ArchiveDecember 14, 2019

Turkey and all the trimmings…

Once again the Christmas lights are twinkling in the high streets. Somehow it feels as though the festive season comes round earlier and earlier each year. Santa and his elves have elbowed the harvest pumpkins and Halloween ghouls well out of the way until next Autumn.  

Children of all ages are being whipped into a frenzy of excitement by ads for this year’s new big thing and parents are feeling emotionally blackmailed into fulfilling their little dotes unrealistic expectations. Is it any wonder that we are seeing more and more column inches about the growing number of people who ‘hate Christmas’ and just want to bury their heads and groan every time they hear Bing Crosby or Michael Bublé crooning over the airwaves.

It’s not just the unwanted presents and added expense coupled with the extra work and sheer exhaustion. The mere thought makes some people long to go to curl up and snooze until early January. Spending Christmas with their nearest but ‘not so dearest’ can cause acute anxiety in itself. Let’s spare a thought though for the many who have actually lost dearly loved ones. Christmas, when everyone around seems impossibly cheery, seems to accentuate the heartbreak and loneliness and bring memories of happier times flooding back.

Time to remind ourselves of the spirit of Christmas and to remember that it should be a time of caring and sharing, comfort and joy and dare I say ‘simplicity’. So after all that, let’s ‘Have ourselves a Merry, little Christmas’.

As ever, a bit of advance planning will mean that everyone’s more relaxed and able to enjoy the fun….so let’s make a plan. Regular readers will know I’m a great list maker, for me, lists and lots of them are the answer. I think we all now realise, that Christmas is not just a one-day event but closer to two weeks. If you’ve got a big family, don’t feel you have to do everything yourselves – it’s good to begin by allocating some fun roles to as many family and friends as you can cajole or shame into taking on some tasks.

Decide on the menu for the big day, whether it’s turkey and ham or maybe a goose, order the very best you can afford. Beautifully reared organic birds tend to get snapped up early…. Hurry, hurry. . . .

We tend to be total traditionalists – The Christmas dinner menu is sacred, no one seems to want to change a single iota, we must have a gorgeous plump really well hung turkey. I order it ‘New York dressed’ and hang it for 4 or 5 weeks for maximum succulence.

Start with a two week planner, fill in the basics and create a shopping list. It’s easy to overestimate the amount of food we need but a well-stocked larder means one can whip up simple meals in minutes. I know turkey sandwiches are delicious but if there are just 2 or 4 in your family, ask yourself do you really need a turkey or goose, how about a plump pheasant, a crispy duck or a really beautiful organic chicken?

This year I’ve included our new favourite Scrunchy Spiced Winter Vegetable Pie for those who enjoy a lighter meat free meal.

It’s time to get cracking, so let’s plan a couple of batch cooking sessions. We love to make lots and lots of soup, such a brilliant standby to have in the freezer in small containers, perfect to quickly defrost when you need to produce a comforting meal in a hurry.

I also love to have some bags of pre-weighed soda bread mix ready to pop into a bowl. Just turn on the oven then add  a level teaspoon of baking soda and some buttermilk, cut the dough into scones and hey presto, you’ll have a bowl of chunky soup and freshly baked scones in less than 15 minutes. Some cured meats, farmhouse cheese, membrillo, a few tangerines and you have a perfect little feast.

Most of the accompaniments and sauces both sweet and savoury can be made weeks ahead, make more than you need as gifts for your friends, cranberry sauce, brandy butter and lots of chutneys and relishes.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk to taste

Parsley Oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) parsley, chopped


fried diced bacon

tiny croutons

flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley

First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

To Serve.

Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Scrunchy Spiced Vegetable Filo Pie

This root vegetable pie can also be made in individual ‘snails’, but this delicious flaky version comes in a sauté pan. This version is good for a feast as it serves 12–15 people. You can halve the recipe if you’re serving smaller numbers.

