There’s Something About Turkey

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My default setting for dealing with leftovers is to throw them all together and cover them with pastry. Eat and repeat. Until January, when some law about dusting off the juicer and salad spinner comes into play.

Please excuse the less-than-stellar sunshine brightness of these photographs. They were taken in my parents’ kitchen which, like the kitchens in many Victorian houses, is in the far northern corner of the house. In the days before refrigeration, it gave the food a fighting chance of staying fresher for longer. Even now in this kitchen you can happily leave butter out between September and June without any risk of it being easily spreadable on anything other than the hottest of toast. It is the perfect kitchen for making pastry.

Until recently, the kitchen was even more crepuscular. A thicket of trees comes almost up to the house, shading the mossy path to the front door. The house is at the top of a valley and even the gentlest of breezes whips and licks around its walls in the most ferocious fashion. In a storm last spring, a huge tree was whipped and licked right into the kitchen wall.

Tree for Debora

My parents, who were in another part of the house at the time, didn’t notice. They were alerted by the postman who came to the back door rather than the front and explained his usual route was barred by several tons of unruly tree. It took my brother and nephew a whole day to clear a path to the house, then a gang of men with proper machinery arrived and, over several days, transformed the tree into neat logs and mountains of chippings.

So I suppose what I’m saying is sorry about the pictures but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Turkey Pot Pie

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Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients for the pie. At Christmas, I usually have all of this stuff kicking around in the kitchen and I suspect you may do too. If you’re missing anything, don’t worry. Just add a bit more of something else. Essentially, it’s leftovers in a sauce with pastry over the top. Adjust any of these ingredients depending on what you have – if you have any leftover ham, that would certainly be good. The only important thing about making this pie is that you make it without having to go to the shops. That’s the best seasoning of all.

A large knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
A couple of sprigs of thyme, plus more for seasoning later
1 large parsnip or 2 small, cut into 1cm dice*
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice*
1 celery stick, diced (optional)
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved, or quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 rounded tbsp plain flour, plus more for dusting
About 700ml chicken or turkey stock, or leftover gravy if you have it, hot
100ml white wine
Leftover cooked turkey, skinned, and cut or shredded into large chunks
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces
A couple of handfuls of frozen petits pois
2-3tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard, wholegrain or plain
500g ready-roll, all-butter puff pastry or shortcrust pastry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten with a little water

*You can use leftover roasted carrots and/or parsnips if you have them. Leave them whole and add them towards the end with the turkey.

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the onions, a pinch of salt, bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme (on the branch). Sauté gently, stirring from time to time, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the parsnip, carrot (unless using roasted ones, add these later) and celery if using and sauté for a further 5 minutes until slightly softened. Turn the heat up and add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring from time to time, until the mushrooms have given up their moisture and started to brown slightly. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes. Add a ladleful of the hot stock or gravy and stir, scraping up any bits which have stuck to the bottom of the pan, then add the rest of the hot stock or gravy along with the wine. Bring to a simmer and let it all bubble away for 5 minutes until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the spring onions, peas and turkey (and roasted veg if using). Remove from the heat. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard. Stir in about a tablespoonful of fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stalk and roughly chopped. If you have any parsley, chives, tarragon or chervil kicking around, you could also add a sprinkling of these, either alone or in combination. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Either leave the turkey mixture in the pan you cooked it in, so long as it’s ovenproof, or pour it into an ovenproof dish.

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Dust the work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry so it’s large enough to cover the surface of the ovenproof casserole or dish with about 5cm to spare. Brush the edge of the dish with a little of the egg wash, drape over the pastry, crimp it to the edges and trim. You want an overhang of about 2cm. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle on some salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 30-35 minutes, until the filling is bubbling hot and the pastry is golden.

Going home

 Snowy Tree

The River Gaunless

Bishop's Park

P1050244A snowy walk in the Bishop’s Park

  Auckland CastleA dozen years ago we were married in this chapel. Catching a glimpse of it in the winter sunshine always makes me smile.

So eventually we got here, the car packed with cat and dog and niece who needed a lift, gifts and galoshes, thermoses of coffee and orange-scented hot chocolate, sharp knives and soft blankets, bottles of port and jars of mincemeat, driving north through the snow and sleet with heating and Christmas carols on full blast.

We took a detour on our 300 mile journey to collect our Essex bird, that most important of Christmas guests. In the pre-Christmas frenzy to meet work deadlines, the one deadline I missed was the last mail order date for the turkey from Kelly Bronze. Years ago, I did a telephone interview with Paul Kelly for a magazine. After 20 minutes, I knew more about turkeys than I did about some members of my family. He was the perfect interviewee – passionate, informed, funny – and writing up the piece was a doddle. The next day, the picture editor rang. She asked, ‘Paul Kelly, did you interview him in person or over the phone?’ Oh God, I thought, the pictures have come in, he looks like Essex’s own Gollum and they won’t run the piece. ‘Erm, no, it was over the phone.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I’m looking at the pictures now and I’m telling you, he’s the George Clooney of turkeys’.

