Surviving Christmas Dinner

995599_10153659312405430_869393153_n

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!

 

Thai Inspired Crab Noodle Soup

image

Having just returned from my parent’s home in beautiful Pembrokeshire, my freezer is now stocked with a plethora of home-caught crustaceans courtesy of my fisherman father. He put the boat to sea for the season while we were there, and P and I were on board for the first lobster pot pull up! Here she is enjoying the ride.

image

I decided to dress one of the edible crabs as well as a spider crab to use some of the white meat in this humble yet incredibly satisfying crab noodle soup.

image

Firstly, dress the crabs. If you’re unsure how to do this Delia’s step by step photographic instructions will guide you through it. The most important thing to remember is don’t eat the gills, or dead man’s fingers as they’re more commonly known. Although not actually poisonous, they’re very tough and hard to digest.

Once you have a bowl of nice white flakes of meat in front of you you’re ready to proceed with the soup.

Firstly, I boiled the shells in a pan of water for a good hour to give me a nice light stock.

image

I drained the boiling stock, through a sieve and into a jug which had a bundle of flat rice noodles in it. The reason for soaking the noodles in stock rather than plain water is because, in my opinion, it allows them to absorb extra flavour as they soften.

image

While the noodles were soaking I fried off some finely minced lemongrass, galangal, garlic and shallots in a little coconut oil.

image

Once softened I added a couple of minced Thai chillis (don’t go overboard as you don’t want to drown out sweet and subtle flavour of the crab).  Once the noodles were soft, I fished them out of the stock and put them in a bowl before pouring the stock into the pan. At this point I added a tablespoon each of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and light soy sauce, some lime leaves, a small chunk of rock sugar and about 100ml coconut milk. Simmer to allow the flavours to get to know each other before seasoning further with lime juice, salt and pepper. For extra protein I threw in a handful of frozen prawns (fresh would be best in this instance, but unfortunately I only had cooked in) and some of the crab meat.

Once I’d ladelled the broth over the noodles, Thai basil, chopped coriander, spring onions and a sprinkling of red chilli finished it off nicely. Delicious! Even our 5 year old enjoyed it!

image

Foolproof Potato Rosti

image

Soggy rosti. Rosti that falls apart. Worst of all: grey rosti! I’ve had them all. Finally I’ve figured out a foolproof way which seems to work a treat. Boil the potatoes in their skins first.

image

Grate (the skins will come off as you grate them) and season well with whatever herbs/spices you fancy. I kept it simple work just salt, pepper and garlic.

Shape into little patties and they can be fried, as is traditional, or baked, which is what I did, until golden and crispy.

image

image

I served ours on wilted spinach and leeks, with salmon, crispy skin, a poached egg and garlic and lemon mayo made from whisking a large egg yolk with half a teaspoon of dijon mustard, and drizzling in rapeseed oil a little at a time until you have a creamy mayonnaise consistency. I then added a crushed clove of garlic, lemon juice to taste and salt and pepper. Delicious!

image

Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie

image

Being a pescatarian, hubby doesn’t partake in the traditional turkey/goose dinner on Christmas day, so I like to make something festive and delicious for him to enjoy instead.

This cranberry, chestnut and mushroom pie is just the ticket. Very savoury with the distinct taste of porchini mushrooms, spiked with delicious tangy  and sweet cranberry sauce encased in delicious shortcrust pastry, it’s sure to tempt even the most carnivorous family members.

Firstly make a batch of shortcrust pastry (or shop bought is fine if you prefer). In a food processor pulse together 450g plain flour, 200g cold cubed butter, a couple of pinches of salt, and a tsp freshly ground nutmeg. Once the butter and flour are combined add in approximately 6 tablespoons of very cold water, or just enough so the pastry clumps together. Put a piece of clingfilm on the work surface, tip the dough out onto it and quickly mould together into a disc shape. Wrap in the clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour (I actually left mine over night).

