roasted chestnuts

Christmas dinner dilemmas

Christmas dinner, and Sunday dinner too if I’m honest, often holds a certain amount of trepidation for vegetarians.  It’s the one meal that seems to draw an absolute blank for many meat eaters and even ones who are usually competent cooks, with a good armoury of vegetarian meals in their cooking canon.  Adam makes the Sunday dinners in our house and I am generally content with everything bar the meat.  Time is taken with vegetable side dishes so they don’t seem like an afterthought – braised red cabbage and apple, cauliflower and leeks cooked in Stilton and honey, maple glazed parsnips etc.  Veggies that can hold their own on a plate, that don’t need to hide behind the leading actor.  That said, a big Portobello mushroom stuffed with anything from stuffing to red onions and chestnuts or tomatoes and cheese is always a happy alternative for me.

The supermarket Waitrose recently conducted a survey on how most vegetarians fare with Christmas dinner.  The results were, unfortunately, pretty grim with 1 in 5 being served meat,  28% not being asked what they would like to eat for Christmas dinner, and many people recalling memories of Christmases past that saw them eating plain vegetables – no potatoes or gravy as they had been cooked with the meat juices and goose fat, some recounting Christmas dinner of an omelette, pizza and – my favourite – though possibly not for the poor person who sat down to their Christmas dinner, paper crown perched jauntily and cracker at the ready – to a Pot Noodle.

22% of people surveyed make something for them self for the big meal and 30% felt that shops and restaurants do not cater for vegetarians at Christmas time.

The survey revealed that the most popular Christmas dinner alternative for vegetarians is the good old nut roast – this is my favourite too.  Quorn and meat substitutes ranked highly as did vegetable pies and pastry dishes followed by stuffed butternut squash.

So with the results of the survey in mind Waitrose are on the case to make Christmas a bit more veggie friendly and they contacted me to see if I’d be willing to take their Christmas dinner challenge.  My challenge was to recreate one of the most popular Christmas dinner alternatives and give it my own seasonal spin.  Vegetable and cheese suet pudding was my dish of the day, a little out of my comfort zone – all that boiling and waiting.

I adapted a recipe for a traditional meaty pudding and naturally, I used a vegetarian suet.  I filled my offering with leeks, mushrooms and chestnuts that I roasted in the oven (sorry, not over an open fire) and almost hit the floor when one exploded while cooking, it’s much louder than you might think. I cooked this lot in a three cheese sauce; Colston Basset Blue Stilton, mature cheddar and goat’s cheese.

This, it occurs to me, would be good to make after Christmas too, with all that excess cheese weighing down the fridge shelves.  Choose any variety of cheeses and mess around with the vegetables too and this could be a good dish for using up left over veg too.  Bear with me while I watch this pot bubbling awhile longer and have a browse at Waitrose’s Christmas food site?

Oh and have a look at my Christmas dinner offering from last year too if you fancy.. A cheeky nut roast made with veggie haggis.

All the simmering and waiting was more than worth it.  The result was a huge dumpling filled with an impossibly creamy sauce spiked with mustard.  The chives in the pudding dough are so worth it.  If  you don’t have any to hand then get busy with dried herbs of your choice – sage or thyme would be good, parsley too.

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Let the festivities begin..

Three veg and three cheese pudding

What you will need

  • 2 medium leeks (sliced)
  • 1 Punnet chestnut mushrooms (sliced)
  • 12 large chestnuts (scored, roasted and peeled - or use vacuum packed if you can't get hold of fresh)
  • 50g goats cheese (rind removed and sliced)
  • 50g Stilton (I used Colston Basset - because it's vegetarian and so good..)
  • 50g cheddar (grated)
  • butter (for greasing the pudding bowl and softening the vegetables)
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 75g vegetarian suet
  • 100ml cold water
  • handful fresh chives (snipped)

Instructions

Step 1 If you're using fresh chestnuts score a cross in the skins and roast them in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool before peeling away the shell and slicing.
Step 2 Generously butter a 1 litre pudding bowl and set aside
Step 3 To make the filling soften a large knob of butter in a large pan and add the leeks and mushrooms, cook for around 5-10 minutes. Add the flour and nutmeg and stir until all the vegetables are coated. Pour in the milk and stir to create a thick sauce. Add the cheeses and mustard stir well and season. Add the prepared chestnuts and leave to cool.
Step 4 To make the pastry pour the flour into a large mixing bowl followed by the suet, the snipped chives and a pinch of salt. Add the water and stir to create a thick but pliable pastry - not too wet. You might need a couple more drops of water. You will be rolling this out so use your judgement. Add a little more flour if you over do it.
Step 5 Break off a quarter of the dough and set aside. On a floured surface roll out the dough until it's large enough to line the pudding bowl. Press in gently leaving the additional pastry hanging over the top. Roll out the remaining quarter of the dough to make the 'lid'.
Step 6 Spoon in the mixture and fold in the overhanging dough, place the dough lid onto the pudding and with wet fingers pinch it together to seal the dough together.
Step 7 Bring a large pan, half filled with water, to the boil. Add something like a small upturned cake tin, or a large metal lid from a jar into the pan to create something of a trivet for the pudding bowl to sit on.
Step 8 Double wrap the pudding bowl in tin foil and gently, I put on my trusty rubber gloves to do this, lower the bowl into the boiling water. Turn down the heat, put a lid on the pan and leave to simmer for 1.5 hours. Keep checking the pan and add more boiling water if it's boiling dry.
Step 9 When it's cooked, peel off the foil, rubber gloves on again for this job, and run a knife around the edge of the pudding bowl. With nerves of steel, place a plate onto the top of the pudding bowl and with a sharp in take of breath flip the bowl over to let the pudding rest on the plate. Eat straight away.

 

Disclaimer: Waitrose provided me with vouchers to pay for my ingredients to make this pudding. 

 

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