The turkey collected from TGCOT has been devoured by a happy crowd, leftovers turned into pasta sauce and the bones into stock. Mountains of wrapping paper, so carefully and fleetingly folded around books and sweaters and bottles of scent, have been concertina’d into the recycling bin. The Christmas cake is down to its last, ragged slices.

I wanted a picture of my grandmother in her nurse’s uniform. This afternoon, mum and I hauled out boxes of old photographs and sat by the study fire going through them. A picture of my great grandfather, darkly handsome with his waxed moustache, stout great aunts in their Sunday best, my grandfather, smiling, in tennis whites, my parents looking impossibly young cutting their wedding cake, my mother in her fur-collared leather coat with me, a symphony to the 70s in a brightly coloured kilt and horizontal striped jumper, my brother with his first, miraculous, salmon, longer than his own arm. Time passing in the length of a hem, the curl of a fringe, the narrowing of a collar. Decades apart, a familiar curve of a brow or tilt of a nose, the same strong hands.

Family Photos

Sometimes, it’s the unpresents that are the best. My mother is more likely to cook up a good story than she is a cake. She cleared out a whole cupboard of glass cake plates, jugs and butter dishes and gave them to me in a big, glittering pile. Years ago, with two young children to care for, an old house to furnish and little money, my parents used to frequent the local auction house, where a book case might come complete with the previous owner’s Penguin classics, a sofa as a job lot with a box of china. These plates and jugs have graced tea tables not our own and have been hidden away for 30 years. I’m looking forward to giving them a brand new life in the big city.

Glass set for London

I hope you shared some old stories this Christmas, and made some new ones too. My great grandfather sent my great grandmother hundreds of postcards from France during the First World War. He always signed off in the same way. ‘I hope this finds you as it leaves me, in the pink.’ And I do. And I am.

It doesn’t get Leadbetter than this…

Yesterday’s trip down memory lane to dinner parties past inspired me to revisit some of my early culinary experiments, so here they are, more or less as I made them 30 years ago with a bit more booze and a bit more seasoning thrown in to mark the passing of the years. And to celebrate being old enough to drink.

Gingernut log

I remember going to Chittock’s on Newgate Street to seek out sweet, crunchy, fiery crystallised ginger from Mr Chittock, a proper, white-coated grocer as neat as his immaculately ordered shelves. If you ever find yourself in Bishop Auckland, you should drop in. I think his daughter runs the shop now, selling lovely Wensleydale cheeses, pease pudding, and delicious ham.

Chittock’s used to sell carlins too, also known as maple peas or pigeon peas (because they were fed to the ubiquitous pigeons). In the North East, Carlin Sunday precedes Palm Sunday. Traditionally the carlins were soaked overnight then boiled up with perhaps a ham bone thrown into the pot for extra flavour. Then the peas were fried in butter or dripping, seasoned with salt and pepper and a splosh of malt vinegar.

Anyway, I digress… onto the sweet treat that is the gingernut log. I made this from memory, adding the sherry to make it a little more interesting. You know, it wasn’t bad! Margo would have been proud…

350ml double cream
160g gingernut biscuits, about 3 per person
1 tbsp of ginger syrup from a jar of stem ginger (optional)
50ml of sherry – I used Palo Cortado, but any medium sherry would do
A few tablespoons of crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
40g dark chocolate

Serves 4

Lightly whip the cream with the syrup until it forms soft, cloudy peaks. Spoon a line of the cream down the middle of your serving plate – this will form a sort of ‘glue’ which will stop your biscuits rolling all over the place.

Next, pour a good couple of slugs of sherry into a bowl and quickly dip a biscuit into it – don’t soak it in the bowl, the sherry and the biscuit should have only the briefest flirtation, any longer a courtship and the biscuit will crumble into mush. Spread a good spoonful of cream onto the biscuit and then stand it on its edge on your serving plate.

Continue dipping and spreading, sandwiching the biscuits together on the plate to form a log. Next, spread the remaining cream all over the biscuits in a generous coating then scatter over the crystallised ginger. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and then spoon it over the log. Chill for at least four hours before serving in fat slices.

Tuna pâté

When I made this as a child, I think all it involved was beating a can of tuna into a paste with the same weight of butter and a dash of vinegar. Hmmm. There’s only so far down memory lane a girl is prepared to go. I made this today, it’s more of a spread than a pâté – the kind of thing you could probably throw together from the things in your cupboard. It’s good as an open sandwich and would be quite tasty on small bits of toast to go with drinks. If I’d had any dill, I think that would have been a good addition too.

100g of tinned tuna, drained weight from a 160g tin
40g unsalted butter
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 spring onion, very finely chopped
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast and chopped hard-boiled egg and gherkin to serve

Beat the butter, mustard, spring onion and lemon juice together until smooth. Stir in the tuna, breaking up the bigger chunks. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve on hot toast, with chopped boiled egg and gherkins.