IT’S NEARLY HERE! If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven! Remember, don’t panic, and just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.
Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:
The golden rule: it’s all in the planning
You’ll have a much calmer Christmas if you spend a little time beforehand planning and preparing, so grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down a rough plan. Start at the time you want to serve the dinner (or lunch) and work backwards. This means that when Christmas day is in full flow, you can quickly refer to your timings and know exactly what you’re doing. Remember, if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding on the day, you’ll need to add this to your timetable (or you can free up an extra ring on the hob and just microwave it), and if you’re serving things like bacon wrapped sausages, don’t forget to add them in. For example, here’s my rough plan for this year:
THINGS TO DO ON CHRISTMAS EVE
1. Weigh and prepare your turkey and work out the cooking time
If you’ve gone for a free range turkey it will often look a bit less plump than those ones you see in all the Christmas adverts (check out the pic of my turkey from last year). This is because they lead a more active lifestyle though, which is a good thing. They will also be full of flavour and really succulent as they’re allowed to mature slowly (and they’re happier, obviously – happy turkey = yummy turkey). Free range turkeys also take a little less time to took, so check with the retailer for their recommended cooking times.
In general though:
Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes
Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes
Don’t bother washing it in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just cover yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria. Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock or cook for a lucky pet), pluck out any stray feathers (I use fish boning tweezers) and get on with it.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas. Just recycle it afterwards.
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley. Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper. You can also criss cross the breast with some lovely streaky bacon.
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better to leave a bit of room for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weigh your turkey (remember if you ARE stuffing, you need to stuff before you weigh) and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it – a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap you’ll need to pack a bit of ice around it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
2. Prepare your veg
Potatoes: peel them, cut them into even sized chunks and blanch them for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Drain, leave to sit until cool and then pop them into a bag and store them in the fridge. You can also open freeze them on a tray until solid before popping in a sealable freezer bag and chucking them in the freezer (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from chilled or frozen.
Parsnips: peel, cut into quarters or whatever you like and pop the in the fridge. They don’t need blanching, but DO benefit from a nice little squidge of honey and a sprinkling of thyme before roasting for about half an hour.
Carrots: peel and blanch, cool, bag up and pop in the fridge. They can just be warmed up in some butter on the day, or just leave them raw and roast them along with the parsnips.
Sprouts: cut a bit off the bottom and take off any scruffy outer leaves. Blanch until just tender, cool and pop into the fridge. On the day, fry some pancetta or streaky bacon in lots of butter in a large frying pan, then add in the cooked sprouts and stir fry until they’re piping hot. A pack of those shrink-wrapped chestnuts go really well in this dish too.
3. Make the stuffing (if you haven’t already)
This one will keep happily for a couple of days in the fridge.
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).
ON CHRISTMAS DAY
First thing (well, see if Santa’s been first, obviously), fetch the turkey from its hiding place and allow it to come to room temperature. There’s really no point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking.
Preheat the oven for half an hour before you need it, then when your carefully worked out timetable says so, just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, and stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180/gas 4 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers. If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all. Some people recommend cooking the turkey upside down (on its breast) which does result in really juicy breast meat. I guess it depends on how large your turkey is and if you’re prepared to wrestle it up the right way for the last half hour or so to crisp up the breast (likewise if you cover yours with foil, take it off for the last half hour.)
To make sure the turkey is done you should be able to wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
Remember, once covered with foil and maybe a couple of tea towels, the turkey will keep warm for AT LEAST an hour, leaving your oven free for all your other accompaniments:
For great roast potatoes
You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, whack the heat up high, then just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely with oil, goose fat or lard. Make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen (or chilled) potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then put the in your nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
For great gravy
You’ll have the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Skim off the worst of the fat from the stuff left in the roasting tin, then add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and stir well, cooking out that ‘raw’ flour taste, before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy). Bubble until thick and taste. If it’s at all bitter, a spoonful or two of cranberry sauce will lift it back up.
Get your veg on, stir fry your sprouts (or whatever you’re doing), and don’t forget to pop cranberry sauce on the table (here’s my favourite recipe).
Skip a starter and serve a lovely cocktail and a few nibbles: try a Poinsettia – a slug of Cointreau in the bottom of a champagne glass, then up to about half way with cranberry juice, and top up with fizz. Decorate with a little spiral of orange peel if you have time.
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember: it’s just dinner.
If you get stuck, drop me an email or a tweet, but mostly, have a glass of fizz or two, open some pressies (say you love it even if you hate it), enjoy your loved ones, eat too much, watch some trashy telly, put a Santa hat on the dog and have a wonderful day. So I’ll just say merry Christmas, from us lot, to you lot. Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas. Mwah xx
‘And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’
If you’re entertaining over the festive season (or any time!), I’ve teamed up with Flora to provide you with some really easy and delicious party food ideas, plus some simple tips for loving your leftovers!
If you’re baking, check out my rough puff mince pies, or for pie haters, why not bake some Christmas cookies? Still haven’t decorated that Christmas cake? Check out my Frozen Christmas cake, complete with Olaf!