Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas week hints and tips: It's just a roast



I don't have any photos of me red-faced and sweating over the stove, (although I do have these over a fire, but how many people are about to attempt their Christmas roast on an altar fire?) but if I did that would be an attractive and appropriate shot, for here. Because that's how so many people feel this Christmas week, all of a sudden flinging the need for 'perfection' around the kitchen and the interwebs as we prepare to be descended on, en masse by our nearest and dearest. You know, those that love us most, those who ate the pies we made up in foil containers when we were insisting aged 6 they play 'Restaurant' with us (true story folks, you heard it here first).

Now, I may have mentioned once or twice on here, facebook and twitter that this year is a bit odd for me, for a number of reasons:

  1. For the first time I'm cooking, for someone else's family. I mean, with any luck they'll be mine too one day. But right now? They're his. And his mum? Can cook. We're talking WI here. Damn.
  2. I have my right arm in plaster. Chopping? Nope, Dicing? Nope, Kneading? Nope, Doing that thing where you put butter under the turkey skin? Not a chance.
  3. No one needs me to bake. This is all cooking. Proper cooking. Savoury stuff.
  4. Mark has a small house. From the kitchen everyone can hear me scream.
  5. As I type this I have a streaming cold and no sense of smell
  6. Mark has the smallest kitchen in the history of the world, and no accessible window for an emergency exit.
When I first typed these out, I considered pouring a very large sherry, leaving the country or eating my own bodyweight in Christmas cake (I still have 2 in the kitchen). So I called my Mother... here is the rough transcript of our conversation:
  • Me: Ican'tdoitJoancancookthey'llallhearmeandthere'snomusictosingalongto. WHY DID I OFFER?
  • Mother: Oh stop fussing, it's just a roast, you've been cooking those since you were at Brownies.
  • Me: Did you not hear me? These are my possible future inlaws. MY WHOLE WORLD MAY BE ABOUT TO COLLAPSE (when stressed I go in for capitals and overstatement)
  • Mother: Yes, now if you put the kettle on we'll do a list.
  • Me: A what? I've done the shopping, the menu's planned... what are we going to put on a list?
  • Mother: taps nose... (well I imagine she did) wait and see.
So here you have Mother Morris' list of wondrousness:

Penelope's Pantry Christmas cooking/ menu plan

Make ahead and freeze:

Stuffing*
Gravy *

Prep ahead:
  • Get the stuffing out Christmas Eve 
  • Potatoes, parsnips, carrots (Delegate these to Mark on Christmas Eve)
  • Bread overnight in breadmaker
  • Sausages in bacon (get bacon out of freezer Friday night, roll up around sausages on Saturday)
  • Turkey can be prepped with a herb butter, clementine, carrot and onion in cavity on Christmas Eve, then wrapped in foil and put in fridge/ somewhere cold
  • Put Christmas Pudding in slow cooker on Christmas Eve, add 1 pint of water in main dish, turn on timer switch so it goes on at 6am Christmas Day (I will still be in bed at 6am let me assure you)
  • Ask Mark's mum to make brandy butter
  • Put wine in fridge (a Guide mum gave me a bottle of Prosecco as a thank you last week, I shall be adding a splash of sloe gin to mine)

I thought about what Mum had said and realised, that I have been helping with the roast since Brownies, and certainly making most of it since I was about 9. And Christmas dinner is just that. A roast. Albeit a big one, with lots of trimming, it's still. Just. A. Roast. Most of my friends will attest to the fact that I can knock up a roast anywhere, for 4 to 24 people, over a fire, in the rain, while drinking, in the world's tiniest kitchen. I'm not saying Christmas dinner is going to be a walkover, but you know what - I can take some of the pressure off myself and make it much easier by remembering that fact alone.

When you take all of those extra bits that I've seen people try and do on Christmas morning, with no help, whilst trying to remain tidy, it does just become a roast dinner, that most people could make stood on their heads.

