I love Christmas, but with a busy work schedule and a mountain of jobs to get done before the big day, who doesn’t need a little helping hand to make things that little bit easier? Cooking Christmas dinner for more people than you are used to can be stressful.
A few years ago I attended a cookery demonstration day by Sally Welch, who runs classes from her beautiful home in the Surrey Hills, UK. What I learnt on that day changed the way I prepared Christmas dinner forever.
Sally believes in preparing and freezing as much as you possibly can before the day, often a month in advance. My new rule in the kitchen on Christmas Day is that there will be no peeling, boiling or chopping. I know, it sounds strange doesn’t it, but I promise it can be done!
Here is my version of what Sally taught me, changed slightly to suit my style. I hope it helps you have a stress-free Christmas Day too.
These are the things I will prepare and freeze ahead:
Pigs in blankets
Easy freeze-ahead light dessert – lemon curd and meringue parfait.
The Roast Potatoes!
Start with the roast potatoes. Peel them all and cut them to the size that you like, although don’t make them too small otherwise you’ll be seasoning them forever and there is a danger of them falling to pieces when roasting. Parboil them for 6-7 minutes then drain them. Rough the potatoes up by tossing them in the pan.
Quickly wash and dry the pan you cooked them in and then add to the pan two tablespoons of plain flour, two tablespoons of dried semolina and a pinch of salt and pepper. Using some tongs, add a few of the potatoes at a time to the pan and coat with the seasoning mix. Have a baking tray ready, one that fits in your freezer!
Place the coated potatoes on the baking tray a millimetre apart. Fill the tray and leave to cool. Once cooled, place the baking tray in the freezer overnight. The next day take them out of the freezer and transfer the potatoes to a carrier bag. They wont stick together now as you’ve frozen them separately.
Place the bag of potatoes back in the freezer till the big day. On Christmas Dinner day, once you’re ready to roast them, make sure you’ve heated up your fat. I use goose fat. When its piping hot, place all the potatoes into the hot pan and roast for the usual time from frozen. Serve when crispy and golden!
Next it’s the parsnips. Prepare in exactly the same way as the potatoes, but parboil for 4 minutes. Once drained, don’t rough the parsnips up like you did the potatoes. Quickly wash and dry the pan you used to boil them in and add finely grated Parmesan to the pan. Coat each parsnip with the Parmesan and place on another baking tray, again with each vegetable a millimetre apart and allow to cool.
Freeze overnight and then transfer to a bag the next day. On Christmas Day these too will be cooked from frozen for about 45 minutes at 220C. I don’t preheat my fat for parsnips, but drizzle fat over the top of them as I don’t like the parsnips swimming in fat.
Pigs in Blankets
For the pigs in blankets, buy some good mini sausages and smoked streaky bacon. I cut each rasher in half, so that one rasher covers two sausages. Roll the bacon around each sausage and place on the baking tray they are going to be cooked in on Christmas Day. Fill the tray then cover in a freezer bag and freeze. Take the pigs in blankets out of the freezer the night before Christmas to thaw. Cook as usual on the day.
Stuffing Balls & Cauliflower Cheese
Now, this is all about an easy Christmas Dinner, this isn’t a cookery lesson, so for the stuffing balls I buy a high quality ready made stuffing, usually with apple, sausage meat, bread and seasoning. Simply roll into balls, place on a baking tray and cover with a bag and freeze. Take out of the freezer the night before the big day. Roast in the usual way on the day.
Now for my favourite part: the cauliflower cheese. It’s not traditional to make this dish, but it is in our house and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.
Start by removing all the leaves and cutting the cauliflower into good sized florets. Parboil the florets for five minutes, then drain thoroughly. Once cooled, place the florets on kitchen towel and remove all excess moisture. Arrange the florets in a shallow roasting dish, the one you will cook and serve the cauliflower cheese in on the day. Now for the sauce. You need to make an extra thick and tasty cheese sauce. I use the all-in-one method because its the easiest.
3oz/75grams mature cheddar cheese, grated.
1oz/25 grams Parmesan cheese, finely grated.
1 pint/570ml milk.
1.5oz/40grams plain flour.
Pinch of cayenne pepper and mustard powder.
salt and pepper to taste.
In a saucepan place the milk, butter, flour, cayenne pepper and mustard powder and heat gently. Using a ballon whisk, begin to whisk while bringing to a gentle simmer. Whisk until you have a smooth, glossy sauce and then simmer for ten minutes. Add the cheese and whisk again until it is melted and fully incorporated. Taste!
If you want more cheese, which I usually do, then add a little more. Finally add the salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and then sprinkle with more grated cheese. Cool, then freeze with a bag or tin foil over the top. Take the cauliflower cheese out of the freezer the night before Christmas and defrost. Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes until golden at 180C.
This is so easy! Just add 100g of light muscovado sugar to a pan with 100ml of orange juice. Stir in a 250g pack of cranberries then simmer until tender, but still holding their shape – about 8-10 minutes for fresh cranberries. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It will keep in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze it and thaw the night before Christmas.
1 large onion
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
570ml/1 pint full-fat milk
110g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Press all the cloves into the peeled onion and place in a saucepan. Add the bay leaf and peppercorns and milk. Bring to the boil then remove the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes. Pass the liquid through a sieve into another saucepan and stir in the breadcrumbs, placing over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until the breadcrumbs have absorbed all the liquid and the sauce is at the desired consistency. Stir occasionally. Stir in the butter and seasoning then cool and transfer to the dish it will be served in on the day. Freeze, then thaw the night before Christmas and reheat in the microwave on the day.
Easy freeze ahead lemon meringue parfait
6 meringue nests
600ml double cream
Whole jar of good lemon curd
1 tablsp caster sugar
3-4 tablespoons gin or vodka
Line a loaf tin with cling film, enough to cover the bottom, sides and wrap over the top. Roughly break up the meringue nests into a bowl. Whisk the double cream and sugar in a bowl till it resembles thick Greek yoghurt. Add the gin or vodka and the crumbled meringues and fold in with a spatula. Then add the jar of lemon curd over the top and gently fold in so if forms streaks in the mixture. No more than 12 folds.
Turn the mixture into the lined tin and fold the cling film over the top and freeze. On the day of serving take it out of the freezer 20 minutes before serving. Invert it onto a plate and remove the cling film. Serve in sliced wedges with a more lemon curd or a good shop bought mango coulis with blueberries.
Even more top tips….
On Christmas Day I cook my turkey so that it is ready two hours before serving. I take it out of the oven and cover with foil, then a towel, then more foil and leave for up to two hours before carving. This will keep it nice and warm and it also allows the bird to rest and for all the juices to be absorbed.
This also allows your oven to be free to cook all the food you have prepared in advance. I will also serve carrots and peas, which will be steamed, then the carrots are covered with a honey and clementine glaze from Marks and Spencer. The carrots are peeled and chopped the night before and kept in water, along with the Brussels sprouts, which I have also peeled and halved the night before. On Christmas Day, the Brussels are fried with bacon lardons and sesame seed oil.
No one wants to be stressed in the kitchen on Christmas Day. Please, make it easy this year, have a glass of something delicious like everyone else and chill out. Follow these steps and you’ll never look back when it comes to Christmas Dinner!
Merry Christmas everyone. Jp xx
Sally Welch’s cookery demonstrations: www.sallyscookerydemos.co.uk
Other Christmas posts by J.P: