Category Archives: Christmas Countdown

Cranberry Sauce

This tasty sauce, traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to turkey can also be used with goose, game and cheese.  Can be served either warm or cold.

 INGREDIENTS

1 orange, juice and zest

175g / 6 oz sugar

5 tablespoons port

359g / 12 oz fresh or frozen cranberries

1 eating apple, finely chopped

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If you are using fresh cranberries, give them a wash and pick them over to discard any that look ify.

Finely grate the zest from the orange and squeeze the juice. 

Dissolve the sugar in a medium pan with 4 tablespoons of the port and the orange juice.

Stir in the cranberries, apple and orange zest.  Cook, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes (slightly longer if you are using frozen cranberries), until the fruit is soft and the juice has thickened slightly.  

Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of port.

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This sauce will keep for weeks if kept in warm sterilised jars with plastic lined, screw topped lids.  Store in the fridge.

To sterilise jars:  Thoroughly wash and rinse the jars and place, upside down, in a cold oven.  Set the oven temperature to 160C  /  325F  /  Gas 3  (140C  for a fan assisted oven).   When the oven has reached the right temperature, turn it off and open the door.  Sterilise the lids by boiling them for a few minutes in water.  Be careful when removing the glass jars from the oven – they will remain hot for quite some time.

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Creamy Parsnip and Squash Bake

SERVES  8    PREPARATION TIME: 30 minutes + cooling    COOKING TIME: 1 hr 10 mins

Easy to prepare

INGREDIENTS

425 mls / 15 fl oz  (approx 2 US cups)  double (heavy) cream

1 small onion or shallot, finely chopped

2 thyme sprigs, one stripped of leaves

butter, for greasing

500g / 1 lb 2 oz parsnips (about 4 large)

500g / 1 lb 2 oz butternut squash (about 1/2 a large one)

25g / 1 oz Gruyere cheese, grated

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Method

Place the cream, onion or shallot and the thyme sprig in a small pan.  Slowly heat to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Strain, discarding the onion and thyme.

Heat oven to 160C  / 325F  / Gas 4  /  (Fan oven 140C  /275F).  Rub the bottom and sides of a gratin dish measuring about 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 in) with butter.  Peel the parsnips and trim the ends.  Peel and scoop the seeds out of the squash.  Thinly slice the vegetables.

Layer the parsnip and squash in the dish, pour over the infused cream, then scatter with the thyme leaves and Gruyere cheese.  Bake for 1 hour until golden and a fork slides easily into the veg.

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Get Ahead:  Leave the bake to cool, then cover and place in the fridge for up to 2 days.  To reheat, place in a 220C  / 425F  / gas 7  (fan 200C / 400F) oven for 15 minutes.  If the top starts to brown more than you’d like, cover with foil.

This recipe first appeared in the December 2007 Christmas edition of BBC Good Food magazine

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Christmas and Thanksgiving Timetable

Christmas and Thanksgiving can be a very stressful time if you’re the chief cook and bottlewasher in the house.  Even if you regularly cook roast meals, there is extra pressure on these two occasions to produce a meal fit for the King of Siam and his entourage because Christmas and Thanksgiving almost invariably involve big family get togethers. 

Your exact meal is obviously entirely up to you but I thought it might just be helpful to map out a suggested main-course menu (because this is what we all worry about) plus suggested timing.  Make this schedule the basis of your Christmas menu planning and add or delete items that you want to include or remove.  Remember, the clever cook will always plan ahead so that they don’t totally lose their mind (and cool) on ‘The Big Day’. 

Suggested Main Menu – Serves 8

Cider roast turkey with glazed apples and pears with sticky shallots

‘Pigs in blankets’ (little sausages wrapped in bacon)

Chestnut & cranberry roll

Crisp-topped sprouts

Buttery caraway carrots

Roast potatoes

Bread sauce

Gravy

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PREPARING AHEAD – All dishes to be kept in fridge or freezer until needed

Up to 1 Month Ahead

Parboil and freeze the Roast Potatoes

Make the Chestnut and Cranberry Roll, if freezing

***Up to 3 Days Ahead***

***If you have bought a frozen turkey, think about how you plan to defrost it. Be aware that in a fridge a frozen bird of the size appropriate to feed 8 people could take anything from a day and a half to two and a half days to properly defrost.  Suggested sizes of bird are here and tips on defrosting here (this second link takes you to the British Food Standards Agency site).  

