Christmas Dinner Side Dishes the Easy Way!

This is my second post about making Christmas easy on the cook so that you/she/he can also enjoy the day.

My first post concerning the turkey and the gravy is here.  I shall now deal with the veggies and side dishes.

The standard Christmas dinner, in addition to the turkey and gravy, includes …

Roast Potatoes or Mashed Potatoes or Both
Roast Parsnips
Brussels Sprouts
Other veg – probably including carrots
Possibly Sausage meat
Bread Sauce
Cranberry Sauce

That seems quite a lot for a chap to prepare on Christmas morning when there is also so much conviviality, present opening and sipping of beverages to accomplish. 

The best thing to do is to prepare/cook everything you can in advance.

If you have read my previous post you will know that the oven will be on at 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6 reheating the turkey so it makes sense that all the dishes here than need baking are done so at the same temperature. See a timetable  at the end of this post.

So here goes …

Roast Potatoes

It is possible to do the first half of preparing roast potatoes – the par-boiling bit – a day ahead.  Use a floury potato; Maris Piper, Desiree or King Edward would be good. 1 kilo of potatoes should be enough for 6 people.

On Christmas Eve

~    Peel the potatoes and cut into similar sized pieces so that they cook evenly.
~    Rinse in cold water, put into a large saucepan, cover with cold water and add a sprinkle of salt.
~    Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
~    Drain well and shake the potatoes in the strainer to rough up the edges a bit.
~    Spread out in a dish to cool and when completely cold, cover and refrigerate.

On the day, about 70 minutes before service ...

~    Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6 (if you haven’t already done so).
~    Get the potatoes out of the fridge.
~    Put a little olive or other vegetable oil, goose fat, duck fat or beef drippings into a pan large enough to take the potatoes in one layer without touching. If there is not ½ cm/¼” of fat in the pan add a bit more. Pop into the oven till hot till very hot.
~    Carefully add the potatoes to the hot far and turn gently to coat.
~    Roast for 40-45 minutes till crisp and golden – you may turn them over half way through cooking if you wish.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potato can certainly be made in advance, chilled and reheated so long as you do it properly!  Firstly, make sure they are nice and creamy and then either …

1.   Heat a little double cream, enough to cover the base, in a saucepan and then stir in the potatoes and continue stirring gently and not too much over medium heat till hot through.  If it seems a bit stiff add more cream.

2.   Make a gratin - put them in an ovenproof dish, dot with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake till hot through and golden on top – about 25 minutes.
Roast Parsnips

Treat the parsnips exactly as the potatoes but roast them for slightly less time, say 30 minutes, till crisp and golden. You could drizzle with a little honey for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Incidentally you will see that I have cut the parsnips into slices rather than wedges.  Maybe not quite so pretty but they cook more evenly.



To be honest I do cook my veg a few minutes before serving the dinner; you can cut them up at leisure during the morning and they only take minutes.

You can, however, if you like cook them ahead of time, even on Christmas Eve if you wish, by cooking in boiling water till only just tender when pierced with the tip of a knife – 3-5 minutes. As soon as they are perfectly cooked and absolutely immediately, drain and refresh in cold water by tipping the cooked vegetables into a large bowl of icy cold water.  This “refreshing”, as we say in the trade, stops any further cooking and keeps their colours bright. Drain and chill till ready to reheat which you will do by either dropping into boiling water and draining after 30 seconds or tossing in a little hot butter till heated through.


Brussel Sprouts

Cook and refresh the brussel sprouts as with the vegetables above. You could also reheat as above but they are even better if sautéed in bacon fat.

Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is perfect because it actually improves with a long rest before serving with time so you can do this 2-3 days in advance.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion finely sliced
1 red cabbage – finely sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons soft light brown sugar
2 eating apples – peeled and sliced
a pinch or two of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of  red wine vinegar

~   In a roomy pan with a lid gently cook the onion in the olive oil till starting to soften.
~   Stir in the cabbage and cook for 5 minutes.
~   Add all the rest of the ingredients, stir to mix, put the lid on and cook on low for half an hour.
~   Taste and season with salt, pepper, more cinnamon if you like and maybe some cranberry sauce or even a little port.
~   Cool, chill to needed and reheat by stirring over medium heat (or even in the microwave) to serve.


Possibly Sausagemeat

For the best results, don’t buy sausagemeat in trays, buy your favourite sausages and release the meat from the skins. Much tastier! Roll the sausagemeat into balls and arrange in an ovenproof dish and chill.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  A cunning plan might be to form the ball loosely in your hand, put a spoonful of cranberry sauce in the middle and form the meat round it to enclose completely. Nice surprise when you eat them!



