The first time I ever saw British chef/restaurateur and global media wunderkind, Jamie Oliver, was through his breakthrough TV shows in the late 90s on the fledgling Food Network. I didn't like the marketing moniker assigned to him. It was silly and what the hell did the Naked Chef mean? He was a scruffily appealing London lad, but when he got behind a stove, the food he produced looked amazing. I bought his first cookbook, THE NAKED CHEF on the strength of those early shows, and I still make his Simple Chocolate Tart and other recipes from that book. I also bought his follow-up and his JAMIE'S ITALIAN books, and then a sort of boredom set in. Then a few years later, I discovered a British edition of JAMIE COOKS. I bought the US version and cooked my way through most of it. The vegetable section alone is pure genius with one exciting dish after another. I adapted his recipe for Tender-as-you-like rabbit set with the best dumplings ever using chicken thighs in place of the rabbit (which isn't always easy to find ). The dumplings in this recipe are "baked" in the oven, rather than "steamed" on top of the stove. JAMIE COOKS sealed the deal for me. The man had grown up and he had developed into a cookbook author with his own authentic voice. Nobody wrote like he did with a "glug" of this or "preheat your oven to full whack." Oliver's enthusiastic, conversational style probably set the tone for many other cookbooks authors to follow, relaxing language without losing the structure or the techniques he imparted. Oliver's maturity had blossomed and JAMIE AT HOME may be my favorite of all of his books.
Oliver's crusade aimed at improving the nutrition of children was aimed directly at school cafeterias and became the basis of a TV series and a cookbook. This became a turning point, and for the most part, his books turned to a lighter, healthier way of eating. I admired his vision and he was no less communicative, but I was less interested in subsequent cookbooks. Even his detour, JAMIE'S COMFORT FOOD missed that spark of originality found in his earlier work and seemed too chef-oriented. Then I stumbled on a link announcing JAMIE OLIVER'S CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK (Flatiron Books; $35.00; October, 2017), and with this stunning book, Jamie has produced one of the finest holiday cookery books I've ever seen.
The terrain is surprisingly sparse. Yes Martha Stewart has one. So does Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Nigella Lawson has one too, but that's about it. Italians, Mario Batali and Michele Scicolone produced Italian holiday cookbooks that are wonderful. But most of the Christmas-specific cookbooks are by well-established magazines and brands such as Good Housekeeping, Country Living, and Betty Crocker. Now that I've seen Jamie's I'm waiting for the Barefoot Contessa to announce the publication of hers. Okay, okay, it's time to get to the point. In this gorgeous book, stuffed with mouth-watering, holiday-centric color photos, you'll find everything Christmas from big meat mains and veggie and vegan plates, potatoes, gravies, and sauces and sides to dazzling desserts, edible gifts, colorful salads, dips and handheld nibbles, adult beverages to make the season bight, plus fresh ideas for leftovers, and a really useful guide for roasting turkey, duck, goose, chicken, beef, pork and lamb.
So what of the recipes? I live in the Pacific Northwest, and smoked salmon pate, with shrimp, white crabmeat, salmon caviar and cayenne pepper, looks like a eye-opening starter. A Silky Pate, is a sublime meeting of chicken livers, butter, sweet onions, sage and thyme. And it's an easy to make as it is stunning to behold. I prepared a roast goose in my youth. I remember it being a chore, and when I tried to shove the pan back into the oven, the goose slid off of the roasting rack as goose fat sprayed itself across the floor of the oven, creating a fire. I reached into the oven to rescue the expensive center of my Christmas table, and yanked it out of the flames, The goose landed on the floor. But I saved it. The clean-up was not pleasant, and I burned my hand. I swore I'd never try it again. Jamie's simpler Roast Goose Slow Cooked with Christmas Spices appears short on drama and long on flavor and ease. I may reconsider. Of the mains my choice would be Porchetta, his version of a Rolled Pork Loin Stuffed with Beautiful Things. Those beautiful things include pancetta, fennel seeds, chicken livers, sage, rosemary, white wine, dried apricots, cranberries, raisins and sultanas, pine nuts, Parmesan, Vin Santo, bread crumbs and carrots. The presentation is spectacular. His Turkey is roasted with a basket weave of bacon woven across its breast (and photos show the various essential steps to properly carve it for the table. A Roast Chicken features the choice between four flavored butters. If you have a butcher who deals with game, how about a Roast Venison Wrapped in Prosciutto with Barolo and Chocolate Sauce. There's even a festive Meatloaf with Sweet Roasted Fennel, Crispy Smoked Bacon, Herbs. For seafood, there's a Salmon En Croute with an Herby Spinach-Stuffed Crust; a Gorgeous Cheesy Sauce, Fish Pie with Luxurious Fish, Creamy Prosecco Sauce, and Red Leicester Mash, an aromatic Fish Curry, and a Salt Crust Salmon with Fennel, Lemon and Herbs Galore.
