CHEF JEAN PIERRE’S VINTAGE CHRISTMAS
There’s no standard turkey or roast lamb for our chef this festive season. He got creative whilst still sticking to his culinary roots
Christmas is not just about getting presents hidden under the supersized tree – and the confusion that comes from having both French and German heritage which determines whether they arrive on Christmas eve or early Christmas day. Instead, it’s about that special feeling of togetherness, sharing good the spirit – and even some good spirits (like a smooth sherry).
Wine and, specifically, song goes hand in hand with special memories much like that beautiful 2020 song by Adam Levine…”Here to the Ones that we Love and Memories.”
This year, Christmas comes at the end of a demanding year and, hopefully, brings to an end a very challenging time in our lives the world over. We find ourselves in a world where war is a daily reality for some. So, we have decided to do something very melancholic and special. We are going back in time – post Second Word War – to the year 1949 – a place and time that was special in our grandparents’ minds and a time when the world was healing from unimaginable suffering.
The message then – and now – is that there will be a silver lining and that hope and love will survive to see another year. That’s what a hearty meal shared around a happy table with good friends and family does. So, welcome to my special Vintage Christmas.
There is nothing better to get one into the true spirit of Christmas than a vintage glass filled with classic Old Brown Sherry and some vintage Christmas decorations that I found in my Gran’s old kist. This set the scene for a three course degustation comprising my very own Christmas treats together with some truly old school side dishes that will make and bring back plenty of memories.
When I discussed this idea with Shirley, my editor, I explained how I wanted to create a warm, home cooked luncheon, using some ingredients and recipes that dated back to the flying forties. Then, because I wouldn’t help it, I added my modern twist, keeping the essence of late forties cooking alive, but adding a little modernity.
TRADITIONAL TUNA TERRINE
Finding an old classic copper, fish-shaped casting pan for my vintage salmon and tuna terrine was quite the Find of the century, so to speak. This entrée was well loved by my friends and loved ones as it dates back to a classic time, back in the good old days.
The terrine is served with fresh sliced cucumber, dill, and a dash of lemon, capers – plus an olive eye for presentation. Dip in with some crackling rice cakes. A crack of black pepper and some sea salt to make for the ultimate beginning to your Christmas dining experience.
FRENCH DINING IN ST PETERSBURG
Visiting Paris as a young 11 year-old and spending an unforgettable day in St Petersburg when I was in my thirties are two of my most treasured memories and clearly have something to do with my present day fascination with international cuisine.
Now that I am 50, I have discovered just how many religions celebrate their faith and traditions over a hearty meal. That way, we can combine ingredients that will conquer and not divide us – in this instance, the crazy Frenchman meets Mother Russia. So, let the following dish speak for itself …
Not many people ask about or know the history of the old staple Beef Stroganoff. This hankers back to a time when the French and Mother Russia were dining together – in 1891 – and a French chef by the name of Charles Briene who was working in St Petersburg at the time, submitted a recipe for beef stroganoff sponsored by the French magazine L’art Culinaire.
Interestingly enough, the chef worked for the Stroganoff family in Russia. Later, he suggested that his dish was a much more refined French version of the Russian dish. I guess too much cream and butter would’ve solved the mystery about the true origins of this dish.
FROM YOUR CONFUSED FRENCHMAN’S PANTRY:
1 kg trimmed top side rump, cut into strips
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted Lupra butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
250 grams brown mushrooms, sliced (or a modern vintage take of 250 grams of Shemenji mushrooms)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
250 ml beef stock
250 ml fresh cream, like the Frenchman wanted
50 ml sour cream
a dash of Worcestershire sauce (A foodie note: some brands do have an anchovy extract in their sauces, so any diners with fish allergies need to choose carefully and read labels to make sure they select the correct one).
1 Tablespoon of French Dijon mustard
salt and pepper for seasoning
Turn on the heat waves to 160ºC and, in a medium sized pan, sear your protein after having coated it in the flour, butter and olive oil. Sweat the onions and set aside to rest. Add your mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes, adding your garlic, whilst constantly stirring with your vintage wooden spatula.
Add the beef stock and the cream and let it thicken. After 2 minutes, add the sour cream to temper your sauce – just make sure that you keep your pan on medium heat to ensure that the cream doesn’t curdle’. Add the mustard, some French chives and Worcestershire sauce. Season and you are ready to serve up a French-Meets-Russian vintage delight.
AN ARTISTIC UPDATE
When I finished studying Interior Design in 1993 and, having completed a course in the history of art, I was fascinated by a book that was trending at the time. It was called something along the lines of The Shock of the New : Modern Contemporary Art with a Historic Reference Point.
