How to cook Christmas dinner

It’s a strange life I lead. Today I am making Christmas dinner.. It’s December 7th. I will do it all again in 18 days. I have been running around like a blue wotsit fly the last two days trying to source the necessary ingredients, with helpful shop workers saying things like, “Cranberries! Oh, not sure we’ve got those in yet… it’s a bit early, why do want them now!?” 

Preparatory shopping aside, I am actually really enjoying it now it’s underway. I am making it now, and will reheat when everyone is home, then it’s off to Artie’s Christingle service. Hopefully it means when the Big Day comes my guests will benefit from this little practice run. The house is filled with THAT SMELL; a mixture of clove studded onion infusing milk, turkey giblets simmering with bay and carrots, and of course a turkey roasting in the oven. So good.

The turkey comes courtesy of Copas. They asked me to make a Chrimbo dinner and take some nice pictures. I jumped at the chance, as every year since we started cooking Christmas dinner ourselves (i.e. since my mum went into Christmas dinner retirement) we have turned to them for our Christmas bird. They have never disappointed.

We support our local butcher and always have done. Our butchers have always chosen to supply Copas in the past so we have always had their birds. This isn’t a coincidence. They are top notch, that’s why excellent butchers supply them. As Copas themselves say, the welfare of their turkeys underpins everything they do. And a happy turkey is a tasty turkey, we all know that.

The thing I love about Copas, aside from the welfare and the taste, is that the bird comes in a lovely presentation box, with giblets packaged separately (totally essential for luxury gravy) with full instructions that are so easy to follow, even if you are a first timer. Not only that, but there is a little ‘pop up’ timer that you insert into the breast and it tells you when the turkey is cooked – so no anxiety that you are going to poison the entire family on Christmas day! Always nice to know that, isn’t it?

They sent me a this, a *stuffed breast with legs and wings. Which, we have never had before, as Adam always goes for a full on, large turkey. However the older I get, the busier I get, the more welcome I become to anything that is going to make my life easier. As much as I love leftovers, I hate a huge carcass knocking around for days after.

*Normally I make 2 stuffings in advance, my own meat-free versions of this one and this one, by Delia, that way any vegetarians coming have something a bit ‘meaty’ to enjoy.

Here’s what I did!

Make ahead (either the day before or make ahead and freeze)

Cranberry Sauce
It is so easy to make cranberry sauce – and the difference is really standout. Homemade is more tart and vibrant; something which I think is required with such a rich meal.

Serves 8 with leftovers:

300g fresh cranberries
1 clementine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
About 10 cloves
Splash of port

Pop your cranberries in a saucepan with all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, squash and pop the berries to make a smooth sauce. Leave to cool and pop in the fridge or freeze until needed. Remove clementines and cloves before serving.

Bread Sauce
I considered making my life easier and not including this sauce for the post. But I literally cannot eat Christmas dinner without it! It’s probably my favourite part of the big meal… Make ahead and freeze or make the day before. 

Serves 4-6

100g breadcrumbs
1 litre of whole milk
1 onion, peeled and studded with about 15 cloves
2 tablespoons of double cream (or creme fraiche)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 bay leaves
Grating of fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Stuff the onion with cloves. Pop it in a pan of milk and bring to the boil. Turn off. Let it sit in the milk to infuse for about 2 hours. Remove onion and bay leaves. Add breadcrumbs, butter, cream and seasoning, including nutmeg, and bring to a gentle boil. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the onion and bay leaf or leave it till ready to serve. Reheat at last minute.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples 
I eat this a lot during winter. It’s great with stews or sausage and mash and freezes well. It also takes minutes to throw together but the slow cooking releases the most gorgeous aroma. 

Serves 4-6:

1 red cabbage, cored and sliced
2 apples, Bramley or dessert apples like Braeburn (if it’s a large Bramley just use 1), peeled, cored and sliced
2 onions, peeled and sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of port (or apple juice)
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Slice everything up and pop in a large casserole pan. Add the liquid and spices, sugar and seasoning. Give a good mix. Braise on 150C, mixing several times during cooking.


