Photo by Holly Bell
I got chatting to a girl from Halifax the other day. It was a revelation. We found that both Leicester and Halifax have similar Christmas traditions. Now I know it's still August, but given I am wearing ski boots and have had to crank up the thermostat so my baby's hands don't freeze at night I'm just going to go for it and jump straight into a Christmas blog post. Here's the way Christmas works and me and the girl from Halifax. (Her name was Rachel by the way and she was very nice and also so young as to not remember Ally McBeal.)
You fill the fridge to bursting either the day before Christmas or two days before. You can ONLY do this by arriving at the supermarket (usually Morrisons) at approximately 6am, waiting outside with a trolley until the security guard unlocks the doors. Then you need your strategy; decide what's most important to you. Is it the ham? Is it the sprouts? Or the double cream? Because on the off chance that something runs out you need to decide what you can most live without. Then, when you're allowed in, you run. Run like the hills! This is it, your one chance to get Christmas food shopping right and thus earn the love and respect of your family.
You bring the bounty home and stuff it into the fridge. This often involves much sighing and repacking of said fridge. You must not be able to see the back of the fridge and food stuffs MUST obscure the fridge light. Then you set out all the treat food on a snack table. This should include either Roses or Quality Street chocolates, some form of salted nuts (cashews if you're feeling posh, peanuts if less so), Twiglets and Matchsticks. Nobody is allowed to eat these until Christmas Day. In fact if anyone so much as looks at them the matriarch of the house bares her teeth and warns everyone off opening anything without her permission.
On Christmas Eve you order a curry or a Chinese. You have to do this as you're not allowed to eat anything from the fridge, snack table or cupboard. Strangely this obsession with saving everything for the Big Day does not extend to booze.
When the Big Day arrives you obviously eat yourselves silly and then all stare in wonder at how you've over catered again. You then try and palm everyone who comes to the house off with turkey, coleslaw, cake and trifle. They refuse. They have their own food mountain to distribute. Diet starts 1st Jan.
Onto the recipe. This week it's a very pleasing rosemary and mustard chicken stew. Perfect comfort food that's pretty healthy in preparation for the mostly unhealthy festive season.
Serves 2 - 4 depending on hunger
2 tbsp groundnut or similar oil for frying
4 chicken thighs, skin on
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
5 chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced
20 or so black olives, drained
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp black pepper
3 stalks of fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried if this isn't available)
20 baby new potatoes
1 tsp Dijon mustard
This recipe is easy and adaptable so do as you wish with it - add stuff, take stuff out, just keep the rosemary and mustard.
Heat the oil in an oven and hob proof casserole dish (I used my Le Creuset wedding present one) on your hob. Also preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Fry the chicken thighs skin side down in the oil until lightly browned then add the onion and mushrooms. Stir and allow to brown for 5 minutes or so on a low to medium heat. Add the olives, garlic, pepper, rosemary and potatoes and stir well. Boil the kettle then pour over the chicken and veggies until it just covers the top. Add the mustard and stir. Remove from the hob and leave to bake in the oven (with the lid off) for 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the water has reduced. Do keep an eye on it and have a poke at regular intervals as some ferocious ovens will render the chicken rather chargrilled (see pic).
I served this with green beans and it was frankly, really rather lovely.
Holly blogs at Recipes from a Normal Mum
Her first book is out now, also called Recipes from a Normal Mum