Expert tips for perfect Christmas food

PUBLISHED: 11:30 12 December 2015 | UPDATED: 15:56 21 December 2015

Cheese Plate cheesboard

Cheese Plate cheesboard

sharon struckman

Four top Hertfordshire chefs and experts give their best advice and Christmas recipes

The Highwayman's pheasantThe Highwayman's pheasant

Bricklayers Arms Roasted Nuts & Chicken Liver Crumble

Ingredients (for four)

200g chicken liver

1 small onion

½ shot of brandy and port

250g butter

1 slice bread

100g mixed chopped nuts


Bring butter to room temperature. Slice and sweat the onion until clear then add the liver and cook on full gas for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper, add the alcohol and take it to a simmer. Take off the heat and put in a bowl until it reaches room temperature (if you are in a hurry help it along by using the fridge). Once cooled, mix in an electric mixer and add, spoon by spoon, the soft butter. Adjust the seasoning and place in four ramequins or small dishes.

Roast the nuts and fry or bake the white of the bread cut into small cubes. Mix the nuts and croutons and sprinkle on top of the liver mousse (you can also add fresh mixed herbs and nut oil to add extra flavour and to give a shine). Serve at room temperature with a bread of your choice.

The Bricklayers Arms, Flaunden

Jose Flores, sous chef at The Highwayman gives advice for serving succulent pheasant on Christmas Day

‘To make pheasant more tender, marinate it for at least 24 hours with red wine, a bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper, root vegetables (celery, carrots, onions and celeriac are ideal) and a whole cinnamon stick. Allow the marinade to boil before placing the bird in the marinade for 24 hours in the fridge.

When ready to cook, pierce two or three holes in the bird to allow the marinade to be absorbed while cooking. Then cover the bird with foil before placing in the oven for the specified time according to weight. Remove the foil after 45 minutes to allow the bird to brown.’

The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

Martin Nisbitt, head chef/owner at The Bushel & Strike, Ashwell gives his five essential for taking the stress out of Christmas dinner

1. Turkey can sometimes be dry and overcooked. To overcome this ask your butcher to bone and roll the legs then cook the crown (breasts on the bone) and legs separately. Not only can you control the cooking of each piece much more easily, but you now have extra bones to give you a head start in flavouring a beautiful roast gravy.

2. To make life easier before the big day, pre blanch vegetables in salted boiling water until just cooked, then chill in iced water. This can be done on Christmas Eve and kept in the fridge. When ready to serve, simply place back in boiling water for one minute and toss in butter. Or for roasted veg, place in a pan with butter, garlic and thyme and cook ‘til golden brown.

3. The traditional Christmas dinner can be a stressful occasion to prepare for, and the best way to deal with this is to learn delegation! Get everyone to help. It can be great fun having a chat and drink while everyone prepares their own part, whether canapés, a starter or vegetables. It will certainly make your life a little easier.

4. I’m always trying to find ways of making things simpler, more efficient and easier all round. So consider using disposable cooking trays and bowls to save on the mountain of washing up - it will give you more time to enjoy the festivities with friends and family.

5. There are always leftovers on Boxing Day and my favourite is to use Christmas pudding in an ice cream. Either make your own vanilla ice cream if you have the energy and fold the crumbled pudding into it or buy a good quality one and mix the pudding through before popping back in the freezer. Delicious!

The Bushel & Strike, Ashwell

The Cheese Plate’s Toby Archer guides us to a perfect festive cheese board

Cheese is as synonymous with Christmas as pigs in blankets or cranberry sauce, an integral part of any Christmas lunch or Boxing Day buffet. Its welcome appearance at the end of a meal signals a time for appreciation, prolonged conversations and plenty of port! You want to create a cheeseboard that offers different styles, textures and flavours for your guests to enjoy. This is why the classic combination of cheddar, stilton and brie has always been popular, as you’ve got a blue, a hard and a soft cheese.

Sing the blues

Nottingham’s Colston Bassett Dairy stilton is a rich cream colour with blue veining spread throughout. The texture is smooth and creamy with a mellow flavour with no sharp acidic taste from the blue. Melt in the mouth perfection. If you want to try a milder blue, Beauvale from Cropwell Bishop Creamery, also in Nottingham, is perfect.

Gough’s Cave cheddar

Cheddar is a great, traditional English cheese, and the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company’s Cave Matured is stored for a year in the heart of Cheddar Gorge creating a unique flavour and texture. It is made with unpasteurised milk to retain the characteristics of the local Somerset pastures.

British brie

Multi award winning Tunworth has a long-lasting sweet, nutty flavour and a creamy texture with a thin wrinkled rind. It’s made by hand with pasteurised whole cows milk in small batches in Hampshire Cheeses’ purpose built creamery.

Pack a punch

Old Winchester from The Courtyard Dairy in North Yorkshire is a dry and hard cheese, reminiscent of young parmesan, with a distinctive nuttiness. Crytalline and powerfully strong, it will add a punch to your board.

Get your goat

Balance is the name of the game with a cheeseboard, so include something creamy and soft to act as a counterweight to the blue and hard cheeses. Goats cheese is a good option as More and more people are developing a palate for it. Childwickbury Goats Cheese from the Childwickbury estate near St Albans is fresh and with a mousse-like texture and a natural acidity.

Serve your cheese with traditional accompaniments such as grapes and figs and other more decadent additions such as pickled walnuts, pears in calvados or figs steeped in cognac. Make sure you have a board big enough to allow each cheese room to breathe and to be cut comfortably. And allocate a separate knife for each cheese. Allow about 125g of cheese per person.

When putting so much thought and effort into your cheese selection, it’s best to use unflavoured crackers; you want to let the cheese do all the talking.

The Cheese Plate, Buntingford

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