SO, it’s over for another year - all that eating, drinking and merry making. I am pleased to be able to report that everything passed fairly smoothly and happily in this household.
My only complaint being the age-old eating too much scenario.
This was particularly bad this year as my youngest daughter, who is studying in Paris at the moment, was put in charge of my stocking.
Good move from Himself, and as you can imagine the result was foodie nirvana. Lots of very special delicacies and all beautifully packaged to boot.
I would move house for a macaroon but luckily didn’t have to as there was an elegant box with delicious macaroons in the prettiest colours and flavours.
Mini bite-sized saucisson in a tall glass jar that looked like something from an old-fashioned sweet shop, hare pate, Mirabelle plums in Gewurztraminer and so it went on. Obviously there was the obligatory DVD in there too plus a Crunchie – the only confectionery that I like. So although a few pounds heavier, it is a stocking that I will remember for many years to come.
I also received two bell-shaped terracotta rhubarb forcers which I am thrilled with, as they are rather more elegant than the upturned giant plastic plant pot, complete with boulder on top to keep it in place that I usually use for the purpose.
I know this is supposed to be a food column but if you do have a crown of rhubarb in your garden it is worth covering it with something now, so that you can enjoy lovely thin, pink tender stems earlier than the tougher, thicker stems that result from growing it uncovered. It’s well worth the effort.
As I am lucky enough to have two forcers I have covered one crown now, and I will cover a second one in a few weeks time, to stagger the harvest.
Depending on the weather you can expect to be harvesting these succulent stems about two months after forcing.
Look out for rhubarb recipes in March! Back to the festive over-indulgence and today’s recipe. I have chosen a palate cleanser which I think is just what is required as an antidote.
Firstly, it is a hearty, but fresh nourishing salad, rather than a flighty summer-style one, and is surprisingly filling.
Secondly, it is very wholesome, bursting with health-boosting ingredients and ideal for vegetarians if you swap the Feta for vegetarian cheese, or just omit it completely.
And lastly, all the ingredients are available just about anywhere. Raw beetroot will last for a month or so somewhere cool and Feta cheese has a very long shelf life.
Roast beetroot in a medium oven wrapped in a foil tent, with a little olive oil and salt, for around an hour, depending on the size of the roots.
It is cooked when the skin slips off easily. By all means use pre-cooked beetroot, but look for quality and avoid the ones that are cooked in vinegar.
These tend to be soggy, watery and tasteless and will not enhance your salad.
This recipe is perfect for rustling up a quick lunch or supper, when all that is required is a little something, rather than yet more meat and potatoes.
Find lots more simple but contemporary recipes in Jane’s book, Make it Easy, available at www.janelovett.com, book shops and Amazon.co.uk
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Ingredients (serves four):
340g (12oz) waxy new potatoes, cooked (eg Anya, Charlotte, Exquisa etc)
300g (11oz) beetroot, cooked (but not in vinegar)
4 small smoked mackerel fillets
55g (2oz) Feta cheese
1 good tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tbsp creamed horseradish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few mixed salad, watercress or baby spinach leaves
Toasted hazelnuts, optional
1. Slice the potatoes lengthways into halves or quarters. Arrange in the middle of four plates or one large platter, stacking them up a little. Cut the beetroot in half and then into segments or wedges. Arrange around and nestled in-between the potatoes.
2. Skin the mackerel fillets, check for bones and remove if necessary. Gently break each fillet into two halves down the natural divide and arrange them propped up over the vegetables in a criss-cross.
Alternatively break into chunks and scatter randomly. Nestle a few leaves into the nooks and crannies.
3. Mix the yoghurt and horseradish together with some seasoning, adjusting the quantities to your taste, and letting down with a little water if necessary. The consistency should be a little thicker than double cream.
4. Just before serving, spoon over the dressing and finish with a swirl of olive oil and a few scattered hazelnuts, if using.
The potatoes and beetroot can be cooked, and the dressing made several days in advance. After that, it’s just an assembly job when required.
Hints and tips
When buying Feta, look for DPO on the packet and avoid anything that says Feta or Greek ‘style’ cheese, as it’s not the real McCoy.