On the day itself

Roast Turkey 
The Copas turkey breast was stuffed with sage and onion stuffing, it had no carcass but had legs and wings. This means that you get the best of everything but no huge carcass to deal with afterwards! They do ‘normal’ turkeys too. 


We had a 4.5kg stuffed turkey breast (feeds 4-6 with leftovers)

2 onions, unpeeled but with top and bottom removed, sliced into thick rounds
4.5kg turkey
A little water
Salt and pepper

This is what Copas advises to do:
Preheat oven to 230C. Season with salt and pepper and turn breast side down (thus keeping the breast moist as the juices travel towards during cooking). Cover with foil. Roast for 30 minutes at high heat then turn down to 170C for 1 hour 30 minutes. Remove foil and turn turkey over to brown breast and cook for a last 30 minutes. Rest for at least 45 minutes, covered. (I added water intermittently because otherwise the onions could burn in my roasting pan – and this could ruin the meat juices for the gravy.)

Turkey Giblet Gravy with Port 
The smell of giblets simmering – I know it sounds gross – but it’s THE smell of Christmas to me!! Honestly, it’s so good if you’ve not smelt it before. Do not even think of chucking these out; they transform gravy into Christmas Gravy.

Turkey giblets
Carrot
half an onion
Bay leaves
1.5 litres approx

Meat juices

175ml port
2 tablespoons flour

Simply pop the giblets, carrot and bay leaves in a saucepan with pplenty of cold water in. Bring to boil then simmer for 2 hours. Strain and you have your basic stock. Feel free to top up with potato or any other veg water. When the bird is done, remove to a side plate. Pop the tray directly onto the heat (medium flame) and add 2 tablespoons of flour to the onions and meat juices. Stir to make a soft onion-y paste. Add a large glass of port and let it bubble. Add the meat juices and some of the stock. Let it boil and reduce until you have the desired gravy. Strain before serving. Set aside and reheat before serving.

Goose Fat Roasted Potatoes
Amounts aren’t given here as it’s personal – do a lot if there are a lot of people!

 

Potatoes (a fluffy variety if you like, or a waxy if you prefer – we tend to use Desiree, a red skinned variety)
Goose fat
Salt and pepper

Par boil the potatoes for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to very high, about 200C, (do these last when the turkey is resting). Put a roasting tray in the oven to preheat with 2 tablespoons of goose fat in to get very hot. Drain and let the steam off for a few minutes. Season. Put the lid on and shake the potatoes to chuff the edges. Get the tray of hot oil out the oven and tip the rough edged tatties into the pan. Carefully make sure they are all covered with oil and get them back in ASAP. Roast until brown and crispy. I toss the pigs in blankets in with mine for the last 20 minutes.

Maple and Mustard Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Children tend to like these as they are nice and sweet. The mustard adds a tang rather than heat. 

Serves 4:

3 carrots, peeled and cut into long thick chips
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into long thick chips
2 tablespoons of English mustard
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

The oven should be on high anyway – about 200C for the last half an hour to make the potatoes. Cut the veg up into chips. Cover a roasting pan with foil (the washing up is awful afterwards otherwise because of the maple syrup). Toss veg in oil and salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes. Add the mustard and maple syrup (either pre mix or just chuck on) and toss well. Roast for another 10 minutes and serve.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta
I love sprouts. But I know lots of people don’t. Try this way; maybe the bacon bits will convince them?

Serves 4-6:

300g Brussels Sprouts
200g pancetta
200g vacuum packed cooked chestnuts
Splash olive oil
Salt and pepper

Take the rough bottom off the sprouts and peel off any tough outer leaves. Toss in a packet of pre chopped pancetta and chop, roughly, the cooked chestnuts. Toss those in too. Drizzle with a little oil, season and roast for about 40 minutes on about 200C.

Pigs in Blankets
I buy mine pre wrapped so save a smidge of time. But if you don’t then simply buy good quality chipolatas and wrap with streaky bacon. Set aside till needed then roast for 20 minutes – leave until last, along with roast potatoes – in fact throw them in if there is room to roast alongside.

Disclaimer: this post is sponsored by Copas however all opinions are my own. All links are no follow. 

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