Now, it is time for me to tell you how Christmas is spent with my family back in France.
Despite the fact I have only spent Christmas twice in France over the past eight years, I have vivid memories of the delicious food we eat for this event.
You might want to get something to eat while reading this or be prepared for some serious stomach grumbling.
In the evening, my mother puts a few platters of food on the table. We grab a plate and fill it with delicious things: blinis with a small dollop of creme fraiche and black lump eggs (fake caviar) or smoked salmon, mini toasts with duck foie gras, oysters, prawns, scallops cooked in a delicious creamy white wine sauce with mushrooms, little pastries with cheese inside, pistachios, cheeses. We would not eat many sweet things then as we know there will be a lot of chocolates in the Christmas presents.
We spend the evening eating and chatting and when midnight approaches, we start the countdown. Then, we open our presents. We usually end up with a room full of wrapping paper everywhere (thanks to the cats, they love Christmas wrapping paper).
Then, she spends a lot of time in the kitchen getting the Christmas lunch ready. I always try to help but she barely lets me go in the kitchen, I have to force my way in. Last year was exceptional because I had been away in Australia for more than three years and she was very excited to see me and would not let me do anything. E. and I eventually managed to take care of a few things very fast so she could not say no once it was done.
Now, the lunch itself lasts a few hours because we take our time to eat and chat between each course. Yes, I said course! As there are many courses!
We start with a little aperitif over a glass of champagne. We eat a few salted nuts, canapes and crisps (potato chips). Last year, my mother had found pommes de terre vitelotte (purple potatoes) and made us thin purple crisps.
After our aperitif, we sit at the table and start with a seafood course: oysters with lemon juice or a shallot dressing (for those who like them, I always pass on oysters), langoustines (Dublin Bay prawns), prawns and bigorneaux (periwinkles). It is served with my mother's delicious homemade mayonnaise and fresh bread.
We move on to the next course, which is the foie gras. We always try to get goose foie gras for Christmas lunch. We eat it on toasts that are brioche-like and have little round shapes. We drink a lovely sweet wine such as Sauternes with it.
Now, at this stage, some people might also have a fish course after the seafood and foie gras. In my family, we do not do it too often. But, when I was in Australia, I made a French Christmas dinner for our last Christmas there. I included fish en papillotes with a few steamed carrots and leeks and a beurre blanc sauce for this course.
Back in France though, at this stage my mother serves THE bird: le chapon. It is capon. Being in Ireland, it is impossible to find (but if you know of a place that does it, I will gladly appreciate an address or contact number).
Now, if you are wondering what capon is, here is the answer: it is a rooster which has been castrated. It improves the quality of the meat. And the meat... oh the meat!! It is so delicious, moist, golden, succulent... I could probably go on and on because I love it so much!
(So, if someone reads this and think capons would be a good idea for next year, I will be one of your first customers! You clearly do not want to see French people roaming the Irish country side trying to castrate roosters so they can get their Christmas dinner...)
Capon is quite big and takes some time to roast in the oven. The stuffing my mother puts in it is delicious: pork sausage meat, chicken livers, mushrooms, a few herbs and Armagnac (a kind of brandy from the Armagnac region). We eat it served with green beans blanched and tossed in butter and garlic, chestnuts, baby potatoes sauteed in goose fat, mushrooms and a lovely watercress salad.
We then move on to the cheese course. There is always Saint Nectaire because it is an all time favourite in the house. We usually have a lovely selection of cheeses that my mother orders at la fromagerie on the market. It is the fromagerie Beillevaire. The queue there is always big, whatever the time of year it is. They let you sample a few cheeses if you are not sure of what you would like. It is a great way to discover new cheeses and get a piece of it for the Christmas lunch.
To refresh ourselves a bit, we have a small break and eat a few clementines. I feel like they are really part of Christmas for me, their flavour is a sweet memory. When we were kids, some of them would have a delicate wrapper around, and we could use the paper to make toy parachutes while the adults were busy chatting at the table.
Then, we all have la bûche for dessert. It is a Christmas cake that has the shape of a wood log and is filled and covered with butter cream. You can find it in many flavours and versions. It usually has its lovely array of tacky plastic decorations on top: Christmas tree, reindeer, Christmas elf with a seesaw, mushroom, etc. It nearly feels weird if it is not on it. My mother always tries to make one with coffee cream inside and out as it is my father's favourite. But if she has been too busy with the rest of the food, she orders one from the bakery or buys a lovely ice cream version of it. My all time favourite is the nougat ice cream version with raspberry sorbet and coulis.
We end the lunch with teas, coffees and a few chocolate truffles.
For the rest of the day, we watch a movie or read and use our Christmas presents. If we are still hungry later, and that is possible because we are French after all, we eat a few leftovers and more cheese with bread.
Keep scrolling down for the recipes and some French deliciousness!
