5 December 2016

How to Cook your Turkey the Day Before ~ Perfectly!

I have just read on the Huffington Post that, according to a study by the Food Network ...

cooking Christmas Dinner is so difficult that it takes 47 years (!) to learn how to do it successfully and that a third of women (it doesn’t mention men) never manage to do it properly!

Well something that will help a lot is – cook as much of it as possible in advance!  This post concerns the turkey and the gravy.  My next post or two will concern other dishes to prepare in advance. 

As a chef, I have cooked and served numerous Christmas (and, as it happens, Thanksgiving) dinners and I always roasted the turkeys the day before.  Also, domestically, time and time again on Boxing Day when eating pretty much the same meal as the day before, people have remarked how it seems so much nicer the second day.


Now I always roast my turkey in advance, not only is it delicious it also means I can get up late and spend a lot of time sitting around opening presents, nibbling things and sipping festive beverages.

I’ll talk you through it.

~  The Turkey  ~

1.   If using a frozen turkey defrost in accordance with the instructions on the wrapper. Completely!!
2.  Cook your turkey on Christmas Eve and start in the morning so that it has plenty of time after cooking to cool before chilling overnight.
3.   Take the fresh or defrosted turkey out of the fridge about an hour before cooking to bring to room temperature.
4.   If the turkey has instructions on the wrapper follow them!
5.   If your turkey has not provided cooking times and instructions see here. 
6.   If there is a bag of giblets inside the turkey remove it. You can either throw it away or simmer the contents in water to make a light stock to add to the gravy. (When I was in the West Indies I seasoned and roasted all the turkey necks and the girls in the kitchen would fight over them – a local delicacy!)
7.   Don’t bother washing it; it is a messy job and cold contaminate your kitchen. Any bacteria will be killed by cooking.
8.   Don’t stuff it!  If you stuff the turkey that will add to the weight and the cooking time; two inconveniences, you don’t need. The stuffing will also cool more slowly than the meat and could be a health hazard. If you cook the stuffing separately it will have a lovely crispy top.
9.   Preheat the oven in accordance with the instructions on the turkey or on the aforementioned website. 
10.   I recommend that you un-truss your turkey, i.e. remove any string or whatever holding the legs together and make it assume the position with legs spread wide.  This way it will not only cook faster and more evenly but it will also result in more crispy skin.  See below for info on crisp skin.

11.   Dry the breasts and rub with a little oil, you can use butter – it is tasty but the skin will be softer and more prone to burning. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and maybe other seasonings if you like; herbs, spices etc. 
12.   Season inside the cavity and if you wish put in half a lemon, wedges of onion or  fresh herbs.
13.   Cover loosely with foil and cook in accordance with instructions.
14.   Take the foil off about 45 before the estimated end of cooking to allow the breast to brown.

Is it Done Yet?

I don’t think the pop-up timers that some turkeys come with are reliable so instead …

~   If you have a meat thermometer the bird is cooked when it reached 70oC/160oF and incidentally here’s an interesting point, the temperature will actually rise for a short while after taking it out the oven.

~   If you don’t have a thermometer then pierce the thigh meat with a sharp knife and see if the juices run clear.  If there is any blood in them, return the turkey to the oven for another 15 minutes then test again. Another indication of doneness is the drumstick should waggle freely at the joint if you move it.

Cooling & Storing

~   When the turkey is cooked cover loosely with foil and set aside to cool.

~   After at least an hour cut the legs and breasts from the turkey – if you cut it too soon delicious juices will be lost, after an hour or so they will have been re-absorbed by the meat.

~   Wrap the cold pieces in cling film and arrange in a container that will easily fit in the fridge.

How to Reheat

~  Get the meat out of the fridge half an hour or so before reheating.

~   The legs and maybe the wings – arrange on a baking try, skin side up, and roast in a hot oven 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6 for 15-20 minutes to heat through fully and crisp up the skin.

~   The breast meat – there are two ways I would recommend for reheating this meat …

1.   This is the method I use at home when cooking for just a few people.

About 20 minutes before serving bring the gravy (see below for gravy information) just to a boil, turn down the heat and add the sliced breast meat and submerge it in the gravy. Over low heat, watching carefully, return to a simmer. DO NOT allow to boil or the meat will toughen. Cover and set aside.  This way the meat will warm through without the slightest chance of being anything but tender and juicy. Serve the meat from the hot gravy and then, if necessary, reheat the gravy.

