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Christmas dinner success!

About six weeks ago, I wrote on this blog: “There are times when I like to tell myself that I could’ve been a chef.”

As I sit here writing this post, cowering from the apocalyptic wasteland that is my kitchen after I’ve spent a full day cooking in it, I feel the restaurant industry should be very glad I’ve never bothered to try.

But in my house, the bigger the mess, the better the food – and the carnage I’m trying so hard to avoid is merely proof that yesterday’s Christmas dinner was a huge success.

We were forced to make a few last-minute changes to the Christmas dinner plan, as originally outlined here. Tesco, which had no sage or duck fat and delivered us chipolatas on the 23rd that had just two and a half hours left on their used-by date, was responsible for several. I, who stupidly thought it’d be possible to buy samphire months and months out of season, am responsible for the rest.

The revised menu with pictures is below:

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CHRISTMAS DINNER MENU

Nibbles

Christmas canapes - Smoked Salmon, Ham and Porcini, Brown Shrimp

Cold Canapé of Smoked Salmon, Salmon Roe, Horseradish Butter

Warm Toasted Cold Canapé of Brown Shrimp, Samphire White Cabbage a la Fergus Henderson*

Cold Canapé of Cep a Salpicon of Porcini Mushrooms, Lean Ham, Shallot Butter, Paprika

Louis Chaurey Champagne

*

Roast Turkey with all the Trimmings

Roast Christmas Turkey

I roasted the turkey very simply following the instructions on the Copas website. The only change I made was to stick clementines up it, instead of an apple.

 5kg Copas Bronze Turkey, Duck Goose Fat Roast Potatoes, Honey-Roast Parsnips, Glazed Carrots, Chestnut and Pancetta-tossed Sprouts, [Shop bought] Pigs in Blankets, [Shop bought] Sage and Onion Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Bread Sauce, Gravy

Tesco Finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2010

 *

Christmas Pudding

Delia Smith Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding, pre-whisky flambé

 Home-made Christmas Pudding, Brandy Cream

Tesco Finest Sauternes, 2009

*

Cheeseboard

Christmas Cheese - Brie, Blacksticks, Goat's, Cranberry Stilton, Applewood Smoked Cheddar

Dad’s selection

Blacksticks Blue, Cranberry and Stilton, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Goat’s Cheese, Brie w/ Onion Chutney, Manchester Relish and Quince Jelly

Tesco Finest Vintage Port, 1994

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I was really pleased with the meal from start to finish. All the canapés were good, the Copas turkey was beautiful and my wife’s Christmas pudding was a million miles better than any version I’d had before. Other highlights were the faultless roasties, the bread sauce, and the cranberry sauce, which was a real knockout.

I loved the cheeseboard my dad put together and along with a glass of port – which blew me away actually; I would never have expected such quality from a supermarket bottle – it provided a fitting end to the day.

The only things I’d like to have done differently are the wine and the stuffing. The wine was perfectly serviceable, but aside from the port, wasn’t in the same league as the food. And the stuffing was rubbish; Tesco’s finest my arse! If ever there was a ringing endorsement for making your own, this was it. Next year if I can’t get any sage, I’ll make sure I’ve got a back-up plan.

I hope you all had as enjoyable a Christmas dinner as I did and are looking forward to days of leftovers. I can’t wait to fry up that Christmas pudding in some goose fat!

I’ll leave you with some pictures of the foodie gifts my family gave me this year:

Global Flexible Boning Knife, 16cm

Le Creuset Stoneware Pie Dish, Volcanic, 24cm

Le Creuset Cast Iron Satin Black Interior Omelette Pan, Volcanic, 20cm

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*Thanks to Xanthe Clay (@XantheClay) for suggesting this alternative to the samphire recipe which got me out of trouble at the eleventh hour.

The Christmas dinner plan is set

Christmas tree with decorations

The tree’s up, mince pies are in the oven, Nigella’s about to burn her roast potatoes in that Christmas special again, and a month since I started planning Christmas dinner, I’m more or less set.

