Remember to make your mince pies ahead of the day – you’ll be busy cooking!!
Christmas is so close you can almost feel it. Very soon people will flood the supermarkets anxious to make sure they have everything they could ever possibly need to survive one of the days of the year when the supermarkets are shut – 25th December. Before then people will be anxiously planning their menus, thinking about what they are going to have – the meat will already be ordered by now but what about the rest of it – potatoes? vegetables? dessert? I’ve watched far too many programmes over the past few weeks with everyone from Jamie Oliver to Delia Smith telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing with my Christmas dinner. This is my reply – forget Jamie, this is nutleyone’s Christmas dinner!
Where else can we begin? This is the main event of Christmas. I’m not necessarily bothered where the turkey comes from – we have a very reputable butcher in our area, so our turkey has come from them before. The last two years however, we have bought our turkey wholesale – direct from the auction. It’s great value for money, last year we spent £22 on a 12lb bird. We always go for fresh, simply because it tastes nicer. Now how you prep your turkey is entirely up to you. We don’t put stuffing in either end, opting to generously season the skin with 1 cal spray fry light, salt and pepper before loosely wrapping the bird with foil. The important thing is to cook it right. Here I follow Delia Smith’s advice because it makes sense. The turkey goes into the oven for 40 minutes at gas mark 7 (220C) so the heat gets right to centre of the turkey quickly; then turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (160C) for 3-3 1/2 hours. Finally to finish off the turkey, take the foil off and brown the skin by putting the temperature back up to gas mark 6 (200C) for the final thirty minutes. Please remember, that times will vary depending on oven and the size of your turkey.
Alongside the turkey it is important to also cook your stuffing properly. We don’t make our own stuffing. Our butcher does a beautiful ‘Apricot and Almond’ stuffing that has a nice nutty sweetness that compliments the bird beautifully. Simply wrap it in foil and cook in the oven with the turkey for approximately an hour and it will be fine. There is also the pigs in blankets to consider. We take a very simple approach here – good quality cocktail sausages, wrapped in good quality streaky bacon. About twenty minutes before you are due to serve up, whack them under the grill – high heat, turning every five minutes or so until done. Super stuff!
The Potatoes and Roasted Vegetables
Let’s lay this down on the line here and now. My potatoes are never roasted with fat or oil. Christmas is so calorific anyway, the potatoes taste just as nice without the added calories. Now there are two approaches we take, depending on availability and how we’re feeling. The first way is to parboil potatoes for 4-5 minutes. Drain. Place in a roasting tin, filling the tray approximately half way up the potatoes with vegetable stock. Spray generously with fry light. Turn the oven up high to gas mark 7 and roast away until the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes are crispy. Lovely.
The second method uses new potatoes. This time you should scrub your potatoes and score them with a ‘X’ before parboiling them for approximately 10 minutes. Then place them in a roasting tray, with some rosemary and a bag of shallots that have been peeled and quartered. Spray generously with fry light – the garlic version tastes lovely here – and again roast on high until crispy. Another fab way with potatoes.
I always think that a true Christmas roast is also not complete without some roasted vegetables. For this we have baby carrots and baby parsnips. Before roasting, top and tail the carrots and parboil them for 5 minutes. DON’T parboil the parsnips – just trim them if need be. Spray a roasting pan generously with fry light, and place it in the oven for 5-10 minutes on a high heat. Then take out of the oven, and put the baby carrots and parsnips in the tray. Take 1tsp of honey and drizzle over the top of the veg before seasoning and spraying with a little more fry light. Roast away at gas mark 7 (220C) for around 35 minutes or until done.
The other vegetables
With so much going on at Christmas there is always limited space on the table for other varieties of vegetable. We recommend Brussel Sprouts (traditional), Broccoli (why not), and as a luxury – creamed cabbage with bacon. I’m sure, dear reader, I don’t need to tell you how to cook sprouts or broccoli but I will share with you the recipe for the cabbage. It is one adapted from Gary Rhodes book published about fifteen years ago. It is important before you start to have already chopped and fried until crispy around 6-8 rashers of streaky bacon. Then take a large saucepan. Place 25g of butter or equivalent in the pan, and when it’s bubbling add 2 sliced medium onions. Cook on a low heat until soft. Then add a thinly sliced savoy cabbage to the pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to keep the pan moist, and keep the cabbage moving. Occasionally taste the cabbage – you need it to be at the ‘just tender’ stage. Then stir in the bacon and 6 tablespoons of double cream. Stir and heat through. We always make sure this is the last thing we do before serving Christmas dinner as it should be served immediately, and it tastes yummy too!
Now at this point you may be wondering what we do about the gravy. The answer is nothing special. In this house, Bisto does the job nicely.
Tradition dictates that Christmas dinner should be followed by Christmas pudding. That’s how it is. We don’t make our own Christmas pudding here – we get a Wilkins Christmas Pudding – the ones that make all that lovely jam that you get in hotels and stuff. However, we also cater for people who don’t like Christmas pudding by making a trifle! Everyone has a different way of making a trifle – and this is ours…
Start on Christmas Eve morning. You need to line the bottom of a wide trifle dish (not too deep – the one we use is approx 3-4 inches deep) with slices of a jam filled swiss roll. It is important here not to use a swiss roll that has been filled with vanilla cream etc as this will make your trifle go funny. A simple jam swiss roll will do. Over the top of that, sprinkle a drained can of fruit cocktail (in natural juice). Then make up a pint of strawberry or raspberry jelly according to instructions. Spoon the jelly over the top of the swiss roll and fruit and place in the fridge to set. It is important to spoon the jelly over the top as if you pour it on you run the risk of your swiss roll floating in your jelly – we want it firmly at the bottom!
Late on Christmas Eve, say around 10-11pm at night check your trifle and make sure the jelly is set. Confident that everything is OK you should then make the custard – and that is make, not open the can. Making custard using ‘Birds Custard Powder’ will give you a custard layer that sets – and this is what you want. Make the custard so that it is thick. Once made, plunge the bowl into ice cold water. You want the custard to be cool when you put it on the trifle. You will also need to stir the custard constantly – you don’t want a skin to form! Spread the cool custard on the trifle and leave it to set.
Now you can choose to ‘garnish’ your trifle in many different ways. We simply eat it as it is. However some may like to add cream, or hundreds and thousands, some fruit. Either way it is up to you – but it is a delicious alternative to Christmas pudding.
I’ve shared with you the very basics of my Christmas Day. Little recipes that help make my Christmas special. I know everyone tells everyone every year the same thing but my final tips for success this Christmas Day are to plan carefully – write everything down on a shopping list so you don’t miss anything off and create a timetable for your oven to make sure that everything is ready at the same time. Finally, and most importantly – have fun! It is Christmas after all….