One weekend, though, I can specifically remember calling my mother dearest from uni to ask her how to cook a roast dinner. I was a grown-up now, and I needed to know. She talked me through the basics and I began peeling the potatoes. Whether her guidelines were lost in translation or it was the fact that I was used to cooking with an Aga back home (rah!), the results were shameful, to say the least. Undercooked meat and overcooked veg meant that lashings of mask-the-taste redcurrant jelly were the only option. One housemate even asked for mayo; that’s when I knew it was really bad.
But, as they say, practice makes perfect and, all these years later, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve taken on the ‘Christmas 2014 Challenge’. Trial and error has (hopefully) equipped me with the knowledge I need to offer my family a plate of food that, at the very least, won’t give them food poisoning.
The advantage of cooking Christmas dinner for my nearest and dearest is that I know them better than anyone; for example, I know that my dad hates to eat off a cold plate, that my mum is a ‘leg woman’ as opposed to breast, and that my other half has an obsession with bread sauce. This year, I’m going to use all the top tips I’ve learnt over the years, all of which I’ve tweaked ever so slightly, to hopefully produce a meal that will please them all. Will it be worthy of the ultimate honour (an Instagram pic from my younger brother)? I’ll keep you posted.
“So what are these ‘top tips’?”, I hear you ask. Well, let’s start with the component that notoriously has the ‘Marmite effect’ on people: brussel sprouts. No, they’re not “mini cabbages”, and my four-year-old won’t fall for the “oh, look how cute they are!” cooing. Last year, however, I converted a fair few with a Jamie Oliver recipe. Worcestershire sauce, fresh sage, streaky bacon and plenty of butter were all involved. This year, though, I’m going to have to think up a no-meat version to satisfy my recently-turned veggie of a brother. Any ideas? I’m thinking something with chestnuts; or should I risk doing them straight-up, old-school style?
Then comes the bread sauce. I’ve made the almighty error before of only making enough for a thimble-sized portion per person, so I now know to fill the equivalent of a salad bowl with the stuff (my other half could eat it as if it were porridge, after all). I like James Martin’s recipe which includes plenty of nutmeg, along with a clove-studded onion, milk and fresh breadcrumbs.
Although Christmas is about giving and thinking of others, if I’m cooking it then I’m going to do it my way. I don’t how else to say this: My name is Toni Waterfall and I’m addicted to parsnips. I’ve been known to baton them and use them in replacement of chips, and curried parsnip soup is my go-to winter warmer (it combines my two favourite things; what’s not to love?!). So this Christmas, honey-roasted parsnips are likely to take up over a third of the plate. All caramelised and crispy… delicious.
While parsnips are my personal star of the show, the real highlight should be the meat, shouldn’t it? I’ve never been able to get that with turkey. But I heard that goose was the “chefs’ choice for Christmas dinner” so have decided to “go goose” myself this year. I’m using a trusty Delia recipe with prunes and Armagnac. While the steps look fairly complex, a lot of it can be prepped in advance (I don’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen, even though I’ll have Bublé to keep me company).
Now that my brother is veggie, I’m going to attempt my first ever nut roast. Who better to turn to than Queen of the Kitchen, Mary Berry? I’m currently eyeing-up her ‘aubergine five-nut roast’ as I know he’s a fan of the purple veg. Plus, the rest of us can use it as a stuffing, of sorts.
While I could spend forever detailing everything from cranberry sauce to table decorations, I’m going to end with tatties. A few years ago I discovered Gordon Ramsay’s roast potatoes recipe and have never looked back. He uses turmeric (ok, it’s a bit of a cheat as it makes them look REALLY golden) and chilli flakes. It’s all about leaving them to steam for five minutes before roasting and draining them on kitchen paper when they’re done (so they’re not too greasy). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to roast them in goose fat (the guilt would eat me up), but I’m hoping they’ll be as crispy as ever.
So, that’s Christmas Chez Moi. What’s cooking in your house on the 25th? If mine doesn’t turn out as planned, I may be joining you. Just make sure you have plenty of parsnips.
Toni Waterfall – Cookery, Food & Drink A mum with a food-loving family and a part-time pescatarian lifestyle, I’m always searching for delicious and practical ideas to try in the kitchen. My all-time favourite chef is Gordon Ramsay, but I’ve never made a bad meal using a Jamie Oliver recipe. Spaghetti bolognaise is the go-to meal in my household, but I also enjoy cooking curries from scratch – especially seafood ones. I always say that balance and seasoning are crucial elements of getting a dish right. I’m constantly thinking ahead to the next meal and am an impulsive, daily supermarket shopper, as opposed to a weekly bulk buyer.