The turkey’s been ordered, the wine’s been bought, the last minute Tesco shop is already booked in. And most importantly, I’ve finally decided on the menu (see below).

I’ve not pushed the boat out quite as much as I’d like this year. There’s going to be six of us, we’re on a budget and my refusal to scrimp on the turkey means making cutbacks elsewhere – mostly, with the wine.

So if you’re wondering why I’ve gone Tesco Finest trigger happy, it’s not because I’m too lazy or lack the knowledge to shop elsewhere, it’s because the Double Rewards scheme enabled me to pick up all the below, plus three other bottles, without having to spend a penny. Every little helps!

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CHRISTMAS DINNER MENU

Nibbles

Cold Canapé of Smoked Salmon, Salmon Roe, Horseradish Butter

Warm Toasted Canapé of Brown Shrimp, Samphire

Cold Canapé of Cep Mushrooms, Lean Ham, Shallot Butter, Paprika

*

Roast Turkey with all the Trimmings

5kg Copas Bronze Turkey, Duck Fat Roast Potatoes, Honey-Roast Parsnips, Glazed Carrots, Chestnut and Pancetta-tossed Sprouts, Pigs in Blankets, Sage and Onion Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Bread Sauce, Gravy

Tesco Finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2010

 *

Christmas Pudding

Home-made Christmas Pudding, Brandy Cream

Tesco Finest Sauternes, 2009

*

Cheeseboard

Dad’s selection

Tesco Finest Vintage Port, 1994

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Recipes

I don’t tend to use recipes much on Christmas Day – it’s enough hassle as it is without overcomplicating things by doing stuff you don’t already know how to do. But in the run up I like to look at some for inspiration, and it’s always good to have a point of reference just in case something goes wrong.

These are my points of reference this year:

 

You can read the follow up post to this one below:

Christmas dinner success!

Planning Christmas dinner

Christmas tree

This year will be the fourth time that I’ve been responsible for cooking Christmas dinner.*

My first bash at it in 2007, when I made it for seven people at my parents’ house, was a reasonable success. The turkey, an organic bronze from the Marks & Spencer catalogue, turned out pretty well under the watchful eye of a Good Housekeeping recipe. The gravy my wife threw together using a Delia Smith-assisted stock of neckbone and giblets, remains the best I’ve ever had.

The only thing that didn’t quite hit the mark was the roast potatoes. My mum had peeled and cut them on Christmas Eve after seeing Brian Turner on TV saying that they’ll be fine as long you put them in air-tight bags. The mangy, greeny-black colour they had turned disappeared during the roasting process, but they didn’t taste quite right.

The following year, when it was just the two of us, we decided to kick things up a notch with better quality ingredients, expensive wine and a much more ambitious menu. Roast quail with a pork, truffle and cognac stuffing was brilliant** and a lot of fun to make – even if we did have to visit five different shops to get hold of pork mince on Christmas Eve. The £25 Chilean red, recommended by a nice bloke in Oddbins who I’d tasked with finding something to match such a rich dish, was incredible.

None of the veg hit the mark this time though. The greengrocers had prepared us a box and we foolishly didn’t inspect it until we got home. Everything was a long way past its best and by that stage it was too late to do anything about it.

Copas turkeys in autumn

Copas turkeys have a reputation for being the very best the UK has to offer.

After having 2009 off, it was back to me cooking again last year, this time for five and in my own kitchen. I’d bought what was meant to be the best turkey in the country, the Copas, which Rick Stein had raved about in one of his TV programmes. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the bird looked when I first opened its box. You could tell from its appearance that it had lived a very healthy life and that it was going to knock spots off anything you’d get in the supermarket. Interestingly, it cost about the same as the turkey my mum had ordered from M&S three years before.

I didn’t want to let such beautiful produce down, so I looked long and hard for a recipe equal to the task. I eventually settled on Matthew Fort’s method, which involved slow-cooking the turkey on a very low temperature for more than 10 hours.

Of course, I’d forgotten that my rubbish oven runs on a timer, and regretted every minute of it as I had to wake up at three-hour intervals throughout the night to turn it back on, rotate the turkey and stab it with a temperature probe.

