Christmas on Carmarthen

painting by Jack Bishop

Ralph and I have a Christmas cocktail party every year which we proudly refer to as ‘Christmas on Carmarthen’. We live on Carmarthen St – hence the name – which resides in one of the oldest sections of the city. These old houses are wonderful for entertaining! My invitation asks for my guest’s ‘best bib and tucker’. The first time that I used that phrase, I had a few people ringing me up asking me, ‘what is a ‘bib and tucker’?

Several years ago, our guest list was out of control. Caught up in the excitement of the season, Ralph and I were inviting people without letting each other know! The night of the party, I lost count at 82 guests.

It’s lovely to have a lots of interesting people to ensure lively and fun conversation, as long as, you are comfortable sharing your home with people who you do not know well.

We are not…

At one moment that night, Ralph and I shared a glance across our crowded double parlour. We felt overwhelmed.

Linda Cooke Saint John City Market

This year we have decided to host a much smaller gathering. It will give Ralph and I the opportunity to enjoy our friends in a more meaningful way.

Creating the menu is my favorite party preparation task. Every year, I try to improve the gastronomic experience. I listen closely to the comments swirling around the buffet table. I take note of the platters that disappear and those that finish the evening looking ignored and crusty!

Last year, I spent a week preparing a number of meat terrines and pates. I had a ball! I have mentioned before how much I love my meat grinder! I used a variety of wild and domestic meats combined with herbs, spices, fruit and nuts. Hours of slow baking, unmolding, wrapping and storing the precious meats to allow the flavours to mellow and deepen. They were perfect!

Then, I made the bone-headed decision to serve them whole. I loved how beautiful the terrines looked in their entirety. At the end of the evening, my terrines had hardly been touched. One of my friends commented that she would have loved to try them but had been afraid of messing up my display!

We were left with 15 lbs of various ground meat concoctions… lesson learned!

I tend to prepare a lot of slow cooked one pot dishes at this time of year. I can put it in the oven in the morning and then be free to work on everything else!

Beef short ribs have become very trendy in high-end restaurants. There is no competing with beef, interesting spices and aromatic vegetables braised in wine or beer. The flavour that results after hours of slow cooking is rich and complex.

Slow – Braised Beef Short Ribs

serves 6

preheat oven 300*F

6 lbs beef short ribs

1/4 cup olive oil

1 celery rib, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1/2 bottle dry white wine

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon juniper berries

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

1 dried red chili

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 – 28 ounce cans best quality Italian plum tomatoes

1 bunch fresh sage

Place a large dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil.

Brown short ribs in batches, making sure not to crowd the beef.

Remove from dutch oven and set aside.

Add celery, carrots, onions and garlic to the dutch oven and saute until soft.

Meanwhile place fennel seeds, juniper, rosemary and chili in a mortar and crush together.

Add crushed spices and wine to vegetables.

Add browned short ribs – mix gently.

Add plum tomatoes, crushing them one at a time with your hands.

If the liquid does not cover the short ribs, top up with water.

Season with sea salt and ground pepper.

Cover and place in pre heated oven for 4 hours.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on counter top before placing in the refrigerator overnight .

The next day remove the hardened fat that has accumulated on top of your dish.

Reheat slowly.

Fry fresh sage leaves in olive oil until crispy – use to garnish each plate.

Thanks for reading.