2.   Lay the sliced meat in a shallow roasting pan or similar and drizzle with a little turkey broth (that you have made in the roasting pan - see here).  Cover tightly with foil and pop into a hot oven 220ºC/425ºF/200ºC fan/gas 7 for 10-12 minutes.

As luck would have it 220ºC/425ºF/200ºC fan/gas 7 is the same temperature you will be cooking the roast potatoes.

~   Crispy skin – obviously, the skin on the breasts will have softened overnight so strip it from the meat, cut into as many pieces as you have guests, spread on a baking tray and then a few minutes before serving pop them in a hot oven the crisp up.  Don’t, of course, get any gravy on them when serving or they will immediately go soggy again.

~  How to Make Gravy with a Bonus!  ~

According to the above quoted article in the Huffington Post ...

“10% of people admit to messing up the gravy”

I also read somewhere that 25% of British people would like to see more interesting flavours of gravy and, at the same time, gravy with more authentic ingredients. 


I would suggest making your own gravy and, if you cook your turkey on Christmas Eve you can calmly make the gravy the following morning rather than rush it at the last minute.  Believe me, making gravy is easy, I promise.  See here for details.


There is an added bonus to making gravy the day after cooking the turkey; instead of carefully pouring the liquid fat from the top of the meat juices, If you have chilled the meat juices left from the day before the fat will have risen and solidified and be so much easier to deal with. 


To Further Help with Christmas

A couple of years ago I wrote this handy book. Catering for Christmas can be time consuming, tiring and a bit stressy, so I thought I'd offer some suggestions to make it quicker, easier, more relaxed and perhaps more impressive. 

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20 November 2016

A Genius Idea for Food Scraps

~ Collections ~

I have written before of the sheer handiness of having collections of this and that but it is worth repeating and going into more detail.  Keeping your scraps saves money, avoids food waste, allows for spontaneity and can make you happy with the delicious food you make! 

The idea is simple – group together similar scraps and leftovers in the fridge or freezer, as appropriate, and add to them till you have enough to make something delicious.  For instance …


I always keep bits of unwanted bread in the freezer, they can be used in so many ways. Here are some of them …

~  bread pudding
~  French toast pancakes,
~  stuffing,
~  breadcrumbs
~  bread sauce, and
lots of interestingly different things too!


I keep this collection in a box at the back of the fridge. Wrap the cheeses loosely in parchment or greaseproof paper and then store in plastic bags in the box. A scrap of cheese can be good added to egg dishes, mashed potatoes, pasta sauces and so on. Here are 64 ideas I wrote about earlier! 


Pastry Scraps
Every time I make my real man a pie (just about weekly) I add the pastry trimmings to my collection so that I can make cheese straws or maybe something even more interesting.  

Raw Meat Trimmings

Steak in particular – when cooking professionally and cutting up a whole tenderloin or sirloin etc. any good quality trimmings and undersized pieces I used to make Peppered Steak Salad. 


Other meats - when there are enough scrappy bits I makes tock.   Better quality trimmings, both raw and cooked can be added to soups, stir fries, risotto, pasta dishes etc.  Sometimes if the meat is all good quality but a little fatty I make burgers, they are very easy. Not necessarily beef burgers, however, here is a great recipe using pork trimmings ...

BBQ Pork Burgers

2 rashers bacon – I like smoked
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp salt
500g good quality pork scraps – minced or fairly finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
BBQ sauce

~   Coarsely chop the bacon and cook, preferably in its own fat, till crisp.  Drain on kitchen roll.

~   Mix together the next 3 ingredients.

~   Form the chopped meat into two or three burgers.  People sometime ask me what I add to burgers to keep them together e.g. egg or breadcrumbs but the answer is Nothing. Just munge it lovingly together and all should be well.
~   Rub the burgers with the sugar mix.
~   Brush with a little oil and grill or pan fry till crisp and golden and cooked through – it can be a bit risky under cooking pork.
~   Brush with BBQ sauce and pop back on the grill for a minute or two.
~   Serve on buns drizzled with more BBQ sauce and a great addition is a spoonful of coleslaw on each burger.


Freeze in two separate collections – raw and cooked.

