WITH less than a week to go until Christmas, it’s panic stations all round. Last-minute presents still have to be bought, the house needs cleaning and, on top of it all, there’s the Christmas dinner to cook for the extended family.
However, with a little preparation and the advice of two top Edinburgh chefs – Mark Greenaway, who is opening a restaurant in the new year, and Steve Brown, who is head tutor at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine – this last task is one which doesn’t need to be a seasonal stress.
FIVE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Now is the time to plan
the menu for Christmas Day
“Think about all of the dishes that you are doing and write down your ingredient lists, including quantities.
“There are so many choices and so many traditions to follow, or avoid. Do you go for the turkey – even though it’s the only time of the year that you’ll eat it? What about Beef Wellington or ham?”
“Think of it as just a big Sunday dinner. Instead of a chicken, it’s turkey. Everybody is stressed, the kids are up early and there’s a lot of clearing up to be done, but the Christmas dinner is just a normal Sunday roast. The turkey has to go in early, that’s the only difference. If you can get that into your mindset, it will make the day run a lot smoother.”
Where to buy your ingredients:
“Plan where you are going to buy your ingredients and order the items that may need prior notice. Make sure that there are no allergies that you’re unaware of so that you can either alter the menu or un-invite people as necessary.
“If possible, try to shop locally this year. If you can, support your local farmers’ market, butcher or fishmonger. Not only will you get better produce but there are often good opportunities to barter yourself a better deal – if you’re up for it.
“At home, we buy our meat from Findlay’s of Portobello and our vegetables from Earthy, which we find make it extra special. Other brilliant butchers and greengrocers are available, though. Make that extra effort if you can, it really does make a difference.”
“The more local small suppliers you can support at this time of year, the better. I know the parking might be difficult and you might have to carry your bags to your car, but this is the time of year all these little guys rely on your custom.
“You local butcher will let you order the turkey size you want rather than fighting for the last available one in the supermarket. Your butcher is also a great place to get your sausages and bacon and pork mince for the stuffing.
“It’s the same with the veg. All your parsnips and broccoli can be bought extremely cheaply. You can go in and pre-order your vegetables and then pick them up the day before Christmas.”
THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
A time plan of what can be prepared in advance and what needs to be done on the day, will help keep you on track:
“If possible, write a quick time plan of what you can do in advance and what needs to be done on the day. Remember that vegetables, such as green beans, can be blanched in boiling water and refreshed in ice-cold water and drained the day before. This will mean that you just need to toss them through some butter and possibly some flaked almonds.”
Steve Brown’s starter (see recipes) – a chilli and whisky cured salmon – can be prepared up to 48 hours in advance and is much cheaper than buying smoked salmon.
“It takes just as long for six roast potatoes to cook as it does 20. It’s the preparation that takes time. If you have done that two or three days before, it means on Christmas Day you’re just cooking it. Three days before, you can be peeling all your veg. They can be peeled and put in water in the fridge and ready to go. If you have bought the turkey and it’s frozen, that has to be taken out of the freezer at least 36 to 48 hours beforehand and defrosted in the fridge rather than trying to hurry it up and defrost it at room temperature. Take it out of its original packaging and put it in the fridge in a tin with loose foil over it. If you don’t have a big fridge, buy a fresh turkey.
“Things like the Christmas pudding can be made two or three months in advance, and the stuffing can be done in advance and then frozen. Every kitchen in the world will have turkey bones at the moment if you want to make your stock and gravy in advance.”
This is the day to start your cooking:
“You’ll be surprised at how much you can do in advance. Prepare all of your ingredients – you will be able to peel potatoes and keep them in water, as well as the blanching of vegetables mentioned above. From the recipes, both the parsnip purée and the cranberry sauce can be prepared the day before.
“Also, get the drinks chilling, set the table and make sure that you have a clear list for what’s left to do on Christmas Day.”
“Everyone is different, but I would parboil my potatoes the day before so that when you roast them, they come out nice and fluffy. Parboil them, take them out of the water and let them cool naturally. They can then go in the fridge and it’s just a matter of dropping them in the roasting tin the next day.
“It’s the same with parsnips or anything you’re going to roast, you can parboil them the day before. That way your roasting time can be cut down and they will only take from half-an-hour to 45 minutes.
“If you’re doing Brussels sprouts, peel them and put a cross in the bottom so they are ready to boil.
“Brandy butter or brandy cream can also be done the day before, as can the Christmas Yule log cake. Just make a very thin sponge and roll it up with cherries and cream.”
Don’t feel you have to toil all on your own in the kitchen. As Steve says: “Christmas is a time to all get stuck in together and have some fun!”
“Depending on the size of bird you are roasting, it shouldn’t take more than two to three hours to roast, so there’s no immediate rush.
“However, try to get everything into the pans that you will be cooking in, so that they just need heated up when you are ready.
“Save yourself some washing up by using disposable aluminium roasting trays that can be popped into the recycling when you are finished.
