Festive fails, fixed
We’ll let you into a festive secret: it doesn’t matter whether you’re the kind of person who prepares a detailed menu plan months in advance, or the reckless sort hoping to pick up a surprise bargain on 24 December – on the big day, things will still go awry.
Your trusty oven may behave differently when it’s crammed full of food or you might find yourself struggling to cram a monster turkey into the in-laws’ range cooker. Those sprouts you spent an hour lovingly washing and trimming might turn to mush while you’re breaking up an argument about crackers – while also, unbeknownst to you, the cat is quietly polishing off the hunk of Stilton you left chilling on the counter.
Fear not! We have the solution to all your last-minute disasters. Except for perhaps the cat. There, you’re on your own.
MY TURKEY IS OVER/UNDERCOOKED
We’re all so worried about poisoning the family with raw turkey that many of us err on the side of caution by overcooking the poor bird instead. The solution is to buy a meat thermometer. In the meantime, salvage overcooked turkey by letting it rest for up to 1 hour 30 minutes so it can reabsorb as much moisture as possible. Carve (or crumble) the meat from the smoking carcass, then arrange it on a serving dish. Pour a little hot gravy over the top; not so much that the meat is swimming in it, but just enough to soak it through.
If, conversely, your turkey is undercooked when you are ready to serve it, the best thing to do is joint it with a sharp knife, then put the breast and leg pieces on a baking sheet in a 180ºC (gas mark 4) oven until the juices run clear and no pink meat remains, checking it every 15 minutes. It’s not an instant fix, but it will be an awful lot quicker than making your guests wait for the whole bird to cook through.
THE SPROUTS ARE SOGGY
We firmly believe that the reason Brussels sprouts get such bad rap is that they’re usually overcooked. Drain and cut the overcooked sprouts in half, then toss with a little oil and seasoning (grated lemon zest and flaked almonds are good). Spread out on a large baking tray and roast at 200ºC, gas mark 6 for about 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until crisp and caramelised. If you don’t have room in the oven, sauté the halved sprouts and seasoning in a little oil in a pan over a high heat, or turn your tragedy into creamed sprouts. Chop the soggy brassicas, then put them in a pan with a good knob of butter and heat through before mashing to a chunky purée. Add a dash of cream and a grating of nutmeg, then season to taste – you may never make sprouts any other way again.
We firmly believe that the reason Brussels sprouts get such bad rap is that they’re usually overcooked”
THE ROAST POTATOES ARE SOFT
Roast potatoes are, for many, the best bit about Christmas dinner, which of course, only adds to the pressure – and sometimes those spuds simply wilt under the weight of expectation. If yours look a little less than perfect halfway through cooking, you may have overcrowded the pan so they’re steaming in their own water rather than actually roasting. Try dividing them between two trays, if you have room, so they can enjoy a little more space. If you don’t spot the problem until the potatoes come out of the oven, drain off any of the oil you cooked them in, then put the roasting tin under a hot grill for a few minutes, keeping a careful eye on it, until the tops crisp up.
Roast potatoes are, for many, the best bit about Christmas dinner, which of course, only adds to the pressure”
THE GRAVY WON’T BEHAVE!
If your gravy won’t thicken, then the easiest way to help it along is to put a couple of tablespoons of cornflour in a mug and whisk in a small cupful of the gravy juices until you have a smooth paste. Stir this back into the hot gravy and simmer until, like magic, the mixture thickens. If the problem is that it’s thickened, yet remains studded with pesky lumps, then simply pass the gravy through a sieve as you pour it into the jug. Perhaps, though, it’s smooth and thick… but just a wee bit boring. If so, then a spoonful of redcurrant jelly will add sweetness, while a little Marmite or soy sauce will give it some savoury oomph.
THE BREAD SAUCE IS TOO THIN
Bread sauce thickens as it cools, so don’t panic if it’s slightly looser than you’d like in the pan, because this will ensure it’s pourable at the table. If it’s very runny, even after simmering, however, you’ll probably need to add a handful of extra breadcrumbs. If, even after seasoning with salt and pepper, it’s a bit thin in the flavour department, consider stirring in a knob of butter or a spoonful of cream. Top it all off with a little freshly grated nutmeg or cayenne pepper.
MORE FESTIVE TIPS TO SAVE THE DAY
Avoid a storage crisis and have a big fridge and freezer clear out in the run-up to Christmas. Don’t forget, you’ll need space for the festive drinks too.
Read through all the recipes you are going to use the day before and write a time plan. Decide when you want to eat and work backwards from there.
Start your food prep on Christmas Eve – cranberry sauce can be cooked and kept in the fridge, veg can be peeled, chopped and stored in water, and stuffing can be cooked and then reheated on the day.
Recruit some vegetable peelers! This is an easy job for children and adults alike and will take some of the strain off the head chef. Many hands really do make light work…
Don’t forget the serving dishes. Check you have enough in advance, then warm in a low oven before use.