Serves 12-15

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) chopped onions

450g (16oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

500g (18oz) chopped carrots

450g (16oz) peeled and chopped celeriac

220g (8oz) peeled and chopped parsnip

4 teaspoons cumin seeds

6 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

2 teaspoon turmeric

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

220g (8oz) sliced and sautéed mushrooms

4 tablespoons flour

salt and freshly ground pepper

600ml (20fl oz) vegetable stock

9 – 10 sheets of filo pastry, 30 x 43cm (12 x 17 inch) (about one packet)

45g (2oz) melted butter, for brushing

egg wash, made by beating 1 organic, free-range egg with 1 tablespoon whole milk

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the vegetables into uniform sized cubes about ¾ inch.  Heat the olive oil in a 26cm (10 inch) ovenproof sauté pan, add the onions, potatoes, carrots, celeriac and parsnips.

Season with salt generously and freshly ground pepper, stir, cover the pot and sweat on a gentle heat for 4 or 5 minutes.  Meanwhile heat the cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds on a pan until they smell aromatic – just a few seconds.  Crush lightly, add to the vegetables stir in the sautéed mushrooms.  Cook for 1 – 2 minutes.  Take off the heat – sprinkle over the flour, turmeric and a pinch of sugar. Stir well.

Return to the pan to heat and add the vegetable stock gradually, stirring all the time. Bring to the boil, cover the pot and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the vegetables are almost tender but not mushy. Remove from the pan, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Allow to cool

Brush the sauté pan with melted butter. Brush each sheet of filo with melted butter, fold over width wise, layer up the pastry in the base of the sauté pan or roasting dish so that it comes up the sides, allow enough pastry to hang over the sides to fold over and encase the filling.

Brush another sheet of filo with melted butter, divide into quarters, scrunch each piece lightly and arrange on top.

Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and bring up the sides of the filo to enclose the filling. Scrunch 3 sheets of filo and place on top of the pie.

Chill in the fridge. Just before baking, brush all over with the egg wash.  Put the sauté pan onto a gas jet at medium, cook for 3-4 minutes or until the pan heats and the base begins to brown.  Transfer to the oven and bake for about ½ an hour until puffed up and golden.

Serve, cut into wedges, while still warm and flaky.

Roast Potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes with Bay Leaves

Do you know about Jerusalem artichokes, they are in season from November to March and look like knobbly potatoes.  Avery important source of inulin which enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in our systems, particularly important after a course of antibiotics.

Jerusalem Artichokes are called sunchokes in the US, they are a member of the sunflower family

Serves 8

450g (1lb) potatoes

450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes                                 

12 unpeeled whole garlic cloves

flaky sea salt and cracked pepper

50g (2oz) duck fat or extra virgin olive oil

1 large sprig of bay leaves – about 20 leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6

Peel the potatoes, I like smaller potatoes best for this, but the large ones can be cut in to two, four or even 6 wedges depending on size. Scrub and cut the unpeeled Jerusalem artichokes in to similar size pieces.

Heat the duck fat or the extra virgin olive oil in a roasting tin.  Dry the potatoes and artichokes  well, toss in the fat or oil, add several sprigs  of bay, about 20 leaves. Season well with flaky sea salt and lots of pepper, and toss again.

Cook for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, increase the heat to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8, add the garlic cloves and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes.  Turn into a hot dish and serve.

I like the edges of the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes to be a little caramelised.

Christmas Salad Wreath

We serve this salad family style in the middle of the table.

A delicious festive starter, light, refreshing and fun to serve.

Serves 6 – 8 or more depending on size

24 fresh walnut halves

175 – 200gr (6-7oz) of mixed small salad leaves

2 – 3 ripe juicy pears

300 – 350g (10-12oz) ripe Crozier blue, crumbled (Use your favourite blue cheese)

Pomegranate seeds from 1/2 -1 fruit

Fresh sprigs of chervil and mint if available


1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon of wholegrain mustard

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Pre heat the oven to 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4.

Taste the walnuts and make sure they are not rancid.

Spread them out on a baking tray and roast in a preheated oven until nice and toasty (8-10 minutes), allow to cool.

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, season with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Just before serving

Arrange the salad leaves in a wreath shape on a large round plate.

Peel and core the pears and cut into wedges.

Arrange around the top of the salad wreath, sprinkle the crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds over the top.

Drizzle with a little dressing of put a little bowl of whisked dressing into the centre and serve immediately.




