It is nearly, as Noddy Holder has it, CHRISTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS. Once again, it's managed to take me by surprise which is pretty impressive for a festival that falls on the same date every year.
Happily there's still time to get sorted, particularly for the low-key Christmas that we've got in store. While Christmas with the family is lovely, mixed schedules tends to mean a fabulous lunch - and both my mum and sister are fine cooks - but a limited window to eat it in. We've thus taken to staying at home and spreading lunch across the whole day. We'll have a luxurious breakfast - Eggs Benedict and damn the cholestrol count, or, if the budget runs to it, the tiniest commercially available tin of caviar for Mrs L - and a bottle of something, do all the phone calls, and then... just chill. We'll do a starter around 1pm, have the turkey around 4, 5ish and then, most years we've done this, haven't managed much else except cheese and biscuits with Dr Who. This year we might try and squeeze in the Heston Christmas Pudding that the lovely folk at Waitrose sent me (and which I haven't eBayed) but suspect that will have to wait for another day.
The best bit about lunch though is the advanced prep. Over the years, I've come to love the lazy, radio-assisted prep on Christmas Eve. It started with peeling and par-boiling the spuds and parsnips. Now, we've pretty much got everything done in advance. Sprouts get blanched on Christmas Eve, before we fry them up with bacon and chestnuts on the day. The carrot and swede gets cooked and mashed and seasoned in readiness for a slug of nutmeg, butter and reheating in the oven. The spuds and snips (and a few more carrots) will be par boiled and ready for, respectively, goose fat and honey and an hour of roasting Christmas afternoon - well, except for the couple of spuds that will be used, fondant style, to soak up the last splashes of the bacon fat and a spoonful of turkey stock. The cranberries will have been boiled, sugared, given a splash of port and be jarred and ready to go in the fridge. Beans have been blanched before being tossed in a pan with a little butter and garlic. Thanks to Richard Corrigan's excellent poaching suggestion, even the turkey will be mostly prepped meaning the entire lunch will take around an hour of cooking on Christmas Day.
The other trimmings are also in hand. There's a big slab of sausage meat in the freezer, and some pigs in blankets all care of Ally Pally's Farmers Market and the lovely Giggly Pig stand. And as of today, some very special breadcrumbs...
I've previously waxed lyrical on the joys of chicken toast and last time I did someone made a suggestion that stuck with me. Yesterday, thanks to a piece I was writing on Alternative Christmas Lunches, I got sent a cockerel to try. Given the lack of fridge space and the size of the bird (it's enormous), I roasted that straight away (while writing some suitably juvenile Tweets about it all) and, this morning, while freezing lots of the cooked meat (and preparing the biggest green curry I've ever seen) as per the suggestion (and I apologise because I can't remember who made it) took some of the cooking juices, slapped them on some crusty bread and grilled it all off. That left me with the above slices of golden beauty which are currently cooling in the kitchen. In a few minutes, they'll all be blitzed down to breadcrumbs which will then be used as the basis for the stuffing on Christmas Day. Yeah. Exactly.