It’s 2014. How did that happen? I have no idea. I am ashamed that there are no posts on here during 2013. Not one!
The truth is, I was forced to neglect my beloved More than just Gravy for just over a year due to studying for a Professional Diploma in Marketing. Trying to do the course and work full time, I just had too much on my plate, so to speak, to keep writing the blog too. But I’m pleased to say it’s all done and dusted now, I’m officially qualified and free to return to the creative instead of academic writing, which is definitely more my cup of tea!
So what better time to restart my ramblings than the beginning of 2014. Christmas has eaten itself into oblivion. New Years has made it’s resolutions. But what about the important stuff: FOOD!
Of course there has been masses of that. I spent the Christmas break visiting family and friends, so there was a fair share of traditional festive fayre in the mix, but I don’t want to focus on that in this post, mainly because I think by now we’re all sick of it!
We spend so long planning, fantasising about and preparing for our Christmas feasts that we all feel like we’ve eaten it ten times over before the big day arrives. Not to mention the fact that most of us have eaten at least one Christmas dinner at a works do or a get-together with friends in the run-up.
Luckily, as well as my family festive feast I also enjoyed some delicious meals out. So here for your enjoyment is my yuletide face-stuffing overview…
1. The best city in the country: Manchester
I miss Manchester! It was time to scratch that itch so I went with my Mum and Sister on Christmas Eve to shop and stuff our faces. Yes that’s right, on Christmas Eve. No, we’re not mad – in fact we had the right idea because the place was fairly quiet! Clearly the thought of facing the crush of panic-stricken men doing last minute present buying put everyone else off a trip to the city! After an hour or so of spending the Christmas money we hadn’t received yet, we felt the need to refuel and headed for the canal-side pub The Mark Addy, named after a local hero who, during his short life of just 51 years, rescued over 50 people from the River Irwel, on the banks of which the pub sits. They don’t make them like that any more!
None of us are really people who could be described as a typical ‘ladies who lunch’, but it was Christmas and in true northern fashion we thought “sod it, we’ll treat ourselves!” and we ordered a bottle of Prosecco and set about dribbling over the menu.
The choices were varied, with typical northern bar snacks including pork scratchings and the mysterious crispy Manchester “Thingymabobs”. The traditional hearty pub grub was on there too but I decided to be difficult and choose two starters from the Special Chef’s menu. First up came the hot smoked salmon and potato wedge terrine, held together by a subtle creamy horseradish sauce. The textures and temperature enhanced the delicate smoky flavour – it was delicious.
The starter that I chose as my main course, if you catch my Irwell drift, was a potato and black pudding cake topped with a poached egg. When in Rome and all that… There are many other foods that black pudding makes an excellent partner to: scallops, pork and rabbit to name a few. But sometimes the simple components cooked well are the best. And this was the best.
A crunchy crust gave the dish texture and the balance of smooth potato and that strong black pudding taste was just right. Complimented by the satisfyingly runny egg yolk, I had perfection. More northern food please!!!
2. The Boxing Day Buffet
Ok, I know I said I’d avoid writing about the traditional Christmas dinner, but there has to be room to mention the aftermath, the post-Christmas gorging opportunity, the meal that tastes even better than its hot-from-the-oven beginnings the day before. The legendary Boxing Day buffet.
My Mum put this magnificent spread together, adding to the roast turkey and stuffing the classic Christmas snacks that seem to somehow find their way into every cupboard and fridge every festive period: Cheese and biscuits, accompanied by multiple homemade chutneys which had been inflicted as Christmas presents; A variety of mixed nuts; Crunchy breadsticks to dredge through accompanying dips; Smoked salmon, neatly rolled with cream cheese and brie; plus the obligatory salads as an attempt to bring down the calorie count. Followed by a buttered slice of Mum’s fruit cake, washed down with a steaming cup of Gluhwein. THIS is what Christmas is all about!
3. A festive feast in the shadow of Pendle
A trip back up North is never complete without some fine local grub at the Pendle Inn at Barley. 2012 saw the 400th anniversary of the trial of the Lancashire Witches and this cosy country pub which huddles at the foot of Pendle Hill is full of tributes to the local history.
Moorehouse’s ales are on tap, from Blonde Witch to Black Cat, each with its own distinct flavour. The bar menu dishes offer tribute to the ill-fated women, including Malkin Tower hot black pudding fritters and the infamous Pendle Pie. The lyrics of Old Pendle, a folk song reminiscent of my childhood are framed upon the wall as are photographs of the hill in winter, as snow is melting on its steep side, leaving the unmistakeable white shape of a witch.
In contrast to the cold snow, the inn is warm and toasty with a roaring fire, just the place to settle down to a hearty lunch for my Dad’s birthday. We all found the choice a difficult one but in the end mine was roast loin of pork with spring potato mash, a mustard cream sauce and black pudding ‘bon bons’.
They actually turned out to be more like enlarged wedges similar to the pieces in Trivial Persuit, but whatever the shape, they added a rich flavour to the dish. The generous loin of pork was nice and lean (I’m not a fan of the jelly-like texture of fat) and the smooth mash soaked up the creamy mustard sauce. Well-balanced flavours and textures made this a most enjoyable and indulgent meal. It was a large portion but I surprised myself and practically cleaned the plate…and waddled out of the pub afterwards!
And so after such glutenous yuletide frivolities, the new year will have to be a time of self control and embracing of all things healthy. Well, maybe not all things…