Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Minute Suggestions

Christmas Eve would normally be my busiest day, but this year I've been considering ways to cut down any intense labouring. Bread sauce for instance. Why crumb the bread? If I remove the crusts and tear the bread into chunks (or not even that), and pour the onion-steeped milk over it, cover and leave in the fridge overnight, all it will need is forking together before heating, seasoning, adding butter and stirring together. Even that can be done a day or two in advance and kept chilled ready to reheat. That's time saved.

And again, serving mashed potatoes with turkey alongside the roast. The easiest way to make lump-free mash is to bake large potatoes in their skins, in the microwave, then cut in half, remove all but a thin layer of potato, and mash up with butter and cream (see an alternative use of sprouts and mash below). The skins can be brushed (or sprayed) with oil on both sides, cut into wedges and frozen to later be crisped up like oven-chips (200C for about 10 - 20 mins) and served with for dips. Almost two for the price of one.

Cook extra sausages, then chill and keep in the fridge to use over the following days, either as an addition to a cold meat platter, or sliced as part of a topping for pizzas or to include in other dishes (a recipe given below). Beloved just loves cold sausage sarnies, the sausages split lengthways with a squirt of HP over the buttered bread.

When cooking the turkey, put roughly chopped vegetables (carrots, onions and celery) in the base of the roasting tin for the bird to sit on. Add about a pint of water, tent the bird loosely with foil and roast for the recommended time, removing the foil for the last half hour to allow the bird to brown.
Using forks, place the bird onto a heated plate, cover tightly with foil and leave to stand for at least 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle in the bird and keep it moist. Spoon most of the fat from the roasting tin, remove the vegetables (cool and keep these in the fridge for the following day) and use the pan juices to make gravy. If the turkey comes with giblets (most whole birds do), then simmer these separately in water for an hour, then add the liquid to the gravy before reducing down.

Brussel sprouts are often sold at farmer's markets still on their stalks, are much the best way to buy them fresh as all you do is stand the cut end of the stalk in water, stand them in a sheltered part of the garden, and they keep fresh - could be several weeks - just take off as many sprouts as you need at the time. Small children are more inclined to eat sprouts if you serve them very small ones and call them Fairy Cabbages. One grandson of mine who really hated them (as normally served) managed to eat a goodly helping after I had first finely shredded raw sprouts and steamed them for a very few minutes. They were pale green and didn't look a bit like sprouts. Even better, lightly steamed and tossed in hot bacon fat, and mixed into mashed potatoes with or without the addition of crisply fried bacon, they taste very good.
As people who keep hens probably already know, the sprout stalk and tops can be hung in the pen as they love to peck on it. I've no doubt the core of the stalk and the leafy tops can also be shredded down to make soup, as I do with my cauliflower trimmings.

Originally this recipe called for raw veg, which were diced and cooked in the stock until tender. My version uses the vegetables cooked under the turkey - as they have even more flavour.
Brussel Sprout Soup for Boxing Day: serves 4
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
onion, celery, and carrot cooked under the turkey
a couple of leftover roast potatoes or use one raw
200g can chopped tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
around 8 oz (250g) raw Brussel sprouts
200g can butter beans, drained
fresh parsley, chopped
2 tblsp grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
1 3/4 pints (1 litre) hot stock, chicken or vegetable
Roughly chop the cooked vegetables. If using raw potato, peel and dice finely. Put the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the vegetables for a few minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then add the chopped and pureed tomatoes and season to taste. Boil for five minutes, then cool slightly and blitz for a very few seconds in a blender or processor, aiming to keep the vegetables fairly chunky, but you can make it as smooth as you like. Return to the pan and reheat. Shred the sprouts finely, and add to the pan with the butter beans and simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until the sprouts are tender. Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with the parsley.
To make it almost a complete meal, some raw or cooked pasta shapes can be added. If raw, add them with the sprouts and beans. If already cooked, add them towards the end of the cooking time, just long enought to heat through.

Easy Sausage Pasta: serves 4
14 oz (400g) pasta, any shape
14 oz (400g) sausages, pre-cooked
small knob of butter
little sunflower oil
5 tblsp creme fraiche
2 tblsp milk
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
chopped parsley
Cook pasta according to packet directions. Drain and return to the pan. Slice the sausages. Melt the butter and oil in the pan and when hot add the sausage and cook through until hot, then tip these, with some or all of the pan juices, into the pasta, Blend together the creme fraiche, milk and mustard and stir this into the sausages and pasta. Heat through then serve garnished with the parsley.

With champagne or other bubbly served around this time of year, remember you don't have to drink the full bottle. Although most of the time we do. If at all possible, managed to save some - especially at party time, and rustle up this (if you prepare the strawberries ahead) almost instant dessert.
Red Berry Sparkle: serves 8
8 oz (225g) frozen raspberries
8 oz (225g) fresh strawberries, hulled
6 tblsp sugar
7 fl.oz (200ml) champagne, chilled
mint sprigs for garnish
Crush the strawberries with the sugar and place in the freezer for a couple of hours. Remove, add the frozen raspberries and crush together, the spoon into cocktail glasses and top up with champagne. Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve immediately.

My final recipe is usually something sweet, and in some ways this is - but served as a starter instead of a dessert. Perhaps a good one to start off the Christmas Lunch - although in our house, we dive straight into the main course with gusto, knowing that with starters less room for the pudding which somehow, on Christmas Day, seems to have more importance. But each to his own.
Fruit Salad with Prawns: serves 4
12 oz (350g) fresh or frozen cooked, peeled prawns
425g (approx) can pineapple chunks
1 orange, peeled and segmented*
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper
quarter pint measure diced celery
5 fl. oz (150ml) plain yogurt
Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Mix together the pineapple and orange segments. Cover and chill.
In a bowl mix together 2 fl.oz (50ml) of the pineapple juice with the mint and a mere pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh (or thawed and drained) prawns and the celery. Blend together 2 tblsp of the remaining pineapple juice with the yogurt, pouring this over the prawn mixture. Toss to blend together. Place in a covered container and chill overnight. Serve in shallow champagne type glasses.
TipL * Instead of using a large segmented orange, a substitute could be a can of mandarin orange segments (drained), but why spoil the boat for a ha'porth of tar? If wishing to include orange segments in a fruit salad of any kind, instead of messing around with the large oranges, use clementine segments which, after peeling, have been left to soak in some orange juice overnight. This makes the membrane virtually invisible. You can do the same with satsumas, but their segments have a thicker membrane so they do need tidying up by removing the strings of pith attached.