Other tips:
  • Don't stuff your turkey, cook the stuffing separately, in balls, in a loaf tin/ pyrex dish (butter it first to make it easy to wash up). How you want. Nowhere does it say in the bible that Turkey must be stuffed
  • Use your freezer, I have made the gravy and the stuffing already (It's a week before Christmas as I'm typing this) I did them both when I had time and popped them in the freezer where they'll stay till I need them
  • Christmas pudding was made in half term, it's currently maturing with Mark's parents, they'll bring it. Mr Crock Pot will cook it/ keep it warm until we want it.
  • I have a dripping cup I use to make my roasties - each time I finish a roast, I tip the leftover fat from the roasting tin into an old mug. This lives in my fridge and each time I roast I empty it and refill it. It makes amazing roasties. I never shell out for goose fat. (Although I do love my Mum's roasties that she uses foose fat for). This is more of a cost thing as I was astounded that the supermarket were selling goose fat at £5.99 for a tin the other day. Gobsmacked
  • Remember that it's December - it's cold outside, put bottles of wine, Schloer, orange juice etc in a box outside if you've got the space and it's safe. We've put ours on the back step for YEARS. Randomly we also have one cupboard that is much cooler than anywhere else in the kitchen, we use this at Christmas as an extension of the fridge/ a traditional pantry. If you have a secure garden, use a crate with a squirrel proof lid as a fridge extension too (unless you're in Australia/ New Zealand, Then you need a box covered witha big bit of muslin/ net curtain with one end sat in a bowl of cold water. Voila! Camp fridge.)
  • Christmas dinner is a big meal. You really don't *need* a starter.
  • Boyfriends (non cooking OHs) were designed to peel vegetables. When I'm training new managers we look at why people don't delegate - it's all about control. The sureness that no one can do it as well as you. Quite frankly if the end result is there when I need it to be, I don't care how people get there - those are their choices to worry about.It's one meal in the year, if it all goes haywire you'll have something to talk about come Easter.
  • Sherry is a girl's best friend. I need it for the gravy (hic)
  • Have a bowl of hot soapy water in the sink all the time. Even if you have a dishwasher. It just makes life easier.
  • Don't pick now as the day to try every new recipe you've seen on telly this month - if you want to reinvent yourself as Jamie Oliver then do as much as you can ahead, and if not, subject someone you love to a practice Christmas dinner in advance. Those episodes of Come Dine with Me where it's a disaster because they're doing something FOR THE FIRST TIME on their episode. Don't let that be you
  • That said, feel free to experiment a bit. Don't buy clementines to put one in the turkey when no one likes them. Retrieve the lemon from your gin and use that. Don't race out on Christmas eve thinking you'll get cramberries, buy them now. And make Nigella's cornbread stuffing, or Christmas morning muffins with them

Please don't think I'm saying I know it all/ have it all/ can do it all. I just think that taking a step back and delegating/ organising/ making a list won't hurt, and may make life a bit easier. I know someone who one Christmas smashed pretty much all of her Mum's crystal because she had told her to be careful, and worried over her the whole time she was washing up. Yet forgot to mention that crystal hates hot hot washing up water. Another Christmas the oven door jammed, had to be released with a screwdriver and a hammer. Another Christmas the stuffing was found 4 days later in the top oven. My first 'Christmas dinner' I cooked with my friend Nicki at uni, I was convinced we had poisoned people as the dark meat was well, dark... these were not disasters. The only disaster was the first Christmas after my Dad died when I waited for him to ring and tell me it was a mistake. Culinary cock-ups do not count as disasters, they are all things we laugh about.

Enjoy your day. Enjoy your time with your family. Raise a glass to those loved ones who aren't with you for whatever reason.

Remember: It's just a roast. Use this as your mantra whilst necking sherry if necessary.

1 comment:

AmsterdaMummy said...

You're right, it's just a Roast with a paper hat... very funny, I laughed out loud at work... I only started cooking about a year ago and am ok if I follow a recipe. For our christmas it's just us, no other family will joining, so it will be stress free enjoyable, we're not having turkey either.Good luck and don't forget your paper hat...

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