After moving overseas recently, and for the very first time ever, my husband and I will be spending Christmas Eve alone. On Christmas Day we will be joining his dad’s in-laws who took pity on us, but for the rest of the time, it will be just the two of us.
And while I know this probably sounds like absolute bliss to the tens of thousands of people around the globe who are already dreading the chaos and seemingly unending mountains of cooking, washing up and present wrapping a houseful of guests inevitably bring, I can tell you that a solitary Christmas holds its own challenges.
I mean the very idea of a romantic Christmas dinner just feels wrong. Christmas is not date night. It is not about flirting or romance or coupledom. Christmas is about tradition and family and overeating and wearing silly paper hats and reading bad jokes. It’s about drinking a bit too much and eating puddings you don’t really like and rejoicing in what you have and thinking of those less fortunate. It’s about being nostalgic and missing those who are far away or otherwise lost to us. So for a newlywed couple in a new country, it will be tricky to navigate. Not the least of which figuring out the menu…
Since my husband is a Brit (who lived with his family in South Africa until recently) their family’s traditional fare is a great, gorgeous golden roasted turkey stuffed with rich, herby, nutty sausage meat, served with crisp, roasted potatoes, fluffy Yorkshire puddings, decadent creamy Brussels sprouts, honey glazed carrots, pigs in blankets, buttery bread sauce and a lashings of rich, dark gravy. Last year we had a beautiful cauliflower soup with truffle oil to start and finished with about four different desserts.
For my South African family Christmas means great big tureens of chilled cucumber soup and cold salmon mousse (as a nod to Summer), followed by a slow roasted leg of lamb with mint sauce, a giant glazed gammon decorated with sweet mustard sauce and served with trays and trays of Dauphinoise potatoes, cauliflower cheese and whatever green vegetables are available in Stilbaai.
As you can see, all of the abovementioned dishes – while extremely delicious – is not really going to work for a party of two. So we have decided to get creative. We don’t want to ignore tradition and there is no way in HELL we are going to a pub or a restaurant – so instead we will be incorporating elements from both families’ traditions, but adapted in size and style to feed two instead of twenty.
So how do you cook a Christmas feast for two?
1. Think dainty titbits with a traditional influence
We will never make our way through a turkey, leg of lamb or gammon and the salmon mousse recipe is way too fussy to halve, nevermind quarter – and we can’t make soup because we don’t have a blender yet, so instead, to incorporate the turkey, gammon, salmon and soup we’ll do the tiniest, most delicate canapés to start!
This is our selection:
– Homemade mini blinis with oak-smoked salmon, chives and cream cheese because it’s a classic for a reason.
– Thinly sliced turkey rolls with stuffing and cranberry sauce – we will make the rich stuffing ourselves and use real cranberries (you get them here!) for the sauce.
– Garlic bruschetta bites with Burrata, vine tomatoes and basil because the green, red and white just shouts Christmas.
– Honey glazed ham and maraschino cherry bites.
– Cauliflower and cucumber crudités to make up for the lack of soup with creamed roasted chestnut dip which is a Northern Hemisphere treat.
2. Choose a smaller bird!
Even the smallest turkey will feed about six people, but an average duck is much less substantial. Choosing duck will allow us to roast the whole bird (heaven save me from those individual, dry turkey breasts) which is great for flavour and presentation but won’t leave us with a week’s worth of sandwiches. That said, with a bit of leftover cucumber and some hoisin sauce it WILL do just fine for duck pancakes on Boxing Day which is an absolute win in my books… The debate is still on around how we are going to do the duck. Will it be:
– Roast duck with all the traditional flavours of orange, cinnamon, cloves and star anise?
– The classic French Duck L’orange?
– Asian spiced duck with cranberry sauce?
3. Be wise with your sides
Since we’ll already have tucked into canapés and still have a whole duck to contend with, we won’t be making a bunch of sides just for the sake of it. Instead, we will choose our favourites and ditch the rest which is one of the few benefits of a couples Christmas: you only have two people to cater for in terms of taste. We will opt for:
– Creamy Brussels sprouts with Pancetta and chestnuts because Christmas is literally the only time of the year that my husband will eat sprouts.
– Fondant or roast potatoes because what better to do with all that gorgeous duck fat?
– Pigs in a blanket because otherwise there will be grounds for divorce.
4. To pud or not to pud?
Since neither of us has a sweet tooth I would normally just give it a skip. But hey, it’s Christmas and it just wouldn’t feel right not to end the evening with something sweet and boozy. Enter Nigella’s no-churn easy-as-pie salted caramel and brandy ice cream: simply beat one tin of caramel (or boiled condensed milk if you want to be a purist) into half a litre of double cream until it’s beautifully whipped. Chuck in a handful of course salt and a few good glugs of brandy, pop it in the freezer and voila! Serve your homemade salted caramel ice cream with a shot of Amarula for that taste of SA.
And there you have it. All the traditional, seasonal flavours from two continents and two families adapted for two. Merry Christmas!
Some say that gammon was first eaten at Christmas time by the Germanic people as a tribute to their God and was often associated with harvest and fertility. In Nordic countries the Christmas ham is coated with a layer of mustard, egg and breadcrumbs.