Five tips for peaceful, happy holiday cooking
1 Keep it tidy
It doesn’t matter how many work surfaces you have, it is still possible to make a real mess cooking Christmas lunch. Clearing as much clutter from the kitchen three days beforehand will help you immensely on the day and keep a clear head .
Also clearing out the fridge and reorganising it so there is as much space as possible will make a big difference when all the produce starts to arrive for Christmas .
2 Be prepared
Get ahead on the 22nd by curing your own salmon to make gravadlax (blitz 175g salt with 250g brown sugar and leaves from a large bunch of dill –use to cure 1 large fillet or 2 small). It will be ready on Christmas Eve and will keep well – a great starter, snack or canapé .
Check that your turkey fits in the roasting tray and that it all fits in the oven. It might seem obvious but even the best cooks sometimes forget: I told Rose Gray about a dish that we cooked at the Carved Angel (goose à la poitevene) and she decided to try it one Christmas –she had massive problems with the oven size, and the depth of the oven tray when all the fat came out of the goose.
Try to have a great quality chicken stock in the freezer to give your gravy a boost. My mum always recommends saving the cooking water from mashed swede and onion for the gravy. It does add flavour and can be made the night before, the mash being reheated on the day .
3 Turkey time
Cooking a turkey seems to worry a lot of people but thinking of it as just a large chicken tends to calm the nerves.
Brining the turkey beforehand not only keeps it moist but can add flavour depending on what spices you add to the brine. (I prefer bay, star anise, peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel and thyme)
If you have a cool place ( with no threat from hungry pets ) leave the turkey out but covered on Christmas Eve so that it is at room temperature when you stick it in the oven the next morning . If not leave it out of the fridge for at least an hour before cooking – this will ensure that the bird cooks more evenly and quickly .
Start cooking the turkey upside down on a bed of onions and stock veg before finishing right side up . This will help keep the breast moist . If the bird will only fit in the oven at an angle make sure the legs are pointing to the back of the oven as this tends to be the hottest part.
All nervousness about the bird being cooked can be eased by purchasing a meat probe. Test the bird by probing the thickest part of the thigh: when the temperature is 74C or above you can pour yourself a large gin .
Allow the bird to rest for at least 45 minutes: this will give you enough time to crank up the oven and finish the spuds. The turkey can be rested upside down –breast side down. This will keep it moist but you will have to give up the crisp skin .If you’re stuck for oven space, try roasting two guinea fowls instead: very tasty and much quicker.
4 Know your roots
If you are cooking lots of lovely veg , timing can be very important with oven space . This is the only time my mum uses her hostess trolley and I have learnt to love it on Christmas day.
Roast potatoes: try sprinkling par boiled potatoes with a little semolina and drizzle with some squeezy Marmite before roasting for best spuds ever. The marmite adds a more “savoury” flavour – the semolina provides extra crunch .
Parsnips: instead of roasting, try cooking them in milk and pureeing the drained parsnips with ground almonds, crushed garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. This can be made the day before and can double as a dip sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds .
Carrots: braise in a pan with butter and honey. Finish with good vinegar and chopped parsley. Turnips and beetroot can be cooked this way too . Mix them all together and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds .
Mixed greens: The mixed greens can be tossed in a hot browned nut butter before serving .
If your stove top is overwhelmed with pans try other gadgets to cook your veg – I love using my contact grill (panini-type press) for quickly cooking leeks and broccoli
Sprouts: Roast your sprouts for a change. Cut them in quarters or half and toss in a little oil and butter. Roast in a medium hot oven for about 15 minutes until they are slightly browned and tender. You could combine them with roast cauliflower and blanched chopped kale.
The perfect bubble and squeak: The traditional Boxing Day bubble can be tricky as the veg can be wet, making frying the cakes quite messy. So it’s good to use some potato with mashed swede and chopped greens or peas. If the cakes are mixed and shaped when everything is cold and then coated in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, they will be easier to handle when cooking . Chill the veg cakes and brown in butter and oil on both sides before finishing in a medium oven .
5 Pudding, anyone?
crushed amaretti 100g
eating apples 8 chopped
orange 1, peeled and diced
orange juice and zest of 1
dried apricots 100g, chopped
dates 50g, chopped
Calvados or brandy a slug
Or you can whip up mascarpone cream with orange zest and a few drops of orange flower water. Stir in pomegranate seeds and stuff stoned dates with the cream for a quick but stunning dessert. Serve over sliced clementines. Sprinkle with pistachios and more pomegranate seeds and drizzle with honey.
Jane Baxter is co-author of Leon: Fast Vegetarian (Conran, RRP £25). To order a copy for £18.75 from Guardian Bookshop, click here
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