The Stress Free Christmas Dinner Plan; The Timetable

You’ve completed your menu, made your list, checked it twice and filled your refrigerator, cupboards and freezer to the max. Life is peachy, all you have to do is wait for the big day and cook away… right?

Perhaps if you are a Christmas dinner veteran, very lucky, or super organised you could get away with it. If however, you are like me, than it is better to quickly jot down a timetable, to make sure everything runs to plan. Afterall, the last thing you need is the stress of your little ones asking over and over if dinner is ready on Christmas day, because you forgot to put the roast potatoes in the oven.

Of course I am not saying you have to get out a clipboard and a stopwatch, my timetable is pretty basic, but it works. I simply decide (or am told) what time dinner is to be served and then work backwards. Then I add an extra half hour to cover any mishaps, and I end up with something that looks like this:

Continue reading “The Stress Free Christmas Dinner Plan; The Timetable”

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Top tips for Christmas: how to cook perfect brussels sprouts

In many parts of the world it is traditional to eat Brussel sprouts on Christmas Day. I am not sure why (probably just because they are at their best this time of the year), but for me it was one tradition that I was sure was some sort of culinary repentance exercise (eat your sprouts and all will be forgiven for telling Santa you’ve been good all year when we all know you’ve had naughty episodes like everyone else).

Then a few years ago I was drafted in to prepare Christmas dinner at our house, so not to break with tradition I put them on the menu, and as a cook of some culinary standards, I make it a practice of mine, never to put anything on somebody’s plate that I wouldn’t eat myself. So I did what I always do, I searched the internet to find the perfect sprout recipe to lessen the pain of eating those dreaded tiny cabbages. In the end I chose a Brussel Sprout Gratin recipe, which pretty much masked that I was eating a sprout in the first place.

Last year however, I made a simple Brussel sprouts and bacon recipe, which was a revelation, because it was with that simple combination that I discovered that it isn’t sprouts that I don’t like, it is bad cooks, who insist on boiling the little green gems to a soggy bitter end.

So to prevent you from being the bearer of bad sprouts I have set off on a journey through cyberspace to find you a video to show how to cook the perfect Christmas Brussel sprouts… And who knows it may even be the video that takes you from the bearer of bad veg to the savior of the humble sprout.

 

 

Tips for a stress free Christmas

There is only two weeks left until the flight of the jolly fat man we all know and love. For those of us responsible for cooking the Christmas Lunch or dinner, that could mean that a sense of panic is setting in as the pressure of making a magical Christmas meal grows.

For myself it will be the third time in four years that I have been coaxed into cooking what is arguably the most important meal of the year, but for the first time, I am actually looking forward to the challenge of creating some Christmas foodie magic. Part of this feeling of excitement is that I am actually much more confident about my cooking and baking skills, but mostly it is because I have picked up a lot of tips over the last few years to take some of the stress out of Christmas dinner.

Tips for Christmas Cooking Bliss

  1. Get a head start. Cook as much as you can in advance to limit the amount you have to do on the big day. Personally I have already cooked and frozen my stuffing, and made my cranberry sauce. Christmas Eve I will prepare my vegetables, and cook my roast potatoes. (More about that below)
  2. Make yourself the head chef, and delegate the other jobs to your helpers. As the head chef you control the kitchen, cherry pick the jobs you like the best and delegate tasks like setting the table, peeling vegetables and fetching you a glass or two of cheer to your helpers.
  3. Make time to play a game or watch some television. All work and no play makes Jack or Jacqui a very grumpy elf, so make sure you leave a space of time to take a break and have some fun, watch some television or play a game with the kids.
  4. Swap Christmas lunch for dinner. If you are nervous about having enough time to cook lunch in time for the Queen’s speech than break tradition, and have your big Christmas feast at dinner time.
  5. Write yourself a timetable. Sit down and get out your recipe books and plan your time-table ahead of time. Don’t forget to plan your break time.

Cook Roast Potatoes in Advance

Almost as important as a delicious bird are the roast potatoes. Nobody likes soggy, greasy roasties, and lets face it, dealing with pans of hot fat after a couple of glasses of Christmas cheer isn’t the most safe option… And if you didn’t know the potatoes will never crisp up outside if you cook them alongside the turkey, the most moisture from the turkey won’t allow it.

So your best bet is to cook the roast potatoes a day in advance, or even more if you space in your freezer. Store them in a cool place and then on Christmas day you just need to re-heat them in the oven while the turkey (or other chosen meat/veggie centre piece) rests.

Of course if you don’t have time on Christmas Eve to be cooking roast potatoes you could always delegate the job (see #2 above).

Wheat-free Chocolate Torte… “you must be nuts!”

I have a friend who cannot eat wheat, so last week when I made my Christmas cake and went on Facebook to boast about it, she came back with the following comment:

Cake you make me a wheat free one please and I’ll have mine basted with brandy and not rum thank you!

Hmm a challenge… I like challenges, so I searched through my library of baking books and travelled through cyberspace and managed to find a couple of recipes for Wheat-free, Dairy-Free Christmas Cake, but for some reason the idea of using rice flour just didn’t feel right.

I didn’t give up though, I kept searching and then I found the recipe for this lovely torte which isn’t exactly a Christmas Cake but I am sure it will be perfect for a self-confessed chocoholic who lives in a wheat free world.

What the heck is a torte?

A torte (pronounced tort-aye) is a rich, usually multilayered, cake that is filled with whipped cream, buttercreams, mousses, jams, or fruits. Ordinarily, a cooled torte is glazed and garnished. A torte may be made with little to no flour, but instead with ground nuts or breadcrumbs, as well as sugar, eggs, and flavorings.

  • Skill level: a bit of effort
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Cooking time: 1 hour
  • Equipment needed: food processor, hand mixer, 8 to 10 inch (25cm) cake tin

Ingredients

  • 150g/5½ oz shelled and peeled almonds (I used almond flakes)
  • 150g/5½ oz shelled walnuts
  • 300g/11 oz best-quality cooking chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 255g/9oz butter
  • 100g/3½ oz caster sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated (see video)
  • pinch of salt

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°c/375°F/gas 5 and then line the bottom of a 20 or 25cm baking tin with a piece of greaseproof paper before buttering the bottom and sides and dusting with flour (gluten-free rice flour will work).
  2. Place the nuts into a food processor and chop until finely ground.
  3. Add the chocolate and cocoa powder to the food processor and whizz for 30 seconds to break up the chocolate.
  4. Put the mixture to one side, then add the butter and sugar to the food processor and beat until fluffy and pale.
  5. Separate your eggs. Keep the whites to one side and then add the yolks to the sugar and butter mixture one at a time.
  6. Mix together the butter/sugar/egg yolk mixture and the chocolate/nut mixture.
  7. In a separate clean bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until the form stiff peaks.
  8. Gently fold the mixtures together.
  9. Bake in the heated oven for around an hour. To test if the torte is cooked insert the tip of a knife in for 5 seconds, it should be fairly clean when removed.