Just a weekly bit of fun whereby I can natter about any culinary ‘inventions’, successes and disasters in the kitchen, whilst trying to get the best out of leftovers.
As this was festive week I’m just going to concentrate on the prep days and the day itself.
… Obviously this was the week before, but relevant. Stuffing prep is always the first thing I do, and it’s a moveable task with a certain order. It all starts with fresh sage. I can’t get fresh sage from the place I normally shop, well, you can’t guarantee it so I do an online shop, ordering sage. This could be a few weeks before the big day but this year it was the week before. So… The sage arrives then it’s action stations. C hot wheels it down to the local butcher and buys me about two kilos of their award winning Cumberland sausage. I only need 800g for the stuffing but we freeze the rest for festive nibbles. Anyway, with sausage and sage I just whizz up breadcrumbs and chop a couple of red onions and I’m ready to go. I sauté the onions for a while, adding chopped sage toward the end just to impart the flavour in the onion, I’m looking for the onion to be soft but not coloured, but if it does colour a little that’s okay too. Once cooked (I always cook onion to be added to mixes, including meatballs and burgers, the finished product is much nicer than if raw onion were added) I allowed the onion mix to cool completely (important, because we’re adding it to cold/raw meat) before adding it to fresh white breadcrumbs and Cumberland sausage that I’d taken out of the skin. I then mixed it well (only hands will do, which doesn’t fill me with joy but is necessary) and the stuffing was ready. It usually needs no extra seasoning because of the seasoning in the sausage meat but I always dry fry half a teaspoonful to check and this day was no exception. I diligently fried off the half teaspoon of festive stuffing, which filled almost the whole of the downstairs with the aroma of xmas, and sure enough the seasoning was fine. After decanting the mix to a freezer bag I shoved it in the freezer to be brought out to defrost on xmas eve night.
… This is the most important day for me. It’s turkey bath day, or to be more specific, turkey brine day. I think I’ve been following a Nigella brining method since 2008 and I wouldn’t have my turkey any other way, if you want succulent turkey that’s full of flavour this is for you. Anyway, we get a large rubber container and put a large food grade bag in it. The container is only there to support the bag. I put the turkey in the bag after removing any string and giblets. Because the bag makes stirring impossible I add 1 litre of water to a pan, then a mixture of salt, sugar, squeezed orange quarters, mustard seeds, star anise, allspice berries, maple syrup, and many more items (see above for link to ‘recipe’) before stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. I then add that to another 4 litres of water in the bag then clip and refrigerate until the big day.
A tradition for me is also an unusual trifle. In the past I have made ‘Black Forest’ trifle, ‘Eaton mess’ trifle, and ‘banoffee pie’ trifle to name a few. This year I plumped for a lemon trifle, one of the layers being adapted from the filling of a quick key lime pie. So… On the 23rd I do the first layer as it has to set. I made up some lemon jelly from two packs, and poured it into my beautiful trifle bowl after adding broken up sponge fingers that had a teeny splash of orange triple sec. I would have preferred limoncello but I didn’t have any and I wasn’t going to buy a full bottle for a splash on trifle sponges. I cling filmed the bowl and put in the fridge to set.
Before bed I got things out of the freezer such as Cumberland sausage which would be used the next day.
… This is a completely crazy day for me. I’m usually in the kitchen for at least twelve hours, this time I was prepping, cooking and baking for about 16 hours because I added a few things to my ‘to do’ list! I like to prep things for Boxing Day too as we usually have guests.
I start baking as soon as I’ve heated the oven, starting with cleanest first because I can get away with reusing the baking trays. We like to have the retro-est of retro nibbles from Boxing Day onwards, the humble vol-au-vent. I could make and bake my own, but I don’t, I just buy the frozen raw prepared ones, they’re good value if you consider how long it would take to make them. Anyway, I baked one box of 36 in a few batches, giving the top edge a wash with egg before they go in. Once the first batch was in the oven I made the cranberry sauce by adding water and sugar to 300g of fresh cranberries and simmering until the cranberries were mostly popped.
Next I made a batch of oatcakes and crackers to go with cheeseboard on the day, rolling each dough out and using the same cutter for uniformity and shoved them in the oven when the vol-au-vents were baked and cooling.
The next item on the list was sausage rolls. I buy ready rolled puff pastry sheets because I have enough to do, so I retrieved that and the defrosted Cumberland sausage from the fridge and got to work. I make two types; the first is just plain Cumberland sausage meat, the second has a little branston pickle spread on what will be the inside of the pastry before adding the sausage. Anyway I cut the pastry sheet into three strips and after taking the sausage from the skin placed a thin row of the meat down the length of pastry, or on top of the pickle, depending on the type. I then egg washed the right edge and rolled up the pastry, pressing it to seal seem underneath. I halved and halved again until I had bite-ish sized sausage rolls, brushed the top with egg, snipped the pastry with scissors, then chucked those in the oven after crackers were baked. I can only fit 3 trays in the oven so everything has to be done in batches.
