Surviving Christmas Dinner

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For many of us the thought of getting Christmas lunch to the table is a daunting one. The seemingly endless hours of preparation, the impending doom that is the threat of under cooked turkey, potatoes better suited to being fired out of a cannon than served on a dinner plate, and not forgetting the obligatory bitter, soggy sprouts.  It’s enough to make even the most au fait home cooks quake in our boots.

Rewind to Christmas 2003. I was a newlywed, 21-year-old girl who’d suddenly found herself  single-handedly cooking Christmas lunch for the in-laws at my parents house, who, incidentally weren’t there, as they were spending the holidays in New York with my sister who lived in Cape Cod at the time. I remember feeling pretty out of my depth about the whole thing, wanting to impress and, more importantly, not wanting to land my m-i-l in a&e with food poisoning on Christmas Day.  Thankfully, I’d had a practice run with my Dad who showed me what to do and when, writing down the methods and timings as we went. Thank goodness for Dad’s eh? Thirteen years later and I’ve built on my Dad’s way of doing things, adapting recipes to suit our tastes and learning a few new tricks here and there.

In this post I’m going to talk you through how I do Christmas Dinner. Firstly I want to make something quite clear…It is totally acceptable to take shortcuts.  It has taken me 13 years of marriage and a whole lot of soul-searching to actually get to the point where I am comfortable in saying that it is perfectly ok to use frozen parsnips and stock from a cube! It’s Christmas Day for goodness sake. You should be spending it with your loved ones, not chained to the kitchen. This is quite comprehensive, but don’t be put off, just pick and chose the bits that work for you.  Another tip is to invest in plenty of disposable foil trays.  It makes clear up so much easier!

Lets begin:

The Pescatarian: My Christmas dinner actually starts a couple of weeks prior to the big day where I set aside some time to bake. My husband is a pescatarian so I try to make him a decent alternative to the traditional turkey or goose.  Last year he loved my Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie so much he has requested it again. After baking I simply freeze them and take one out on Christmas Eve to defrost before putting it back in the oven for twenty minutes to reheat.  Perfect. That’s the veggie sorted.

Turkey Butter: I also often make Herby Butter to slather under the skin of the turkey before roasting to add flavour and help to keep the meat moist.  This too can be frozen and taken out a day or so before you want to adorn the bird with it. Finally, if you should wish to make your own stuffing (bearing in mind loads of supermarkets are now stocking their own wide variety of flavours) I can recommend Delia’s Pork & Chestnut Stuffing recipe, which can also be made in advance and frozen.

Stock: Now, I realise I’ve already said it’s fine to use pre-made stock, and it absolutely is, but should you be inclined to make your own here’s how I do it, and the benefit of doing it this way is that you can do it way in advance. Throughout the year I save up any chicken bones and freeze them in a ziplock bag.  Every time I cook a chicken I strip it and add the bones to the bag.  Once the bag is full I roast them in a hot oven for 30 mins, then throw them in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, celery and leak, cover with boiling water and leave them to cook for about 48 hours, topping up the water when necessary. After a couple of days drain to remove the bones and vegetables and you’ll be left with the most amazing stock.  Leave to cool and then freeze in a ziplock bag.

Pigs in blankets: Again you can make these ahead, put them in foil trays, freeze and cook on the day. An even easier option of course would be to buy pre-prepared ones and freeze.

Seriously, if you have a freezer, use it to your advantage. You’ll thank it on Christmas Eve when you’re taking all the stuff out of it and have halved your prep time.

Right, lets move forward to Christmas Eve:

Firstly, if you haven’t already take all the goodies you’ve already prepped out of the freezer to defrost. Now allow yourself and hour and a half or so to get all the following done (allow longer for cooking the ham).

Ham: If you’re planning on serving ham with your Christmas Lunch I’d get it on in the morning. I swear by Nigella’s Ham in Cola recipe.  It really is delicious and like all of her recipes, pretty straightforward. You can either serve it cold or heat it up right before serving.

