Friday, 30 December 2011

I wish it could be Christmas everyday...

Earlier in the year, we decided that we wanted Lydia's first Christmas to be at home, for her to wake up on Christmas morning with the Christmas tree and decorations everywhere, and open her presents in her own home. That's why we ended up having an early Christmas - or Mockmas - in England in early December (see "A Very Merry Mockmas").

We also invited Chris' parents (Nelly and Bernard), sister (Caroline) and her husband (Pascal), round for the day, mainly because I had decided to try my hand at cooking the traditional roast turkey dinner and wanted to share this with them. I had never cooked a turkey before, although I did watch my mum prepare and cook the giant turkey we had at Christmas in England in 2010 (see "So... What's New?").

Plans for the turkey dinner started earlier in the year, as I chose what I wanted to cook as part of the meal. I wanted it to be as traditional as possible, to show my Swiss family how we eat at Christmas in England, so I opted to accompany the turkey with roast potatoes and parsnips, stuffing, carrots and green beans, all smothered in a nice gravy. I would have cooked Brussel sprouts as well, but I wanted everyone to actually enjoy the meal so decided to leave these out.

Mum's 9.5kg turkey
A few weeks before Christmas, we ordered our turkey from the local butcher in Bussigny. Ordering a turkey of the right size was mainly guess work; my mum always cooks an enormous turkey, around 9-10kg, which feeds 9 adults on Christmas Day with enough leftovers for at least one day of turkey sandwiches, cold turkey and chips and a turkey curry (occasionally also a turkey soup). I should mention that those 9 adults eat a lot of turkey, probably more than they should do in a single serving.

For Christmas Day in Switzerland there would be only 6 adults, so therefore we didn't need a 9kg turkey. Also, my Swiss family are not big fans of turkey (apart from Pascal), so wouldn't eat the kind of portions that we would generally eat at Christmas in England. However, I wanted to make sure I had enough turkey leftover for at least one round of turkey sandwiches for myself the next day, as I absolutely love turkey sandwiches (one of my favourite parts of Christmas!). We decided, therefore, to order a 4.5kg turkey from the butcher.

The butcher would also prepare the turkey and fill it with a sausage meat stuffing, so that was another task I didn't have to worry about. I could instead concentrate on worrying about undercooking the bird. When we picked up the turkey from the butcher on Christmas Eve, he gave us some rough instructions on how long to cook it for, but didn't offer any information on whether bits of it should be covered in tin foil (to prevent overcooking) or if it should be taken out of the oven and left on the side for a period of time before carving and eating it.

So, I turned to the Internet for a bit more research. Most of the recipes I read said I needed to take the turkey out of the oven at least 30 minutes before carving. That actually suited me fine, as our oven isn't big enough to fit the turkey and anything else at the same time; taking the turkey out would give me enough time to cook the roast potatoes and parsnips.

I wanted to make sure the turkey was tasty and not dried out, so browsed the Web again for inspiration. Fortunately for me, I also noticed that British chef Jamie Oliver had a program on TV about cooking at Christmas ("Jamie's Christmas with Bells On"), so I promptly watched his show to see how a turkey should be cooked. Although he did it really quickly and didn't explain everything (for example, we didn't see him put any foil on the turkey but when he took it out of the oven to baste some foil had magically appeared on the legs), I decided to use his idea for spreading a butter-herb-cranberry mix under the skin on the breast of the turkey, as this would help to stop the meat from drying out and give it some nice flavour.

Me and my little elf on Christmas Day
Christmas morning arrived, and after getting Lydia out of bed for her first Christmas Day, I started preparing the turkey at 7:30 AM, aiming to serve the meal at about 1:00 PM. I mixed some butter with finely chopped dried cranberries, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper, then used a spoon to lift up the skin on the turkey breast and spread the mixture over the meat. I had never done this before and it was quite a tricky thing to do, being careful to not make holes in the skin whilst at the same time making sure to spread the mixture over as much of the meat as possible.

I then put the turkey - which just about managed to fit into the roasting tin I had bought - into the oven to start the 4 hour cooking process. After 30 mins of cooking, I took the turkey out and added some chopped onions and shallots to the tray of turkey juice, along with some rosemary, thyme and sage, to help add some flavour to the turkey as it cooked.

