With less than two weeks to go before Christmas Day, the house should be stocked with the frozen and non-perishable essentials for the occasion. See the ‘Food’ section of November 22nd, 29th and December 6th on our website www.jamaicaobserver.com .
As you continue to make your party preparations, this week you could add a few more useful items to your cupboards and freezers by making a one-stop visit to the new CPJ food store on Lady Musgrave Road. They have some nice juicy whole ducks and duck breasts, which would be a unique addition to anyone’s Christmas dinner table. Defrost in the fridge, marinate with HoneyKist Simply... Honey (they have a variety of flavours), Roland Blood Orange or Tamarind Glaze and citrus peel for about 12 hours, and roast in the oven according to instructions on the packet. Serve with the usual Christmas side dishes, including a green salad tossed in one of several Briannas Home Style dressings. If you have a guest who really doesn’t like to eat poultry or meat, buy a bag or two of frozen Sea Best Ahi Tuna steaks, sear briefly on a very hot griddle pan, and dish that up with a good splash of Annie’s Naturals Shitake Sesame Vinaigrette. You will find all the above items at major supermarkets.
In a week’s time we’ll discuss last-minute tips and the fresh produce you’ll need for your meal, but until then, here are stories from some of the more enthusiastic home chefs in Kingston.
Barbara Calo hosts Christmas dinner at her house every year for about 10 or 12 family members. “I prep for the meal on Christmas Eve, and then I start cooking early on Christmas morning,” she tells the Thursday Life. “We do the traditional Christmas dinner, including baked ham, roast beef, rice and gungo peas, Irish potato salad, creamed potatoes for one of my granddaughters, and a tossed green salad. For dessert we serve Christmas cake with vanilla ice cream, which is our favourite.” Does anyone help her? we ask. “My daughter’s mother-in-law brings the roast turkey, but that’s it. I do all the rest on my own,” she says. Calo is used to cooking for her family, who tend to descend on her every Sunday anyway, so the meal on Christmas Day doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, work-wise. What about leftovers? “I use them on Boxing Day to feed the family again. I will also use the ham at breakfast with eggs and toast, and I often send some leftovers to my daughter’s house, as they are five people.”
Erica Cooper’s Christmas begins on December 1, when she hosts 22 people to high tea on her husband’s birthday. “I do pinwheel sandwiches, rolled cheese toasts, Russian tea cakes, pecan tarts, curry chicken cups, just to name a few. It is phenomenal,” Cooper tells Thursday Life, proudly. “That starts my Christmas. It is also when I have my first sorrel drink, which is full of ginger the season.”
Christmas is a huge deal for the family, but there’s no need for anyone else to sweat it out in the kitchen, as Cooper is a woman who is able to do it all. In the second week of December, she makes and bakes Christmas cut-out cookies for the children, and if the grandkids are available, they’ll join in the festivity. “On occasion I have done gingerbread houses, and I also bake Christmas puddings and sell them to friends, which I have been doing for donkey’s years,” she informs us.
On Christmas Day itself, the Coopers celebrate with lunch. “I roast the traditional turkey, ham, and I’ll then do a meat like beef fillet. I always do rice and peas, both the red peas one and the gungo peas, as some members of the family like one and not the other.
“I do a special sweet potato dish with marshmallows and I make salad, plantain, and vegetables. I do desserts: a chocolate cake with a hard sevenminute frosting, which is like marshmallows; my personal favourite is my grandmother’s white boiled pudding that contains no fruit, and then I serve it with brandy butter; the Christmas cookies I make earlier in the month; and my traditional Christmas pudding, which contains every single thing, every fruit and nut possible,” she gushes.
And all of this for how many? “We end up being about 24 people,” she replies. “We have the family, but it is also tradition in my family to look for the stranger in the land, and invite them. So someone like an expat away from home, someone whose family is not here.”
Isn’t this all very exhausting, though? How does she manage? “I just love it. have always cooked and I enjoy seeing the end product. Of course, if someone in the family offered to help, I would love it,” she hints. Well, Cooper, if you weren’t so darned good at cooking such a fabulous feast and making their Christmas so wonderful, then perhaps they might! Can we be the stranger in the land one year, please?
Barbara Calo’s Irish Potato Salad
Ingredients: 5 lbs Irish potatoes, cut into cubes 6 eggs 3 stalks scallion, minced 1 onion, minced Pinch of garlic powder Pinch of white pepper or black pepper A little chicken spice 8 oz jar of mayonnaise 1 medium green pepper, diced Salt Method: Boil the Irish potatoes until just soft, drain and cool.
Boil the eggs until hard, cool, peel and mince.
Mix the eggs with the scallion, onion, garlic powder, salt, pepper, chicken spice, mayonnaise and green pepper.
Pour the potatoes into a large bowl and gently stir in the mayonnaise mixture.
Store in the fridge on Christmas Eve and serve on Christmas Day.
Erica Cooper’s Marshmallow Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients: 5 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks Salt 4 oz butter, plus a little extra for brushing 3-4 fl oz milk 3 /4 cup brown sugar 2 dashes of ground cinnamon 1 /2 cup shredded coconut
Method: Boil the potatoes until soft. Drain and mash the potatoes with some salt and butter.
Stir in the milk, sugar and cinnamon, and continue mashing to form a very smooth mixture.
Stir in the shredded coconut.
Grease a large ovenproof dish, fill with the potatoes, and brush the top with butter. Store in the freezer until the night before you need to use it.
On the night before you use it, put in the fridge overnight to defrost.
Remove from fridge two hours before serving and preheat the oven to 300ºF.
An hour before serving, place in the oven.
Twenty minutes before you are ready to serve, cover the top of the sweet potatoes with marshmallows. If using large ones, cut in half. Continue to bake until the marshmallows have just melted.