I am a very keen amateur cook, and dream of the day I can have a spacious, shiny kitchen filled to bursting with all manner of delicious fresh produce! So far, my kitchen adventures have been limited, not so much by skill (my mother taught me well!) as by time, budget and the diminutive size of my current kitchen.
Therefore, it was both a treat and a trial to watch the many Festive cookery programs on the TV over the last month. I managed to watch a goodly proportion of them, and in this entry I’m going to give a brief review of the more memorable ones.
I very much enjoyed the several River Cottage Christmas Specials that aired in December. I’m honestly not sure which ones were associated with which years, but I was generally impressed with the variety of recipes and Hugh’s unbridled enthusiasm towards them. High points for me were the German pepper-biscuits covered in chocolate, and the tender, slow-cooked beef brisket. However this is not a show aimed at vegetarians or those who can’t bear to watch a butcher at work.
Due to bad timing, I only watched a few minutes of the Hairy Bikers, who were demonstrating recipes based around the 12 days of Christmas. I have always liked them for their easy, laid back presenting style and apparently genuine friendliness. The festive pannacotta looked divine!
The Victorian Farm Christmas, though not strictly a foodie programme, was the ultimate in cosy fireside viewing. There were several interesting recipes, including the “fruit gums” which looked incredibly messy but rather fun!
Kirstie Allsop also deserves a mention for her “Homemade Christmas”. A delightful series of programmes featuring the rosy cheeked Kirstie whose childlike enthusiasm for anything glittery was adorable, I was inspired by the crafts and recipes alike. A recipe for quick mince pies (made rather like eccles cakes out of puff pastry, and tips on making your turkey pretty, were the highlights!
Delia Smith’s Christmas offering this year sadly fell a little flat. She was coming from a “for beginners” standpoint but lets face it, is a brand new cook really going to be interested in making their own Christmas pudding, fancy flaky pastry or bread sauce? Hence the tone of the programme was more than a little bit patronising. Although I am decidedly against the current “everything must be low fat” trend, I do think Delia pushed a little too far in the opposite direction. The sheer quantity of butter she added to her bread sauce was so ridiculous as to be hilarious, and the suggestion for wrapping leftover rich Christmas pudding in rich pastry and serving it with rich cream made my arteries recoil in horror!
The absolute low point this year was Nigella Lawson’s offering. Her “Sexy Housewife” thing has turned her into a complete caricature and is actually quite laughable when she starts pouting over her dubiously appealing amaretti biscuit Rocky Road! Her roast beef was merely waved at the oven – I’m all for rare meat, particularly when the alternative is chewy, overdone turkey, but this was ridiculous! I can honestly say that I was not in the slightest bit tempted by any of her recipes, which is unusual for me and cookery programmes!
And that leads me to the high point! The Naked Chef himself, Jamie Oliver, was back with a series of programmes about several different aspects of holiday cookery. In a move that could have led to the show being overly sentimental and patronising, he got his entire family involved, from his adorable Nan (nicknamed Tiger) to his two older daughters. Thankfully, due to the participants’ obvious enthusiasm and Jamie’s warm cheekiness, it was a delight from start to finish. I thought it particularly commendable that he let his small daughters cook their “breakfast pancakes” entirely unaided and didn’t bat an eyelid at the mess they made, even on camera! Pretty much every recipe he made was mouthwatering and the presentation was absolutely fantastic. The whole show had a laid back, friendly, genuinely joyful atmosphere which made it my favourite Christmas Foodie TV for 2009!