December is one of my favourite months – I love everything about the lead up to christmas (except for the miserable colds I never manage to avoid).  This year has been no exception and made all the more exciting with a daughter who understands more this year.   My count-down for dining delights, starts by working backwards from Boxing day, planning breakfasts, bruches, and sumptuous dinners for family and friends.  I’m a great fan of Jamie Oliver’s christmas recipes and get inspired when he encourages everyone to take the traditional recipes and add your own twist/shake – exactly what I like to do.

For one of my christmas feasts with friends, I couldn’t decide between two recipes – both JO’s – Lamb Shanks with mashed potato, or Italian-style confit of duck.  One of my guests is vegetarian and so I planned to make spinach and feta filo pie.  I really didn’t want to be like many of the folks I see on ‘Come Dine With Me’ or say ‘this is the first time I’ve tried this’ and so I made all of the dishes once – much to the delight of my husband who had to test them all out. 

Cooking the duck was truely a delight mostly because I was using ingredients I don’t often cook with and because quite frankly it was so easy to make.  Once you’ve got your marinade together, you just smear it on the meat and leave it for a few hours.  I made one fatal mistake (well, one that I’ll admit anyway).  I added way too much salt.  I had decided to half the ingredients and make enough just for two people incase I didn’t like it, but I think I didn’t half the salt!  Sooo… quite salty but that’s ok if you like it that way.  The other point which was a decision maker for me, was the smell of the juniper berries.  They are quite stong alongside the duck fat.  The taste was superb but the smell was slightly too citrus for me.  It’s important to enjoy the smell otherwise you fear the taste in my opinion. 

Delicious duck roasted in duck fat and juniper berries

Delicious duck roasted in duck fat and juniper berries

The lamb shank was also quite easy to prepare and can look quite elegant if you place it ontop of your vegetable pile.  I was amazed at how a dash (ok half a glass) of white could tansform the gravy juice.  So how here’s what I decided to make for our christmas soiree:

  • Pumpkin and sweet potato soup 
  • Lamb shanks –  I decide to go with the lamb for the carnivores as the duck seemd a bit risky.
  • Cheese board – ‘Chilli chedder’, ‘Ows yer father’, Picos Blue & brie with crackers & grapes all recommended from my second favourite butcher Pethers of Kew (my favourite is Frank Godfrey’s in Highbury
  •  Chocolate fondant – recipe swiped from the After Eight chocolate website no less
  • Coffee & chocolate truffles

I would definitely recommend an evening soiree with my selection as all of it can be prepared in advance, and the lamb can be slowly cooking whilst your guests arrive.

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