How to cook a traditional Christmas dinner

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The perfect Christmas dinner

The planning

Ho ho ho! It’s almost Christmas and if you’re anything like me then that means it’s almost time to stuff yourself stupid with the tastiest food that only appears once Santa has blessed us with his presence. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to invite all of your university mates round to yours on Christmas morning, and it would be nice to share a full on, all the trimmings Christmas dinner with them all. Well, I’m here to help you with that.

Firstly, you simply need to plan a time and date. Take into account people’s coursework deadlines, society socials, end of term parties, and so on. Think about how many people you’ll want to invite too. This guide is set out for a dinner for eight, but it could easily serve 10 or stretch to 12. Mostly, the latter will be decided by how much kitchen space you have.

What to buy?

Get down to Sainsbury’s. You’ll want to walk out with your receipt listing these items. Aunt Bessie need not apply.

Sainsbury’s Inspired To Cook Turkey Breast Joint 500g × 2, £8.98
(Optional: Linda McCartney Vegetarian Roast 454g, £2.99)
Sainsbury’s Cranberry Sauce 205g, 68p
Sainsbury’s Bacon & Sausage Wraps 210g, £2.50
Sainsbury’s Carrots (loose) × 8, 85p
Sainsbury’s Babycorn 175g, £1.50
Birds Eye Garden Peas 480g, £1.22
Sainsbury’s Cauliflower, Single, 76p
Sainsbury’s Broccoli (loose), 88p
Sainsbury’s Maris Piper Potatoes 2.5kg, £1.95
Sainsbury’s Bunch Fresh Rosemary 20g, 79p
Sainsbury’s Parsnips (loose) × 4, 86p
Sainsbury’s Brussels Sprouts (loose) × 8, 60p
Paxo Sage & Onion Stuffing 170g, 85p
Bisto Rich Gravy Granules 170g, 95p
Sainsbury’s Cornflour 500g, 81p
Sainsbury’s Double Chocolate Gateau 350g × 2, £2
Sainsbury’s Double Cream 300ml, 95p

Above is a set menu that’ll set you back £30.14, which, between eight, is a pleasant £3.75 each. The more you invite (remember, up to 12 for this list), the cheaper it gets. Not bad for a full Christmas dinner.

Turkey and other  tastes

Not happy with my receipt? No problem. You may want to indulge in a ‘proper’ turkey, in which case you’ll need to raise at least another £10. You’ll find two types to buy; a crown, which is just the body (no wings, legs etc), or a whole turkey. The latter is the best for showmanship and doesn’t cost much more than a crown. If you want to go all the way, go all the way. A Bernard Matthews Medium Basted Whole Turkey at £18 is best, as that’ll serve eight to ten. Just make sure you have a big enough roasting tray.

You may also like to purchase a starter. Consider buying a cantaloupe melon to split into eighths for your diners, or perhaps some chocolates or cheese and biscuits for people to snack on. Yorkshire puddings are also a possible additional treat for the main course.

Cooking

The day has come. You’ll need to write down everything that you need to cook, working backwards from the time you want to serve at so you know when and what should be cooking. Your kitchen should be clutter free, and your cooking tools should have been well washed in warm water with washing-up liquid as blasting something under the tap does not count as cleaning.

The meat – If you went with a full turkey, make sure it’s thoroughly and completely defrosted. A medium bird should be left out for a full day before cooking. To prep, remove its giblets, wash out any blood, and pat dry with some kitchen towel (yes, it is supposed to stink). Most students aren’t equipped to weigh a turkey, so I don’t recommend stuffing it as that will require a final weight measurement to determine cooking time. It’s unsafe to guess.

Pre-heat your oven to 180C fan/190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. For a bird over 4kg, you’ll need to cook it for 20 minutes per kilogram plus another 90 (for under 4kg it’s the same, only plus 70).