At this point I started on the mince pies. I used one of Nigella’s pastry dough recipes which is lovely. The liquid in it is the juice of an orange, and putting the flour and cubed butter together in the freezer for a while creates a really good texture. I put the flour and butter in the food processor bowl, complete with blade so it’s ready to go when it has chilled sufficiently. Pastry made I cut out 12 tops and bottoms putting the bottoms in a 12 hole tin and adding a teaspoon of mincemeat. Again I don’t make my own because the shop bought jar is great, and well matured. The mince pies were next into the oven, on their own.
Once the mince pies were baked I put a joint of beef and a maple glazed ham in to roast. I had previously sealed the beef all over, and boiled the ham for an hour whilst doing other things.
The last thing I did that involved heat (for xmas/Boxing Day prep) was melt butter and add crushed digestive biscuits for the banoffee pie base which was the alternative to xmas pudding. My last real prep job was the third tier of the trifle. I whisked condensed milk and double cream together then added the zest and juice of four lemons. I can honestly say the lemon version is as delicious as the lime one I do, but I don’t get key limes so the difference could be massive! All the Brits I’ve fed lime pie to though adore it, it’s zingy and light. Once I’d finished the third tier I layered the second tier on top of the set jelly and sponge, which was just most of a jar of lemon curd. I then layered the zingy lemon filling on top of that and cling filmed it again to await the whipped cream topping on Boxing Day.
Dinner was a make do affair because I tied it in with prep. I used the ham stock and made lentil and tomato soup. I was happy for C to visit the chippy if he preferred but he ate the soup!
I was then supposed to prep the veg for the next day, but I didn’t get chance. I rolled chipolatas in streaky bacon for the festive dinner, got a few things out of the freezer to defrost, and finished by wrapping presents to go under the tree. I would have to get an early start with the veg tomorrow.
… Happy 25th of December and season’s greetings! My day started peeling carrots, sprouts, parsnips and potatoes for roasting, which took some time. Husb removed the turkey from the brine, dealt with the fallout (separating brine from onions, oranges and whole spices and disposing of each carefully so as not to freak me out with ‘turkey juice splashes’!) then dried off the bird with kitchen towel and put it in the baking tray to come up to room temperature before being put in the oven. Meanwhile I par boiled the parsnips and Maris piper potatoes to be roasted. The parsnips just take a little oil and seasoning, but the potatoes are left to dry out in the warm saucepan after draining with a lid on, before being beaten up vigorously and sprinkled with semolina. When they are roasted they are crunchy outside and fluffy in which in my humble opinion is the only way to have a roastie! I had many other little jobs to do such as, putting large potatoes in to bake for the mash, making the stuffing balls with the extra stuffing that didn’t fit in the little cavity at the back of the bird, prepping Marie Rose sauce, salad for the starters, and the much anticipated bread sauce.
If you read about my bread sauce trial a week or so ago you’ll know that the tip from Masterchef Australia to dry out the breadcrumbs in a low oven had created the perfect bread sauce, nothing like the ‘soggy bread’ sauce I made a few years ago. That last time though, I wasn’t cooking eleventy hundred other components of a meal. I whizzed up the breadcrumbs and put them in the oven but they quickly started to catch because the oven wasn’t on low, so I whipped them out, getting rid of any dark crumbs before leaving them in the residual heat of top oven for a while. That worried me too so I removed the breadcrumbs and just left them in the counter for a few hours, thinking they would dry out anyway. When it came time to make the bread sauce I did what I should, then tasted… it was soggy bread style. I couldn’t serve that, ugh. Luckily I had bread sauce mix so whipped up a couple of packets of that just before dinner.
We had guests eating with us and one of them doesn’t like the other retro-est of dishes, the classic prawn cocktail, so as it was the season to be merry I did two starters. With the first I’m not going retro enough to serve the cocktail in a glass, I just plonk salad, then prawns, and finally Marie Rose sauce on a small plate. For the second option I just opened some really nice smoked salmon and tried to arrange it nicely with some fresh lemon. I served the non-prawn cocktail guest salad and let him help himself to salmon. C and his dad added to their prawn cocktail with smoked salmon too!
When the turkey had been brought out to rest I put other stuff in to roast, and started the gravy. Whilst we ate the starter everything either simmered, baked, or roasted. The only fraught time then is warming serving dishes and getting everything on to the table, but we managed; packet bread sauce and all! The turkey skin is always a little darker than usual because of the brine and its ingredients and the probably because I don’t add a butter and maple glaze before roasting as recommended, but is so delicious and succulent I can’t even tell you! The main well was successful, but we all failed on dessert, we only managed a sliver of banoffee pie, with the Christmas pudding remaining unopened. C and his dad then finished with cheese and my homemade oatcakes and crackers, but we all had Ethiopian coffee.
The event lasted about four hours and my guests probably didn’t need to eat again that day, so I call that a success. The real failure on my part was getting decent pictures of everything, but I was busy! And bread sauce style, I did have a plan b for the main course photo…