Seafood thermidor with crab and prawns and my Christmas overview


Seafood thermidor with crab and prawns

It has, not surprisingly, been an awesome Christmas time with excellent cooking conditions. Christmas is a favourite time of year for me and I usually take the Christmas and New Year's weeks off work just to have time to listen to enough Christmas songs, drink enough mulled wine and fully enjoy this magical time. This year I also definitely needed a break from my new job and hyperactive boss who (beneath a few slightly prickly and roughly edged layers) is a nice and good man, but who has a lot of energy. Perhaps a bit too much energy.

Over the Christmas weeks my favourite thing to do is to stay in my kitchen with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do other than cook. Of course the chance to spend time with husband is also very high on the list, so I invited him to come and sit at the kitchen table for some of the time so we could spend quality time together.

No really - we had a lot of lovely time together, relaxing walks, a couple of visits to our local pub, Netflix by candlelight.

We never do the traditional British turkey, sprouts and pigs in blankets type of Christmas dinner, because it has never been a tradition for either of us. But I don't fully follow the Finnish traditions or just cook some random stuff either.

This year my  Christmas menu which covers the two weeks around Christmas and New Year, not just the Christmas day, why stick with one day when you can do 14, was a result of hours of work. During my very thorough planning process I watched countless hours of Food Network, rifled through pages and pages of recipes online, flicked through my Christmas food magazines and looked back at previous Christmases' menus.

I have a little book, you see. In the book I document all my important menus, not everyday things, but the more special occasions. Like some glamorous people and royalty have a book where they (or their lady's maid) write down what outfits they wore to which event with what jewels. I haven't got lots of events or jewels, but I like to know what I served different people, friends and family, so that I don't keep doing the same stuff for same people all the time. Although I know even without the book that there is someone who pretty much every time gets hummus. But she likes hummus, so she won't hold it against me I trust.

The book
I also document people's dietary requirements, food allergies and specific likes and dislikes. So I know which of our friends hate mushrooms or seafood, who don't eat meat, who wouldn't be ok with reindeer, who love lamb etc. That is the cunning hostess I am. I feel I am slightly wasted as a business woman, this is my true calling. Oh well.

The book also works as great inspiration when putting a menu together. So in the end my Christmas menu (which of course was a detailed excel spreadsheet) ended up featuring a lot of things from previous Christmases. Some are starting to become a part of our very own Christmas tradition.

For this Christmas Eve (which is the main day for us Finns) I drew inspiration from my 2014 Christmas Eve menu which was Coquilles St. Jacques for a starter and stuffed sea bream for main course. I also made a stuffed wild sea bass last year on Christmas day, if anyone is interested. So this year I made these nice seafood thermidors, controversially served in scallop shells although there was no scallop in the mix, but I didn't have any crab shells hanging around. I served them with home-made bread and dill butter.

The main was a wild seabass filled with lemon and herbs, baked with olives, tomatoes and asparagus and served with boiled new potatoes and a salad. As a side I also had my true Christmas love affair - Finnish sweetened potato bake with pickled herring and gravadlax prepared according to my dad's recipe, a true match made in heaven. This year the potato mix didn't even turn green, probably because I had the right type of potato (King Edward). For those who don't know this particular dish, it is not supposed to be green.

Pickled herring and gravadlax

Finnish sweetened potato bake
Traditional Finnish sweetened potato bake just the right colour
Seafood thermidor with crab and prawns
Seafood thermidor with crab and prawns 
We kicked off the Christmas day as has become a tradition for us with Prosecco, blinis and fish roe, smoked salmon and gravadlax, and Karelian pies with egg butter.

Fish roe with blinis
Salmon roe with sour cream, onion and dill
Finnish Karelian pasties with egg butter
Karelian pies and egg butter 
For our Christmas dinner I cooked the most amazing reindeer tenderloin. This may very well become our Christmas Day go-to meal. I brought the meat with me from Finland in November. It's the softest, most tender cut of meat and has a beautiful flavour. I just simply marinated it for a couple of hours with juniper berries, fresh rosemary and oil. I took it out of the fridge in good time before cooking, then panfried it in a little bit of oil and butter, seasoned with salt and pepper and let it rest. With husband it is always a fine balance of getting the right doneness, he doesn't like meat too raw, but particularly this cut of meat must be left medium, otherwise apparently it will taste like liver. Which definitely was not the flavour I was going for. But it was perfect.

I served the reindeer with herby roasted la ratte potatoes, root vegetables and Finnish funnel chanterelles which turned out to be a bit hard core for husband. They are quite slimy looking and almost black. But everything else went down really well, and I didn't mind having the funnel chanterelles all to myself.

Reindeer tenderloin with root vegetables and funnel chanterelles
Reindeer tenderloin with root vegetables and funnel chanterelles

I have a Scottish venison tenderloin in the freezer and will try exactly the same thing with it when I get a chance and see if it's as soft and succulent.

Some other favourites reappeared as well. Salmon Coulibiac made it's pompous entrance last year, and was the post-Christmas light Friday night dinner this time around. A couple of things left up my cornucopious sleeve are Ossobucco Milanese (meat is waiting in the freezer) and the aristocratic fish and mash wonder Zander Walewska (zander also brought from Finland in November). They often make an appearance over the festive period and I am planning to get to them this week as well as a tiny little reindeer pizza.

Salmon coulibiac - salmon, rice and egg pie
Salmon Coulibiac with home made quark pastry
One Food Network recipe that made it to my Christmas week was Lisa Faulkner's prawn saganaki filo pie. A mix of onion, tomatoes, prawns and feta covered with crunchy filo. It was really lovely.

Food Network's prawn saganaki filo pie by Lisa Faulkner 
I am not great with desserts, and don't really like sweet stuff myself, but I wanted to make something sweet for husband who definitely does. My mother always made a beautiful cranberry mousse cake for Christmas, so I attempted a similar one. I didn't have her exact recipe, I will have to search next time I'm over there so I looked online for a similar one. It didn't turn out quite as pretty or delicious as mum's, but it was still very good.

Cranberry mousse cake
It wasn't quite as flat as it looks
When there was no cooking to be done I baked. This is a crusty granary loaf, tasty and full of goodness.

Seafood thermidor with crab and prawns

Serves 4

Vegetable oil
1 red onion or 2 shallots
400-500g seafood, I had white and brown crab meat and prawns
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp creme fraiche
Dash of tabasco
1tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp brandy or cognac
Zest of half a lemon
2 tbsp chopped dill
75g grated gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a pan. Finely chop the onion. Fry the onion on low heat until soft. Don't let it brown. Leave to cool.

In a bowl mix the crab meat and chopped prawns. Add the egg yolk, creme fraiche, tabasco, mustard, brandy, lemon zest, dill, the fried onions and 2/3 of the gruyere. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Divide into four crab shells if you have or other oven proof vessels, I used scallop shells although my mix doesn't include scallops. Or you can use one larger gratin dish. Sprinkle the rest of the gruyere on top.

Place on a baking sheet - if you are using shells you can prop them up by making little bases of tinfoil to keep them straight. Bake in 200C oven for 12-15 minutes or until they are bubbly and catching some colour.

Serve with freshly baked bread, dill butter and some greens.

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