For the cranberry sauce wash a 300g punnet of fresh cranberries and put in a pan with 100ml apple juice and 100g light brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer, with the lid off, until it thickens, (around 10 minutes). Taste, add more sugar if needed and set aside to cool.

image

Put a small handful of dried porchini mushrooms in a mug and fill the mug with boiling water. While the mushrooms are rehydrating sauté a finely sliced leek and 2 cloves of crushed garlic in a pan with butter and rapeseed/olive oil. Once softened add in two sliced portobello mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of sliced chestnut mushrooms and cook down. Remove the porchini from the mug, making sure you reserve the water as this will be the stock for the sauce. Roughly chop the porchini before adding into the pan with the leeks and mushrooms.

image

Add in a third of a cup of plain flour and stir continuously making sure the mushrooms and leeks are well covered. Season with salt and pepper, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme. Add in the porchini water stiring continuously until you have a nice thick sauce. You’ll need to add in some extra water as you go. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

image

Now roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin and line individual pie cases leaving extra for the lids. Cover the lined pie crusts and lids in cling again and put back in the fridge.

While they’re chilling roughly chop 350g cooked chestnuts and add to the pie filling. Turn the heat off and leave to cool to room temp.

image

Once the filling is cool, take the pie cases out of the fridge. Spoon a dessert spoon of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of each pie case.

image

Then top with the chestnut and mushroom filling.

image

Brush the edges of the pies with egg wash before making a hole in the lid, and placing it on top. Add a little extra cranberry sauce under the hole of the lid if you like. Crimp the edges with a fork and egg wash the top before adding any festive pastry embellishments. I simply cut out Christmas trees and stuck them on.

image

Bake in a 190oC oven for 25-30 minutes until golden. I’m going to freeze these for Christmas and will just defrost in the fridge on Christmas Eve, before heating up for twenty minutes on Christmas Day.

image

Lobster Spaghetti

image

I’m fortunate enough to have a father whose hobbies include fishing for lobster. Having recently visited him and mum, my freezer is now home to a couple of these crimson beauties.

I’m usually a bit of a purist when it comes to lobster, generally serving it hot off the bbq doused in wild garlic butter, but thought I’d change it up a bit and make a simple but satisfying pasta.

I used the following:

image

A cooked lobster, red onion, fresh dill, a generous glug or two of white wine, sour cream, spaghetti, and a portion of my slow roasted herby cherry tomatoes, using dill as the herb and throwing in a few mini bulbs of garlic to roast along with them (once cooked, I put the tomatoes in a bowl and squeezed the roasted garlic out if its paper on top. You can see it in the pic above).

image

Remove all the white meat from the lobster (there are tutorials on YouTube or you can see a very quick and badly filmed time lapse of me doing it on my Facebook Page).

Finely slice the onion and sauté over a medium heat in a little olive oil and butter. If you’ve roasted the garlic like I did, add it in once the onions have softened, otherwise you can add it earlier to allow it to cook. Turn the heat up and pour in approximately 100ml white wine. Allow it to reduce for a few minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, a couple of dessert spoons of sour cream and a good pinch of chopped dill. Allow to simmer very gently while the spaghetti cooks. A few minutes before the spaghetti is ready throw in the lobster and allow to heat through. Check the seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste. Drain the spaghetti saving two or three tablespoons of the starchy water. Add the pasta water to the sauce to loosen it and make it velvety smooth, then add the spaghetti and toss to combine.  Sprinkle over more dill and serve. Delicious!

image

Puy lentils with roasted veggies and goat’s cheese

This is the epitome of simple, rustic, midweek veggie dinner ideas. Packed with goodness, your body will smile at the thought of this delicious yet virtuous meal.

image

Firstly chop up whatever veg you fancy and put in a roasting tray. I used onions, garlic, courgette, carrot, baby sweetcorn, peppers, butternut squash, leek and tomatoes. I like to use a peeler to get really thin curls of courgette and carrot.

image

Season well with sea salt and black pepper, then splash in a generous glug of oil of your choice (I used olive on this occasion, but coconut works well too). Bake for about 45 mins in a hot oven turning regular.

Whilst the veggies are working their magic in the oven it’s time to get the lentils on. I use a small mug for three of us, and the lentils I use don’t need soaking, merely just rinsing under the tap.

