Just A Bit Of Fun
It was a very busy December (hence the late post) catering for parties alongside my Christmas Bakery offerings and there were many things I could’ve chosen to write about, but I thought I’d do something a bit different this time. Christmas lunch is one of my absolute favourite things to cook, so I thought I would talk you through what I like to have on the table for that very special meal and how I prepare it.
Turkey – It’s really the only time of year I eat turkey, so I like to make the most of it. We are often only 5 for Christmas Day, but I would always go for a whole turkey and not a crown, because then you get lots of leftovers. I probably made my first Christmas lunch 20 years ago and I used my favourite cookery book of the time: Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. I followed the recipe to the letter and it turned out beautifully, so I have used the same recipe ever since. There are quicker ways to roast a turkey and this way monopolises the oven for most of the day, but it turns out so well that I’ve never thought of changing it. Lovely moist meat, golden-brown skin and some bacon as well – perfect. (See below for what I do with the bacon.)
Stuffing – I stick to one variety of stuffing because it complements the rest of the meal so well. Pork sausagemeat, onions, breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning. This year I used fresh sage, thyme and rosemary as my herbs and it was delicious. I put most of the stuffing in the body cavity and some in the neck end.
Pigs in blankets – I love these and they make great Christmas canapés too. I use chipolatas rather than cocktail sausages, so they are longer and can take a full rasher of streaky bacon, rather than having to cut them in half. This also means that the bacon tends to stay wrapped round better. If you’re being fancy, a little sage leaf tucked into the bacon is nice. Put them in the oven at the same time as the parsnips and they should be cooked, nicely browned and absolutely delicious by the time you’re ready to serve.
Bread sauce – I never realised this was quite a controversial component of the Christmas meal until this year. To me it’s an absolute essential and it just wouldn’t be the same without it, but I know many people who not only don’t have it, but have never even tried it. I agree it sounds a bit odd (heat up some milk with onion and a few cloves and then add breadcrumbs and warm through until they swell from absorbing the milk) but I love the stuff. In our family, there’s always a vat of it and we all lap it up. If you’ve never tried it, I can only say you should. At least once. It goes with any game and is great with roast chicken too. Some recipes say take the clovey onion out once it’s imparted its flavour to the milk, but I chop it up and put it back in (minus the cloves) – all adds to the flavour. Yum.
Cranberry sauce – I make this every year because it’s so incredibly simple. Just put fresh or frozen cranberries in a pan with some sugar and a little water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or so. Done. You can add all sorts of aromats if you like, but it tastes great just as it is, so I normally stick to that.
Roast potatoes – I always do these the same way and it doesn’t vary at Christmas. Maris Piper potatoes, peel and cut into biggish chunks, parboil until a knife tip goes in easily (about 7 or 8 minutes), then into a colander (save the water) and shake to rough them up a bit round the edges, then into the preheated roasting tin which has a generous amount of olive oil in (do this over direct heat so the oil is super hot and the potatoes sizzle when they go in), spoon over hot oil a few times, then into the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes, turning them over half way through. For me, this is how I want a roast potato to be, so I don’t go in for goose fat or any fancy variety of potato or any other additions such as a roasting spice mix or anything. These are very crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle – what more can you ask from a roast potato? Plenty of seasoning across the top and they’re good to go.
Roast parsnips – I’m not a massive parsnip lover, but they’re growing on me. When I was a child, we were allowed to nominate a food that we never had to eat and mine was parsnips! This meant that if there were parsnips and another vegetable that I wasn’t keen on served at the same time, I had to have a spoonful of the other thing, but could dodge the parsnips. I didn’t think much of this at the time, especially at Christmas when it meant I had to have a sprout on my plate, but now as a parent myself, I can see that it was really quite a good idea and I now eat pretty much anything. As a long time parsnip hater, when it came to making my own roast lunches, I didn’t really know how to cook them so that they were “nice”, so this is my husband’s method. Once the potatoes are in the oven to roast, parboil the parsnips until they are soft but not falling apart, strain then put straight into hot olive oil in the same way as the potatoes. The meat will probably be out of the oven by now, so you can turn up the temperature to 200 (180 fan) and roast the parsnips and potatoes for half an hour while the meat rests.
Sprouts/Red cabbage – If I had my way, sprouts wouldn’t feature on the Christmas table, but when I tried it one year it didn’t go down very well! So, if they must be there, they’re more palatable if zhuzhed up a bit. When you remove the bacon from the turkey for its final browning, chop it up quite small (the bacon, not the turkey!). Once the sprouts have been boiled (they should be boiled until slightly soft, but still offering a bit of resistance if you poke them with a sharp knife), heat a little oil or butter in a frying pan and once hot, add the sprouts and the chopped bacon and fry until the sprouts have browned a little and the bacon has crisped up. Red cabbage is a wonderful and in my opinion much tastier vegetable to adorn the table and of course it brings a wonderful pop of festive colour. I again use Delia’s recipe where you braise the cabbage slowly with apples and onions, vinegar, sugar and spices. Divine and a great accompaniment for turkey and gammon.
Carrots – Chantenay carrots are a treat at Christmas and this year I bought a selection of heritage Chantenay carrots which were amazing. There were orange ones as you’d expect, but then there were beautiful pale yellow ones and deep purple ones too and once they were split down the middle (as they were quite fat) they revealed a lovely pattern inside. They certainly looked the part and they tasted delicious too. I parboiled them and then finished them off in the roasting tin with the parsnips for 20 minutes or so. When they were cooked through, I tossed them in some butter and fresh thyme leaves.
Gravy – all the above are nice by themselves, but what really makes this meal sing is a banging gravy. I consider making a stock from the giblets to be absolutely essential, as it makes an incredible gravy. Once you’ve removed the turkey from the roasting pan, spoon off most of the fat and pour the remaining cooking juices into a pan (more manageable on the hob than a large, space-hogging roasting tin at this stage). Add a couple of spoonsful of plain flour, cook out for a minute or two, then gradually add your amazing giblet stock. Done. A turkey makes a large amount of gravy so there will be plenty to go round and if you have some left, which is likely, it makes the most amazing soup.
And that’s it really.