Up to 2 Days Ahead

Make the Chestnut and Cranberry Roll if making from fresh

Prepare and roast the Glazed Apples and Pears with Sticky Shallots

Christmas Eve

Roast the Chestnut and Cranberry stuffing roll – keep in the foil

Make the bread sauce and store, covered, in the fridge

Boil or steam the sprouts and prepare the topping for the Crispy-topped Sprouts

Steam the carrots for the Buttery Caraway Carrots

Prepare the Pigs in Blankets

Defrost anything frozen in the fridge.

CHRISTMAS DAY

09.30am:

Stuff the turkey, weigh and calculate cooking time.  Heat oven to 190C  /  375F  /  Gas mark 5  /  (Fan oven: 170C, approx 340F)

10.00am:

Put the turkey in to roast (timings based on a 4.5 kg / 10lb turkey)

11.00am and 12.00pm:

Check the roasting tin – add more cider if needed

12.30pm:

Remove the foil from the turkey to let it brown

1.00 pm:

Leave the turkey to rest.  Put the potatoes in the oven to roast, if frozen.  (If not, put in at 1.10pm).  Make the gravy.

1.30pm:

Turn the oven up to 220C  /  425F  /  Gas 7  /(Fan 200C  / 400F).  Turn the potatoes and add the stuffing roll to oven to reheat.  Put the ‘pigs in blankets’  in oven to cook.

1.45pm:

Reheat the apples, pears and shallots in the oven if room, or in the microwave if not, adding a little extra glaze.  Finish the sprouts and the carrots and heat the bread sauce, adding a little milk if it seems too thick.  Take the foil off the stuffing.

2.00pm:

Serve and enjoy!  If you have a hot pudding planned for dessert, place it in the oven and allow the residual heat to warm it through while you eat.

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‘Pigs in Blankets’

This is a UK favourite at Christmas time and has more or less become an intrinsic part of this special meal.  ‘Pigs in Blankets’ are simply chipolata sausages, wrapped in streaky bacon. 

So easy to prepare, for 8 people you will need:

 8 regular-sized pork chipolata sausages (allow 16 if you’re buying the usual cocktail size Christmas midgets)

8 rashers of streaky bacon strips

Olive oil

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Preheat the oven to 220C / 425F / Gas mark 7  (200C for a fan oven, approx 400F)

Put a slice of streaky bacon on a flat surface and stretch and flatten it by gently pulling the back of a knife or palette knife over it.

Take a chipolata and roll the bacon strip around it to make a ‘pig in blanket’.  (If you’re using the mini sausages that are usually around at Christmas you’ll find that half a strip of bacon will do for one little sausage).  Repeat until all sausages are wrapped.

Sprinkle a little sunflower or olive oil in the bottom of a shallow oven proof dish.  Lay the pigs in blankets on top with the loose ends of bacon facing downwards and drizzle a little more oil on top.

Cook in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Drain on kitchen paper if you are concerned about them being too fatty.

Preparing ahead:   On the day before these are needed you can roll the sausages in the bacon and store, covered, in the fridge.

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The Humble Sprout + A Recipe

The humble sprout is much maligned but it’s a delicious vegetable  (if cooked properly) and as one of the ‘cruciferous’ group of vegetables (along with, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli)  may help to protect the body from cancer.  I can’t stress this enough: The key is to not overcook them.  If you’ve had bad experiences with them, the chances are that an inexperienced cook has ‘nuked’ them within an inch of their lives, rendering them limp and a slightly yellowy green colour.  In this state they take on a nasty bitterness and are very unpleasant to eat.  Cooked correctly however they should be soft but still retain some of their ‘oomph’ (my technical term, roughly translated to mean ‘some of their body and structure’) and will still appear green.  

To prepare them for cooking: Remove the tougher and loose outer leaves (usually only one or two in number) and rinse in cold water.  I know opinion is divided nowadays but I still like to cut a little cross in the base of them because I find it helps to cook them evenly and quickly.  I then cook mine in one of those foldaway steamer baskets, placed in the bottom of a pan with a little bubbling water underneath, lid on, for 8 – 10 minutes.  Timing depends on the size of the sprouts so do keep an eye on them and check for readiness by poking them with the tip of a sharp knife.  If you prefer, you can of course boil them for an equal amount of time.

