Christmas Cooking Part 2: Georgie Hayden

It’s probably physically impossible to grow up eating at your grandparents’ Greek Cypriot taverna in Tufnell Park, north London and not become obsessed with food. At least, it was entirely natural for Georgie Hayden to not stray far from from her family’s example.

She initially studied Fine Art at university but it wasn’t long until her love of food led her into her current career path. She has spent nearly a decade on Jamie Oliver’s team, styles and writes about food and has penned her first cookbook, Stirring Slowing: Recipes to Restore and Revive which has been widely revered by the great and the good, including Nigella Lawson who calls it “the sort of book that has you immediately plastering its pages with post-it notes… the writing is warm, encouraging and moving”. No surprise then that it was selected for the Guardian and Spectator book of the year in 2016.

At the beginning of this week Georgie announced her appointment as a contributing editor to Delicious magazine with a new monthly column starting in January. Who better then to ask to share a recipe with Minford readers for Christmas. I sat down with her to find out more about what her festive feast looks like.

Warning, this interview may cause extreme mouth watering.

Image above by Laura Edwards

Image above Rosie Alsop

Talk us through Christmas day in your house. When and what is everyone eating?
Christmas day has always been a hugely busy and slightly chaotic affair in our house, filled with family, noise and a lot of laughter. Last year was our first Christmas with our (now 17 month old) daughter Persephone, it was brilliant and so special. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to host?! But we wanted to include both sides of our family so we had everyone ’round for dinner which meant 14 adults (4 generations), a baby and a dog. I’ve learnt to delegate so it wasn’t actually stressful at all and having everyone around us was truly magical. Persephone won’t remember it but I’m so happy we could do that for her.

Are there any Christmas traditions that you like to celebrate that are peculiar to your home country?

Epiphany is a big deal in Cyprus, so whilst Christmas is celebrated, the days after are equally important too. I love the 6th January when we make loukoumades. They are little doughnut balls, that once fried are drenched in a spiced honey syrup. The story goes that you make them and throw them out the window to kill the kalikantzaroi – little imps that appear during the 12 days of Christmas and cause havoc. The loukoumades keep them at bay and they are delicious too.

Georgie’s beautiful home

What are your favourite three interiors items that make your table or kitchen beautiful?
I collect vintage Nagel Quist candle holders which I think look stunning on the table, with black ember candles from St Eval. These smell divine whilst looking great too. I also have some antique brass candle holders which I add to the table too, all together they look great. As well as candles I always pick flowers and leaves from the garden, even in the depths of winter when there isn’t much there. Sprigs of long grass, lavender, hellebores, trails of ivy make fantastic wild arrangements and are sweet as place settings too.

And finally I adore a tablecloth. People think I’m mad using a tablecloth with a toddler, but to be honest I do it to preserve our very precious vintage Swedish table! But it also looks great. I have many vintage pieces, but for day to day wear I just use a very large piece of linen I picked up from Ikea. I get so many comments on it (it’s a gorgeous stone colour). A tablecloth doesn’t need to be anything fancy, linen is linen, and you can pick it up by the meter in many places. It really makes a table.

Do you have any tips for getting ahead at Christmas?
I make most of my food in advance so there is little stress on the big day. Sauces are always made ahead. I make my gravy using chicken wings as they are cheap, so it just needs reheating on the day. I peel and par boil all my veg too, so they are trayed up ready for roasting. All you need to do on the day is put trays in the oven and pans of water to boil. Do everything else before. Also, I always fry sprigs of herbs in olive oil for garnishing at the end. It looks great and they add wonderful flavour.

Why have you chosen this recipe for Minford readers?
I love these braised lamb shanks for their warming feeling, ease and impressiveness. Christmas is busy enough, so a simple hearty recipe is always great to have up your sleeve. This dish is the edible equivalent of a knitted blanket and a roaring fire, unbelievably comforting and impressive enough to serve to guests. It is from my first book Stirring Slowly, I hope you like it as much as we do.

Image above by Laura Edwards

Cinnamon-braised lamb shanks

Slow-cooked and tender, these shanks are rich, warming and fragrant. They are perfect for entertaining, as they need little attention, or just if you fancy a change to your Sunday roast. Also cinnamon is believed to be full of health benefits, including cholesterol-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Serves 4

4 garlic cloves
A 4cm piece of ginger
100g golden raisins
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 red chillies
2 teaspoons ground coriander
200ml natural yoghurt
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks
8 shallots
Groundnut or vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 fresh bay leaf
500ml chicken stock

Peel and roughly chop the garlic and ginger and blitz in a food processor with the raisins, ground cinnamon, chillies and ground coriander. Add the yoghurt, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and pulse until just mixed. Make incisions in the lamb shanks and place in a bowl. Rub the marinade into the meat, then cover and marinate for a few hours, or even for a day if possible.

When you are ready to cook the meat, peel and finely slice the shallots. Pour a drizzle of groundnut or vegetable oil into a deep, heavy-based casserole – one large enough to hold all the shanks – and fry the cinnamon stick, star anise and bay leaf for a minute. Add the shallots, then turn the heat right down and sauté for 10 minutes, until soft and sticky. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and leave to one side.

Drizzle a little more oil into the casserole and turn up the heat. Brown the lamb shanks in batches, reserving any marinade left in the bowl. When the meat is brown on all sides, return it all to the pan with the softened shallots and any reserved marinade. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, then cook over a low heat for 3 hours, turning the shanks regularly and adding more stock if it gets too dry. The lamb should be tender and falling off the bone. Remove the shanks from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm. Turn up the heat and let the sauce bubble away for around 10 minutes, until thickened and rich.

Return the lamb shanks to the pot and serve. Perfect with mashed potato or creamed cauliflower and greens, or even steaming basmati rice.

Extracted from Stirring Slowly by Georgina Hayden, published by Square Peg.

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