So here it is, my very last post before Christmas! I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years now (I know!) and every year, I say the same thing: if you’re cooking the Christmas lunch – and getting stressed about it – remember it’s your Christmas too. I’ve got loads of tips here to make the day as stress free and laid back as possible for you, so you can enjoy your Christmas day with your family and friends. So find a quiet corner, Treat yourself to my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate, grab a notebook, have a read through and take few minutes to make a plan. And remember, it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and this guide will help you do most of the work on Christmas Eve so you can spend as much time as possible with the family, and as little as possible in the kitchen on the big day!
Tip 1: Turkey timings and pud steaming: write your plan
You’ll have a much calmer Christmas if you spend a little time beforehand planning and preparing, so weigh your turkey, work out the cooking time (I recommend Jamie Oliver’s guide here) grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down a rough plan. It seems silly, but don’t chuck away your wrapping, as most of them have the weight and recommended timings written on them. Then start at the time you want to serve the dinner (or lunch) at the bottom of the page and work backwards (and upwards). 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, stuffing, etc, don’t forget to add them in. Once you’ve got your plan, you can just tick stuff off as you do it.
Tip 2: do as much as you can in advance
Really, you can start now (I’m writing this on the 22nd) with a lot of the prep…
Potatoes: peel them, cut them into even sized chunks and pop them into cold water. Bring to them boil, then turn them down to a simmer and cook for as long as you dare (you need to keep a sharp eye on them, but the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze them (by this I mean pop them on a tray until solid) before sealing them in a large freezer bag and chucking them in the freezer (don’t put them straight into a bag – they’ll freeze together into one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from 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 cook until 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 and stir fry until they’re piping hot. A pack of those shrink-wrapped chestnuts go really well in this dish too.
Tip 3: Make your home made stuffing a couple of days before
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 8-10, double up as necessary):
2 tbsp butter
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 dessert apples, grated (don’t bother to peel)
700 g pork sausage meat
1 pack whole chestnuts (vacuum packed) 200g
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Seasoning (I use Steenberg’s Perfect Salt)
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, chopped chestnuts 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. It will keep a good couple of days. On the day, it’ll take about 30-45 minutes (180 C, gas 4 – obviously more if you double up).
Tip 4: prep your turkey on Christmas Eve
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 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.
I tend to buy a turkey crown, but if I’m cooking a whole turkey I don’t stuff it, 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 quite tightly 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).
Tip 5: get organised on Christmas morning
First things first, check to see if Santa’s been. Then fetch the turkey from its hiding place and allow it to come to room temperature for an hour at least. 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. For the last hour, take off the foil and overlap some streaky bacon over the breast and legs.
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 a couple of towels and forget it while you cook everything else. It will keep warm for AT LEAST an hour, more like two, leaving your oven free for all your other accompaniments:
Tip 6: for great roasties…
You really don’t need loads 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 them in the hot oven until golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
Tip 7: make excellent 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 pop it on the hob, add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and whisk well, cooking out that ‘raw’ flour taste, before adding plenty of stock (buy ready made, or you can get even get turkey cubes – don’t worry about not using ‘home made’, all the flavours from the turkey will make it delicious. 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.
Tip 8: forget the starters
Skip a starter – you’ll all be stuffed anyway – and just 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.
Tip 9: flame your Christmas pud
We tend to use vodka to flame the pudding as it gives really good, long lasting flames. Heat a ladle-full gently over the hob (be careful, nobody wants to see firemen on Christmas Day),then pour it over the pud and light it with a match. Beautiful! We buy brandy cream to serve with our pudding, but if you prefer custard, do yourself a favour and buy ready made – you’ve got enough to do!
If you have some pudding dodgers amongst you, why not try my chocolate and peanut butter mousse? Both these mousses can be poured over a buttery biscuit base to make a cheesecake too.
Tip 10: DON’T PANIC!!
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!
So that’s it. It’s time for me to step away from the keyboard, and spend some time with my wonderful, gorgeous, bonkers family. I think we all need a break after the madness that was 2016. I wish you all the merriest of Christmases. Enjoy your loved ones, eat too much, watch some trashy telly, pretend you love it even if you hate it, put a Santa hat on the dog and have a wonderful day. So from us lot, to you lot. Have a wonderful, wonderful festive season, and thanks, as always, for reading. 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?’
Here’s everything you need to know about cooking a spiced and glazed Christmas ham, and here are some lovely Christmas wine recommendations for every budget. Here’s a Christmas cake recipe that can be made right up to the last minute. For leftovers, you can’t beat my leftover turkey nachos, or of course, our favourite Boxing Day pie.
If you’re not a turkey fan, why not try my slow roasted lamb in sloe gin, Ben’s 24 hour roast pork, or my roast beef? For unexpected vegetarian guests, make sure you have some filled pasta in the fridge (obviously omit the pancetta).
If you’re baking, check out my clementine and cinnamon cakey mince pies, or for mincemeat haters, why not make some Christmas cookies or my Christmas cake trees or chocolate orange cake? Still haven’t made that Christmas cake? Or decorated it? Check out my easy step by step guide to the marzipan and fondant icing layers. Or bake some spiced chocolate and pistachio biscotti to go with your after dinner drinkies.