Roast Potatoes: Everyone loves a good roast spud, but who wants to be peeling a bag of maris pipers on Christmas morning?  Definitely not me. I prep mine on Christmas Eve following my Ultimate Roast Potato recipe. Instead of cooking them all the way through though, I put them in a hot oven for 40 minutes to get them going then remove, allow to cool and put in the fridge to finish off for another 45/50 minutes on Christmas Day.

Cauliflower Cheese: While the potatoes are getting their sizzle on in the oven make a start on the cauli.  I’ll be using my Whole Baked Cauliflower Cheese recipe, but should you wish to segment the cauli to make serving it up easier than just reduce the steaming time to about 5 minutes.

Carrots and Broccoli: I just tend to wash and prep these and put them in the steamer ready to go the following day.

Braised red cabbage: Again this is something a lot of supermarkets are now selling pre-prepared, but should you wish to make your own, I love this BBC recipe and you can easily reheat it the following day.

Sprouts: After washing and removing and tough outer leaves, I slice them in half, throw them in a roasting tray with a good glug of oil, some diced pancetta (or bacon) and a couple of cloves of garlic, season with salt and pepper and pop them in the fridge for the following day.

The Turkey: The main event! The star of the show! The one thing you really want to get right. If you’ve bought frozen make sure you allow plenty of time for it to defrost in the fridge.  Remove the giblets and save for the gravy. Gently slide your hand in between the meat and the skin.  It should come away fairly easily and you’ll be able to smear the herby butter in between the flesh and the skin, and on top of the skin on the legs.  Stuff the neck cavity with the pork and chestnut stuffing, but I tend to leave the cavity empty. Crisscross smoked streaky bacon on top. Cover with foil and put back in the fridge.

Christmas Morning:

Whack the oven up to full blast and pour yourself a bucks fizz, glass of prosecco or something stronger if you’re hardcore.

Turkey: Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it to bring it back up to room temperature. Pop it in the oven then immediately turn the oven down to about 180oC. Baste it every 45 minutes or so with all those lovely juices. This year I’ll be getting an 8 or 9kg bird as we’re feeding a crowd, and it will probably take between 4 and a half and 5 hours to cook. I’ll probably put it in the oven at 8am, and expect it to be ready between 12.30pm and 1pm.  About half an hour before the allotted time remove the tin foil to allow the bacon to crisp up a bit. Once the juices run clear from the thickest part of the thigh it’s done. Remove from the oven, cover in with two layers of tin foil and place two clean tea towels on top.  It will happily rest here for an hour until everything else is cooked and you’re ready to serve and by that time the meat will be lovely.

Gravy: Once you’ve got the bird in the oven take your giblets, and a diced onion and saute in a pan with some oil. Add in the stock, some sage and a bay leaf, and simmer continuously for a couple of hours adding more stock or water as needed.  Add in the juices from the turkey once it has cooked, and thicken with cornflour. Taste and season accordingly.  Pass through a sieve to remove all the bits et voila, beautiful gravy.

Everything Else: When the turkey is cooked and is resting, it’s time to get on with everything else.

  • Put the part cooked potatoes on the top shelf and the parsnips just below.  I will be cheating on the parsnips and relying on good old Aunt Bessie because her parsnips are arguably the best I’ve tasted!
  • While they’re cooking slice the ham, put in a dish with a tablespoon of water and cover with foil.
  • After 20 mins toss the parsnips and potatoes and put them back in along with the cauliflower cheese, brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets and veggie pie if you’re doing it.
  • Cook for another 20 mins before adding the sliced ham and red cabbage to the bottom of the oven to warm up.
  • Add boiling water to the bottom of the steamer and steam the veggies for 8 minutes. Pour the water away but leave the lid on to prevent over cooking.  There’s nothing more disgusting than soggy broccoli.
  • Stick the plates in the microwave to warm along with the bread sauce (again I will be cheating on this year and buying it pre-made)
  • Put the turkey on a platter and surround it with the pigs in blankets and roasties.
  • Put the veg in serving dishes.
  • Get a helper to move it all out onto the table.
  • Top up your wine glass and…….

