Simple tips for a perfect Christmas dinner
London - Already panicking about cooking Christmas dinner?
Forget all that complicated advice from the pros. Just use these simple and ingenious tips from crafty cook (and busy mom) Anne Shooter.
PERFECTLY MOIST TURKEY
Dry turkey is a disaster and the best way to avoid this is to use a J cloth (all purpose cleaning cloth, usually blue and white). It might sound strange, but I promise you won’t end up with a strangely coloured turkey.
Dunk a brand new J cloth into a mixture of melted butter and sunflower oil until it is really sodden and use it to cover the breast of the turkey before placing a sheet of tin foil on top. Then roast your turkey according to your chosen recipe.
Place the foil so it forms a tent-like shape above the turkey, and add a mug’s worth of hot water to the roasting dish. This allows steam to circulate, which keeps everything moist. And, of course, you should also baste your bird occasionally with the juices, spooning them over the J cloth.
At the end of the cooking time you will have a fantastic, juicy turkey and the breast will have browned beneath the cloth.
If you want to add bacon, remove the Jcloth for the last half hour and place bacon rashers in its place - they will be lovely and crisp by the time the bird is cooked.
PARSNIPS WITHOUT PANIC
Roasted parsnips will take up space in your over-crowded oven. Instead, make a root vegetable mash with 1kg parsnips and 500g carrots.
Cut the veg into chunks and boil in salted water, then strain and whizz in a food processor with around 150g butter, a little ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
You can make this a day in advance and reheat it.
Frozen sprouts are fantastic, much nicer than other frozen veg. They come ready-peeled and par-cooked, so just need to be plunged into boiling water briefly or pan-fried in plenty of butter before serving.
Buy disposable roasting trays for the turkey and potatoes so that after lunch, you can throw them away and put your feet up.
PACK THE ROASTING TRAY
Oven space is always an issue at Christmas, so double up in your roasting tins.
For the last 30 minutes of roasting your potatoes, put in your pigs in blankets and stuffing balls.
The potatoes will be even more delicious than usual thanks to the fat from the sausage, bacon and stuffing, and the pigs in blankets will crisp up beautifully in the hot fat used to cook the potatoes.
Believe me, this works - and it means you don’t need to peel and par-boil your potatoes on the day.
Peel and cut into large chunks. Bring to the boil in salted water then simmer them for seven minutes.
Drain, shake in the pan to rough up the edges a little, cool slightly, then put in a freezer bag with a tablespoon of seasoned flour per 2kg of potatoes. Shake well.
Add 100ml of olive or sunflower oil, goose or duck fat and gently move around in the bag to coat before putting in the freezer.
When ready to cook them, add another 50ml of fat to a roasting tray and heat it in a 220c/440f oven, then carefully tip in the frozen potatoes. Roast for 45 minutes to one hour, until golden and crisp.
CRANBERRY WITH A KICK
Shop-bought cranberry sauce can be a bit bleugh! But making your own means yet another job on your list. So why not pimp up a supermarket version with a splash of brandy or Cointreau, some orange zest and a pinch of cinnamon.
A FRIEND IN FILO
One of the most useful things you can have in your fridge over the festive period is a pack of filo pastry. Just brush oil or melted butter between each layer that you use (three layers is enough for most things). Follow the baking instructions on the packet.
Short of canapes? Use the filo to line mini-muffin tins, pop in a blob of cranberry sauce, crumble over some stilton and you have fabulous party snacks in 15 minutes.
Need a dessert? Make fruit strudel by spreading out a couple of sheets and loading them with mincemeat, topped with chopped apple. Roll up, bake, and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
Unexpected vegetarian guest? Do the same as the fruit strudel but instead of mincemeat, add some of that parsnip and carrot mash and top with sprouts and crumbled stilton.
Homemade canapes are so much more delicious than shop-bought ones, and here are a few others you can make in the time it would take to heat some hideous frozen supermarket prawn wontons.
* Cut fresh figs in half lengthways, wrap each half in a thin strip of Parma ham, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in an oven at 180C/350F for ten minutes. Serve warm.
* Toast little pieces of baguette - a great way to use up stale bread - and spread with goat’s cheese. Top with a spoonful of ‘smashed peas’, made by cooking frozen peas for a minute in boiling water, then briefly whizzing with lemon zest and juice, torn mint leaves, plenty of salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
* Cut a tortilla wrap into eight triangles, then toast on a baking sheet in an oven at 200c/400f for a few minutes until browned. Top with a salsa made by mixing diced avocado and mango with quartered cherry tomatoes, coriander leaves, lime juice and a little olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
Chill wine in record time by putting bottles in buckets of cold water with a handful of ice cubes and another handful of salt. Salt reduces the freezing point of water, allowing it to become colder without turning into ice, which, in turn, chills your wine more quickly.
ICING SUGAR MAGIC
There is no shop-bought dessert that won’t look homemade with the addition of a good dusting of icing sugar. Particularly if your guests see you remove it from the fridge on a plate and make a bit of a fuss withthe sieve.
ORANGES WITH A TWIST
Take inspiration from the Middle East and serve this with your Christmas desserts. You will not believe how delicious something so simple can taste.
Remove the skin and pith from enough oranges to serve one per person. Slice thinly and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and pomegranate seeds.
What to do with all those spare mince pies? Don’t worry, both homemade and shop-bought ones freeze really well. Just take them out as you need them, brush the top with milk, and heat them in the oven to reheat. Dust with that good old icing sugar to serve.
Here’s my cheatsheet for preparing the perfect turkey. A fresh one will keep, wrapped, in the fridge for three days. But first, check that it actually fits in your oven. Take it out of the fridge 90 minutes before you want to cook it. And always rest it under foil for 20-30 minutes before carving.
PERK UP CHEAP BUBBLY
Cheap fizz is in all the shops, but it doesn’t always taste fantastic on its own. Try adding a slug of sloe gin in the bottom of the flute or St Germain elderflower liqueur for a festive cocktail. And pomegranate juice in place of orange juice will update your Buck’s Fizz. - Daily Mail