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  • Christmas Dinner inspired by Dickens

    Inspired by the Cratchit family Christmas in Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol', fiction-loving food writer Kate Young delivers a fairly foolproof, anxiety-avoiding recipe run-down for the 'full works' in her latest literary offering - 'The Little Library Cookbook'. 

    Using goose as a delicious and decadent center piece, even with a relatively small oven Kate reassures this Victorian England influenced Christmas dinner is entirely achievable December 25th...

    "I am not at all ashamed to admit that my first introduction to Ebenezer Scrooge’s tale was through the Muppets. More than twenty years on, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains, for me, the definitive on-screen version of the story. However, I also love the book itself: Dickens’ compassion for his characters, his belief in the potential for people to change, and his masterful depiction of a Victorian Christmas (one which has shaped so much of what we see as ‘Christmas’ today) have given the story a lasting magic.

    The moment above, observed by Ebenezer Scrooge as he stands beside the Ghost of Christmas Present, is a turning point. Surrounded by merriment, generosity and family, he finally sees his faithful employee as the man he is to his children, and the potential joy of celebrating Christmas Day." - Kate Young

    Christmas Dinner

    "There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last!"
    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    I N G R E D I E N T S

    For the Gravy:
    30g/1oz/2tbsp butter
    Goose giblets (not the liver – the flavour is too strong for this) and wing tips
    2 onions, roughly chopped
    1 carrot, roughly chopped
    2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
    6 peppercorns
    50ml/8½floz/1cup white wine
    20g/2⅓tbsp plain/all-purpose flour

    For the Goose:
    4-5kg/8¾–11lb goose
    Pinch of salt
    Freshly ground black pepper

    For the Sage and Onion Stuffing:
    3 brown onions, diced
    200g/7oz pork mince/ground pork
    200g/7oz streaky bacon, sliced
    Freshly ground black pepper
    30g/1oz/2½cups sage, finely chopped
    30g/1oz/1cup parsley, finely chopped
    150g/5½oz/3cups fresh white breadcrumbs
    75g/2½oz/⅓cup goose fat

    For the Apple Sauce:
    50g/2oz/½stick butter
    1kg/2¼lb Bramley/cooking apples, peeled and diced
    3tbsp light brown sugar

    For the Mashed Potato:
    2kg/4½lb potatoes, peeled and diced
    60ml/2floz/¼cup whole milk
    50g/2oz/½stick butter
    Generous pinch of salt

    M E T H O D 

    1. Start the gravy in advance: melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the giblets and wing tips until browned. Add the roughly chopped vegetables, peppercorns and 2L/8½ cups of water. Simmer over a low heat for 2 hours to reduce. Strain the liquid and store until Christmas Day.

    2. If your bird is frozen, leave it on a low shelf in your refrigerator to defrost overnight. An hour before it needs to go in the oven, remove it from the fridge and any packaging to bring it to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6.

    3. Dry the skin of the goose with kitchen paper. Prick the skin, but not the flesh, with a sharp knife, then rub with salt and pepper. Set up a roasting tray with a rack at the base, so that the fat from the goose has somewhere to drain away from the bird. Place the bird on the rack, breast side up and legs as wide apart as possible. Roast for 30 minutes per kg/65 minutes per lb, plus an additional 30 minutes (my 4.3kg/9½lb one took just over two and a half hours).

    4. After an hour, remove the goose from the oven and tip the fat from the tray into a bowl. Set this aside for the stuffing, and return the bird to the oven.

    5. To prepare the stuffing, fry the diced onion in some goose fat until translucent, and tip into a bowl. Fry the bacon and pork mince, and add these to the bowl. Add the chopped herbs, along with the breadcrumbs and a very generous grinding of pepper. Warm the goose fat until liquid in a small saucepan and pour over the stuffing. Stir through, then transfer to a greased ovenproof dish.

