ONLY the plum pudding is supposed to go in the pressure cooker – not you.
But as Christmas Day draws to a close, thousands of women across South Yorkshire will sink down into the sofa feeling stressed out and utterly exhausted – and wondering why, yet again, they made such a meal out of the festive dinner.
Why on earth didn’t they just feel the peace and joy, get merry and enjoy themselves instead of working themselves into even more of a frazzle than the parsnips, which got burnt to a crisp as usual.
“Family cooks put themselves under so much pressure at Christmas,” says a man who knows all about the heat of the kitchen.
Mick Burke is senior chef lecturer at The Sheffield College; he has trained thousands of young catering students in his time and oversees all the cooking at the college’s highly-rated public restaurant, Sparks.
But it’s his childhood that brings back the most memories of festive food stress.
“I grew up in Bolton on Dearne in a family of five and I can still remember my mum being absolutely shattered by Christmas evening,” says Mick. “Christmas dinner was her life; she lived for the day when she would put on a fabulous spread for her family. Everyone had to be fed before she could relax. She didn’t sit down until 5pm.”
Mick explains: “Women who are the cooks of the house still feel it’s the most important meal of the year. They’ve invited their friends and family and they want it all to be perfect. They think their reputation as a cook and hostess is at stake, which then puts them under enormous pressure.”
He believes modern home cooks are under even greater stress than those in the Sixties.
“You’ve only got to switch on TV at this time of year to feel you really ought to be upping the ante in the kitchen,” he says. “Don’t take your cooking further than your capabilities and if you are going to make something different this year, you must practise it first,” he says.
The biggest piece of advice he can give to any home cook is to do what the pros do – and get as much advance preparation done as possible.
“Restaurants call this mise-en-place, a French phrase which sounds posh, but literally means ‘putting everything in its place’ and is used in virtually every restaurant worth its salt,” says Mick, a Master Chef of Great Britain.
“In a professional kitchen, ingredients are measured out, chopped and some are even pre-cooked the day before. Families can do it too.”
Buy a crown rather than a whole bird. They are easier to cook and carve and there is no waste. Rinse it under running water, pat it dry and truss with string to hold it together.
A quick tip to inject extra taste is to pull back the skin from the wishbone end and smear a thin later of butter underneath. Take the wishbone out – put your fingers beneath the bone then slide in the knife and pull the bone away. It will make carving the cooked joint a doddle.
Prepare the vegetables as follows, then put each one into clingfilm-covered bowls and store in the fridge until Christmas Day.
Cut them in half if large or peel the outer layers and leave whole. Put them in a pan of salted, rapidly boiling water. Boil for around three minutes, so they still have some crispness.
Drain them and plunge them into a pan of iced water. Remove immediately, drain again and place in a bowl (save the hot water vegetable stock in the gravy).
This cooking process ensures they stay green and keep their nutritional value.
Fry some onions in butter with diced bacon and chopped chestnuts (buy hem ready-peeled in tins or vacuum packs). Mix into the sprouts.
Chop a cauliflower into sections and place in salted, boiling water with a squeeze of lemon juice (it will keep the cauliflower white).
When cooked, drain. Hold the cauliflower under cold running tap water, then cover it in a tea towel. When it’s dry put it in a dish.
Now make the cheese sauce. Mix 25g of olive oil and 25g of flour into a paste. Boil 500mls of milk with one chicken stock cube. Whisk the paste into the hot liquid, and cook in a pan for a minute until the sauce thickens.
Add grated cheese and a teaspoon of English mustard. Pour the sauce onto cauliflower, add extra grated cheese on top.
Cut five to eight carrots into batons and place in boiling salted water for three minutes. Drain, plunge in cold water, then place in a bowl. Warm a teaspoon of sugar, a knob of butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and some finely grated lemon zest in a pan. Toss the carrots in it for a minute.
Peel and cut Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes. Place in a pan of salted, boiling water. Cook for three minutes.
Drain, place them back in saucepan and shake so they become fluffy at the edges.
Sausages wrapped in bacon:
Buy good quality sausage meat. Break into 20 gram pieces. Roll it with flour into sausage shapes and wrap each piece in pancetta. Place in a bowl covered with clingfilm.
Finely dice and fry an onion. Add to a packet mix of stuffing. Following instructions on the packet, using Brussel sprouts vegetable stock to mix it all. Add chopped chestnuts and walnuts. Cover in clingfilm in the fridge.
Take three Bramley apples per four people, peel and dice. Put in a bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar, some lemon zest and a pinch of cinnamon. Microwave for four minutes until the apple goes soft, then stir. Put in fridge.
It’s far too late to make your own, so buy a good quality one.
Make a quick rum sauce in advance by bringing to the boil 150ml of milk and 150ml of single cream.
Meanwhile whisk 30ml of olive oil and 30g of plain flour to a paste.
Add to the milk, sweeten to taste and boil until it thickens. Add rum to taste and reserve for the big day.
You can’t cook the turkey beforehand. It has to be done on the day as reheating dries it out.
Follow the roasting times that come with the turkey. But invest £15 in a digital temperature probe. Remember to put the probe in boiling water to destroy any bacteria after each temperature test. When the bird is cooked through, leave it to rest for 30-40 minutes before carving.
Make sure you have a proper carving knife which is really sharp. Otherwise you will end up hacking at the meat.
Thicken the meat juices with a tablespoon of plain flour, cook lightly, and the vegetable water add a stock cube and simmer to make gravy.
Put the bacon-wrapped sausage in a tin and put the stuffing on some lightly greased foil. Roast in the oven for around 30 minutes.
Put the potatoes in a roasting tin, cover them in goose fat and salt and cook in an oven for one-and-a-half hours.
Reheat the sprouts, carrot and cauliflower in the microwave. Or put in an earthenware dish in the oven topped with foil. You won’t lose any of the flavour or the crispness.
After the main course, heat the Christmas pudding in the microwave, then warm the sauce. Give yourself a pat on the back – and relax to enjoy the rest of your day.