Have you ever wondered what it would be like to cook a full christmas meal, from scratch? If so, read on.
Christmas has always been a super exciting time for me. As a kid I always got stuck in and helped my mum out, starting out with the smaller (but just as important) tasks such as peeling the carrots, making the gravy, or even baking the chocolate log. When I moved away from home and went to uni, at the end of the first term we decided to have a big christmas meal as a group. While all of us were going home to family over the actual festive period, I think it was a kind of self-imposed rite of passage that we had to cook a full meal for ourselves. After living off Sainsbury’s basics spaghetti hoops and takeaway chicken for nearly 3 months, a good dose of veg was definitely required to take away that slightly dull hue our skin had taken on. So in a vague attempt to prove to both parents and self that I could do it, a few friends and I decided to put together a feast, and I’ve done it every year since.
This works particularly well for students or people that live extremely close to their friends (Monica really had the best of both worlds as a chef) as the benefits of having a network of ovens like there are in student halls are huge, but anyone with a fairly sizeable oven and a lot of tin foil can pull this off in a relatively calm fashion. I say this but to be honest the calm part’s up to you – sadly I can only offer a virtual hand hold throughout this, but trust me. YOU CAN DO IT.
I’ve used turkey here because this is for what I would consider a full on, traditional christmas roast. However every family does it differently, and in particular if you’re cooking for a smaller bunch then chicken works just as well as turkey. It also takes up a lot less space in the oven so may be worth looking at if you’ve only got the one to work with. This kind of goes for everything really – to go back to those ever-so-excellent Friends christmas (or thanksgiving) episodes, everybody likes different things. If you absolutely have to have boiled carrots instead of roasted, or aren’t a fan of parsnips then feel free to substitute in your favourites. This is just a list of things that over the years I’ve tweaked to what I think makes a really epic relatively simple roast. Change the times for when you want to sit down and eat as well – we normally aim for about 2pm but whatever works! I’m not the Christmas police, so really, just use this as a guide and let me know how you get on. Happy cooking!
Roughly serves 4 (turkey gives heaps and heaps of leftovers)
- a turkey/ chicken
- bag of Maris Piper potatoes
- bag of carrots
- bag of parsnips
- bag of frozen peas
- 1 broccoli
- vegetable stock (if you really want to go from scratch I recommend making this recipe beforehand, tastes awesome)
- bag/ stalk of brussels sprouts
- flaked almonds
- stuffing mix (and sausage meat if required – check the back)
- 1 big pack of sausages
- 2 packs of bacon
- ready cooked, probably frozen (sorry mum) Yorkshire puddings
- 3 big onions
- 1 clove of garlic
- gravy granules (fancy gravy recipe here)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- tin foil. maybe a couple of rolls. foil is your friend!!
THINGS TO DO THE DAY BEFORE:
If you’ve gone for a frozen turkey, you need to make sure it’s properly defrosted before you start cooking it. This is a classic mistake (having done it myself) so make sure you think about this before. This really depends on the weight of the bird so check out this answer on Nigella’s website and compare the weight of yours! Just make sure that by the time you start cooking it, it’s positively not icey. Stick your hand in the turkey cavity and feel the roof and base of the bird, if there’s any ice or it feels frozen, funnily enough it’s still frozen! Once it’s defrosted, take out any giblets (will be in the body cavity) and you’re good to go.
Pigs in Blankets
I love making pigs in blankets, they’re super easy and kind of impressive. If you really can’t be bothered, you can buy ready-made but once you’ve made them yourself you won’t go back…
- Get a chopping board, a knife and a sizeable baking tray (you may need two depending on how big you make them).
- Normally you’d aim to divide each sausage up into 3 mini ones but it depends how big the ones you bought are. To do this, take a sausage and pinch roughly a third into it length-wise with your thumb and a finger, until the actual sausage meat is either side of your finger and you’re left with just the casing.
