Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this month focused on Delia Smith’s Happy Christmas
Christmas cookbooks can, I find, be surprisingly unappetising. Not for the food necessarily, but more the creeping awareness as you flick through that really all they are is a sort of pulled-together ‘greatest hits’ of the chef or food writer’s vaguely festive-feeling dishes from other books. The result can be a lack of cohesion; little sense of how that author feels about Christmas food and how they’d like you or me to feel about it too. No jolly fear of any that with Delia Smith though.
Her Happy Christmas guides us with shopping lists and menus from pre-Christmas parties and the ‘big days’, right through to New Year. That structure unconsciously also steered the Cookbook Club’s Happy Christmas event into developing its own Christmas party shape that felt very fitting for the club’s last get-together of its first year.
Canapés first up, of course. Stars were the duck liver pâté, and the stilton and Lancashire cheese terrine—which I confess I had probably pre-judged as being maybe more suited to Happy Christmas’s original 1990 incarnation than its 2009 update. Not so. It was light, delicious, and beautiful to look at too.
One of the themes of the night’s discussions with the members became how relatively basic some of the dishes in Happy Christmas feel. Or, more fairly, how accessible. And surely that is partly the point of Delia. Her books were and are there for not-so-confident cooks who are able to feel confident of success with her dishes. Who doesn’t think that’s a good thing when it comes to Christmas cooking?
More adventurous cooks can, of course, layer flavours on. I did a roast duck (shockingly simple, but delicious—credit in part being due to Wyndham House Poultry for a great bird) with a sauce of fruit jam and wine. That’s it.
I could have added in crushed juniper berries and maybe swapped some of the red wine for madeira, and probably would if I made it again. But the basic recipe worked, and worked well.
One of the favourite main dishes we had was the seafood lasagne finished off with a flourish of flash-fried squid tentacles and garlic. Beautiful gold-dusted cranberry jellies with frosted cranberries eased our palates through to the dessert course and a stand-out chocolate nut Christmas cake that would be ideal for anyone not taken by the traditional fruit-heavy versions.
Our night ended with a fabulously festive feeling but also probably the least amount of leftovers we’ve ever had at the Cookbook Club. We all clearly thought that the way Delia does Christmas tastes pretty good.
You’ll have noticed I dropped Delia’s surname a few hundred words back, just as the nation did in the 1980s when taking her into their hearts and kitchens. Next Cookbook Club we skip forward a few decades to another home-cooking icon whose surname was rendered irrelevant: Nigella (Lawson— but you knew that). See you in the New Year!
21st January: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson