Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The best pudding I have ever eaten

It must have resembled a scene from Withnail, wandering dishevelled as I was around my kitchen in my loosely tied dressing gown until almost two o’clock on Christmas day, stuffing myself with foie gras on toast and wiping my variously flour-, grease- and dishwater-stained hands on what was proving a highly absorbent all-round dish-cloth and getting quietly sentimental at the sound of young carol singers on the radio. The only thing lacking was the hangover and glass of sherry, although I made sure I was as up to the eyeballs as I could have been in the mild intoxicating substances that I do temporarily allow myself these days.

I spotted the small tub of fatty fresh liver in the Shop on Christmas Eve, along with a jar of geranium & apple jelly, and thought the combo would make a fitting replacement for the wild smoked salmon that we had scoffed too early. I got into it by the third slice, but I always underestimate that sensation of being revoltingly stuffed as soon as I put a piece of FG lobe into my mouth. A glass of smooth, chilled breakfast wine would have helped enormously on this front. On several fronts, in fact.

Owing to the gear, there seemed to be much more to do than I had allowed time for. It was things like mince pies that were throwing spanners into the works, almost forgetting to spike the rich sweet pastry with orange zest and then not having enough of the stuff left over from my Main Pie to make anything but a dozen little mincemeat raviolis. Then there was the fucking goose, which was still sitting there waiting to go as the small hand passed twelve.

The end result was the realization that my cooking is starting to adversely affect those around me. I hadn’t reckoned on this until a few minutes before I knew the meal was ready to serve and I was about to sit down before my modest but rich goose platter. I use cooking as escapism, I thought. I do it to avoid talking to guests who happen to have been invited over, and certainly don’t get “stressed” by it? Yet here I was -- staring down at a small pile of dark red meat; sweet sausage stuffing with chestnuts, pears and dates; crispy roast potatoes cooked in the spicy salty fat of the bird; sprouts halved and fried lightly in butter with smoked bacon and finished off with spinach and herbs; carrot batons glazed in tarragon butter; all sitting in a pool of red wine, pear and apple jus made from a good quarter of my special festive three-meat stock -- when suddenly I felt a definite sense of relaxation: it was all perfect, bar perhaps the bird, and it was all downhill from here, drink or no drink, because I had nothing left to prove.

Not that I was in the slightest bit interested in the food. And that wasn’t just because the goose was overdone (I didn’t take into account the shorter time required for a wild bird such as mine than that demanded by the fatter domesticated variety, and shouldn’t have been so heavy handed when I pricked the skin). It was because it felt as if I had been cooking for a long time. We all sat there as a family unit, in moderate peace and harmony for the duration. Tipping point had passed and I could immediately see that they too were as relieved as I that I was happier. It was just the two of us eating, though, of course.

The goose didn’t look quite as pretty as the pictures I’d seen in the recipes (shock horror) I’d peeked at, appearing more like the decaying torso of a child stab victim than a crispy golden prize when I took it out of the oven after an hour and a half. But the gamey taste and firm, lean texture of the meat more than made up for it.

Even so, the meal pales into the scattered alcoholic memories of so many other candlelit Christmases when compared to the pudding I’d made for afters. Not literally a pudding, but rather a trio of christmasy pudding pieces that together made this the best desert I have ever eaten. The first was a small triangle of the aforementioned mince pie, hot, with its thin layer of crusty orangey pastry and filling of quality, not too sweet, mincemeat. The second was a halved pear that had been slowly poached in brandy and a loose pile of rum-soaked raisins and their thick warm boozy marinade. And the third was three small boules of firm, smooth, creamy cinnamon ice cream the likes of which I have never equalled (a handful of cinnamon bark that wasn’t handy). It was a fucking incredible combination of Christmas flavours and a lovely way to bring the meal to the somehow all important extra heights demanded of such affairs. Fucking Christmas.

And it continued ob to a Boxing Day spent similarly, with a big casserole made from chunks of cooked goose, stuffing balls, and diced celeriac, parsnip and carrot. More of the stock and a layer of sliced tatties on top, which should have first been roasted in the spicy goose fat that I’d retained from the roasting but then tipped away thanks to my foggy and disintegrating mind.
There was more of the decadent desert to follow. But I cannot say I am looking forward to a third day of the goose. I ended up, after pausing for thought for 2 minutes about it, boiling the bloody carcass for a good couple of hours with some aromatics to get a small tub of rather salty and over-seasoned stock that will make an evil mushroom risotto on some otherwise nondescript January evening. I just can’t stop making that ten-pound bastard bird feed even more mouths than it already has.

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