Plonk Mr Turkey upside-down into your roasting tray, liberally slather it with butter, and cover with tin foil. This will ensure the meat is moist. Remove this foil for the last hour of cooking to give it a typical browned colour. When it’s done, pierce the thickest part with a sharp knife, and collect the juices that run out with a spoon. Ensure the juices are clear and not pink; if it’s cooked and clear, let it stand on the side for 15 minutes before serving; if it’s pink then pop it back in the oven.

If you went with the joints I suggested, you won’t need to worry about any of that. Just follow the instructions on the box (likewise for the pigs in blankets).

When eating, be careful not to have too much cranberry sauce with your meat, or else it’ll be overpowered and you won’t be able to taste what you worked so hard to create. A couple of teaspoon’s worth is great.

The vegetables – There are plenty of vegetables on the menu so that people can pick and choose what they like as not everyone will want parsnips, and the Brussels sprouts usually attend traditionally.

To save on pots you can pair up vegetables. The carrots, babycorn, and peas will go together, as will the broccoli and cauliflower, but the potatoes, parsnips, and sprouts need to be done separately. Ensure you salt the water well when you boil your vegetables too.

For pot one, you’ll need to peel and slice your carrots and boil for 20 minutes. Chop the ends off the babycorns and follow the packet instructions for them and the peas for when to add them to the boil.

For pot two, you’ll need to remove all the leaves from the cauliflower, slice off the base, and then chop off little stalks at a time to get the typical florets. Repeat the last step for the broccoli. They will need 20 minutes boiling time as well.

For pot three, peel and chop up your potatoes and par-boil them for 5 to 10 minutes. Heat plenty of oil in a roasting tray. Once par-boiled, drain the potatoes and spread them into the tray, sprinkle leaves of rosemary across the top, and season well with salt. This will give them a tasty pizzazz that your friends won’t be expecting. Roast them at 200C for 40-60 minutes, turning halfway through and checking regularly. The weight of the potatoes will cause the cooking time to annoyingly vary. They’re done when they’re nicely browned and golden.

Once you’ve drained your potatoes, you can peel your parsnips. Chop the top and bottom ends off, and then slice them lengthways through the middle, and then again into quarters. Remove the core by careful slicing. Par-boil them simply by bringing them to the boil for a minute or so (otherwise they’ll fall apart) before draining. Chuck them into a heated roasting tray with plenty of oil as well, and cook at 200C for 20-25 minutes.

Now the parsnips are done, you can use your third pot for the sprouts. Remove their outer leaves, and cut a small cross into the base while checking it’s not discoloured. Boil for 10 minutes.

The rest – You can follow the pack instructions for the stuffing, only it’s a good idea to give it an extra 10-15 minutes cooking time than suggested, otherwise what is at the bottom of your dish will be completely wet and no good to eat.

The same goes for the gravy; but add a heaped teaspoon of cornflour to every four of gravy if you like it a bit thicker. Bisto advises adding more granules if you want to thicken things up, but that tends to give you a lumpy end result.

I recommend leaving mostly everything in what you cooked it in when serving up. That way, everyone can come to the kitchen counters and get what they want without you asking, it saves unnecessary hassle with plates, and keeps the food warm.

The pud – I love a greedy helping of gateau after a Christmas dinner, and the two puddings I advise you to buy will give a party of eight a hearty quarter each. Make sure you get the chocolate wonders out two hours beforehand to defrost at room temperature.

Then, cut up, sprinkle with cream (it’s already quite moist), and just dig in.

It’s not like it is in the picture

If you think this is all well above your head, then you’re wrong. You can do this. The most important thing is to give yourself enough time and be confident. Believe it or not, it’s more uncleanliness than lack of culinary skills that gives people food poisoning, and unless you cook the turkey for hours and hours more than it should be, it won’t be burnt. Should you muck something up, there’ll be plenty of other things on the menu that will be fine.

Relax with this. As long as you’ve planned the time, you’ll be able to don your Santa hat, listen to Basshunter’s Jingle Bass on repeat, and wow everyone with your superb Christmas dinner skills.

Bon appétit, Lancaster!