Fry off some onion and garlic in olive oil until softened, adding in some fresh herbs halfway through. I used rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf. Once softened add the lentils and stir allowing them to absorb some of the flavours from the onion/garlic and herbs. Using the same mug you used to measure the lentils pour in half to a whole mug of red or white wine and let the alcohol cook off for a couple of minutes.

image

Finally add in two to two and a half mugs of stock of your choice, season and reduce the meat to a simmer.  Stir regularly and cook for about 30 minutes, or until they’re at a texture you’re happy with. Puy lentils are renowned for naturally having more of an al dente texture then a lot of other varieties, so they won’t turn mushy.

Once the veggies and lentils are done to your liking, pour the pot of lentils into the tray of veggies abse mix well, allowing the lentils to absorb even more flavour. Serve in wide bowls (pasta bowls are perfect) and sprinkle with goat’s cheese. 

image

Monkfish with black olive tapanade

I picked up a couple of monkfish fillets the other day and wanted to try something a bit different with them…cue Jamie Oliver’s Monkfish with Black Olive Sauce.
image
It’s an easy to follow recipe, using ingredients we usually have in anyway. He suggests pairing it with lemon mash, but I fancied something lighter so went for roasted mini hasselback potatoes with wild garlic butter, and did a simple salad using rocket, lettuce and baby chard from the garden, dressed with some of the excess juices from the olive sauce.
image
It was delicious. Phoebe thought so too!
image
Enjoy.

On the menu this week: 2nd June

image

My friends take the mickey out of me for this, but each Sunday evening, after Miss P has gone to bed, I sit down with my diary, a weekly planner and my husband and plan out what our week looks like.  I go through the freezer and cupboards before writing a menu, and then I do the food shop online which arrives the following morning.  Yes, it’s slightly obsessive, but we’re a busy family, and I like to plan ahead to make my life easier and more efficient. So, this week our menu has panned out like this:

MONDAY: Vegetarian lasagne, which I made last week from some left over bolognaise and froze, and salad.

TUESDAY: Venison burgers (spicy bean one for hubby), baked sweet potato wedges and salad.

WEDNESDAY: Monkfish (which incidentally I picked up at the supermarket for the bargain price of £2.41 and froze!) with black olive sauce, crispy herbed potatoes and broccoli.

THURSDAY: Spaghetti with prawns, slow roasted tomatoes, anchovies, olives, chilli, lemon and peas.

FRIDAY: Our usual homemade curry night.  If hubby is on target work wise he might make his signature Hyderabad  curry, if not I’ll probably do a Thai Massaman.

I tend to leave the weekends free as we’re usually doing something with friends or family, and this weekend is no different. BBQ with the Assyrian side of the family on Saturday, then out at a local country fair on Sunday after church.

So, there you go, our week in food! How is yours looking?

Homemade Bean Burgers

image

Believe it or not, despite being married to a pescatarian for the last decade, I’ve never once made bean burgers! I had a look online for recipes, but ended up cobbling these together using flavours to our tastes, and what I had to hand.

This is what I used:
1 can of black eyed beans
1 can of kidney beans
8 button mushrooms
Breadcrumbs made from 2 slices wholemeal bread
2 spring onions
2 large cloves of garlic
Handful of fresh coriander
A couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to taste
A teaspoon of paprika
A teaspoon of garam masala
Freshly milled rock salt and pepper
1 egg to bind if you think your mix needs it. It might stick together just fine without. If you’re vegan just leave it out.
Very finely chop the spring onions and mushrooms and lightly fry with the garlic. Set aside to cool.
image

Put the beans in a bowl and mash with the back of a fork. You want texture so don’t go overboard on the mashing.
image

Add in the breadcrumbs, spring onion mixture and finely chopped coriander and mix.
image

Season well with spices, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Trust me, these beans take some seasoning, no one likes a bland burger! Taste as you go along.
image

Add in the egg at this point if your mix feels to dry. If you’re unsure fry a little one off to see how it holds.
image

image

image

When you’re happy with the consistency shape into little patties, cover with cling and put in the fridge. Chilling them with help them hold their form.
image

When you’re ready to eat put them on greaseproof paper on a baking tray, in a hot oven for twenty minutes or so, turning halfway through, or shallow fry on a medium heat.

I served ours in Pitta bread with chilli mayo, a green feta salad, and garlic and basil tomatoes. They were a hit all round.
image