Vegetable and vegan choices are wide-ranging and creative: Nut Roast Squash, Quinoa, Chestnuts and Spiced Tomato Sauce, a Moroccan Vegan M'Hanncha Savory Style with Pearl Barley, Squash and Spices, Roasted Celeriac Winter Herbs, Butter, Garlic, & and Creamy Truffled Mushroom Sauce, Eggplant Curry Bombay Mix, Fluffy Rice, Mango Chutney, Pappadams have wonderful eye appeal. I'll certainly want to try them. I wanted every potato dish here, but two stood out as completely different: Baked Mash, Crushed Yukon Gold & Oozy Red Leicester Cheese and Balsamic Potatoes Sweet Red onions, Thyme, Garlic, Arugula and a Little Faith show Jamie's rethought ideas about these sides. Roasted Parsnips Squashed with Bay, Thyme, Garlic, Honey, and Ground Almonds, four different Brussels Sprouts recipes, and Clapshot Smashed Carrot, Rutabaga, Marmalade, and Loadsa Chives may be your new favorite smashed veg puree for your winter table. Red Cabbage Crispy Smoked Bacon and Rosemary, Apple, Fennel Seeds, Balsamic, elevates this humble hot winter vegetable.
There are time savers such as Gravy and Vegan Gravy (both of which can be made well ahead of the big feast). Baked Bread Sauce Sweet Tender Onions, English Mustard, Cloves, Butter and Bay, takes a classic British "wet" sauce and turns it something savory and akin to stuffing. Jamie's Cranberry Sauce with Burnt Butter, Maple Syrup, Apple, Thyme, and Spiced Rum, is a new and creative variation. Horseradish Sauce contains Fiery Horseradish, Vinegar and Creme Fraiche--an ideal complement to his impressive roast beef. Pigs in a Blanket Gone Crazy is Jamie's variation of this classic featuring bacon as a robe surrounding brie, shelled walnut halves, and thyme, or bacon or a pitted date with crumbled blanched hazelnuts, with drizzled honey, are among the 12 options available. Several stuffings (one a veggie recipe) and Yorkshire Puds(ings) round out the Christmas dinner.
Among the fine salads, there's a seasonal Winter Slaw with carrot, apple, red and white cabbage, dried fruit and almonds that looks as though it were created especially for Christmas. Fifteen Christmas Salad was inspired by Jamie's London restaurant, and it's combination of buffalo mozzarella, clementines, arugula, radicchio, fresh mint, sliced speck, Parmesan and a few drops of good-quality balsamic vinegar, delivers a salad of bold yet refined flavors.
Jamie provides seven totally different ways to use up leftovers--most of them very new. Turkey Risotto, Sweet Leeks, Parmesan, Prosecco, Crispy Turkey Skin and Gravy, Toad in the Hole Yorkshire Pudding Filled with Leftovers and Dirty Gravy, and Carbonara Cake Spaghetti, Smoked Ham and Lotsa Cheese are my three top choices here.
Dessert is the dazzling finale to a JAMIE OLIVER'S CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK feast. Christmas Pudding filled with Dried Fruit, Pecans, Ginger, Rosemary, Bourbon and Golden Syrup, will earn you a standing ovation. Classic British desserts such as Retro Trifle (his mother's ultimate celebration pud), Chocolate Pots (with Clementine Syrup and Creme Fraiche), Pavlova (Ruby Poached Pears, Chocolate, Mulled Wine Jelly, Cream), a heart-stopingly gorgeous Apple Pie (with Sour Cranberries, Blood Orange, Vanilla and Cinnamon), or something called Banoffee Alaska (Almond Pastry, Caramel, Bananas and Vanilla Ice Cream--a pairing of Banoffee pie--which I have never heard of--with Baked Alaska. How about Jamie's recipe for a traditional Chocolate Log (Sweet Chestnut Puree, Honeyed Cream and Crushed Honeycomb filling)? There are three different variations of mince pie (with pastry, with phyllo dough, or Mince Pie Strudels. Billionaire's Shortbread (Guinness Caramel, Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt), Amalfi Cake (almond sponge layers, limoncello lemon curd and raspberry sauce).
Okay I realize you're eyes are nearly glazed over, but Jamie Oliver isn't done yet. There are chapters on holiday cocktails (Pink Pepper Negroni, Party Prosecco), dips (a creamy Greek Taramasalata, bites (four different sausage rolls), and handheld nibbles (Smoked Salmon Blinis, Baked Buns Stuffed with Winter Ragu). Finally there's an edible gifts chapter with lots of interesting, tasty, and delightful things to give, i.e., Fudge, spiked with whiskey and clementine, Truffles, Rocky Road with popcorn, nuts, clementine, ginger, sour fruit and chocolate, and Chili Sauce that can accompany just about anything.
What makes this book especially special is its packaging. It gorgeously evokes an old fashioned Christmas without embalming it in kitsch or flash. The many color photographs compliment the foods superbly. Jamie's patented London Lad prose inspires you to cook up lots of wonderful food for family and friends, polish the silver, set the table, and fill the ice bucket. Happy Holidays!