ENJOY!

Phew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Of course the other option is doing what by BFF does every year and ordering it all in ready prepared on foil trays….now there’s a thought!

 

Choosing joy in the midst of adversity

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

There are times in every person’s life when being joyful, praying and being thankful for our circumstances may not come naturally. Times when the hurt is heavy, the sickness crippling, the family falling apart or the finances in the red. These are spiritual sink or swim moments. Often the easier choice to make is to sink, falling away from the truths the bible teaches, trying to make sense of the situation in the natural, drowning in a sea of grief feeling and feeling isolated, vulnerable and alone. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Life for us has actually been pretty difficult in a few different ways lately. We’re a young (ish!) couple, trying to lead a church in the direction God wants it to go, doing what we can to reach the community we serve as well as balancing that with supporting our existing congregation pastorally, bringing up a fiesty toddler, being squeezed financially and attempting to grow our family.

It’s the ‘attempting to grow our family’ part which is the catalyst for writing this post today. Earlier in the week Ste and I went for an 8 week pregnancy scan after getting a positive result on our final round of IVF a few weeks ago. We were expecting to see one or two perfect little heartbeats but this wasn’t to be. Both embryos had implanted but our twins hadn’t developed properly and we were told to prepare for miscarriage. At that moment our hearts shattered. All the hopes and dreams of giving Phoebe a sibling, all the prayers we, and so many others, had invested in these two little lives, all the faith we had had that God would breathe life into these babies gone, in an instant. We haven’t felt heartbreak like it before, and we certainly hadn’t anticipated that the grief we feel would be so intense.

There were lots of tears that day, some as a result of overwhelming sadness, some borne out of sheer frustration, and some being of downright anger with God for allowing this to happen after all the years of infertility we’d gone through to get to that point, and on top of everything else we have to deal with at the moment.

I woke up the next day knowing I had a choice to make. I could sink, allowing the grief to over take me, wallowing in my own self pitty and risking becoming bitter about the whole situation, or I could swim. There was no contest.

We know God loves us. We know His will for our lives is better than our own. We know that being a Christian does not mean a life free from heartache and difficulties, but we also know we are not going through this alone. God will not give us more than we can handle, and he will give us what we need to get through this and come out stronger. We fixed our eyes on Jesus once more, and began thanking him for all the wonderful people and things he has blessed us with. Slowly our joy is being restored.

I began to remind myself that good can still come out of this horrendously sad situation. This could be the springboard we needed to launch us into a deeper relationship with our Saviour. How can that be anything but good?! We pray that God is glorified through this, that others will know that they don’t have to go through their heartbreak alone. You too can have the incredible and immeasurable peace of God. If one life is transformed by God as a result of this situation then our temporal earthly loss has been worth it. Be blessed friends, and know that whatever your circumstance you can choose joy, you can choose to be thankful, you can pray, and God will sustain you, carry you and bring you out of this stronger than you went in.

Tough questions: Is our eternal destiny already decided?

Sometimes there are aspects of the Christian faith which we struggle to comprehend or accept. The temptation is to skim over them and assume that they can’t really be teaching what they appear to be plainly stating.

However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In the latest sermon series at Full Life Church we confront some aspects of scripture which can be difficult to understand and yet are, in many ways, fundamental to our faith. We will encounter some tough questions but we will also strive to find true, biblically based answers. This week we look at whether our eternal destiny is already decided.  Click here to listen.

Tough questions… What is faith?

Sometimes scripture can take us off guard. A passage can surprise us or even shock us and challenge our perceptions of what the Bible teaches.

Sometimes there are aspects of the Christian faith which we struggle to comprehend or accept. The temptation is to skim over them and assume that they can’t really be teaching what they appear to be plainly stating.

