Our mother is a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas dinner. It has to be turkey. I have been frustrated by this for a number of years because firstly, turkey is not that tasty and secondly, I like to experiment with food.
It seems to me that Christmas dinner should be one of the most extravagant & exciting meals of the year. Turkey does not fulfill either of those criteria. I have wanted to roast a goose for ages & this year I got my chance because of “Nearlymas” – our first Christmas celebration.
Last week my sister & her husband were visiting from Barcelona & so we had an early Christmas as they won’t be here next week. We did the same things we do every year. Champagne for breakfast, opening presents round the tree, cheesy Christmas songs, watching It’s A Wonderful Life and preparing and eating a big meal. We all really got in the spirit of things and even got annoyed when someone called us on ‘Christmas Day’.
As it was not actually Christmas Day mum agreed to goose. Becky & I were really excited as neither of us has cooked or eaten goose before. We looked up different methods on the internet & plumped for a very basic roasting.
Now I have to be honest here, this was not our finest meal. The goose ended up over-cooked (a terrible sin), I forgot to make stuffing, we forgot to serve the cauliflower cheese which had been especially requested, the beans were soggy & we lost the will to cook the sprouts… I blame the gin!
I bought my sisters some Edinburgh Gin, it is tasty, tasty stuff. The raspberry flavour was so good with champagne & the elderflower tasted like cordial. By the time we came to the end of cooking nobody was in a condition to be handling hot pans.
We did manage some great gravy, a sumptuous chestnut puree and a fantastic Shallot Tatin for our veggie.
A few valuable lessons were learned:
1. Don’t overcook it. Duh. This should probably go without saying but it’s so easy to do and such a vital part of the meal that it’s worth repeating.
2. Get a probe thermometer. I never normally recommend buying gadgets & basically own 3 pieces of kitchen equipment, a mortar & pestle, quality knife & a probe. I use it for many things but for roasting meat it is amazing. You can get the temperature perfect (check the safe ones online) without damaging the flesh. Shame I didn’t use it on the goose!
3. Fruity gravy is a fabulous accompaniment to the rich goose – and feels Christmassy too!
4. Use all the bits to add plenty of flavour to your gravy – vegetable off cuts, onion skins, meat carcasses and juices all make for good gravy.
5. HERBS. We are lucky here as my dad has a veg patch and so we have plenty of herbs in the garden all the time. I know most people don’t & they are expensive to buy from the supermarket but it is Christmas. We used fresh bay leaves (although dried are great too), sage, rosemary & thyme in our meal. They add extra flavour to vegetables & your gravy will definitely benefit from them.
For actual Christmas we will be having turkey which I always roast using the Phil Vickery method. If you have never tried it I recommend it. I have cooked over 50 (I am not exaggerating we sold a lot of turkey in the restaurant at Christmas) turkeys in this way and never had a failure. It is easy & the super tasty gravy is sitting in the roasting tin waiting for you to thicken it. I actually enjoy turkey since I started cooking it this way.
A friend asked for some tips to make vegetables more exciting. I think this is a really great point as we often concentrate on the bird & then just stick a bunch of boring boiled veg on the side. Here are some of our faves:
I know cabbage has a pretty bad rep & I never used to eat it until I discovered this recipe with bacon & garlic. I have persuaded quite a few people to start eating cabbage with this one. I even get requests now. You can use any type of cabbage but savoy is especially good.
Basically I fry some bacon strips, lardons, pancetta cubes, whatever salty hammy thing you have, until fairly crisp. Add very finely diced onion and fry for a few minutes in the bacon fat then add some garlic & a sprig of rosemary. When the garlic is cooked through add finely shredded cabbage & loads of pepper. Cook it for a few minutes, adding butter if the pan gets dry. When the cabbage is ready, taste to see if it needs salt, sometimes the salt from the meat is enough. It may also benefit from a knob of butter at this point.
Sautee the cabbage for a few minutes but do not overcook it. This is where we all go wrong with cabbage. Overcooking releases the sulphur & that horrible farty aroma.
I really love parsnips and eat them roasted with honey, cumin & chilli a couple of times a week in the winter. However with a roast I prefer it without spices. For me it is this cooking method which makes the difference.
Peel the parsnips and leave them whole, unless they are huge then slice them in half lengthways.
Boil them until almost cooked through and drain. Leave them in the pan with a tea towel over them for about 5 minutes. This gets rid of the moisture which is the enemy of crispness.
Next coat them in oil, season with salt and pepper and roast them in a high oven until they are golden brown and crispy. Should take 20-30 minutes.
You should get lovely juicy parsnips with a crispy coating. I prefer this to just roasting them as they lose their juices in the oven & become quite dry & hard.
I never used to use onions as a side dish but they work really well. If you don’t have shallots try roasting some larger ones.
I like to make glazed shallots (they are always glazing vegetables on Masterchef & now I have tried it I do it all the time) but you can glaze lots of vegetables, carrots are great.
Peel the shallots and place them in a frying pan on their flat side. Fry them gently in butter and do not move the pan. Season them with a little bit of salt & some pepper. On a medium heat they should take 5-10 minutes to get some lovely brown colouring. Once they have done so add some vegetable stock to the pan, about half way up the onions is fine. At this point I add some herbs, either rosemary, thyme, or bay, or whatever suits your meal. A bit of booze would go well at this point, some wine or sherry or something. Cover the pan loosely. I use a bit of baking parchment – a cartouche. Check the pan a few times to make sure there is liquid. I usually have to top it up with water a couple of times.
Cook them on a low heat until the onions are meltingly soft. Takes 20-30 minutes. The pan juices can be added to your gravy and make a great base for a vegetarian gravy.
You may have noticed a theme in these vegetable recipes – butter. It makes everything taste better. Even melting some over some boiled carrots makes them taste a lot better. Go on, its Christmas. Once again I plead for the inclusion of herbs. Nuts also add richness and texture. We added some toasted walnuts to the cabbage and they were delicious. For more ideas I have added a few links below to some of the vegetable recipes I will be trying this year.
Ok, It’s time for some Christmas food shopping. Love the food, hate the crowds.
We would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.
Hope Santa brings you some exciting gifts and your Christmas dinner is extravagant & exciting.
p.s. if you’d like more veggie tips, here are some vegetable recipes I plan to cook this year:
Shallot Tatin was a big hit with my brother
This celeriac looks crazy rich
I don’t like sprouts but I am going to try this Sauteed sprouts recipe
This chestnut compote also looks tasty. If I get time I am going to serve this too.