“If you have a spare oven, set one to around 60ºC to act as a holding oven for things that are ready to be kept warm.
“Allow the bird/beef/ham sufficient resting time – usually at least 40 minutes depending on the size of the joint.
“Try to relax and enjoy the day. Take your time – nobody wants to be stuffed full of food, so give your guests plenty of time between courses which will allow time to clean up and organise yourself between courses. Just relax, take your time and don’t panic.”
“Allow 15 to 20 minutes per pound or 30 minutes per kilo of turkey plus an extra 20-30 minutes at the end, on a medium heat. I do mine at a lower temperature but I don’t cover it with foil so when you’re basting it, it’s easier to get into the oven. Add a cup of water to the bottom of the tin to stop the juices running off and burning the tin. When it comes to making the gravy you have got a lot more liquid at the bottom of the tin. Baste the turkey every 20 to 30 minutes.
“I would recommend making the stuffing separately – a pound of pork mince can stretch a long way if you add dried cranberries, mushrooms and the herbs you like.
“Put the vegetables in with the turkey about half-an-hour before it’s ready. If you don’t have a big enough tray, do them separately in duck or goose fat or use oil and herbs.
“One of the biggest shortcuts is if you don’t need a whole turkey, just buy a turkey crown. That takes far less time to cook. That way, you will get all your vegetables in the tin and it’s almost like a one-pot winner.
“Starters should be kept simple – we would have soup. We always over-eat at Christmas time and you don’t want to spend time making up prawn cocktail or anything fancy.
“For the main course, have one nominated turkey server at the top of the table and let everyone help themselves to the rest of the food.
“For vegetarians, if you have cooked the assorted vegetables separately in olive oil, garlic and herbs, they can have that and then something like a nut roast.”
Steve Brown’s Christmas recipes
Whisky & chilli cured salmon
500g salmon, skin on, pin-boned and scaled (ask your fishmonger to do this)
100ml whisky (Glenfiddich 12 works well)
150g sea salt
150g caster sugar
1 red chilli
Mix the salt, sugar, chopped red chilli and whisky in a bowl.
Lay out some tin foil (larger than the salmon) and spread half the salt and sugar mixture across the bottom, approximately the same length and breadth as the salmon.
Lay the salmon on top and cover with the remaining salt and sugar.
Wrap tightly in more tin foil and pop into the fridge, on a tray, for 48 hours.
If you are in a rush, you can achieve this in 24 hours by pressing the salmon with something heavy – we find that a tray full of baking beans or cutlery works well.
300g cranberries (either frozen or fresh)
200g caster sugar
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Pop all of the ingredients into a pan and cook over a moderate heat until the cranberries start to burst. Turn the heat up and boil for 3-4 minutes until slightly jammy. This will thicken up upon cooling.
Serve either cold or slightly warm.
Perfect roast carrots
500g Chantenay carrots
A good squeeze of honey
Water to cover
Place the carrots, honey, butter, garlic cloves, thyme, salt and pepper in a heavy-based saucepan and cover with enough water to cover the carrots plus 1cm.
Bring to the boil and boil hard until all of the water has evaporated and all that’s left is the honey and butter. At this stage, the carrots will be perfectly cooked and will glaze in the honey.
These can be either served immediately, kept warm or heated through when ready.
3 large parsnips
Peel, quarter and remove the woody core from the parsnips. Slice as finely as possible and sweat down in a pan with the butter and a nice touch of salt and pepper. When the parsnips have softened substantially, add the milk, bring to the boil and simmer until tender (usually around 6-8 minutes), stirring from time to time.
Strain the parsnips, keeping the milk. Blend the parsnips with a hand blender, pouring the milk back in to obtain a very loose, creamy purée which should be the consistency of baby food, if not a little looser. If you need a little more liquid, simply add water or milk to bring the purée to the desired consistency.
Check the seasoning and either serve immediately or set aside to cool down to be heated through when you need it.
(To serve 6 people)
Mark Greenaway’s Christmas recipes
Honey roast parsnips
6 large parsnips
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of water
Peel and cut parsnips into batons, removing the core, and then blanch them.
In a frying pan, bring the water and honey to the boil.
Tip in the parsnips and cook them down in the honey and water.
As the honey reduces it will create a glaze on the parsnips.
Finish with fresh coriander.
Shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon and garlic
750g Brussels sprouts
3 rashers of bacon or pancetta
1 clove of garlic
Shred the sprouts with a knife, chop the bacon or pancetta and crush the garlic.
Heat a touch of oil and cook all the ingredients for 2-3 minutes.
1 kilo of pork mince
1/2 bunch of fresh herbs of your choice (rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano)
A handful of dried cranberries
6-7 button mushrooms
Slice the mushrooms and chop the herbs.
Bind all the ingredients together into a sausage shape and wrap in tin foil.
Bake in the oven at 180ºC for 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Slice and put in the fridge.
Reheat before serving.
(To serve 6 people)