I really enjoy writing this round-up post – traditionally my last one before Christmas. I probably say more or less the same thing every year (don’t panic! It’s just a big roast dinner), but as usual, remember that it’s your Christmas too. Grab a few willing helpers to make some Christmas cookies, or whip up some of my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate and have a little prep-party on Christmas Eve (it’s amazing how much you can get done the night before). Need a little inspiration? Read on for my top tips and recipes for Christmas dinner and beyond: fresh ideas, old favourites and more!
Prep a few days in advance:
Stuffing: I’ve got a lovely recipe for apple, red onion and chestnut stuffing below, or don’t be afraid to buy it – Waitrose do a delicious apricot and almond sausagemeat stuffing – roll it into balls and dot them amongst your roast potatoes, or bake in a buttered dish at the same time as your parsnips and roasties.
Perfect roast potatoes: peel, cut into evenly sized chunks and pop them into cold water. Bring to the boil, then turn them down to a simmer and cook for as long as you dare (keep an eye on them, but if you can be brave and leave them 10 minutes or so, they’ll be nice and fluffy in the middle). Drain, leave to steam until cool, then either refrigerate, or open freeze them by popping them on a baking tray in the freezer until they’re solid then pop them in a bag in the freezer (don’t just bung them straight in a freezer bag, they’ll clump together).
On the day, mix a couple of tablespoons of fresh herbs, finely chopped herbs (I like sage and rosemary for Christmas) with a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and plenty of salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes in the mixture, coating each one really well. Once you’ve removed your cooked turkey, put a roasting tin into the oven with enough oil or goose fat to thickly coat the bottom. Once the fat is hot, pop the potatoes in straight from frozen (or chilled – it doesn’t matter) for around an hour, basting occasionally until crisp and golden.
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 drizzle of oil, a generous squidge of honey and a sprinkling of thyme before roasting for about half an hour.
Carrots: peel and blanch until just tender, 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, some chopped fresh sage and some chopped, shrink-wrapped chestnuts and stir fry until they’re piping hot. If you want something a bit different, roughly chop the blanched sprouts before stir frying with the bacon and chestnuts, then add a splash of cream. Yum.
Prep your turkey the night before:
I always buy a disposable foil turkey tray – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but you don’t want to spend your Christmas evening scrubbing tins. Just recycle it afterwards. Don’t bother washing your turkey – the heat of the oven kills any germs and you’ll just spread all sorts of yuck around your sink.
If you’re cooking a whole turkey, it’s nice to enhance the flavour with a few extras, so cut up a couple of lemons or clementines, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and whatever herbs you have: bay and rosemary is nice (I’m not a fan of actually putting stuffing in the turkey). Mush up half a pack of butter with some lemon or clementine zest, salt, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley. Then just squish the butter all over the turkey. I add a couple of slices of clementine and maybe a sprig or two of rosemary on top too.
If, like me, you favour a turkey crown, then it’s even easier, you just do the butter squishing bit.
Once you’ve finished with your enhancements, cover the turkey quite tightly with foil (don’t buy that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then pop it in the fridge, or if it won’t fit, 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).
For great gravy:
After removing the turkey to its serving plate and covering to keep it warm, 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.
She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice…
My one absolute, must-do for cooking a Christmas dinner is writing a plan. Once you’ve weighed your prepped turkey and worked out the cooking time (you might get times with your turkey, or I recommend Jamie Oliver’s guide here) grab a pen and a notebook. Start with the time you want to sit down to eat, then work backwards, adding in reminders and times for everything: putting the pudding on to steam, basting the turkey, roasting the potatoes, etc (remember, the turkey will keep piping hot for at least an hour, and actually considerably longer – cook the beast, then get it out of the way, snuggled up in some foil and covered with a couple of clean tea towels until you need it), freeing up the oven for roasties, stuffing, parsnips, etc.
Note: for turkey crowns, work out the cooking time by multiplying the weight by 20 minutes per kg and then add 70 minutes. For turkey crowns over 4kg, add 90 minutes.
My favourite Christmas recipes
You’ll find my recipe for apple, red onion and chestnut stuffing here.
If you’d rather cook lamb, or you’re entertaining over the festive period, why not try my slow roasted lamb shoulder with a sticky mint glaze, or maybe consider baking my festive pie – it’s a yummy way to use up leftover ham and turkey. My slow cooked beef and red wine stew will feed a crowd (double up as necessary),
Talking of ham, why not try my spiced and glazed ham in Coca Cola – I like to bake one of these in the few days leading up to Christmas (in fact, I often end up making a couple) – we stuff it into baguettes, eat it cold with cheese and pickles, and hot with cauliflower cheese or bubble and squeak.
If you fancy a bit of baking, why not try my Christmas crumble muffins, my foolproof shortbread recipe, perfect for cutting out shapes, bake some spiced chocolate and pistachio biscotti or some chocolate Christmas tree cakes, or my clementine and cinnamon cakey mince pies (ooh, or these delicious frangipane ones).
Et voila! You’re prepped for Christmas.
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 (even the annoying ones), eat too much, watch some trashy telly, put a Santa hat on the dog and have a wonderful day.
Thank you so much for continuing to drop in and support me this year. I love reading all your comments and chatting with you all on the blog, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Charlie is home for Christmas so I’m ready to let the festivities begin. I wish you a wonderful, warm, twinkly, happy Christmas with your family and friends, and a peaceful and healthy New Year. Mwah xx