Before I start, I have to say that this is the first Christmas that we’ve spent at home in ages. For the past 8 years, we’ve spent Christmas and New Years in Malaysia at a beach resort, so the only Christmas “traditions” that we’ve developed have been lying on the beach all day, sipping cocktails, and then eating the supposedly traditional Christmas roasts at the buffet dinner.
This year, however, was different. My dad’s working in Melbourne for Christmas this year, so we’re at home, and it was time for us to establish some family Christmas traditions. In the Christmasses prior to our annual trips to Malaysia, we always used to host the Christmas lunch for extended family at our house. I remember the plastic Christmas tree, the smell of the tinsel, the bought roast chickens, and most importantly, the stress that my mother felt at being obliged to accommodate everyone, and the stress that my dad felt watching her run around like a headless chook for not very much appreciation. I wanted this Christmas to be different. I wanted the food to be fabulous, I wanted it to be a relaxed day and I wanted it to be fun! I knew it could be done, especially with Nigella’s Christmas section from How to Eat to guide me through the culinary part.
And here’s what I did.
Our big Christmas dinner was planned for the evening of the 25th. I know that a Christmas Eve dinner, or Christmas day lunch is more traditional, but my dad and my brother were working at both those times. I also decided to limit the numbers, for the sake of my sanity. So, it was just the four of us, plus my good friend An.
I went out with work friends on Christmas Eve. I never realized that Christmas Eve is a big night for going out. Logically this would be true; the next day is a public holiday, so of course people would go out partying the night before. We had a huge night, and after all the drinking, dancing, and other associated shenanigans, I didn’t get home until 6am. Whoops. I thought I’d be able to sleep in until I had to start cooking, but no… my dad woke me up at 10am for PRESENTS!
I had no idea we were even doing gifts. But from my parents I got a set of Living Kitchen serving platters, a set of mixing bowls, and Jamie Oliver’s new book, Jamie’s Italy. Woohoo!
Mixing bowls – they’re SO cute!
My dad left at 11am for work, and my mum went with him. Dan and I then watched a DVD of Only Fools and Horses, which I’d never seen before. It was awesome! That is SO becoming a Christmas day tradition!
So anyway, after lunch (truffle oil pasta), I started the cooking.
215. Lidgate’s Cranberry and Orange Stuffing
218. Roast Potatoes
219. Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
220. Bread Sauce
221. Cranberry Sauce
222. Brandy Butter
223. Iced Rum Sauce
I started off by setting up the kitchen – bringing out the boards and knives, setting up the food processor and filling the sink with water and detergent. I’m not usually this efficient, but I felt that if I were to make a Christmas dinner all by myself, and without a clipboard, that I would need my kitchen to be clean and well set up.
mise en place
The first recipe I made was the cranberry and orange stuffing, which is very simple. You simmer some cranberries (I used tinned because I couldn’t find any fresh or frozen, anywhere!) with some orange juice and zest, then stir in butter off the heat followed by breadcrumbs.
Daniel: Hey, what’s happening in the kitchen? It smells like cat!
Thanks Daniel. Well, with both stuffings made (I’d made the chestnut stuffing ages ago and frozen it), I had a bit of free time, so Dan took me out for pancakes. Ok, the “buying pancakes for Sarah” thing definitely needs to become a Christmas tradition!
After we came home, I made the sauces for the puddings, and got to break in my new mixing bowls!
The iced rum sauce “is a sort of rum-sodden and syrupy egg-nog with cream that’s kept in the freezer until about an hour before eating. You put it on the searing hot pudding and it melts on impact”, apparently. To make it, you mix some golden syrup, egg yolks and rum (I used Bundaberg Rum, go Aussie!), and then fold it into whipped double cream. I'll admit here that at this point in time, alcohol was the last thing I wanted to be around, and that the smell was totally turning me off. But, I persevered through this, through the brandy butter, and through the gravy, and by the time dinner came around I was fine.
egg in egg
You put it in the freezer and can forget about it until dinner. After this, I made the brandy butter (although prefer the term “hard sauce”), which is just butter beaten with icing sugar, ground almonds and brandy. I stored this one in the fridge.
It was 3:30 now, so time to deal with the turkey. Nigella says to stuff the neck end with the chestnut stuffing, and the other end with the cranberry one. I bought my turkey, a 5 kilo beauty, about a month ago, from Prahran Market at the same time as the goose, and froze it. I suppose the more conventional thing to do would have been to order one in advance, and pick up a fresh one closer to the day, but that seemed like way too much work. It's always a mission to go down to Prahran Market. And I was already there, so why not? I remember the butcher saying to me that he'd been freshly slaughtered that morning, and would keep in the fridge for a whole week, or in the freezer for month. He looked gorgeous and plump (the turkey that is, not the butcher), and I was extremely excited. I named my turkey Gordon.
I transferred Gordon from the freezer to the fridge 2 days before Christmas, and took him out shortly after waking up so that he could get to room temperature.
Defrosted turkey – look at our new roasting tray! We finally got around to buying a proper roasting tray that can go from oven to hob!
I then, as per Nigella’s advice, stuffed Gordon, then rubbed his breasts with goosefat, flipped him over and placed him in the oven.
