IT’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . unless you happen to be the one making Christmas dinner. Then it’s one of the most stressful times of the year.
A day of angst over whether the turkey will still be raw inside despite having been cooking since Christmas Eve . . .
When potatoes become a culinary challenge so formidable that you actually consider just buying frozen roast potatoes and pretending you made them yourself . . .
When instant gravy powder won’t do and you not only buy but also eat some Brussels sprouts. Maybe.
Of course, if you happen to be among Edinburgh’s top chefs and food experts, Christmas Day is a chance to show off your skills.
So, as the big day looms, here they are to share their key tips for making your Christmas dinner go down a treat.
Neil Forbes is a former Scottish Chef of the Year and is chef/director at Café St Honore in North West Thistle Street Lane.
For Christmas dinner, he suggests taking a leaf from the Boy Scout approach to life – be prepared.
“Do as much as possible beforehand, so there’s no last-minute rush. You can prepare your vegetables on Christmas Eve, peel the root vegetables and the potatoes.
“Blanche them in boiling, salted water, refresh them under a cold running tap then put in a covered container until you need them.”
Root vegetables are then ready to be roasted in the oven, drizzled with honey and a stick of cinnamon in the tray to add lovely flavour. “Buy local organic root vegetables,” recommends Neil. “You can’t beat a good old East Lothian carrot.”
Too many sprouts? “Shred, blanche them in boiling water, drain and put into a pan with bacon lardons, button, chestnuts and some ripped tarragon and thyme, salt and pepper,” says Neil. “Makes a delicious stir fry.
“Best tip is just buy what you need. There’s always a shop open if you need something desperately. It’s better to avoid having too many leftovers or buying just for the sake of it.”
As a graduate of the Great British Bake Off, you’d expect Lea to have plenty of ideas for sweet Christmas treats.
Yet it’s a novel way of cooking the turkey – by wrapping it up in a muslin cloth – that’s her special tip.
“It keeps the meat nice and moist,” she explains. “I start by pouring some port over the turkey and wrap it up in a large piece of muslin that I buy from the fabric shop. It goes into the oven looking like a mummy.
“I baste it as normal and make sure there’s some water in the bottom of the roasting tin. Sometimes I’ll take the muslin off before it has finished cooking, but other times I just leave it on.
“It comes out of the oven with the muslin black. Unwrap it and the turkey inside is lovely and moist.”
Lea also suggests that if you’ve found something you love, don’t feel obliged to trawl the supermarket shelves for something different just for the sake of it.
“I actually really love Paxo Sage and Onion Stuffing,” she laughs. “I’ve tried making my own but nothing seems to quite have that texture and taste that takes me right back in time.”
For leftover turkey sandwiches, Lea recommends adding some tasty trimmings. “I make extra stuffing by putting the mix in a loaf tin and topping with sausage meat. Bake then once it’s cold you can cut it into slices to put on the sandwiches.
She recommends using up extra Christmas pudding and mince pies by crumbling into either shop-bought vanilla ice cream or into rich custard, then freezing – stirring occasionally – for a delicious festive dessert.
Principal of the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School Fiona Burrell says one of the biggest Christmas dinner problems tends to involve overcooked, dried-up turkey.
“Often it has to cook for too long before the legs are cooked. So start it off by placing the bird on its breast with the legs sitting higher up towards the heat. Then after about an hour turn it over,” she says. “I put a big balloon of foil over it – grease the foil first – so it catches the steam. Take it off for the last half hour. Let the bird sit for at least three quarters of an hour after cooking, it’ll be easier to carve.
Fiona recommends making use of the turkey giblets to make your gravy. “Don’t use the liver, but the rest can go in the pot with onion and thyme. Simmer gently for around an hour. Let it cool down and pour off any fat and keep it to make a roux with some flour.
“Add the liquid to the roux, maybe some red or white wine and keep it bubbling away. Top it up with some of the water from your vegetables.”
For leftover turkey, she suggests making a classic fricassee – just add the turkey to a creamy white sauce. Or for something special make a choux pastry, add some cubes of cheese and spread it around the edge of an ovenproof dish, with the turkey sauce mix in the middle.
Love them or loathe them, you can’t really escape them at this time of year. Brussels sprouts are everywhere.
And according to Mark Greenaway, Chef Patron of Restaurant Mark Greenaway in North Castle Street, there is a sure-fire method of getting even the biggest sprout hater tucking in.
“Take uncooked Brussels sprouts, shred them thinly and stir-fry them with some pancetta, garlic and cream,” he says.
“No-one will ever know that they were Brussels sprouts!” Can’t have a turkey dinner without roast potatoes. While you could go down the duck fat route, Mark’s version is more straightforward: “Peel and cut the potatoes into even sizes. Simmer them gently for seven to eight minutes, drain and roughen up the edges slightly.
“When your turkey has half an hour roasting time left, pop the potatoes into the same tray and let them roast in the juices of the turkey.”
Gravy anyone? “Remove the turkey, potatoes and vegetables from the roasting tray and set aside, add a glass or two of your favourite wine and deglaze the tray while scraping the crunchy bits at the bottom.
“Top up the tray with chicken or turkey stock. To thicken, crush through one of your roast potatoes with the back of a fork. The starch from the potato will thicken the gravy for you.”