Here we go, a blow by blow account of the title fight. Yesterday's meal the undercard, nothing spectacular, but the crowd were impressed enough to return to their seats and the place was due to fill up for the top billing.
Before I begin, I have to let you know that I somehow found the desire, the will, the energy even to prepare for the big meal the day before as the beef was still digesting. Where most men were falling asleep on the sofa (nothing like a good old stereotype - but I saw enough facebook photos to know this still goes on), I was preparing the turkey and gravy.
As you know, I agreed to a friend's recommendation. A Nigella recipe that I was assured never fails...ha, Nigella hadn't banked on ol' Thomas Cook here. Thankfully my friend had, and talked me through it step by step, telling me what was essential and what could be left out. I don't know if you've ever tried to buy cloves on Christmas eve but I can tell you now that it is near impossible. Thankfully at about 4:45 I got my mitts on the last lot in the last place I looked.
And they were a central part of the turkey brine ( I assume this is a brine, it had a lot of salt in it):
So this baby was soaked overnight, turning it before bed to leave it swimming in a heady mix of spices, fruits and veg. But the fun bit was the gravy...giblets (quite possibly my new favourite word, say it out loud and try not to laugh) came with my turkey, so following instructions I popped them in with the required gravy ingredients and left to simmer, before cooling and popping in the garden - my new makeshift fridge.
I have a theory about why Christmas happens in winter. It may upset a few people but hear me out. Essentially, so much food gets prepared that it needed storing in the cold. And in the absence of fridges God, or the Victorians depending on one's Christmas beliefs timed it to perfection. Australia either hadn't been invented at the time (God), or was yet to be properly recognised (the Victorians), and as God (or the Victorians) ruled the world they could do what they wanted. Anyway, the point of my half baked theory is that despite having a sizable fridge for a live alone guy, there is no way I could have delivered Christmas without my back garden holding temperatures at between 0 and 5 degrees for 2 days. As you know, I love my garden already. It has just gone up in my estimations.
I woke up early (yet again), but this time with a hangover. I knew I had a mammouth task ahead. My menu was as follows, with no less than 7 of your recipes on there:
- Spiced roast turkey with homemade gravy
- Sage and onion stuffing
- Cheese, red pepper and onion tart
- Garlic and rosemary roast potatoes
- Yorkshire puddings
- Braised red cabbage with onion and apple
- Potato, celeriac and sprout mash
- Green beans salad with hazlenuts and orange
- Orange and cranberry sauce
- Salad of lettuce leaves, cucumber and red pepper
Before all that, I decided to treat myself to a breakfast of the finest bacon, poached egg and red onion on handmade bread. I'd planned this for Christmas day but in the rush to prep the food I just had porridge. To some it may seem a little indulgent, to others symbolic of the final meal.
On the menu today, double the amount of food. And the real challenge, the vegetarian dish. Now, given your hectic Christmas I know you didn't have time to post up a meal, but thank you for texting the dish to me. I managed to get the ready rolled pastry into the pie dish, chop the onions, peppers and grate the cheese. But, i heard that to bake puff pastry you need to bake it with baking beans, or as a substitute, rice.
So what did I do? Oh yes, just poured the rice right on in and whacked it in the oven. It made nice imprints. I'll come back to this part of the story later, but next, the arrival...
Thankfully the turkey was already in. Christmas day was serene. Boxing day morning peaceful. Then in one hit came my nephew and his entourage (mum, dad, brother and sister in law, other brother, sister and boyfriend). The place exploded with noise, filled with presents and suddenly a major moveable trip hazard appeared in the kitchen, just as I had my lovely new sharp knife in hand.
Stress. Apparently a little bit is good for us. It is, it forces you to raise your game, fight, beat it. Somehow though, when other people notice your stress they tend to either point it out to you ("no, I am not stressing!"), which makes you more stressed, or step in to control the stress, which makes you more stressed. Only you can beat your own stress as long as you recognise it and choose to ask for help. At this particular moment, I had suddenly became called the temperamental cook, fighting off calls to 'let me help' and I was reaching boiling point.
But, in a moment of calm, I managed to clear the kitchen of helpers and delegate tasks to any non kitchen space I could find. My sister's boyfriend showed quiet talent in preparing a green bean salad, my brother given Turkey carving duty.
Back in the kitchen, it was the last half hour where mayhem kicked in, in my mind at least. Pulling out the spuds, getting the boiling and steaming on the go, heating the yorkshire trays, and covering food with foil, tea towels, and of course, washing everything up as I went along. Getting the timings, knowing that the gravy had to be delivered to the table hot, that the oven and hob space was at a premium, the pressure really was building.
And before I knew it, it was time to plate up. I'd love to say it all went to plan. And in terms of putting all the food on the table at the same time, warm, it did (except of course the yorkshires). But I was 2 and a half hours past the advertised eating time... That's a whole meal missed out. Thankfully I had very patient guests and upon seating everyone looked happy that their hunger was about to be sated.
Only to hear dad say ' what about Lucy's meal? ' Ah yes, no sign of his specially bought root roast. I said I was stubborn. Instead, she was presented with my first ever cheese, onion and pepper tart. Thankfully I had the foresight to buy two packs of pastry, guessing I'd ruin the first attempt. The verdict? I'll leave that to Lucy but she did have seconds so it can't have been that bad. And in fact, tonight, I had the last bit for supper. The potential of pastry, of pies and tarts intrigues me. Lets pick that up another day.
But what about the turkey? All I can say is that I must give Nigella her due. She certainly has a fool-proof recipe for a moist bird. It was yummy if I'm allowed to say so, but the real flavour was in the gravy which was just pure dark nectar. I'll never diss turkey again.
I think I've learnt something about Christmas doing your recipes, and taking on this challenge. Year after year, Christmas can be predictable. The same songs in the supermarket. The same drunken office parties with food for the masses. The same flu bug hitting just about the same time as the drunken christmas parties. The same last minute rush. The same programmes on TV. The best bits are the christmas meal and the presents. If you can put the effort, energy and creativity into those two, taking time to prepare and deliver food and gifts that feel fresh and exciting each year, Christmas will rock. And indeed this year did. My reward for Christmas dinner? A drum kit!
I've also well and truly got the cooking bug. I was wondering if we could continue the lessons in the new year? The 'Christmas miracle' in the grocers I mentioned in yesterday's post was being overawed by vegetables. I used to hate them all. Not only do I want to grow them all, I want to understand how to get the very best out of them on a daily basis, according to season, and to embrace the amazing larder that is the South West of England.
Finally, it's been an absolutely exhausting December, and from a very selfish point of view I thrived on this particular challenge. It would have been tempting to sit back and bask in the glory of a successful feast, but with impeccable timing came the moment that showed just who Christmas is for, and one that brought back all the best memories (mainly of lego):
Thank you to my family for their patience and for daring to eat my food, and thank you Ruth for being a superb teacher. I hope others will follow you, write to you with their own challenges and ideas and that I can continue to use your blog as a source of inspiration in the kitchen.
A very knackered Tom