Ingredients (serves 4 to 5 people)
2 kilo duck
20g salted butter
For the stuffing
200g pork sausage meat
200g roughly chopped cooked chestnuts
50ml Cognac (brandy)
2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
Take the duck out of the fridge one hour before cooking (if the insides have not been removed, do it now and pat the duck dry inside and out with some kitchen paper). Leave on a large plate and cover.
In the meantime, get the stuffing ready. Put all the ingredients in a bowl, add some salt and pepper, and mix well with a metal spoon. Cover and leave in the fridge while the duck is resting.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Fill the duck inside with the stuffing and place on a roasting tray. Melt the butter and pour it evenly over the duck. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Place the tray on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for two hours.
Baste the duck with the juices every now and then and also remove some of the melted duck fat (keep it in a small bowl as you can use it to fry or roast potatoes).
Remove the foil 35 minutes before the end of the cooking time so the skin can crisp up a bit.
When the duck is cooked, take it out and let it rest for 10 minutes before transferring the stuffing in a serving dish and carving the bird.
Serve with lovely green vegetables such as green beans, roasted potatoes. Turnips also go really well with duck.
You can use the juices in the bottom of the tray to make a lovely sauce by reducing finely chopped shallots and balsamic vinegar with it in a pan.
Ingredients (makes approximately 500g)
250ml fresh lemon juice
zest of 3 lemons
225g white caster sugar
3 free range eggs
110g melted unsalted butter
2 vanilla beans
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until they are smooth in a microwave-safe bowl.
Stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, melted butter and mix well.
Put the bowl in the microwave for one minute at a time, stirring well after each time. Repeat the process until the mixture is thick enough and coats the back of a metal spoon. The time will vary depending on the strength of your microwave. It took 7 minutes with my microwave to make the curd.
Grab another bowl and transfer the mixture into it through a fine sieve.
Scrape the vanilla pods from the beans and mix them well with the lemon curd.
Let it cool down properly before use.
You can also transfer the lemon curd into sterilised jars that you then leave in the fridge (for up to two weeks).
Ingredients (makes 10 slices)
For the cake
125g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
50g buckwheat flour
25g brown rice flour
1 tbsp hot water
For the syrup
1 tbsp Cognac (brandy)
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp hot water
For the lemon cream filling
100g lemon curd (you can use the recipe above of lemon and vanilla curd, or buy some plain lemon curd)
100g whipped cream
For the white chocolate ganache
200g chopped white chocolate
100g whipped cream
40g unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Line a rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper (the tray I used is 24cm x 34cm and 2cm deep).
Beat the eggs and sugar together until you get a fluffy mixture.
Add the flours bit by bit and mix after each time. Add the hot water and stir well.
Pour the batter on the greaseproof paper in the tray. Put on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cake is cooked and the blade of a knife comes out clean when put through it.
Sprinkle the top of the cake with a bit of caster sugar. Line a piece of greaseproof paper over the cake to cover it completely. Holding the paper and the tray tightly on the edges, flip the cake upside down on a flat surface. Remove the tray, the cake should sit nicely between the two sheets of greaseproof paper.
Cover with a wet tea towel as tightly as you can. Let it cool down completely.
Make the syrup by stirring the ingredients together in a small cup.
When the cake is cold, remove the towel and the top piece of greaseproof paper (which was the bottom one when baking). Drizzle the syrup over the cake. Let it absorb the syrup for a few minutes.
In the meantime, make the lemon cream by folding the lemon curd in with the whipped cream in a bowl.
Spread the cake with the lemon cream.
The next step is delicate so take as much time as you need.
Starting from one of the shorter sides of the cake, roll it while delicately removing it from the paper. Keep rolling all its length until you get a log shape (see photo above - bottom left corner). Transfer it onto a long serving tray, cover and leave in the fridge to set for about 15 minutes.
For the white chocolate ganache, melt the white chocolate and butter in a bowl using the bain marie method (used in the chocolate brownie recipe here).
When it has melted, remove the bowl from the heating source and let it cool down for 3 to 4 minutes.
Fold in the whipped cream until it is smooth. Let it set for 5 to 10 minutes.
Take the log out of the fridge. Spread the white chocolate ganache all over the top and on the sides until it is well covered.
Use a fork to make lines on the log and decorate with your own choice of little Christmas figurines.
You can serve immediately or leave it in the fridge for later (the ganache will set a bit more and take the consistency of buttery creamy white chocolate - both ways are delicious!).
Joyeux Noël et bon appétit!
Wishing you all my dear readers a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year 2013!
Also a special merci to Faela, Sanna, Lauren-Anne, Jenn and Camila, who all helped me write these articles and thanks to whom you all got to read the many food wonders of different countries at Christmas time.
Last week, I received the silver award in the Expats Blog Awards for Ireland (you can see a pretty silver badge somewhere on the top right).
I would like to dedicate this blog post to all the lovely people who took a few minutes to leave some wonderful comments and voted for my blog. Thank you all!