    6. For the apple sauce: melt the butter, add the diced apples and the sugar, and cook for 15 minutes over a medium heat. Stir them around to prevent them browning.

    7. Remove the goose from the oven, transfer to a serving dish and cover with a sheet of foil. Leave to rest for 30 minutes while you finish the gravy and prepare the mash. Transfer the stuffing to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

    8. To finish the gravy, pour the goose fat from the roasting tin and add to the bowl of fat from earlier. Place the tin on the heat, and add the white wine. Reduce the liquid by half, stirring any scraps of goose left over in the pan into the wine. Tip the liquid into a saucepan. Put the flour into a small bowl and ladle a small amount of the juices into the bowl. Whisk until smooth, then tip the floury liquid back into the saucepan and whisk well.

    9. Pour 600ml/1pint/2½cups of the goose stock into the saucepan, and reduce until the gravy is the consistency you like. Strain the gravy into a serving jug.

    10. To make the mash, boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, then mash until smooth. Add the milk and butter and stir though, then flavour with salt.

    11. Carve the goose at the table, and serve it alongside the mash, warm apple sauce, gravy and piping hot stuffing.

    Christmas Pudding 

    "That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."
    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    Serves 8-10
    (Makes 2 puddings, one for your family, and one for someone else’s) 

    I N G R E D I E N T S 

    1kg/2¼lb mixed dried fruit
    1 apple, grated
    1 carrot, grated
    1tsp grated nutmeg
    1tsp ground cinnamon
    4tsp mixed spice/pumpkin pie spice
    1tbsp marmalade
    1tbsp golden syrup
    Flaked/slivered almonds
    125ml/4floz/½cup Bundaberg rum (another golden rum can be substituted, or brandy, if you prefer)
    250g/9oz/2¼sticks butter
    220g/about 8oz/1⅛cups light brown sugar
    4 eggs
    130g/4½oz/1 cup self-raising flour
    130g/4½oz/1cup plain/all-purpose flour
    115g/4oz/1¼cups dry breadcrumbs
    ½tsp salt
    50ml/2oz/¼cup brandy (if you want a flaming pudding)

    2 squares calico/unbleached cotton – 50cm/20in squared

    M E T H O D 

    1. Soak dried fruit, apple, carrot, spices, marmalade, syrup and almonds in rum overnight.

    2. Soak the calico in water. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flours together and fold into the batter with the breadcrumbs and salt. Stir in the soaked fruit.

    3. Wring out the sheets of calico and sprinkle them lightly with flour. Divide the mixture into two and spoon half into each sheet of calico. Pull up the corners and the edges. Tie with string, leaving a very small hole in the top. This step is easier with two people as you need to hold around the top of the pudding while pulling the fabric firmly to make a well-shaped pudding. Fill the hole left at the middle of the tie with flour. Knot the corners of the calico together to aid lifting out of the water and hanging to dry afterwards.

    4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Ease puddings into the pan and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 7 hours, topping up the water when you need to. Hang over a bowl/sink to drip overnight. Do not allow the puddings to rest on their bottoms, as this will affect their shape as they dry.

    5. Once they have dripped dry, hang the puddings in an airy place to dry out completely. Once bone dry, including in the folds of the fabric, store in a cool, dark place until Christmas.

    6. On Christmas Day, boil the pudding in the calico for an hour. Unwrap and place on a plate. If you want a flaming pudding, gently warm the brandy in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and, being very careful not to burn yourself, hold a lighted match to the brandy. It should ignite with a blue flame. Pour over the pudding. Serve with custard, rum butter, ice cream and thick cream.

    T I P

    I’d suggest making your puddings at least a couple of months before Christmas – you need time for the flavours to develop, and the maturation time also stops them crumbling when you finally pull back the calico. In my experience, puddings last for at least a year, but do keep them away from damp; you don’t want the calico to become a hospitable place for mould.

    Recipes from 'The Little Library Cookbook' by Kate Young, photography by Lean Timms.