Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
We’re doing this today, several weeks early, to give any self-doubters a chance to read it a few times and decide to have a go.
The original audience for Bloke in the Kitchen (men whose repertoire doesn’t extend much past toast) will be daunted by the idea of doing a Christmas dinner. It’s such a big occasion, such a responsibility.
Well you can stop that right now. It’s easy.
Just answer these five questions:
Can you roast a chicken?
Can you put some potatoes in with the chicken?
Can you boil some vegetables?
Can you chop an onion?
Can you mix a chopped onion with some minced pork and add a few herbs?
Anyone who answers “no” to any of these is just plain lying. All of these things are child’s play. Doing a Christmas dinner isn’t advanced cooking, it’s an exercise in organization.
The only thing that makes it daunting is that everything has to come together at the same time. It is a list of things to do, that’s all.
This being quite a long process, don’t start knocking back the wine like you would when doing a 30-minute curry. A bit of discipline is required here, because we all lose our edge, our precision, when we’ve had a few.
A turkey. Big if there are a few of you, bigger still if there are a lot of you, small if there’s just two of you.
Breadcrumbs. Put some stale bread in the blender and blitz it into crumbs. If it’s fresh and soft, give it a quick toast first.
A butternut squash
Dried herbs (sage for sure, plus oregano and thyme if you like)
If the turkey is frozen, take it out of the freezer the night before. If it’s huge, it may need even longer. Leave it (covered or still wrapped) on the work surface or in the oven if your kitchen is cool. In the fridge if you’re somewhere hot.
Check it in the morning. Is it soft on the outside? Have a feel in the cavity. Still icy in there? If so, put it somewhere relatively warm and keep checking it.
Put the pork mince in a big mixing bowl. Chop an onion and add it to the mince. Then a teaspoon of sage and a little of the other herbs if you’re using them. Add a sprinkle of celery salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix it up with your hands. Crack an egg, beat it in a cup with a fork and pour it in, then a handful of breadcrumbs, and mix again.
The breadcrumbs are for texture. You could use oats instead, or crumbled cornflakes, bran flakes etc. Anything like that which doesn’t have a strong taste and isn’t actually sweet.
Peel them if you like – or just scrub them clean. If peeled, the sharp edges will help them to crisp up when roasting. Put them in around the turkey. If it’s a big turkey and it’s going to be roasting for hours, keep an eye on the potatoes and get them out if they’re about to burn. The same goes for the squash.
THE BUTTERNUT SQUASH
These things are very convenient as well as being tasty. Unlike pumpkins, they have a neck, which is very handy for making chunks. Using a big, strong knife, cut the neck into rounds about one inch thick. If you need to use the fat part at the bottom, scrape the gunge and seeds out as best you can. Cut the peel off. Place the squash in the roasting dish with the turkey and potatoes. If you don’t have room, put it in its own dish.
Run some olive oil over the turkey, potatoes and squash, then sprinkle on some celery salt (or ordinary salt) and black pepper. I tend to splosh some Worcestershire sauce over the turkey too.
COOK THE BLEEDER
Put it into a medium-hot oven, on a middle shelf, and cook it until it’s done – at least two hours, maybe a lot more. Don’t let it burn. Turn it upside down halfway through. That will help it cook evenly and avoid burning the skin. Poke it with a skewer behind a leg and if the juices are clear (not pink with blood) it’s done.
You can look up cooking times if you like, but it’s a hit-and-miss affair really. Just give yourself plenty of time. If it’s ready early, no problem. Cover it in foil and keep it warm. If it’s late, well… how many Christmas lunches have you been to that kicked off on time? There’s no rush. Give them another drink and some nuts and olives.
THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Cut the stumps off and pick off any leaves that come loose, until you’ve got smooth, clean balls (Ladies, please…). Boil some water and chuck the sprouts in for 5-10 minutes. When they should be done, poke one with a sharp knife. It should be on the firm side, not soggy. Try one.
Once they’re cooked, drain them and put them in a serving dish with a little butter.
Q. Is that all the vegetables we’re having?
A. No, the squash has been looking after itself in the oven. Do some peas as well if you like. Stick them in with the sprouts, even. It’s your show.
Last minute job. With the turkey, potatoes and squash out of the pan and waiting to be served, put the pan on the hob (low heat) and splosh in some dry wine to deglaze (get the bits off) it. This is all good, tasty stuff. Pour in some water , add a stock cube and mix it up, stirring with a wooden spoon. To thicken it, put some cornflour in a cup and add a little water. Mix it up with a fork and add more of one or the other until you’ve got enough at the right consistency. Stir it into the juices in the pan and when it’s combined (the longer you leave it, the thicker it gets), pour it into a gravy boat or some sort of jug.
SERVING IT UP
Manhandle the legs (drumsticks) off with the aid of the big knife and award one to yourself and the other to whoever deserves it. Carve the breast as carefully as you can, but don’t worry if it’s more like chunks than slices. Your guests know you’re not Delia Smith and they are just grateful to have some nosh on the table at last.
Similarly, get the stuffing out and carve it as neatly as possible.
Place everything on the dining table and let the merriment continue.