The Slim Down

Your step-by-step guide to a stress-free Christmas dinner

The key to getting as much pleasure from cooking Christmas dinner as your guests do from eating it is to prepare as much as you possibly can in advance. That way, you'll not only serve up a gourmet delight to be proud of, you'll look like a veritable domestic goddess (or god) in the process — so here's our guide to doing just that …….

Two or three days before Christmas
If you wish to serve home-made cranberry sauce and stuffing make it now (recipes below). The cranberry sauce is extremely simple to make. It can be done several days in advance if preferred and will keep in the fridge for one week. Alternatively, for a longer shelf life store in a sterilised jars. (Any excess jars make great xmas presents!)

If you have a large, frozen turkey you may need to start defrosting it now. Check below for weights and defrosting times.

Thawing times for frozen turkeys
4—5kg: 20 hours at room temperature; 65 hours in fridge
5—6kg: 24 hours at room temperature; 70 hours in fridge
6—7kg: 30 hours at room temperature; 75 hours in the fridge
8—9kg: 40 hours at room temperature; 80 hours in the fridge
9—11kg: 48 hours at room temperature; 96 hours in the fridge

Christmas Eve
If you want to serve home-made bread sauce make it now (recipe below).

Prepare sausages wrapped in bacon (recipe below) and place on an oven-proof tray.

Peel the potatoes and parsnips and store in water in a large pan overnight.

Prepare any other vegetables such as carrots and Brussel sprouts and store in plastic bags in the fridge.

Set up a coffee/tea tray.

Lay the table including condiments and decide on seating plan if required.

If you prefer to make your own gravy rather than using instant granules prepare the stock by placing the turkey neck and giblets in a saucepan with a chopped carrot, onion and celery stick, two bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and 600ml cold water. Bring up to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Strain, and put in the fridge.

Before you go to bed take the turkey out of the fridge. It is important to ensure the turkey is at a cool room temperature before roasting, otherwise cooking times will be affected. Put soft drinks such as sparkling water for tomorrow's lunch in the fridge.

Christmas day
Times are based on serving lunch at 2:00pm using a 6kg (13lb 4oz)
turkey. This size bird is enough to comfortably feed eight for lunch with plenty left over for second helpings or sandwiches. If your turkey is smaller or bigger adjust timings accordingly — see table below.  Remember to also allow 30 minutes for the bird to rest after cooking).

8.45 am
Preheat your oven to 190°C (180°C for fan assisted ovens), 375°F, Gas Mark
Parboil your potatoes and parsnips for 10 minutes in salted water. Drain and give them a shake to rough up the edges so they become extra crispy when roasted. Dust in semolina if you prefer a really crispy finish.

9.00 am
Carefully tip the potatoes and parsnips into a disposable roasting tin with oil (goose fat is particularly good here and you can add crushed garlic for flavour if you like). Put them in the oven for 40 minutes.

9.40am
Remove the potatoes and parsnips from the oven and set aside. These will be finished off in the oven later when the turkey is resting.

10.00 am
Place turkey in the oven.

11.15 am

Start basting the turkey with its juices using a large spoon or baster every 30 minutes or so, increasing the intervals to 15 minutes for the final half hour of cooking. (Tip: Delegate this job to another person if possible so that it is one less thing for you to think about.)

12.30 pm

Take cheeses out of the fridge and place on cheese board with grapes, fresh figs, dates or satsumas. Place biscuits for cheese in a basket or dish and cover with clingfilm. If you're drinking red wine with your meal, open it now (or ask someone to do it for you) to give it time to breathe.

12:45 pm
Remove the foil from the turkey so it has time to brown in the oven. Pour excess juices from the turkey into a jug, leave to cool and pop it in the fridge to allow the fat to form a hard layer on top.

1:30 pm
Remove turkey from oven. N.B. Ovens vary, so always test your turkey to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. Pierce the thickest part — this is usually the leg of a whole turkey - with a skewer or sharp pointed knife. Hold a spoon underneath to catch the juices as they run out. If they are clear the turkey is done. Allow the turkey to stand in a warm place and cover with foil. Put in your wrapped sausages and stuffing to cook.

1:40 pm

Put the potatoes and parsnips back in the oven to finish roasting.

1.45 pm
Put the water for veg on to boil.
Make the gravy by pouring three tablespoons of fatty juices from the turkey roasting tray into a pan and stirring in three tablespoons of flour. Cook, stirring, for about one to two minutes until lightly browned. Stir in the turkey stock you made yesterday along with 150ml of the de-fatted turkey juices from the fridge and a splash of red wine. Bring to the boil, stirring. Add a little gravy browning, season to taste and simmer uncovered, for five minutes.

1:50 pm
Cook the prepared veg to the following timings: finely-sliced carrots and Brussels sprouts - six to eight minutes; broccoli five minutes; frozen peas two to three minutes.
Put plates, serving dishes and gravy jug in the oven to warm through.

2:00 pm
It's time to eat so all hands on deck!
Remove the roast potatoes and parsnips from the oven and put into warmed serving bowls.
Ask one person to carve the turkey straight on to the warmed plates.
Ask someone else to put all the veg into warmed dishes.
Ask another to reheat the bread sauce in the microwave (add a little milk to thin if necessary).
Pour the gravy into warmed jug.
Sit down and enjoy!

2:20 pm
Microwave the Christmas pudding and serve with brandy butter and/or cream.

2.40 pm
Remind family of the age-old Christmas tradition that says the cook is always exempt from the washing up and settle down to the Queen's speech!

Recipes

Bread sauce (serves 8)

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
800ml milk
120g fresh breadcrumbs
6 tbsp double cream or 50g butter
12 peppercorns and salt to taste

What to do:
Put the onion, peppercorns, mace and milk in a pan and bring just to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and infuse for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean pan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the breadcrumbs and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Stir in the cream or butter and season to taste. Set aside to cool then cover and place in fridge until tomorrow.

Cranberry sauce (serves 8)

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

100ml fresh orange juice
100g light muscavado sugar
Zest of 1 orange
250g fresh or frozen cranberries

What to do:

Tip the sugar, orange juice and zest into a pan, then bring to the boil. Stir in the cranberries, simmer for about 5 — 8 minutes until tender but still holding their shape. Allow the sauce to thicken as it cools. Will keep in the fridge for one week.

Sausage meat stuffing (serves 8)

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 2—3 hours in cavity of turkey.

Ingredients:

3 tsp butter, heaped
1 onion, diced
1 eating apples
325 g pork sausage meat
150 g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 sprig thyme, leaves removed
2 pinches grated nutmeg
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 lemon, juiced

What to do:

Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the onions and soften over a low heat without colouring. Stir in the apples and continue cooking until they are just beginning to lose their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Stir in the sausage meat, breadcrumbs, thyme, nutmeg and parsley. Squeeze in the lemon juice and beat well for about a minute to blend everything together. Place in a shallow oven proof dish, cover and store in the fridge until required

Sausages wrapped in bacon (serves 8)

Prep: 5 minutes
Cooking: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

8 rashers of streaky bacon
450g (1lb) chipolatas
Sprigs of thyme and rosemary

What to do:

Wrap a rasher of bacon around each chipolata, popping in a couple of sprigs of thyme and rosemary as you go. Secure with a cocktail stick. Remove the cocktail sticks and serve.

Preparing the turkey
Place the turkey in a disposable roasting tin (less washing up to do!), rub with butter, lay strips of streaky bacon over the top of the bird, season with salt and pepper and cover loosely with a tent of foil to prevent the bird from drying out in the oven.