Our guests arrived around 11:30 AM, and we sat down to have a glass of wine to toast being together at Christmas. I think everyone was impressed with Lydia's elf outfit, although we fed her her lunch shortly before they arrived so it was somewhat dirtied by bits of food. Still, even that was in keeping with Christmas - we prepared a puree of turkey, potato, parsnip and carrots, so Lydia had a festive lunch as well.

The cooked turkey - it looks burnt but it wasn't!
Basting the turkey every 15 minutes or so, I finally took it out of the oven around 12:00 PM.

I had put tin foil over the legs for the first hour of cooking (going on my mum's advice), and was relieved to find the juice from the bird ran clear when I poked into the meat with a metal skewer.

Phew! That meant it was cooked properly and that I wouldn't be giving anyone food poisoning for Christmas.

I popped my par-boiled potatoes into the hot oven, adding the par-boiled parnsips about 15 minutes later. Finally, I boiled some carrots and green beans until they were ready, and prepared a nice gravy (ok, I used Bisto gravy granules because I didn't have time to do a proper gravy).

I took a brief break from cooking to enjoy the first course of our meal - foie gras with salted butter on toast. Nelly had bought the foie gras and the salted butter, although we nearly didn't have any bread for the toast (I had dashed out at about 10:30 AM and found that, surprisingly, there were quite a few shops open, so I found some bread and dashed back home to continue basting the turkey).

After finishing the starter, it was time to carve the turkey and serve my Swiss family their first taste of a traditional British Christmas dinner. I cut the whole breast off the turkey to make it easier to carve (thanks to Jamie Oliver for the tip), then sliced the breast into fairly meaty slices, and served it to our guests with all the trimmings.

After we had all eaten our first helping of Christmas dinner, we then remembered that the turkey still had the sausage meat stuffing inside it. We served seconds to those who wanted any (particularly Pascal, who seemed to really enjoy the turkey), making sure to include the stuffing this time.

I'm very pleased with how the turkey turned out. It was juicy and tasty, not dry at all. The roast potatoes and parsnips were delicious as well - I had used a roasting butter for these and they had achieved the perfect mix of crunchy outsides and soft insides. My only slight disappointment was the gravy, which I thought was too watery. I didn't have time to sort it out as I was carving the turkey and serving up the trimmings. Next time, if I use Bisto again I will add more granules to get it a bit thicker.

I received plenty of words of encouragement from those around the table, who were pleasantly surprised to find that the turkey was tasty and succulent, and that everything seemed to be cooked properly. Bernard had had bad experiences with some very dry turkey in the past, so I think he was happiest with how my turkey turned out. Pascal also seemed to be a fan of the turkey, so I think it was a pretty successful first attempt.

My turkey dinner on the left, my mum's dinner from 2010 on the right - think my effort wasn't too bad! (although portion size was a bit different)

After the main course we had some cheeses that we had bought a couple of days earlier in Annecy, France. I was completely stuffed by this point, having eaten the vast majority of the potatoes and parnsips, so could only manage a very small amount of cheese. Once the cheese course was finished, we then ate some of Caroline's gateaux a la crème, which was very nice as well (by this point I thought I would explode).

Rounding it all off with a coffee, we retired to the living room to open our presents. Lydia was starting to get a bit irritable at this point, having woken up from a very short afternoon nap (she had cried a lot when we put her in her bed for her nap as well). Nethertheless, it was still a pleasant afternoon, as we all enjoyed each other's company.

Leftover turkey
That evening, when my Swiss family had gone home, the dishes had been washed and the table cleared away, I spent some time carving the remaining meat from the turkey.

This was an important activity for me, as this would be the meat for my turkey sandwiches. I managed to get a fair amount of meat from the turkey carcas, as you can see in the photo.

The leftover turkey was enough to give me turkey sandwiches for dinner on Boxing Day and for lunch on the 27th December, then there was no more left. I think the size of the turkey - at 4.5kg - was just about right. It was enough to feed everyone at lunch, and give me some of my treasured leftovers. Yum yum yum.

Turkey sandwiches!! Delicious!

All in all, Christmas Day 2011 was very enjoyable. Good company, good food, good laughs. What more could you ask for?

Looking forward to next year when Lydia might be old enough to know what Christmas actually is, and to appreciate receiving and unwrapping presents.

I'm not sure if I'll be cooking another turkey in 2012. We will be in England for the real Christmas next year so I might have a year off. We did mention potentially having a turkey meal for Thanksgiving, but we'll see if anything comes from that later in the year. One thing's for sure - I now know how to cook a turkey.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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