A gorgeous use of varied fish scraps, both raw and cooked, is my Seafood Chowder but there are lots of other good ways to use them; fish cakes, salads, risotto, pasta dishes, fish pâté and more – over 30 ideas in my Leftovers Handbook.


This last one is not quite a collection!  I use nuts in all sorts of dishes so buy bags of mixed roasted salted nuts and pick out specific nuts as needed.  I have almonds and hazelnuts with yogurt and muesli for breakfast, add cashews to curries and salads and to this excellent popcorn recipe. Brazils I give to my real man as I don’t like them and pecans tend to accumulate as I have no specific plans for them. 

When I have enough set aside I make something lovely such as the biscotti in my last post. 


Several of these ideas are included in The Leftovers Handbook together with loads and loads of other ideas for over 450 possible leftovers.
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14 November 2016

The Magic Biscotti Tin!

In the pub where I work there is a magic biscuit tin.  Every few days it is mysteriously replenished with delicious crunchy biscotti.  

A few days ago the secret was revealed to me. I met and got chatting to a lovely lady, a customer of the pub, Barbara by name. She admitted to secretly topping up our stash. What a lovely thing to do. We discussed biscotti further and I told her of the fig and black pepper biscotti I used to serve on my menus thus…

She asked for the recipe and I thought you might like it too, especially as they are somewhat Christmassy!

Fig and Black Pepper Biscotti – approx 24

240g plain flour
1 (possibly generous) teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
15g soft butter
30g caster sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg white
75g chopped dried figs

~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Stir together the first four ingredients.
~   Whisk together the butter and sugar.
~   Lightly beat the egg and the white into the butter mixture.
~   Stir in the dry mixture to form a loose dough.
~   Add the figs and knead together till smooth.
~   On a floured surface into a log about 30cm long.
~   Place onto a baking tray and flatten to about 1½cm high.
~   Bake for 20 minutes till golden and a little firm.
~   Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
~   Reduce the oven temperature to 150ºC/300°F/130ºC fan/gas 2.
~   When cool enough to handle slice the logs on the diagonal about 1cm thick.
~   Return to the baking tray, cut sides up, and cook for 15-20 minutes till crisp and golden, turning them over after about 10 minutes.
~   Cool on a rack.

If you fancy these for Christmas, they keep very well (see end of post for storage) so make them a week or two in advance.  I do lots of cooking ahead for Christmas, next Sunday is Stir up Sunday and here is what I shall be doing.  

Speaking of cooking ahead for Christmas my Festive Food for Stress Free Christmas will be free for a few days soon so if you’d like a heads up go here.  Or just keep an eye on Amazon!

Thinking about biscotti and having a collection of salted pecans in the cupboard, as one does, I decided to make …

Salted Pecan and Brown Sugar Biscotti – approx 16

250g soft light brown sugar
250g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
¼ teaspoon vanilla past or a few drips of vanilla extract
120g coarsely chopped roasted and salted pecans

~   Preheat oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Stir together the first three ingredients.
~   Lightly beat together the eggs and the vanilla.
~   Stir the dry into the wet and mix to a loose dough.
~   Add the pecans and knead into the dough.
~   Divide the dough into two parts and form two logs about 3cm diameter.
~   Lay onto a baking tray, somewhat apart, and lightly flatten to 1½cm high.
~   Bake for about 25 minutes till a slightly firm on the outside and taking a little colour.
~   Remove from the oven and set aside to cool and firm up a little.
~   Lower the oven heat to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Carefully slice the logs on the diagonal about 1cm thick.
~   Lay cut side up on the baking tray and bake for 15 minutes, turn the biscotti over and cook a further 10 minutes or so till crisp and golden.

Here is me dunking a single biscotto!

Biscotti Information

Biscotti literally means twice cooked. They originate from ancient ltaly where, due to their excellent keeping quality, they were used as convenient food for travellers.  Pliny the Elder apparently said biscotti …

“would be edible for centuries.”

In Italy they are actually called cantucci; biscotti being a term for biscuits in general (although not biscuits of the American persuasion!).

Being Italian biscotti are traditionally dunked in Italian dessert wine, Vin Santo but are also great dipped in tea, coffee, hot choc or, depending on the biscotti, even mulled wine.

Storage – make sure your biscotti are utterly, utterly cold then store them in an airtight container, where they should be good, if not for centuries, at least for a couple of weeks or so.

If they are softening pop them back into a medium hot oven for a few minutes resulting in Triscotti!!

