You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a most innocent thing to do: that quick dive into Pret a Manger first thing on a bright and cold morning, to pick up a hot chocolate and a pot of porridge.
But everywhere I turned in the shop today, the usual wrappings had been replaced with ones showing snowdrops on a red background.
Now that Halloween and Bonfire Night are behind us, the commercial push toward C*r*s*m*s is well and truly under way.
In one way at least, the increasing Americanisation and commercialisation of Halloween has been a blessing – having something between summer and 25 December to push actually seems to have meant that shops haven’t been starting the C*r*s*m*s onslaught quite as early.
Now, in case anyone’s confused, I like C*r*s*m*s. But I work in an office where the excitement starts getting to some people in September. And it simply seems like wishing time away to start seriously getting in the mood before the start of Advent at least.
Not that I haven’t made a start: there are a number of presents already waiting in a cupboard, while others have been ordered. I have even purchased some new lights to hang in the house. And when I needed to get some cake tins so that I could transport the contents of the bake-a-thon into work, I opted for a stack of seasonally–decorated ones from John Lewis.
And now I am just starting to consider the festive food. As mentioned here, I’ve made chutney with a view to it being ready for C*r*s*m*s.
I’m on the cusp of creating a spreadsheet to plan when I’ll actually shop – more to the point, when my preferred shops and markets will be open for business.
And the first part of the C*r*s*m*s Day dinner menu is in place – possibly. On Monday evening, the remains of Sunday’s pheasant was turned into game stock: the carcase simmered for a couple of hours with roughly chopped celery, garlic, carrot, onion and leek, then strained into two tubs and, after being allowed to cool, popped in the freezer. That might make the base of a game consommé – I’ll have to work out the clarification process and think about some sort of garnish, but it may be a start.
The former isn’t actually particularly intimidating – more just a matter of care and patience. It seems that you need to take your stock, add more chopped celery, carrot and onion (a ‘holy trinity’ that is known as ‘Mirepoix’ in France – you learn something new every day!), chopped or ground meat, tomatoes and egg whites, which are then simmered very gently.
Gradually, the protein in the egg white gets sticky and attracts the fat from the liquid, creating a messy-looking ‘raft’ at the top. The acid from the tomatoes also helps to bring out impurities in the liquid.
You can then chill the consommé in the fridge, enabling you to skim off more fat from the top with a cheesecloth (which also means you can make it well in advance). Or if you put the consommé in a large, shallow container, you can drag wide strips of parchment paper across it, and tiny amounts of fat will cling to that.
It would seem possible to use dried mushrooms instead of more meat – and then possibly garnish it with shavings of truffle. In fact, this could be quite an easy starter.
Discussing this over lunch with The Other Half, I observed that, apparently, one garnish is savoury profiteroles. Now I was scoffing at the idea of trying that, but it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never made profiteroles (or choux pastry, for that matter). Is that an idea starting to form for dessert?
For goodness sake – what has happened in the last 10 years? This is me here and I’m entirely seriously thinking making consommé and profiteroles!
For a main course, my ideas are somewhat simpler – steak au poivre.
But hey – we'll deal with these as time progresses. For the moment, I'm going to pretend that I am oblivious to the time of year!