Stuffed turkey, ready to be flipped over
Goosefat, which I rendered from last week's roast goose.
As a 5.5kg bird (including stuffing), it would take 2.5 hours in total, 200C for the first 30 minutes and 180C for the rest of the time.
There was a bit of cranberry stuffing left over (I halved quantities), and quite a lot of chestnut stuffing left over so I put them in buttered dishes, ready to bake.
I then infused the milk with a clove-studded onion and some bay leaves for the bread sauce, and made the giblet stock for the gravy. I only realized at this point that you’re supposed to let the stock simmer for 2 hours, whoops. It was too late to do anything about it, so I just let it boil until I was ready to make the gravy. The giblet stock is water, turkey neck, heart and gizzard, an onion, some peppercorns, carrot and celery, boiled. Then I boiled the potatoes for the roast potatoes, shook them in the pan and sprinkled them with semolina.
You have to flip the bird over for the last half hour, to bronze the breast. This was a two-woman job. I held the pan still, and mum did the heavy-duty lifting.
An arrived at about 7pm, when Gordon was ready to come out of the oven.
We covered him in foil, I turned up the heat in the oven, and I put the potatoes in for their hour of cooking. (In goosefat).
An: Are they going to take an hour to cook?
An: looking hopeful... You know, when we cook potatoes at home, they only take like 20 minutes.
Mum: Yeah, did you parboil the potatoes?
Mum: Then they’ll probably take less than an hour to cook.
Me: LOOK, people. Nigella SAYS an hour, they’re taking an hour!
Besides, the time when the potatoes are in the oven is the perfect amount of time to organize everything else.
I added the breadcrumbs to the infused milk for the bread sauce, and did the gravy.
I put the roasting dish, sans-turkey, straight onto the hob, whisked in some 00 flour, and let it thicken up, with An on stirring duty, before adding the giblet stock and marsala, and letting it boil some more.
Then I cooked up the Brussels sprouts (they were frozen, sorry. You just can’t get Brussels sprouts here in Summer), drained them and tossed them through some chestnuts which I’d turned in butter in the meantime.
And I had to fry livers for the gravy, chop them up, and add them to the dish (with An still stirring, phew!) After cooking them for a couple of minutes, I whizzed them up in the blender, and it was ready.
And then I fried some chipolatas in a frying pan. I wasn’t intending to serve them, but I had them in the freezer, (bought last month in a fit of efficiency), and I know An loves his sausages.
Me: Oh my God, all these Christmas recipes are so bloody fiddly. This is so much work! There’s always something else to be thinking about.
And finally, the oven dinged, we took the potatoes out, and Mum started carving. While she was carving, I put our pudding in the steamer, and transferred the rum sauce from freezer to fridge.
A Fortnum and Mason's pudding, baby! It was $44.95 at David Jones. EEEEEK.
Sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, baked stuffing, gravy in blue jug
Brussels sprouts and chestnuts - new Living Kitchen serving plate!
From left to right, bread sauce, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, chipolatas
Daniel: Sarah, these potatoes look superb.
And they were, indeed, superb. Here's a quote from the same roast potato recipe from Feast (Nigella's latest book), which perfectly describes this moment.
Boastfulness and vainglory are not attractive nor would I want to encourage them in you (or myself), but when you've cooked these and see them in all their golden glory on the table, I think you're allowed a quiet moment of silent pride.
An’s second helping. You want some meat with that gravy?
Everything was so perfect! And by that I mean that all the recipes turned out really well, with no duds (except maybe the cranberry stuffing). Go Nigella! As you can see, I'm not really the type to be faffing about with fancy table settings or centrepieces. For me, good food should be the focus of the meal.
The turkey wasn't too dry at all, and it went perfectly with the cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy. I'd never had bread sauce before, and it is absolutely awesome! Bread sauce, where have you been all my life!? The Brussels sprouts and chestnuts had a great contrast of flavour and colour, and were fine even though I'd made them from frozen. Chipolatas were a welcome addition. The cranberry stuffing that was cooked inside the turkey tasted nice, but I wouldn't bother trying the stuff I baked separately because it looks really dry. But the chestnut stuffing! The chestnut stuffing! It's so soft and mealy and fantastic. You can probably see that I was very careful about limiting portions of the non-turkey elements of the meal, which I think worked very well, because we weren't too stuffed afterwards.
I had a go at flambéeing the pudding, using vodka because Nigella says it burns for longer. Nigella says that Fanny (whoever that is,) boasts of keeping her pudding alight for 11 minutes at her spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall, but mine only went for about 30 seconds. And I was too chicken to carry it still alight over to the table, so I just waited until the fire subsided. By the way, my brother actually took a video of the flames. If anyone wants to see that, let me know and I'll hook you up.
sauces - brandy butter on the left, iced rum sauce on the right
The iced rum sauce didn't quite "melt on impact", but perhaps that's because the pudding wasn't searing hot. We preferred the iced rum sauce to the brandy butter, but both were good. That Fortnum and Mason's pudding was totally amazing; even An, who's not into Christmas pudding, liked it.
pudding and sauces
After this, we had coffee and tea, and kinda spread out on the couch whilst my parents very kindly did the washing up. I collapsed in bed at about 1:30. What a fabulous day!
Merry Christmas everybody!