fuck up roasting brussels.

Lemon Syllabub
From the gospel according to Greg. Though sadly lacking in shortbread or spun sugar.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with White Truffle Oil
soup veg
Ironically salsify, which are supposed to taste of oysters, actually taste more like globe artichokes, unlike jerusalem artichokes which taste more like savoury, nutty, parsnips.

Serves 4

Peel or scrape the artichokes putting them in a bowl of water as you go to prevent discolouration.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook gently until soft, without colouring. Add 250ml/9fl oz water, the chicken stock, artichokes and bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Cook for about 30 minutes.
You can add a clove of garlic to the sweating onions, or a piece of smoked streaky bacon to cook with the artichokes if you like, which will add a pleasant meaty depth. But don't overdo the extras, the artichokes have a light delicate flavour that is easily overwhelmed.
Once the artichokes are soft, remove the bouquet garni. Transfer to a blender and blend to a fine purée, then pass through a fine sieve if needed.
If you want to serve this with a touch of autumnal flair - scoop out some small pumpkins, fill them with soup, replace the lids and bake them for 1½ hours at Gas Mark 5-6.
Whisk the butter into the soup, add a few drops of truffle oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a sprinkling of fresh chives or chervil.
Rather nice, earthy and nutty, though Flora was less than impressed, so it might be off the Christmas starter list. I think she was expecting a soup of those fat green thistly artichoke bulbs and so was quite disappointed.

Roast Partridge with Herbs, Cider and Caramelised Pears
main fowl
On the first day of Christmas, my true love cooked for me:
A partridge roast with pear for tea...

I made this for tea with 3 partridges rather than the 2 here - also the original River Cottage recipe doesn't wrap the partridge with bacon and just dresses them with a knob of regular butter. However, my partridges came from the butcher pre-larded with bacon rashers, so I decided to keep the bacon but stuff herbed butter underneath.
I'm not sure about caramelising the pears in gastrique (River Cottage doesn't include pears), but I needed to have pears because of the song. I could perhaps have just fried pear slices in the herb butter, but I fancied trying this method out.
So there you are.

Serves 2

Mash the Herb Butter:
Strip the thyme and rosemary leaves from their stems and grind up in a pestle and mortar with the juniper berries. Add some crystal sea salt and pepper for flavour and to help the pestle to grip.
Mash into the butter.

For the Partridges:
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Place the partridges in a small roasting tray, then tuck the herbs in and around the birds. Add the two halves of the garlic bulb and season well with salt and pepper. Smear the birds with the herbed butter, drizzle over the olive oil, then put the roasting try in the oven. Roast the partridges for 20–25 minutes, until the skin is golden brown.
If you prefer, cover the herb-buttered partridges with a couple of rashers of bacon, use the back of a knife to stretch them on a chopping board if necessary. Lift off the bacon after 20 minutes and set to the side of the tray to roast for another 10 minutes so that the bacon finishes crisping and the partridges turn golden.
Take the roasting tray from the oven and remove the birds to a clean plate, positioning them upside down and leaving them to rest somewhere warm. Meanwhile, place the roasting tray directly over a medium heat. To make the sauce, add the cider and bring the contents of the tray to the boil. Add the cream and stir in the mustard. Bring the sauce back to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, until nicely reduced and beginning to thicken. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the birds to the roasting tray along with any juices left on the plate.

For the Caramel Pears:
Slice the pears longways 1cm thick and remove the core. Melt the sugar in a pan until lightly caramelised. Add the vinegar and let bubble for a minute. Add the pears. Toss until caramelised
Bring the birds to the table in the tray, then put a couple of pear slices on each plate, place one bird on top and spoon over plenty of sagey, cidery sauce. Serve with buttery mash or duchess potatoes?.
Perhaps the combination of the acidic pears and the creamy sauce isn't ideal, but the sauce was pretty good even though I forgot the mustard :) The partridges themselves were a little dry in the breast, perhaps because I forgot to rest them upside down? but otherwise very tasty.

Salsify Gratin
side veg
Mediterranean Salsify, noted for tasting of oysters and often called oyster plant, has been cultivated throughout Europe for centuries I ordered my salsify root specially from the local greengrocer, and then noticed packages of it in Waitrose for £8 a kilo. The greengrocer charged me £12 a kilo but then I got to pick the best roots. Fair cop.

Unfortunately, in both cases what they sold were not in fact the brown-skinned, parsnip-shaped salsify at all, but the straighter, dirtier scorzonera (also known as black salsify for ease of confusion) with thick black skin. They taste very similar though, so not to worry. They also discolour in the time it takes to peel them, so it's easiest to do it under running water (which will help flush the muck away) then put them straight into a bowl of water to which the juice of a lemon has been added.

Except for the peeling, this is a dead easy way to cook either salsify or scorzonera.

Serves 4

Acidulate a bowl of water with lemon juice.
Peel the salsify under running water is easiest - they can be really mucky, cut it into thinnish batons, then put it straight into the bowl of lemon water. Bring large pan of salted water to the boil, add the drained salsify and simmer for 15 minutes, until just tender. Drain, arrange in a shallow layer in a gratin dish and season well. Pour over just enough cream to dress them and scatter with breadcrumbs, then bake in a hot oven - 200C/400F/gas mark 6 - for 20 minutes.
Excellent - really delicate flavour preserved by the simple dish.
I didn't cut mine any thinner than the peeled roots came out, so probably used a little more cream than above, and cooked them for perhaps 10 minutes longer.

Duchess Potatoes
I improved on goodfood's recipe with the addition of butter and a double quantity of cheese. Adjust the cheese accordingly depending on how cheesy you like 'em.

I was actually wanting to fry something a bit like those airy crisps made of reconstituted potato and rice flour, or more like prawn crackers without the prawns. Maybe I could try mixing tapioca flour with the mashed potato, slicing it up and frying?
Anyway, this was the closest I could get for now. Watch this space!

Serves 6

Boil the potato for 10 minutes, until just tender. Drain, then return the potatoes to the pan over very low heat for 1–2 minutes to dry out the potato. Transfer to a bowl and mash well with the butter.
Or better yet, bake them in their skins - they'll be dryer and more tasty.
Beat together the eggs, cream, parmesan and nutmeg. Season well, then add to the potato and mash well. Cover and leave for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the just-warm potato mixture in a piping bag with a 1.5cm star nozzle. Pipe the mixture in swirls, not too close together, onto greased baking trays. Brush lightly all over with the extra egg yolk if you like, or melted butter with a sprinkle of parmesan. Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the potatoes are crisp and golden.
Pretty good - I think they could stand to be a bit crunchier on the outside though, perhaps I should have tried that sprinkling of parmesan.