- Twist both sides of the sausage in opposite directions so it looks like a link of sausages (funnily enough). It doesnt matter if it comes out of the casing a bit, the bacon will hold it all together.
- Now you can cut on the twist – scissors are the easiest – and end up with two perfectly formed sausages!
- Repeat until you have a little army of mini sausages.
- Cut the strips of bacon down the middle, and wrap the sausages in bacon so there is an overlap of about 1cm – this isn’t a fine art, it’s just so it sticks really. You don’t want it too thick because believe it or not too much bacon CAN be a bad thing!
- Place them all on your baking tray. Start to Instagram how cute they look. Realise it’s raw meat and will look a lot cuter when cooked. Cover the tray in cling film and put them in the fridge til tomorrow.
Stuffing is another thing I normally make and bake the day before, if you are short on oven space then I really recommend it – you’ll save yourself a ton of stress. It only needs warming up on the day of, and will take more like 10 mins instead of half an hour. Score.
- Get out your pack of stuffing mix. Follow the recipe on the back. Feel accomplished.
Peeling is a bit crap. No one enjoys it (unless you’re one of those people that likes ironing. Stay back, foul beast!) and getting a head start in a leisurely fashion can make all the difference. Some of the veg you can even partially cook the day before. Winner winner, chicken (or turkey) dinner.
- Carrots and parsnips – helps if they are roughly the same size as they cook at the same rate. I go for about the size of a finger. Peel and chop, then drop into a big pan of boiling water. Cook for about 5-7 mins or until you can stick a blunt table knife into them without too much force. Drain in a colander, and whack into a pot ready to be roasted tomorrow.
- Potatoes – Peel and chop the potatoes, again you want them to be roughly the same size so they cook evenly. I wouldn’t cook these now though, as they go a bit mushy. Once chopped put them in a bowl and cover with water to stop them going brown. Put them in the fridge, have a cup of tea. ISN’T THIS FUN.
- Brussel Sprouts – give the sprouts a good clean and then take off any outer leaves that look a bit manky. Cut off any excess stalk and remaining nasty bits, and (carefully – losing a finger at this point would be a travesty) slice a cross through the stalk end that’s left. Put in a bowl and back in the fridge they go. While you’re at it, lightly toast the flaked almonds (3-4 mins each side) on a low heat with a dollop of butter. When done, put in a pot and you guessed it, back into your very-full fridge.
- Broccoli – might as well, as we’re here. Cut the broccoli roughly into chunks the size of both your thumbs put together. Really doesn’t matter as we’ll be cooking it down so it’s nice and mushy with the peas, but you don’t want very much stalk action as it gets a bit chewy. Put back in the fridge. Celebrate finishing all the preparation you can do! I find a sherry or mulled wine does the trick. Be responsible kids, big day ahead!
First things first – it’s really important to not freak out. One of the classic things I do is work myself up and get a bit stressed so basically, try not to be me. It won’t make the food taste better and it won’t cook any faster. Stick the oven on 190C/170C fan, have a nice breakfast and get excited!
One little note on turkey times – I haven’t put a turkey time on here, because every turkey (or chicken, or goose) is different. Assuming that if you bought a frozen one it’s now nice and defrosted, most birds you buy nowadays have a handy little cooking time on the packaging, which tells you how long to cook it for. Ace. If not, for chicken the general rule is 25 mins per 500g plus an extra 25 mins. If a turkey is over 4kg, it’s 20 mins per kg + 90 mins. Under 4kg it’s 20 mins per kg + 70 mins.
