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An English Christmas – French Style

I must have blinked, just as I thought Autumn had arrived it was suddenly winter. Its now time to start planning my Christmas, well planning started in March when our turkeys arrived becoming the most pampered live stock here at Half Acre, with a diet of bread, corn and fresh veg. Now they’re ready to repay us by providing us with our Christmas lunch.

Having an extended family here in France there are occasions when we attend two Christmas feasts; a French one Christmas eve and a traditional English one on Christmas day. The French don’t have a Boxing day holiday and are usually back at work on the 26th so it makes sense to have a relaxing restrained Christmas day and let the excesses of Christmas Eve fade.A traditional English Christmas day still holds a place in my heart, my husband and I, my two sons, two daughters-in-law and now two grandsons makes Christmas complete.

A French Christmas meal is a long process, lots of courses over a long evening. Starting with Aperos, then a selection of shell fish, shiny fat oysters, large prawns, whole crab, whelks; more a meal in its self.

The next course, often Fois Gras, the taste is so mmmm and served on slices of toasted baguettes. Very expensive, but so worth it.

An additional course of smoked salmon could follow, I love smoked salmon.

For the main course, the shops are stocking not only the usual Christmas fare of duck and guinea fowl, but also selling wild boar, ostrich, kangaroo and other exotic meats and this is probably the only time you really see anything other than green beans accompanying a meal.

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Then the cheese – I’ve always found it strange to serve cheese before the dessert, it just seems the wrong way round to me but its the way its always served and I’m happy to report that Cheddar and Stilton our now served at the meals we attend.

For dessert it’s traditional to serve a gâteau des Rois, made from puff pastry and frangipane.A figurine, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day. Often a Christmas log is served.

Finishing with Coffee and after eights, a delicious meal accompanied by large quantities of Pastis, wine and here in Brittany, cider. Christmas day is all about recovery.

Because there isn’t really a traditional French meal other than the occasion, it allows the host to offer lots of foods that most English would see as strange. But I must admit, I like my tradition but I love the French meal and agree the eating in the evening and then going to bed, is much more civilised than stuffing your self by 4pm and falling asleep in front of a James Bond film.

Unfortunately, an English Christmas lunch is served more in a typical way than with imagination. 1970’s style prawn cocktails, tiny frozen tasteless prawns dumped in a glass on top of wet lettuce, smothered in mayonnaise with far too much tomato ketchup in the sauce. Turkey, why don’t we roast one during the rest of the year, maybe at Easter? Well it’s because if the breast is cooked and juicy the legs are raw, if the legs are cooked then the breast is dry, chewy and well, not nice. But we beat the French with Christmas pud by serving real thick custard and not that watery crème Anglais that no English person would call custard. And a traditional Christmas cake, with tooth breaking icing, covering a sweet marzipan and an alcohol soaked fruity sponge.

So how can we dress it up yet keep with the traditions? Well prawn cocktail with thin slices of cucumber. Arrange whole prawns on the top, with a little mayonnaise and black caviar (or fake it with lump fish roe). Quails eggs again with mayonnaise served with slices of salty anchovies and slices of sweet melon with salty ham and fig with balsamic vinegar. Think about tastes that work together, sugar and salt, sweet and sour.

The Turkey, unless you must present it at the table think about removing the legs and cooking the breast and legs separately, even better, take the two breasts of the bone and roast them apart. I’m experimenting this year by using a trivet of carrots covered with water then I’ll place the turkey on the carrots, smothering the turkey with butter. The turkey will then be wrapped tightly in foil hopefully steaming the turkey and providing me with the start of a delicious stock.

Now an idea for dessert, sort of a tiramisu sort of a cheese cake, take small sponge cakes and break them up, make a strong espresso and add a generous glug of rum, put the sponge in a glass soak with coffee/rum, fold equal quantities of Mascarpone and whipped cream together and spoon on top, grate milk chocolate on top and maybe some chopped walnuts, now that sounds good.

But what ever you do I wish you all a Merry Christmas from all here at Rosie’s Home Kitchen

Rosie lives in Brittany, France and shares recipes, videos and more through her popular blog Rosie's Home Kitchen. You can also catch up with Rosie on Facebook and Twitter.

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