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20 October 2016

How to Make The Easiest, Lushest Chocolate Dessert Ever!

I’ve been making (and selling) this for years almost beyond number!

Dark Chocolate Pots – makes 8

500ml double cream
80g soft light brown sugar
250g dark chocolate – coarsely chopped
2 eggs

~   Heat together the cream and sugar stirring till the sugar has dissolved.
~   Bring just to a boil and pour over the chocolate.
~   Whisk (or if you’ve chopped the chocolate in a food processor add the hot cream and re-process) till smooth.
~   Cool a few minutes.
~   Whisk or process in the eggs.
~   Pour into a jug and then into attractive dishes (ramekins, cups or pretty bowls) and chill till cold.

The chocolate pot will set but is still soft and idea for dipping goodies into such as wafers, biccies, fruit or even fingers.


Variations …

~   Vanilla – add a drip or two or a little vanilla paste together with the eggs.
~   Finely grated orange zest.
~   Finely chopped stem ginger and just a little of the syrup.
~   A little spirit or liqueur – I’m serious when I say “a little”, just a tablespoon because otherwise the finished chocolate pot will be too runny.
~   Add a little chilli syrup, recipe here, or use Lindt’s Excellence Chilli Dark Chocolate.
~   Melt a teaspoonful of coffee granules in with the cream and sugar.
~   Put a little something in the bottom of the dish (salted caramel sauce, raspberries, um … alcohol soaked fruit, etc) before pouring in the chocolate.
~   Add a topping but nothing too sweet or rich as that would be over doing it. Grated chocolate would be good or chopped toasted nuts, for instance.
~   Your go – let me know of any good ideas you have.

This is a lovely Christmas dessert as you can prepare it a day or two in advance and, as I said, it is so easy. 


Speaking of Easy Christmas Food ...

I am in the midst of cunning manoeuvres to make my the ebook version of my Easy Festive Food for a Stress-Free Christmas free for a week or two in November to help with Christmas planning.  

There is also an option to have Sudden Lunch delivered straight to your inbox but you can ignore that if you find me too boring!

In totally other news …


I recently read such a good book ~ Lily’s House by Cassandra Parkin. The book was sent to me for review by the publishers, Legend Press but that is not why I am extolling it – I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Read my review and those of others here 

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8 October 2016

No-Bake Cheesecake Recipe ~ a very flexible doddle!

You may remember my mentioning that I am back in the kitchen (not mine, I mean professionally!) making the desserts for a rather foodie pub.  The aim is to have a choice of six or so desserts every day including, naturally, something (or even two somethings) chocolatey. Fruit crumbles are a given at this time of year, crème brulée of course is a no brainer and cheesecakes are always popular.

I have started using the same basic (or genius) recipe every time I make a cheesecake and it’s so easy maybe you’d like to start using it too!

Genius No-Bake Cheesecake Recipe

In the pub many of the desserts, cheesecake included, are served in a glass (assembled in advance) to make service much quicker.  This quantity makes enough for 6-8 glasses depending on the size or  one 23cm cheesecake.

NOTE:  Although I say “150g icing sugar” and “120ml something else” these are advisory. Both depend, to an extent, on what the “something else” is; if it’s sharp you might need more sugar, if sweet the opposite. Also when adding the something else please feel free to use your judgement, adding a little more or a little less to create a cheesecake exactly the texture you like it.

Base ...
250g crushed digestive biscuits
100g melted butter

Filling …
600g cream cheese at room temperature
approx. 150g icing sugar – sifted
approx.. 120ml something else – see below!

~   Mix together the digestive biscuits and melted butter and sprinkle over the base of a 23cm loose bottomed cake tin, press out into an even layer (or divide between your chosen glasses). Chill for half an hour or so to set.
~   Beat the cream cheese till smooth and creamy.
~   Add half the icing sugar spoonfully whisking in between additions.
~   The mixture will be rather thick so add the something else till a lovely creamy consistency.
~   Taste and add more sugar till delicious.
~   Spread evenly over the base or, if using glasses
***, spoon or pipe into the glass.

*** By this I don’t mean you've been to Specsavers!

Something Else

The something else should be liquid in form such as a fruit coulis, syrup, coffee, fruit juice, possibly a spirit or liqueur or simply double cream. The addition will soften the mix to the right consistency. 

