Conscious Dining

Janet Telian (Guest Writer) @ Lucid Living

The 18th century poet called it “Elegant Sufficiency”, our mothers and grandmothers declared “enough is as good as a feast”. These sayings express my certainty that in the kitchen and dining room, a well-planned menu is like a lucid argument.

So what is a well-planned menu?

It’s one where occasion, guests, season and wallet are taken into consideration. The Christmas season coincides with the end of the calendar year, a time of abundant feasting, when diets are broken and indulgence is condoned. It can get out of hand though, and it’s easy to spend unnecessarily.

Christmas is for nearest and dearest, a time of gathering your favourite people for joyous feasting, so start saving by leaving out “obligation” invitations – unpopular family members and business associates – save these invitees  for another occasion if you really must. Not only does this practice provide the best company for Christmas dining, it’s great for cutting costs.

Having joined forces with your favourite people, it is easier to consider sharing the costs and the work of preparation. Sharing costs makes it possible to pave the table with oysters, if that’s your style and desire. Bear in mind one person should take charge of menu design to keep it organised.

Whatever the style, making your own definitely saves money. For example, make your own gravies, stuffings and puddings. Seek recipes from trusted friends if you do not have your own practiced set of seasonal Christmas dishes.

If you’ll be having house guests for the holiday period, plan meals for several days so that ‘leftovers’ become resources for subsequent meals. Christmas ham and turkey oblige gracefully here.

And what about the food itself?

If you do not eat ham, consider slow-roasting a well-aged whole topside (5kg piece  topside,  6 hours in 90° C oven ). It will provide succulent meat for salads and sandwiches over the next few days.

Turkey is never dry if roasted breast down for the first half of cooking, and turned on its back for the rest of the calculated time. Fill the cavity with a rich stuffing that moistens from within and baste every 20 minutes with butter.

For the stuffing use the dry remains of ciabatta loaves instead of buying breadcrumbs: soak these, crusts and crumb, in water or stock and squeeze dry before mixing with sausage meat, onions, dried fruit or whatever your recipe calls for.

Here’s a recipe for walnut sauce that is mixed into cooked vegetable to make a Vegetable Caviar if your budget does not run to the Caspian Sea sort:

Mix into roasted beetroot, finely diced,

or aubergine roasted in its skin, the flesh scraped out and chopped,

or Swiss chard leaves stripped from the stalks and steamed before chopping.

Allow 750 g weight vegetable, before cooking, for this quantity of sauce.

Walnut Sauce

100 g walnuts

4 cloves crushed garlic

1 small onion, grated

45 ml finely chopped fresh coriander

2 ml freshly crushed coriander seeds

1 ml cayenne

1 ml ground fenugreek

45 ml tarragon vinegar

45 ml water

Salt to taste

In a food processor grind the walnuts finely.

Mix in the rest of ingredients till a paste forms.

Taste for sharpness adding more vinegar or a little lemon if needed.

Mix it into the prepared vegetable a few hours ahead to allow the flavours to mingle.

Check seasoning, spread in a flat dish and garnish with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and sprigs of coriander.

Serve with flat breads or crisp biscuits for scooping.

Enough for 5-6 portions, and good as part of a mixed hors d’oeuvre.