After writing this column for 12 years, it's quite tricky trying to think up interesting alternatives for a festive post-Christmas or New Year's Eve supper. But it doesn't have to be too difficult – be a bit different and with a small amount of effort you can give your guests a simple but interesting feast. Alternative doesn't have to mean overly fancy or fussy.
Anyway, you might be all turkeyed-out by now and so will feel thankful for something a little different, like this delicious three-course meal.
Salmon salad with pink grapefruit
This is a nice refreshing salad to serve as a dinner-party starter or a light main course.
However, you don't have to use salmon – prawns or even crab would also be a good match.
450-550g good-quality salmon fillet skinned and boned
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp chopped chervil
1tbsp chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
120g small salad leaves
For the dressing
2tbsp juice from the grapefruit
1tsp Dijon mustard
4tbsp rapeseed oil
Peel the pink grapefruit and, over a bowl, segment them by cutting between the membranes with a small serrated knife, then squeeze the juice from the remains of the grapefruit into the bowl. Sieve out the pith and the pips from the juice. Whisk the rapeseed oil and mustard into the grapefruit juice and season.
Next, mix the herbs together and put them on to a plate. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper and coat them in the herbs.
Heat the oil, preferably in a non-stick frying pan, and cook the salmon for about 3 minutes on each side, keeping it slightly pink in the middle. Remove from the pan and put to one side.
Arrange the salad leaves on plates with the grapefruit and spoon over the dressing. Finally, break the salmon fillets into 5 or 6 pieces and arrange on the salad.
Roast saddle of deer chasseur
You will need to give your butcher a good bit of early notice that you want saddle on the bone as they often tend to get stripped of their fillets in advance of making it to the shops.
If you can't get it on the bone then the saddle fillets will work well: they will obviously need less cooking time. They can be simply pan fried or lightly roasted for 10 minutes in a very hot oven.
See the gamekeeper's potatoes below: you can place the deer on the potatoes for the last half of cooking so all of the juices are captured in the potatoes.
1 saddle of deer, weighing about 2-3kg
A couple of knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
For the sauce
2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1tsp tomato purée
200ml red wine
500ml good beef stock
150g piece of streaky bacon, cut into 1cm dice
250g wild or cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and cut into even-sized pieces
Preheat the oven to 220/gas mark 7. First make the sauce: melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute.
Gradually add the red wine, stirring to avoid lumps forming, and then gradually add the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 20-25 minutes, giving the occasional whisk, until the sauce has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened.
Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and continue cooking for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain, then mix with the sauce.
Rub the saddle with butter, season and lay it in a roasting tray. Roast the saddle for 35-45 minutes for medium rare and another 10-15 minutes for medium to medium well done. Any longer and it will end up dry. Remove the deer from the roasting tray and keep warm in a very low oven, but don't let it cook any more.
To serve, with a flexible sharp knife carefully remove the fillets of deer from each side of the central bone and transfer to a chopping board. Slice the fillets up into ½-1cm slices on the bias and arrange back on the saddle or on plates and pour a little of the sauce over.
You can bake this as a completely separate, stand-alone dish or you can finish the saddle of deer or any roasting joint on top of the potatoes for the last part of cooking, depending on the size of the joint.
8 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2tbsp rapeseed oil
1ltr beef or game stock
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan or frying pan and cook the onions on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, turning them regularly, until golden.
Next, take an ovenproof roasting dish and lay the sliced potatoes into it with the onions and thyme leaves and build up the layers; season every couple of layers with salt and pepper.
When all the potato is used up, pour over enough stock just to cover. Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes, brushing the top with some of the cooking juices every so often.
A festive floating island
This is a festive version of the classic îles flottantes which, in one dessert makes good use of the whites and yolks, whereas often meringue-type desserts leave you with a leftover bowl of egg yolks. If you wish you can add some alcohol to the sauce like amaretto or brandy – up to you.
6 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
150ml double cream
3tbsp cranberry sauce
18-20 chestnuts, ready peeled in vac-pack or lightly roasted and peeled
½tbsp icing sugar
Put the cream and milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with 70g of the sugar. Whisk the boiled cream mixture on to the egg yolks and sugar – mix well. Return to a clean pan on a low heat and stir every so often, ensuring you stir the bottom and sides of the pan.
When the sauce coats the back of a spoon (this should take 3-4 minutes) remove from the heat, give it a good whisk and transfer to a bowl. Heat the cranberry sauce with some water to form a spooning sauce-like consistency.
Put the chestnuts on a grill tray lined with foil, dust with icing sugar and cook under the grill for a few minutes, turning regularly until lightly coloured.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites. Use an electric food mixer with the whisk attachment, or an electric hand whisk (the bowl must be extremely clean with no signs of grease – rinse with boiling water and dry it first). Whisk the whites with the rest of the caster sugar for 3-4 minutes, until they are stiff and shiny.
Bring a large pan of water to a simmer and with a large kitchen serving spoon, lower four spoon shapes of egg white as neatly as you can into the simmering water. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side then transfer to a large plate, preferably lined with kitchen paper to soak up moisture. Cook a couple of batches if your saucepan isn't big enough.
Serve immediately with the warm sauce, or allow to cool to room temperature. Divide the sauce between pasta-type bowls and float a cooked meringue in the middle of each. Blob some of the cranberry sauce around in the sauce with a spoon. Break up the chestnuts and scatter over.