Either way, it’ll be the first thing you put in and the last thing you take out. Look at the time the day before, set an alarm, and make sure you take it out of the fridge an hour before so it’s at room temperature. No, really, do this. DO IT. Then cover with a few strips of bacon to keep it nice and moist (you’ll need the whole pack if it’s a turkey, as the lower fat content can make it a bit drier), and then put it in the oven! I don’t tend to use any oil as this kind of happens naturally when you’re cooking a whole animal. To check if it’s done, stick a fork deep in the side of the bird. When you pull it out, squish the side just under where you’ve made the holes with the flat side of a knife. Juices should come out, and they should be completely clear. If they aren’t, whack it back in for another 20 mins and then check again. If you aren’t sure, you can cut a sizeable chunk of the breast off (make sure you go deep). If it’s pink, it probably needs more time. However turkey can be a bit tricky, as some of the meat – especially the leg meat – is a bit more purpley even when cooked, so it’s best to use the juices to check. I generally don’t do anything else to the bird other than cook it as is (bar the bacon). If you’re looking for a bit more detail, check out this recipe by Delia. Because Delia’s a babe. Trust Delia.
12pm Take the veg and the pigs in blankets out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. E.g., leave on the kitchen table for an hour. Just make sure the dog doesn’t get them.
12.40pm Put the potatoes in a pan with enough cold water to barely cover them, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat a bit and cook for 4-5 mins. While this cooks, take a biggish roasting tin or two – enough to hold all the potatoes – and put them in the oven with a generous amount of oil. Roughly chop an onion (leave the skin on) into 6 and 2 cloves of garlic into 3 (per tray).
12.45pm Drain the potatoes in a colander. Don’t over fill the colander though – better to do more than one load if necessary. Take the steamy potatoes (still in the colander) and shake them vigorously until the edges are a bit mushy and messed up. Carefully take out the now hot oil trays and put in the potatoes one layer deep, but be really careful not to burn yourself. Hot oil can be both a blessing and a bitch! Make sure each potato is coated in the hot oil, add the onion, garlic and a strong twist of salt and pepper, and put back in the oven.
1pm Check the potatoes. Turn and re-cover each one with oil. BE CAREFUL. Keep the oven door shut.
1.10pm Put the carrots and parsnips in to roast. Put them all on a tray (or 2 if needed), drizzle with a good plug of oil and then add a tablespoon of honey per tray. Drizzle this as well, make sure it’s kind of even or someone will end up with more than they bargained for.
1.15pm Check the potatoes. Re-cover each one with oil. STILL BE CAREFUL.
1.25pm Boil the kettle – Fill to the top, or fill a big pan and bring to the boil. Put the pigs in blankets in the oven.
1.30pm Put the peas, broccoli and 1 cube/pot of vegetable stock into the boiling water. Turn down to a medium heat, let simmer. Stir occasionally. Take the carrots, parsnips and potatoes out of the oven (one tray at a time. Keep that oven door closed!) and carefully spoon the oil from around the veg back onto it. Basically make sure it’s all covered. Switch the trays around in the oven when you put them back in to give them all a fighting chance at excellence.
1.35pm Stick the kettle on. Right to the top.
1.45pm Put the stuffing in the oven. Check the pigs in blankets – do they look nice and crispy, a bit brown? If so, take them out and cover with tin foil to keep them toasty warm. If not, put them back in and check again in 5-10 mins. Check the potatoes – are they unevenly coloured and crispy but not dry? Awesome! Take them out, put into the serving dish and cover with foil. Put the boiling water from the kettle in a pan with the sprouts, enough to just cover them. Boil.
1.50pm Boil the kettle again and make up the gravy.
1.55pm Put the Yorkshires in the oven. I normally use a cupcake tray but anything works. Take the sprouts off the stove, mix in with the almonds and a dollop of butter and put into a serving dish. Cover with foil.
2pm (approx) Take everything out and serve!
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, make sure everything’s as cooked as it’s going to be. It is? YIPPEE! Double check it’s all out of the oven and serve that bad boy up. Don’t feel awful if things don’t come together for 10-20 mins after you’ve planned, it is a big undertaking and I find these things rarely go exactly to plan – that’s part of the fun! When it is done, call your starving family and friends to the table and get stuck in. Or have turkey for one. That’s cool bud, you do you. Say a prayer to the turkey gods (or the real one/s, whatever works), pull the crackers, and merry christmas!