Along my foodie journey, art and a stylistic approach to plating have always been important. A combination of food and art has always been my passion. Now, modern technology takes this to a whole new level with our phones dictating our lives. Even when it comes to food photography, my phone tells me if the frame I take is mushroom, fillet or even simply blue skies!
During the so called renaissance of food photography, even dating back to the forties, this sort of intervention was unheard of. We had to rely on natural light – as I still do today in almost all my food photography. But let’s not digress, the picture bellows shows that a classic Stroganoff can have a modern twist. That’s why I have plated up a modern version of Shimenji mushrooms on a vintage plate of my grandmother’s – what a wonderful collaboration of old and new!
CHRISTMAS CHICKEN PIE
I guess having only basic proteins in the post war era significantly changed the world of culinary dishes and ushered in experimental new age recipes which have paved the way forward into the next millennium.
But what I soon discovered during this Christmas in the kitchen was the need for connectivity and community. Today, it is all mobile phones and internet connections (without which we’d probably be lost in translation) but, we cannot discount the importance of people and the need for meeting around the table.
I also have to admit that paging through the odd vintage cook book can do wonders when it comes to bring old style food on to your table and rejuvenating memories from bygone years.
My Christmas Chicken pie is my Santa’s secret! Served up piping hot with a mayo glazed puff pastry and some vintage ornaments, this recipe is something for which you may need to wait in the New Year. Some secrets are meant to be secrets…so be patient. Follow my blog, and you might be surprised to find that you receive a Secret Santa recipe for this culinary delight quite soon.
CHRISTMAS ON THE SIDE
Now that the table is set, vintage style, we are ready to serve up the sides that accompany the two main dishes – our Chicken Pie and Beef Stroganoff.
With tradition and history top of mind, I made three side dishes that can trace their origins back to some lovely old recipe books from my Mom and Grandmother’s days. That’s right I went back to the days of the Dutch oven kitchen.
The staple vegetables in the forties were green beans, butternut/ pumpkin and some kind of home grown peppers and tomatoes. Considering the time frame and seasonal availability (which meant some of your more exotic veggies were not available – something we are experiencing again today as a result of Covid and global supply chain disruptions) choices were restricted. That probably explains why many of us don’t always enjoy certain dishes – pumpkin and broccoli for example.
That’s why, this Christmas, I decided to revisit those veggie memories both good and bad and serve up some revised versions that are likely to get you enjoying those veggies again. So, here’s to a modern version of good old healthy staples.
We started with butternut phyllo parcels, made in delicate layers in a muffin tray in the oven, basted with a butter brush and cooked for 5 minutes at 160°C. After your butternut is cooked, make your sauce with 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, 125 ml milk, 125 grams white sugar, a tea spoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of corn flour as a binding and thickening agent. Serve with the butternut in your phylo pastry pockets, adding a stick of cinnamon when serving to create an aromatic flavour.
Lentils, diced tomatoes and corn kernel added a wonderful and colourful accompaniment to my red pepper dish. This comes blistered in the oven, with salt and pepper and an olive oil glaze. For the crispy topping, I melted some cheese and decorated my Christmas pepper with a triangular slice of Austrian cheese covered in green onion powder, a vine tomato header and some fresh modern-style micro herbs. This was a thoroughly modern take that was a real culinary celebration.
Fritters were also very in vogue in the late forties, so why not visit that vintage classic with green beans and diced sweet potato?
UNCONVENTIONAL CHRISTMAS CARROT CAKES
Remember the arduous task of baking for the festive season? Seventy odd years later, we are making our cakes in a convection oven, who would’ve thought?
I have decided to combine two old classics – grandmother’s carrot cake treat with a fruit cake – and the creative outcome comes with crème fraiche frosting.
FROM YOUR CHRISTMAS PANTRY:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons bicarb
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup of grapeseed oil
4 large free range eggs
750 grams finely grated carrots
150 grams of mixed nuts
a few dried cranberries or goji berries
For a yield of 6, medium muffin size cakes, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt and bicarb in a medium sized mixing bowl. Whisk in the balance of the ingredients and pour the well-mixed mixture into a grease proof muffin pan. Place this in your pre-heated convection oven (180ºC) for 20 minutes.
To finish off your creation, mix together 2 Tablespoons of Lupra unsalted butter, some crème fraiche, 250 grams icing sugar, one teaspoon vanilla essence. Frost your Christmas cakes with this mixture. Slice some strawberries on top and garnish with some dark chocolate coated almonds. You’ll have a Christmas pudding made in heaven.
In C minor, raise your voices to the tune of Come Sing and Dance with Me. It’s a resounding “Cheers” to the ones that we love, to the ones that we forgot – and long live bringing back those special memories one bite at a time.
We’ll Dance with You – even in the rain this December – and wish you only love this festive season…
Chef Jean Pierre and the O & A Team …