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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

……………………………………………………….

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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All about butter

Butter CurlsI don’t think anything compares to the taste of real butter in cooking. Butter-based spreads have come into existence to try to provide healthier alternatives but they are not always ideal for cooking.  Here is a quick low-down on the basic versions of butter available, plus a few facts and hints:

Salted butter – Salt is a preservative so that the addition of salt to butter gives it a longer ‘shelf-life’.  Salted butter will last about a month in the fridge, six months in the freezer.

Unsalted (or ‘sweet’) butter is the freshest butter available, with an accordingly fresher taste – largely because the natural sweetness of the product isn’t masked by salt.  However, without that extra preservative it will not last as long.

Given the above, good traditional bakers usually opt for unsalted butter in recipes – the flavour is better, there is the option to decide just how much salt should be added, and too much salt tends to produce a tougher dough.  At a pinch (no pun intended), ready salted butter can be substituted in baking recipes, but remember to reduce, or cut out entirely, any extra salt noted separately in the ingredients list.  (If you have to use salted butter in a recipe because that’s all you have, the rule of thumb would be to cut salt by 1/4 tsp for every 4 ounces, or half a cup of butter that is in the recipe).

Light / reduced calorie butter is made with half the fat of regular butter and in order to approximate the consistency of the full fat version, water, skimmed milk and gelatin are added.   As a consequence, it will give different results when used for baking and frying and is therefore not recommended.

In some countries whipped butter is also available.  Its’ whipped texture makes it lighter and more spreadable but the process of whipping means that it is actually 30 – 45% air.  For this reason it also is not generally  recommended for baking.

When frying and sauteing,  it is better to use unsalted butter.  If you wish, the addition of just a teaspoon of oil will allow you to heat the oil to a slightly higher temperature before it begins to burn but both salted and unsalted butter have low smoke points (the point at which the butter burns).

Clarified butter is used widely in fine cuisine as the basis for sauces and, as most of the milk solids and water is removed during preparation, allows for cooking at higher temperatures without burning (useful for frying and sauteing) . 

To clarify: gently melt a quantity of butter in a pan and, using a metal spoon, skim off the solids that begin to foam up on the surface.  Be careful not to allow the butter to burn. When you feel you’ve removed as much as you can, pour the melted butter through a sieve which has been lined with cheesecloth or muslin, into a bowl beneath.  (These solids can be thrown away but are also considered a delicacy in Northern Indian cuisine, being eaten with unleavened bread). The clarified butter in the bowl will last in the fridge for up to a month.

Ghee is very similar to clarified butter, the differences being that all the water content has been evaporated off, all the milk solids removed and the remaining butter has been allowed to brown slightly, giving the ghee a nutty flavour.  Pure ghee will keep at room temperature for months and, as with clarified butter, can be heated to high temperatures.  The process of preparation has removed casein, lactose protein (often a problem to those with allergies) and oxidised cholesterol, whilst still retaining valuable vitamins.  Its’ more intense, nutty flavour also means that you will probably use less of it in cooking.  Ghee is available in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, as well as in some supermarkets.

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  • Butter absorbs the flavours around it so is best stored in an airtight container or wrapped carefully in foil.
  • Store in the coolest part of the fridge (which is generally not the door)
  • To soften butter quickly for baking, cut into small cubes and leave at room temperature.
  • Frozen unsalted butter can be grated into pastry mix for a nice, light and flaky crust

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