Not everyone loves cooking - and cooking for Christmas can be a nightmare of undercooked turkey, soggy sprouts and bullet-hard roast potatoes. Those who struggle are not alone, with many families opting to buy the whole lot ready-made from the supermarket, or handing the entire event over to a nearby restaurant.
Others, however, insist on a home-cooked Christmas dinner, no matter how miserable it is for the recipients. Once you know the classic pitfalls, however, you can avoid them - or if it's too late, fix them. Read on for a much better Christmas meal than last year's.....
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1 Not defrosting the turkey properly
Cooking equipment specialists Alliance Online, warn, "One of the most important things to remember is not to take meat out of the freezer and cook it straight away." Most of us know this, but you'd be amazed....
If you do, the inside will stay raw while the outside cooks - and turkey is poultry which needs to be at least 70° inside to make it safely edible.
You can defrost it in the fridge - start a full two days before you plan to cook - and check the inner cavity isn't still frozen before you put it in the oven. If you don't have time, buy a turkey crown, or joints, and it will defrost more quickly. Never, ever rush the defrosting process or you'll be spending Boxing Day in the bathroom. When cooking, you can also use a kitchen thermometer to check the temperature of the middle of the meat before serving.
If you burn it, it's pretty much game over - though you may be able to salvage some pieces of meat from inside and underneatha.
2 Using the wrong oil
Olive oil is all well and good for your weekday health needs - but for great roast potatoes, you need something with a much higher burning point. Sunflower, vegetable, or rapeseed oil are perfect for roast potatoes, or if you're not entertaining vegetarians, go for it with duck or goose fat.
According to Alliance, "pure oil olive has a stronger, more distinctive flavour. It's ideal for sautéing and roasting as long as the temperature isn’t above about 190°C, but not where very high heat is needed."
If your oil doesn't get hot enough, you'll get soggy potatoes. That's science.
3 Cramming the oven too full
If you're wondering why nothing is cooking on time, it may well be because you're blocking the oven heat from circulating with a towering pile of roasting tins, oven dishes and tinfoil. It also means you're not paying attention to what temperature suits which dish, and hoping they'll all somehow come out ready at the same time. Here's some sad news: They won't.
Instead, cook what vegetables you can in advance, then reheat gently in the microwave, while keeping sauces and gravies on the stove top will also free up oven space. If you have a veggie main, cook in advance, reheat and keep warm in foil while you cook the meats.
If you have a fan oven, remember it's 10-20° more efficient than 'normal' oven temperature - so turn it down.
4 The sprouts and carrots and soggy
As Victoria Wood said, "my mother always put the sprouts on in November"- but those days are (we hope) gone. Cooking perfect veg is an art, so don't just bung the pan at the back and leave it to boil your carefully prepared veg into disintegrating matter.
Frozen sprouts take no time at all - stir-fry them on high heat after boiling or steaming, to give them some texture. Fresh sprouts need par-boiling with lots of salt, then you can finish by frying with pancetta cubes, or even roast with the potatoes, for a crunchy outside.
Carrots are also vastly improved by not being boiled to death. Roasting takes around 40 minutes - toss in honey and thyme and throw in the oven with the parsnips for a much more sophisticated veg experience.
5 The food is under-seasoned
An unseasoned Christmas dinner is like an undecorated tree. Serving up a turkey and trimmings seasoned with nothing but air will mean all the flavours of the dishes will blend into bland.
Make sure to season each individual dish before cooking - vegetables need salt in the water, while a good turkey should be stuffed with either stuffing or an onion and roasting herbs, coated in butter, and scattered well with salt and pepper to render the skin crisp, along with sage, thyme and bay leaves.
You'll want nutmeg for the bread sauce, orange zest or juice for the cranberry, and plenty of pepper for the gravy.
6 Yorkshires are flabby
Obviously, for some, Yorkshire puddings are an absolute travesty on Christmas day and should go nowhere near a traditional dinner. Others. however, love them more than anything else on the plate (and in some cases, the planet).
But they are notoriously tricky - the sensitive meringues of the roast dinner world.
The secret of a crisp pud is heat. More heat. Hotter than that. Add vegetable oil to half-fill each bun mould in a tin of 12, heat till it smokes, then top up with batter. Wait ten minutes or so until they've suddenly puffed into glorious, crisp clouds - then slide out the oven tray, don't lift it out or you'll splash hot oil everywhere. Make these last thing - if they sit about, they'll go flabby and cold.
7 Gravy is too thin - or lumpy
If your gravy is too thin, you can either simmer it down on the stove top till the volume reduces - or more speedily, mix a tsp of cornflour with a tsp of cold water, and whisk in, over a medium heat.
If it's too oily, drop in an ice cube - the fat will cling to it, then you can scoop it out. If you have time, transfer to a jug and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours. The fat will rise to the top and you can spoon it off.
If it's lumpy, strain it, then whisk cornflour back in to thicken. And if it tastes awful? Chuck it away and start again.
8 Pudding is dry
If your Christmas pud is dry, you have either left it uncovered somehow and let air in, or over-boiled it. It can usually be rescued with a good pour of brandy custard - but failing that, if it's really lacking in moisture, cut it into slices and fry it in butter. No, really. Serve with brandy cream and possibly a defibrillator.
If that's a step too far, you can also use it in a glorious Boxing Day trifle instead of sponge, with a good slug of sherry to dampen it, then add custard, fruit and cream.
This also applies to Christmas cake - so fear not. Nothing needs to go to waste!
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