The secret of a stress free Christmas? Just keep everything nice and simple

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Last Sunday night the annual “Turkey Extravaganza” was held in Portstewart.

This isn’t as glamorous as it sounds – just a few friends eating traditional Christmas dinner and talking nonsense. It was started a few years ago by Frances McKeague, who sadly passed away earlier this year, and we decided to keep the ball rolling in her honour. I’m mentioning it because it was the most painless entertaining ever – platters of Italian antipasti to start and then everyone contributes a part of the main course (or wine...). This way no one is left struggling in the kitchen on their own and really should be the way to do any cooking for large numbers. When I lived in America we used to joke about pot luck suppers – now I think they’re the future of entertaining.

Because I was busy in the run up to the night, I cooked the turkey beforehand and sliced it all ready to be reheated. I come from a family where the turkey must be cooked on Christmas Day. In the case of my late granny, this happened when she came home from church at midnight and the bird was allowed to dehydrate overnight in the oven and served at lunch the next day. The vegetables were cooked in the early morning and were kept in the hostess, or hostage, trolley as we called it. There was a lot to be said for tipping this convention on its head. Getting the turkey and ham out of the way frees the oven up for roasties and other vegetables. I boned out the turkey legs (your butcher will do this) stuffed them and then rolled them tightly in foil to roast.

I’ve been asked a lot lately what can you do to make Christmas stress free and I think it’s down to sharing the chores, keeping everything simple and getting ahead. The turkey cooked the day before had no impact on the texture or flavour and freed up fridge and oven space on the day. Also a pound and a half of turkey per person is more than enough to feed people and have some left over for the obligatory Nutty Krust sandwich the next day. Remember you have ham and stuffing as added proteins.

Rather than doing gammon this year I’ll be cooking collar of bacon instead. This is a cheaper cut that requires longer cooking but the resulting fall apart meat is delicious. Mervyn Kennedy, who’s based in Omagh (kennedybacon.co.uk) rears his own pigs and cures them traditionally – slowly and without injecting them with brine for a quick hit.

Collar is a cut more popular in the west of the province but it should have a wider audience. In this week’s recipe the bacon is braised in cider and cloves and then honey added to make a glaze.

I love the flavour of ham and clove but this recipe removes all the flaff of scoring the skin and studding it with uniform rows of cloves.

Butter and turkey are made for each other – nothing keeps this bird as moist and flavoursome.

I’ve included the instructions for cooking a turkey and I’m not in favour of the trendy practice of cooking the bird pink.

This method is for a fully cooked bird – untrendy but extremely sensible. Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without stuffing and this week the recipe is for one with chestnuts, apples and thyme. I use good butcher’s sausages as opposed to sausage meat – your butcher will set some aside for you if you ask.