As I said in my last post, it is not a good idea to stuff the turkey (even though the stuff is called stuffing!).  Far better is to make it the day before, chill till needed, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, dot with butter and bake till hot, crispy and golden. You could make a packet of stuffing mix or use this recipe …

Homemade Stuffing

3 slices of, possibly stale bread torn into pieces
1 large onion – coarsely chopped
1 stick of celery, a clove of garlic and a carrot also coarsely chopped (all optional)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper
a little turkey, chicken or vegetable stock
a knob of butter

~   Sauté the vegetables in the oil till tender and starting to turn golden in places.
~   Stir in the bread and then add enough stock to moisten it but not enough that it is sitting in liquid.
~   Add the butter, cover and leave to soak for a few minutes.
~   Stir in any additions (see below), taste, season and stir in a little more stock if necessary.
Whether you make your own stuffing or a bought in mix make it much more interesting by adding something to the basic mixture: sage is a traditional choice and coarsely chopped bacon, crumbled sausagemeat, chestnuts, cranberries, nuts, ham, etc. also spring to mind.

Bread Sauce

This too can be made the day before – here’s my recipe which is not quite authentic but is ever so tasty.

Pin for future reference!
1-2 slices bread, torn into bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 medium onion
100ml/3½fl oz hot chicken or veg stock
75ml/2½fl oz double cream

~   Tear the bread into pieces and either allow to go stale or dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes.
~   Thinly slice the onion and cook very gently in the oil or butter till very, very tender. This is easiest done if you press a piece of foil or a butter wrapper directly onto the onions to cover completely and then put on the lid.
~   When soft enough to cut with a wooden spoon and starting to caramelise add the hot stock and the dry bread and bring to a simmer.
~   Stir in the cream, bring to a boil, taste and season then cool, cover and keep in the fridge till needed.
~   To serve reheat gently (stove top or microwave) and dilute as required with more stock, cream or water.

Cranberry Sauce

There are three recipes for Cranberry Sauce in my EasyFestive Food for a Stress-Free Christmas Chunky Homemade Cranberry Sauce, Cranberry & Apple Sauce and Rather Special Mulled Cranberry Sauce all of which can be made in advance but, if you are in a real hurry, open a jar and to make it even more delightful stir in a little port.


Dessert ~ incidentally

Christmas Dinner Timetable

To Serve Christmas Dinner at 2.00 pm

12.00 ~ Remove cooked turkey, potatoes (both mashed and par-boiled), part cooked parsnips, pre-made stuffing and sausage balls out of the fridge to come to room temperature.

12.30 ~ Turn on oven to 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6

1.00 ~ Put ½ cm/¼” of fat in the roast potato pan and put in the oven to heat through.

1.15 ~ Turn the par-cooked potatoes in hot oil, spread out a bit so not touching and return the pan to the oven to roast.

1.25 ~ Put a dish with a little oil in it (as with the roast potatoes) in the oven to heat up.

~ Turn the par-cooked parsnips in the oil and put in the oven to roast
        ~ Put sausage meat balls in the oven.
        ~ Put mashed potato gratin in the oven, is using.
        ~ Put stuffing in the oven.

1.40 ~ Put turkey legs in oven.

1.45 ~ Put sliced turkey in stock in the oven – if using this method.
        ~ Turn the roast potatoes and parsnips over in their pan if you wish.

1.50 ~ Open cranberry sauce and perhaps stir in a little port.

1.50 ~ Gently heat the mashed potato, red cabbage and bread sauce. Cover and keep warm.
        ~ Boil water for heating vegetables if using that method.

1.55 ~ Reheat vegetables in hot water or melted butter.
        ~ Sauté brussels sprouts in butter or bacon fat.


A Stress-Free Christmas


I would, of course, just like to mention my Christmas book Easy Festive Food for a Stress-Free Christmas!

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!

This book does not contain all the information and directions that you can find everywhere in books, magazines and on the net such as roasting times or mince pie recipes. This contains a collection of useful ideas and recipes that as a professional chef I have used over the years to delight guests and customers without knackering myself!

Included are over 50 interesting recipes such as The Quickest, Easiest, Smoothest and Richest Chicken Liver Pâté I know, a super easy but Really Luxurious Bread Sauce and a gorgeous no-churn Christmas Pudding Ice Cream. I have also added every useful idea, hint and tip I can think of!

No comments: