Are you tired of the turkey, stuffing and sprouts that constitute the classic Christmas dinner? Have you run out of boxed sets to while away the inevitable Christmas afternoon slump? Is the obligatory Snowball not hitting the spot? Fed up of people asking questions? Don’t worry, I have 5 ways to help you give this Christmas a kick up the backside and make it one to remember for all the right reasons… But before that the team at MEETinLEEDS would like to wish you a…
The Christmas Dinner
Now don’t get me wrong: I love turkey. Couple it with pigs in blankets, a good stuffing and a dash of cranberry and you are on to a winner. Sprouts though, for me, can do one…
However, after watching “The Sopranos”, and by turn the river of delicious food that passed before me on screen, I decided that a Sopranos Style Christmas Dinner was in order. You can buy the cookbook, which would make an excellent Christmas present (but if you can’t wait there are some links to the recipes below).
The centrepiece is Carmela’s Lasagne: a behemoth of a pasta dish and not one for the faint of heart, but absolutely delicious. The sides are Melanzane Parmigiana (a baked aubergine dish), tomato salad and something green (I did grilled asparagus. Mmmm). It is quite a bit of preparation but most of it can be done beforehand, leaving you to enjoy the spoils with a nice Chianti or Barolo for the full wise-guy effect. The biggest worry is the gargantuan amount you will stuff your face with, but that’s what Christmas is for, right?
Honourable Mention: If you have your heart set on the traditional bird, why not give it a French twist and do a turkey-au-vin (this version is delicious)? Pair it with tartiflette, a French Alpine potato gratin made with the pungent yet mouthwatering reblochon cheese (this recipe isn’t half bad, but I prefer the thinly sliced potatoes in the traditional gratin style). A few sautéed greens and braised red cabbage for the Christmas vibe and you will not be disappointed.
The Drink of Choice
Snowballs are lovely. Well, once a year anyway. But if twisting the crusty cap off the Advocaat has made you a bit queasy and itching for something new, then try a Pisco Sour.
A cocktail of South American origin (though Peruvians and Chileans disagree as whose national drink it is, I prefer the Peruvian style: sshhh) combining Pisco, a kind of brandy, with lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. After trying a few, this recipe is the one I found to be the most simple and delicious:
Ingredients (Per serving)
- 50ml Pisco
- 1 egg white
- 3 drops of Angustura bitters
For the Sour Mix
- 30ml lime juice
- 20ml sugar syrup
- Put all the ingredients (excluding the Angostura bitters) in a blender with 3 or 4 ice cubes and blend until smooth
- Carefully hold the froth back with the lid of the blender and pour the liquid into a chilled glass; you will still end up with a drink with a good head of foam. To serve, add 3 drops of bitters.
A Pisco Sour is very similar to a Snowball in the use of egg and a derivation of brandy, but the fresh lime gives it a really refreshing zang as opposed to the claggy, sweet Snowball.
Once you have perfected your technique you can even get involved in Pisco Sour Day on 6th February 2016!
Honourable Mention: What better way to end the day than with a Salted Caramel Rum Hot Chocolate. I know, and it is as good as it sounds.
The Boxed Set
We all know that Christmas telly is a bit of a mixed bag, but now we live in the age of the boxed set, and with online streaming platforms hosting tonnes of content there is no need to slog through the Queens Speech and “It’s A Wonderful Life”.
The king of the boxed sets has to be “The Wire”: if you haven’t seen it I am genuinely jealous. If only I could delete it from memory and watch it fresh again. I will not give away any spoilers (I hate reading the synopsis on the back of DVD’s) so you can enjoy every surprise…
Set in Baltimore, Maryland, it is about, well, everything. From the opening scene, when “Snot Boogie” gets killed for stealing the pot from a crap game, I was hooked, as were a growing legion of fans.
It is the perfect binge watch, a tapestry of perfect character development, Shakespearean tragedy, social and political commentary, farce, comedy (“The Bunk” in the bathroom: watch and you will know), bad guys, good guys, good bad guys, gangsters, dirty cops, lying journalists, serial killers: everything.
It is no-holds-barred gritty, some of the dialogue will have you reaching for the remote for the rewind-and-subtitle option (the Baltimore accent is a tough nut to crack), and the pacing can appear snail-like at points, but the tension is ratcheted up in each episode to some satisfactory (and some heart breaking) denouements in the numerous stories that are woven together.
Watch it. Now. I will happily pop around with the popcorn and watch it with you.
Honourable Mentions: “The Sopranos” is a close second when it comes to boxed sets. It’s like the best gangster film you have seen but 72 hours long. And that is a good thing.
“F is for Family”, the new animated comedy from American comedian Bill Burr is out in time for Christmas. Expect dark humour, bad language and a politically incorrect view of the world. All of the good stuff…
If the world hears another Band Aid feeding the world in yet another guise it will surely be sucked into a black hole of sanctimony.
There are some greats in the canon of Christmas songs (looking at you Jona Lewie, Bing Crosby and David Bowie) but if you want a break from the straining of Wizzard and Slade I can suggest “A Christmas Album” by Bright Eyes.
It may not be to everyone’s tastes: Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst) has a quaking, sneering voice that is like marmite (it took a while to grow on me) but his renditions of the Christmas classics “Blue Christmas” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are right up there with the best.
All of the proceeds from albums bought on the Saddle Creek Label website go to the Nebraska Aids Project, so you can enjoy the music in the knowledge you are supporting a good cause.
Probably not an album you will want to put on in the middle of the party, but perfect for the more contemplative hours, possibly after stuffing yourself with Lasagne, before grabbing a(nother) Pisco and listening to…
Honourable Mention: “A Motown Christmas” has to be the most upbeat set of tunes going and is a perfect partner to the more reflective Bright Eyes. The Jackson 5, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and more. What’s not to love.
I know that most people (me included) like to stop in around Christmas, but what could be more festive than catching a rendition of the Nutcracker? After all, it is panto season. Oh no it isn’t! Stop that. As we were saying, it is panto season so why not go a little more highbrow and join Clara and her Nutcracker Prince in an enchanting winter wonderland for the ultimate in festive entertainment.
The fantastic Northern Ballet has a number of dates at the Leeds Grand Theatre if you are in Yorkshires finest city, but there is sure to be a showing near you so get out and enjoy yourself!