Two-Bite Parmesan Scones

The soda bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white scones only take 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are irresistible to children and adults alike.

Makes 41

450g (1lb) plain white flour

1 level teaspoon  teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350-400ml (12-14fl oz/1) approx.

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan or 110g (4oz) finely grated cheddar cheese

Cutter 4cm (1 1/2 inch) approximately

First fully preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured board.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a round about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Brush the top with a little buttermilk or egg wash, dip each scone into grated Parmesan.  Allow 2.5cm (1 inch) or so between each one on a baking tray.

Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 10 minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom, when cooked they will sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack.

Chopped fresh herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients to make delicious little herb scones.

A Tear and Share Christmas Tree

Have fun building the teeny weeny scones into a Christmas tree shape.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

It’s also fun to cook three in a line and serve pierced with a rosemary or thyme sprig.

Cauliflower & Broccoli Cheese Gratin

Serves 6-8

1 medium sized cauliflower with green leaves

1 head of broccoli


Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) milk with a dash of cream

a slice of onion

3-4 slices of carrot

6 peppercorns

sprig of thyme or parsley

roux (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground pepper

150g (5oz) grated cheese, e.g. Cheddar or a mixture of Gruyére, Parmesan and Cheddar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard


Chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8.

Prepare and cook the cauliflower and broccoli.

Remove the outer leaves and wash both the cauliflower and the leaves well.  Put not more than 2.5cm (1in) water in a saucepan just large enough to take the cauliflower; add a little salt.  Chop the leaves into small pieces and cut the cauliflower in quarters or eighths; place the cauliflower on top of the green leaves in the saucepan, cover and simmer until cooked, 10-15 minutes approx. Test by piercing the stalk with a knife, there should be just a little resistance.  Similarly cut the broccoli into small pieces place the broccoli in simmering, salted water for 8 – 10 mins approx. or until tender when pierced with a knife.

The secret of maximum flavour is minimum water.

Meanwhile make the Mornay Sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the onion, carrot, peppercorns and herb.  Bring to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in enough roux to thicken to a light coating consistency. Add most of the grated cheese (reserving enough to sprinkle over the dish) and a little mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning, it should good and perky. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower in an ovenproof gratin dish, and sprinkle with the remainder of the grated cheese. The dish may be prepared ahead to this point.

Put into the preheated oven or under the grill to brown. If the cauliflower cheese is allowed to get completely cold, it will take 20-25 minutes to reheat in a moderate oven. 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.  Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing

Serves 10-12

This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.

Brining the turkey makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour, either dry or wet brine. (See below on Wet and Dry Brining).

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets

Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft breadcrumbs (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper


neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey

225g (8oz) butter

large square of muslin (optional)


large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end. 

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2 ¾ – 3 ¼ hours depending on the weight.  A brined turkey takes a shorter time to cook. There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey will brown beautifully. Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with dampened parchment paper.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word. 

To Test:  The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest and grandest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.

Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

A Simple Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. I like it pure and simple but of course you can add some grated orange rind or a splash of brandy if you wish!

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a small heavy-based stainless steel saucepan with the water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.

Note: Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Note:  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Bread and Parsley Sauce

I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!  Serve with roast chicken, turkey and guinea fowl. I’m loving the addition of some freshly chopped parsley at the end.


600ml (1 pint) whole milk

110g (4oz) soft white breadcrumbs

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

35 – 50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75ml (3oz) thick cream

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.

Quatre Epices is a French spice mix made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

How to Brine a Turkey

Wet Brine

Brining hugely enhances the flavour of poultry and pork. Both add flavour. For wet brine, you’ll need a large enough container to fully submerge the turkey in the brine for 24 hours. Some people brine the bird in their stainless steel sink.

Use 100g salt to every 1 litre of water, stir to fully dissolve. Drain and dry well before stuffing and covering with butter soaked muslin.

Dry Brine

Rub pure salt all over the surface of the turkey. Leave overnight, next day pat the bird dry and proceed as above.

Gutsy herbs like thyme and rosemary can be chopped and added to the salt. Not sure why but brining decreases the cooking time so check for doneness at least 30 minutes earlier and allow to rest for a further 30 minutes.


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