The turkey was divine – better than I could ever imagine it being. Perfectly moist and packed full of flavour, I would’ve loved to have forced it down the throat of anybody who says they don’t like turkey or complains that it’s always too dry.

Unfortunately the rest of the meal was a disaster. Jamie Oliver’s gravy, which looked brilliant on TV, was crap. Thin and weak and not at all worth the hours of hard work that went into making it.***

And then the oven broke. After half a day maintaining 80 degrees C, it refused point blank to get hot again. We just about managed to roast the veg, but the spuds were far from crisp. I spent Christmas dinner wondering when the hell we were going to be able to get a repair man out to fix it. It was January before we got it sorted.

And now here we are in November 2011, and it’s time to start planning for Christmas dinner all over again. There’ll be six of us this year and I’m part way towards deciding what to eat.

Choosing the animal was quite tricky. I didn’t think I could top last year’s turkey without using the same cooking method and I’m not going to do that in case it kills my oven again.

We ummed and ahhed about rib of beef; capon was mooted. Partridge was considered before being dismissed for no particular reason. Goose was discussed and lusted after, before we decided that oven size might be an issue. I contemplated poulet de bresse and figured I probably wouldn’t want to share it.

Eventually, we arrived back at turkey and my thought was: “Why the hell not?”

Evans fishmongers, Didsbury Village

Evans of Didsbury. An excellent fishmongers, and they do some really good game and poultry too.

I’m going to order the Copas this week from Evans of Didsbury. The recipe I’m not 100 per cent set on yet but I’m considering one from Gordon Ramsay that I saw him do on TV a few years back. The idea of removing the legs and stuffing them, and cooking them separately to the rest of the turkey to avoid them drying out, looked quite good.

Canapés will be a big decision and the one I’ll probably enjoy making the most. I find these to be much easier and interesting than starters, but I need to think long and hard about how I can top 2010’s batch. The mini-cheese and caramelised onion tarts, smoked salmon with chive and mustard butter on rye bread, and devils on horseback I made were all pretty awesome.

Christmas pudding is obviously already in the bag. But what should I drink with it? Sauternes as usual or something more interesting?

What about the wine to go with the roast? Pinot noir again or should I be adventurous? I saw a sparkling lambrusco recommended in the paper once; dare I try it? It’s pretty bizarre.

There’s the champagne to choose for Christmas breakfast. Then there’s the port to go with the cheese. Gravy will need some thought, none of which will involve Jamie Oliver.

The list is long, but I look forward to working my way through it.

What are you all doing for Christmas this year? Anybody have any good tips?

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*Well, fifth Christmas dinner if you count the one I made during second year at university. Iceland’s cook-from-frozen turkey surprisingly wasn’t that bad.

**Excellent though it was, I couldn’t quite help but think the quail wasn’t as good as the much simpler duck breast with mustard crushed potatoes and red wine reduction I’d made the night before.

***I know other people who have made Jamie’s gravy too and said exactly the same thing.

 

You can read the follow up post to this one below:

The Christmas dinner plan is set

Christmas pudding

Delia Smith Christmas Pudding

I’m back to a home-made Christmas pudding this year after buying one from the supermarket in 2010. It can be quite an expensive affair if you don’t already have the requisite booze in, and I’ve yet to have one sufficiently superior to what you can buy in the shop to convince me it’s worth the effort.

But it’s a helluva lot of fun putting it together and my wife just couldn’t resist. Let’s see if Delia’s recipe is better than the rest we’ve tried!

The picture above shows the pudding after it’s been steamed for the first time. It’s now going to sit in a dark room for the next 8 weeks until it’s ready for Christmas Day.

By the way, I’m sorry for the sparseness of posts in the last few weeks. Between a stomach bug, a dead laptop and busyness at work, I’ve not had a lot of time for writing, but things should be back to normal from next week.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some tweaking to the About page and I’ve also been working on the Best Restaurants in Manchester list, so that should be up fairly soon. My next Foods To Try Before You Die post on Beef Rossini is in the pipeline as well, so stay tuned!

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