To serve: Again, I’m a fan of these little veggies so for me, serving them steaming hot with freshly cracked black pepper is all that I need, but non die-hard sprout fans might also like a knob of butter!

If I still haven’t quite convinced you, here is a very nice recipe for sprouts with a little extra crunch, nuttiness and interest – perfect for Christmas and Thanksgiving lunch and dinners.

CRISP-TOPPED SPROUTS

Serves 8 people    Preparation time: 15 minutes    Cooking time:    15 minutes

 Ingredients

1 kg / 2 lb 4 oz Brussels sprouts

50g / 2 oz white bread, preferably ciabatta

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for serving

25g / 1 oz flaked almonds

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Zest of 1 lemon

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Remove any tough leaves and trim sprouts, then steam for 10 minutes until tender. 

Tear the bread into crumbs.  Heat a large frying pan and pour in the olive oil.  Add the bread and fry until just crisp.

Tip in the flaked almonds, garlic and lemon zest, then cook gently until everything is golden (be careful not to burn the garlic).

Place the sprouts in a serving dish, season, then toss with the crumbs etc. You can, if you wish, add a little extra olive oil to finish.

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These can be prepared ahead:  Cook the sprouts the day before to the ‘al dente’ stage (in other words, until almost but not quite cooked).  Remove from the heat and then cool quickly by draining and then plunging into a bowl of iced water.  Drain and set aside in the fridge.  You can also make the topping a day in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.  To serve: Microwave the sprouts for 1-2 minutes or cook in boiling water to re-heat (being careful not to overdo it).  Warm the topping mix then toss with the topping as above.

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Buttery Caraway Carrots

Incredibly simple – utterly delicious.

 

SERVES 8  /  PREPARATION TIME: 10 MINS  /   COOKING TIME:  10 MINS

Easy to prepare

1 Kg / 2lbs 4 oz carrots (about medium-sized)

25 g / 1 oz butter

1 tsp caraway seeds

Small handful of chopped parsley

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Peel the carrots and trim off the ends.  Cut in half lengthways, then cut on the diagonal into slices about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.

Place the carrots in a steamer basket and steam for 5 – 7 minutes until softened, or place in a heatproof bowl with a little water and microwave on ‘High’ for 3-5 minutes.

To finish the dish: Gently heat the butter in a frying pan.  Tip in the caraway seeds and cook for 30 seconds until they start sizzling.  Add the carrots and stir into the butter until glossy and heated through (about 3 minutes).  Toss through the parsley and serve.

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THESE CAN BE PREPARED IN ADVANCE:

Cook the carrots up to 2 days in advance, leave to cool, then cover and store in the fridge.  Reheat in pan, finishing with butter and caraway seeds as above, just before serving.

 

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Glazed Apples and Pears with Shallots

SERVES 8     PREPARATION TIME: 10 MINUTES    COOKING TIME: 1-1/2 HOURS

Easy to prepare

Ingredients

Juice of 1/2 lemon

4 small eating apples

4 small pears

900g / 2 lbs shallots (unpeeled weight)

1 tbsp olive oil

50g / 2 oz butter

6 tbsp quince or redcurrant jelly**

bay leaves to decorate

METHOD

Put the lemon juice into a large bowl.  Peel the apples and pears, leaving the stalks on, then toss in the juice. 

Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil.  Lower in the apples and pears, then cover and poach for 30 minutes or until the fruit just gives to a sharp knife.  Peel the shallots while you’re waiting.

Heat the oven to 190C / 375F / Gas mark 5  (170C fan oven).  Add the oil and butter to a small roasting tin, then add the drained apples, pears and the shallots.

Brush the fruit with a layer of the quince or redcurrant jelly **(cranberry jelly would work equally well)** and roast for 1 hour until softened and golden.

Turn the pears and apples around in the fat a few times during cooking, brushing twice more with the glaze.

Serve spooned around the turkey, decorated with bay leaves.

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This recipe has been very slightly adapted from a recipe that first appeared in the December 2007 Christmas edition of BBC Good Food magazine.  The photograph is from the same source.

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