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Gill Bland

Musings on Christmas dinner

Posted by Gill Bland Tuesday, 8th December 2015

Christmas dinner - the most wonderful meal of the year?

I’m going to have come clean on this subject. I have only ever cooked Christmas dinner once. I massively over catered and I over cooked the veg. But, despite the spiced red cabbage mountain left after my attempt I’m not averse to the idea of trying again because you know what? I’m pretty certain that the cook is more critical on themselves than anyone else is of their cooking when it comes to Christmas dinner. In fact how about we don’t call it that? Let’s call it a turkey roast dinner to celebrate Christmas. It’s not your only dinner of the Christmas period after-all and there’s a lot more to Christmas than that one meal. 

So, I bring you these festive catering thoughts in the spirit of adventure - let us go forth and feed people turkey (or goose if my Dad gets his way) together. Do not surrender to sprout-fear, do not be petrified of pigs-in-blankets and do not cower afore cranberry sauce. Armed with some key tips we can do this.


1. Write your timings down.

Possibly the single most useful tip. You won’t stick to it but at least you’ll have a plan. Work out how long the turkey needs first of all and take it from there. British Turkey have a calculator you can use. Remember that you can take it out and let it rest for 30mins before eating.

You can do most of your vegetable cooking and gravy making in this time.


2. Don’t over stretch yourself, especially the first time.

Pride is the downfall of the Christmas cook. Fore example, there’s nothing wrong with an excellent bought Christmas pudding (reviews here). Some people would actually rather save the Christmas pud for another day when they have more room in their bellies to enjoy it. Why not ask if people would rather prefer a (bought) lemon tart or just some really posh icecream?

If you’re doing starters choose something that doesn’t involve cooking and can be made ahead of time or assembled by other people. How about some really good flat-bread crackers (like Thomas Fudge’s or ‘artisan’ ones for example) with some cream cheese, salmon and a sprig of fresh dill. Alternatively, some sourdough bread, thinly sliced, toasted in the toaster and topped with a good pate. Serve either of these on little plates to make it look more pretentious, er, I mean classy!

Get someone else to carve. You’re hot already, the last thing you need to do is to try and hold a carving knife.


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2. How many different things do you need?

Will the earth come to a grinding halt if you don’t have 4 types of veg and 3 types of potatoes? Probably not. Will you avoid the wallpaper paste challenge that is washing up a mashed potato pan  if you don’t have them? Yes.  If you do need lots of types of veg chose the easy ones e.g peas.


3. Prep ahead (obviously)

You can peel and part-boil the potatoes the day before. Cook them until tender around the edges and leave them covered in water. When you’re ready to roast them drain, shake a bit of salt over them, shake around in the pan and heat just very briefly to get rid of moisture then throw them into the hot oil in the heated baking tray. Jamie Oliver says olive oil is better than goose fat. I’ll let you make your own choice on that one.

Carrots can be peeled and chopped ahead of time and kept in water.


4. Find multiple uses for Christmas ingredients

If you end up with jars of various condiments, umpteen types of biscuits and a red cabbage mountain, then instead of rushing to the shops on boxing day (ugh) try to get creative. I ended up making a tart out of some superfluous lebkuchen and discount mincemeat the other year and it was one of my favourite Christmas bakes ever. Leftover veg and meat can me shoved in a pie dish and topped with leftover stuffing to make a pie. Whisk some orange jelly up with evaporated milk and add Clementines for a zesty mousse-type desert. Even better, make mulled wine jelly by using the wine for half the liquid - serve in wineglasses.




5. The freezer is your friend

Think of it as a freezer dance - make stuff ahead and freeze it, then as you use it replace it with leftovers which can be used of the coming weeks. The BBC Good food website has lots of useful, tested and less facetious, tips about things that you can cook and freeze ahead. Start Christmas armed with freezer bags and a marker pen and away you go. You can re-surface turkey long after you’ve forgotten that you’re sick of it.

Having said all this, I should note that I am lucky enough to have parents and in-laws who make a storming roast dinner so this year you’ll find me wielding a tea towel rather than a basting brush. Happy Christmas everyone.

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