However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In the latest sermon series at Full Life Church we confront some aspects of scripture which can be difficult to understand and yet are, in many ways, fundamental to our faith. We will encounter some tough questions but we will also strive to find true, biblically based answers. This week we ask what faith is. Click here to have a listen.

How do we know if we are really saved?

Sometimes scripture can take us off guard. A passage can surprise us, even shock us and
challenge our perceptions of what the Bible teaches. Matthew 7:21-23 is one of those passages, and the temptation is to skim over it and assume that it can’t really be teaching what it appears to be plainly stating. However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is
God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In this sermon Ste (my husband) confronts this difficult passage
and the question that inevitably stems from it…How do we know if we are really saved?

Click here to be challenged and encouraged by the amazing truths the Bible gives us.

Easter Eggstravaganza cake!

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One for the (ahem) kids…. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Just decorate your favourite chocolate cake.
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Happy Easter. Enjoy the celebrations, and remember the real reason for the season… Romans 8:11 NLT

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Hoping for good things in 2014.

Well, the dregs of the turkey are safely tucked away in the deep freeze, the central heating has taken its toll on the tree, and the last cracker has been pulled. This can only mean one thing… Christmas has passed and a new year is dawning.

I always find myself feeling rather sentimental in the week between Christmas and New Year. It’s a proverbial nomads land; reflecting on times gone by whilst eagerly anticipating what the upcoming new season may bring.

Generally around this time of year I’m even more thankful to God for His unwavering provision and opportunity in all areas of our life, yet hungry for more of Him, and more opportunities to serve and grow our ministry, being Kingdom builders rather than pew sitters.

One of my Christmas gifts from Ste is a new study bible. My old one was getting a bit battered and I was really touched that he’d thought to buy me a new one without me having to drop any ‘subtle’ hints (ladies, I’m sure you can relate…). Anyway, I was thinking about the word ‘hope’, and how it gets banded around a lot at this time of year. It made me think about how the meaning of the word seems to have changed over the years. Nowadays it’s a word we tend to use out of desperation, when we don’t know what else to say, when we’re trying to give an empathic word of encouragement to a friend, or sadly, even when we think the desired outcome is unlikely. In biblical times however this was not the case. Hope packed a punch. To hope was to be certain of, to be convinced, to have an  unwaveringly confident expectation.

Isaiah 40:31 was the ‘Verse of the Day’ on my bible app today. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”. This is my prayer for you this year. That you will have a confident expectation and unwavering believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth for one reason; to give you, and me, and all our other brothers and sisters here on earth a way to our heavenly father, through a divine relationship with him. By grace we have been saved.

I’m hoping for a fantastic 2014, are you?

Which army are you fighting for?

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It will come as no surprise to you that we don’t celebrate Halloween at home or in our church. Whatever its historical roots, these days there is no denying that it has evolved into a celebration of all things dark and evil, and I for one do not buy into the “oh, it’s just harmless fun” mentality.

The Word clearly states in Ephesians 6:12 that, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen (spiritual) world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

Whether intentional or not, when we buy into the Halloween ‘celebrations’ we’re buying into something much greater, far more powerful and darker than just costumes, scary faced pumpkins and trick or treating.  However melodramatic it sounds, there’s no getting away from the biblical truth that there is a constant battle in the spiritual realm between good and evil, between God and the devil, and by buying into Halloween you’re stating, inadvertently or not, which army you’re fighting for.  That should make you think. You can’t be on both teams, you can’t pledge your allegiance to both rulers, you can’t fight for both sides.

There is enough darkness in this world already. As Christians we’re called to be salt and light, to add the God flavour in this otherwise tasteless world, and to shine light, goodness and the love of Jesus in dark places. Which army will you be fighting for this Halloween?

Cutting the mustard…Plant or tree?

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 ESV)

What if the popular interpretation of this well known parable is flawed? What if we’ve totally misunderstood the message Jesus conveyed through this story? What if the global church has become something it was never intended to be?

In Ste’s latest soon series ‘Your Kingdom Come’, he unpacks this parable in a way you may not have heard before. Have a listen here. His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.