Here are some of the cheesecakes I have already made using this recipe …

~   “Plain” Vanilla Cheesecake – add a drop or two of vanilla extract or the tip of a teaspoon of vanilla paste to the cream cheese plus double cream. This is lovely served with soft summer fruits.



~   Cappuccino Cheesecake – beat in 30ml of cool espresso or double strength coffee (maybe a little Kahlua or Tia Maria) plus 90ml of double cream. Dust with cocoa to serve.

~    Orange, Lemon or Lime Cheesecake – add the finely grated zest and the juice of one orange, two lemons or three limes.  Depending on the size and juiciness of the fruit you may need to add a little cream till the cheesecake is the right consistency.


~   Mango and Lime – add 100ml of mango purée and the juice and zest of one lime. (A pleasant addition to this is a little chilli syrup, the recipe is here , you’ll have to scroll down a bit.


~    Banana & Baileys – peel and slice 3 ripe bananas and cook them in 30g butter together with 30g soft light brown sugar.  Cool and then beat into the cheesecake mix together with 25ml (or more if you like that sort of thing) of Baileys. Soften the mixture to your chosen consistency with double cream.

~    Rum and Coconut – simply flavour the cream cheese with 60ml of rum and layer with toasted coconut. See here for a great way to radically improve on desiccated coconut.



~    Maple Syrup with Pecans – for this I use Clark’s Original Maple Syrup which is blended with carob fruit syrup; it is utterly delicious and cheaper than pure maple syrup.  Add the syrup to taste and layer the cheesecake with toasted pecans or, even better, sugared pecans – see here for how to make them replacing the walnuts with pecans.  A pleasant alternative cheesecake would be honey and sugared walnuts.

~    Strawberry or Raspberry  – add 120ml appropriate fruit coulis (recipe below). A bit of vanilla extract or paste would be a good addition to either of these or maybe some orange zest in the strawberry version. Top with some fresh fruit or more coulis.

Fruit Coulis - another slight recipe!

        soft berries such as strawberries or raspberries
sugar (approximately
half the weight of the fruit)

~   Put the prepared fruit in a small saucepan.
~   Add the sugar to the fruit.
~   Simmer the fruit, helpfully giving it a squash now and then – you could add a dribble of water to encourage the sugar to melt if the fruit isn’t very juicy.
~   Strain through a fine nylon sieve pushing on the fruit debris to extract as much coulis as poss.
~   Cool, cover and chill till needed.


~    Peach Melba – make raspberry cheesecake as above but add a layer of diced fresh peach in the middle of the cheesecake.  (Best to toss the peach in a little lemon juice and caster sugar first to make it sweeter, juicer and less prone to browning.)

~   Your Turn – let me know what you come up with, I might copy!

I do love a genius recipe, don’t you? Some basic flexible guidelines that can be varied to create exactly what you want.  Read more about genius recipes here. 

Baked Cheesecake, incidentally

Whilst on the subject of cheesecakes, baked cheesecakes are deeply wonderful, are they not?  I used to work for an American lady during one of my stints as Chef of the Tamarind Club who, although she was not much involved in the kitchen side of the business made a wicked New York Cheesecake with a deliciously different crust. 

The strange thing is that although I fancy myself as a good cook and even if she stood over me during the entire process of making her cheesecake the result whilst perfectly delicious and saleable  was never quite as good as hers!  If you fancy a try – here is the recipe.  Let me know how you get on.

Mary’s New York Cheesecake

“Leave all the ingredients out one hour and No More and No Less before making.”
Mary Granfeldt

Base …
60g butter
120g plain flour
50g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling …
900g cream cheese
5 whole eggs plus 3 yolks
250g caster sugar
15g plain flour
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream

~   Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6.
~   Lightly grease a 23cm springform cake pan.
~   Manually mix together the ingredients for the base and sprinkle, every evenly, over the bottom of the pan.
~   Bake for 15 minutes.
~   Cool a little while making the filling …
~   Reduce the oven temperature to 120ºC/250°F/100ºC fan/gas ½.
~   Beat the cream cheese on medium till smooth and then one at a time add the eggs and the yolks and beat till smooth (again!).
~   Add the next three ingredients and beat in.
~   Add the sour cream and, still on medium, beat till fluffy which takes about a minute.
~   Pour onto the base and bake for 1¼ hours. 
~   Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake and cool.

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