Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Archive for December, 2014

…and all the trimmings…

We have just finished the first part of the feast.  Our South east family, full of Turkey, stuffed with stuffings, and loaded with 10 vegetables – and pigs in blankets.  Argentinian Malbec (Thanks to SecuriCare nurses from the conference) and a 2002 Premier Cru St. Emillion —yes, it all went down rather well! Now we are off to theirs for pudding and cheeses – and pressies!  Very civilized, I think you’d agree??

Almost there...

Almost there…

Merry Christmas everybody!

Usually you have to make sure M has the gravy last...but there was plenty today!

Usually you have to make sure M has the gravy last…but there was plenty today!

Stuffings done…

Have made up both the sage and onion (fresh sage – so wonderfully fresh smelling), and the apple and chestnut.

They will be cooked tomorrow – the sage and onion under the breast skin of the turkey, the chestnut one separately, with a rasher of bacon on top to keep it moist…

Suddenly it feels a lot like Christmas!

Have a lovely day tomorrow all – and good cooking!

Book signing - last Christmas (and Christmas Dinner is covered in it!)

Book signing – last Christmas (and Christmas Dinner is covered in it!)

Christmas Dinner – The full on Turkey Roast

Earlier today we had 67 words that must be a record for a Christmas Turkey recipe! But at least with those timings, you can be confident of the main attraction being OK?

Frozen Berries at Christmas

Frozen Berries at Christmas

I said earlier, perhaps you would like a little more detail?  Here we go!

I think the essence (and this is true for all our recipes and ideas in my book “Can Men Cook?”) is to keep things simple.  This is even truer on this particular day, which can be a bit stressful if you let it.  As there is likely to be a crowd of revellers interrupting and drinking and waiting, for many of you, this is even more important.

(Some of the foods may not be for you at all – it will be different for each of you.  I have kept to traditional fare – and other meats or vegetarian options may be more in tune with your needs.  This is true for the vegetables too – some will suit, some not.)


Get the kettle on at 7, and take your turkey out of the fridge.  Kettle is for your well-earned cup of tea for getting up early on Christmas Morn.  You should have taken the plastic bag containing the giblets out of the turkey, but check again just in case!  These bits are excellent to boil up for stock to make real gravy.  As you know, I always prefer to do most things from scratch, rather than using too many convenience foods (like gravy browning or stock cubes and the like). It feels easier to control salt, sugar, E numbers, antioxidants, and all the other additives that are in most convenience foods by doing this.  It tastes better too.

I have two favourite stuffing’s – Sage and Onion and Apple and Chestnut.  I will start with the second one.

  • A tin of chestnut puree – or chopped chestnuts
  • 1lb of pork sausage meat
  • 1 large cooking apple (Bramley is best)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Salt and ground white pepper

I think this is easiest to make in a food processor, because it will chop the onion and the apple very finely.  Peel the onion and apple first and chop them a bit to put into your food processor, and whiz for 10 to 20 seconds to chop them very finely.  Add the sausage meat a bit at a time and blend between each addition (say in 5 or 6 portions).  Then add the contents of the chestnut puree tin – whiz until all one consistency, then add the egg (which helps to bind it together) and the salt and pepper.

If you prefer Sage and Onion stuffing – here’s how to do that:

  • Two pieces of white bread
  • 1lb sausage meat
  • 1 dessert-spoon of dried sage
  • 1 peeled onion
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and ground white pepper

Again, a blender helps.

If the following sounds too fiddly or tricky – then cook the stuffing separately… but this is how I do it

The best and safest place to cook the stuffing is the breast end of the bird, not the main body cavity.  This helps it to cook well – stuffing the body slows everything down. Also, stuffing the other end helps keep the breast moist.  You need to ease the skin off the breast itself, and you do this easily by easing the skin away from the breast with your fingers and pushing gently You will find it comes apart easily.  The middle bit of skin between the two breasts is slightly more stringy, and you will need to hook it with your finger to pull this apart.  You can then spoon your chosen stuffing into this cavity. You should seal the end by pushing a couple of cocktail sticks though the skin flaps (but remember to take them out at the end so no-one eats them!)  If there is some left over after stuffing the bird, you can put this in an over proof dish and cook it with foil on top for the last hour before serving.


Turkey can dry out remarkably fast if you don’t use foil.  Chefs do mad things like having the turkey upside down (on its breast side) for the first 2 hours, then heave it over onto its back for the rest of cooking.  Can you imagine wrestling with a roasting hot (literally) monster, weighing as much as a 3 month old baby, without causing huge injury to yourself, the oven and the kitchen floor?

I will stick to foil.

I tend to use the large grill pan from my oven as the roasting dish for a turkey.  Quite honestly, I have nothing else large enough!  Take a good metre long length of the extra wide turkey foil you remembered to buy (? didn’t you?).  Place that lengthways with its middle bit in the centre of the grill tray.  Now take a second piece – the same length, and place that at 90 degrees to the first piece.  Pop the turkey on top of them, and parcel it up.  Crimp the top of the foil like the edge of a Cornish pasty, and don’t force it onto the turkey skin – leave a bit of space for air movement inside the parcel.  Pull the second sheet up and do the same.  You want it to be pretty well sealed.  Now put it in the oven (it will be 8.15 a.m. now) at high temperature (200 C) for the first 45 minutes.  Set your timer for 45 minutes, then turn down to 160 (Fan) or gas mark 3 without opening the door (there is nothing to see yet!)

Now you just need to get one of your many helpers to peel the vegetables for around 11 a.m., so you can get them in the oven for about 11.30.


Here are my favourites and all but two cook blissfully away in the oven, taking good care of themselves.

Potatoes (need to peel and chop into roast potato size, then boil them for 5 minutes, and remove from the pot with a draining spoon (with holes in it)

  • Sweet potato – peeled and chopped into lumps the same size
  • Parsnips – peeled and chopped.  Both of these do not need to be pre boiled – they will cook through just with roasting
  • Carrots – chopped into rounds like coins, and boiled for 15 to 20 minutes, and mashed.
  • Sprouts.  These only start tasting badly sulphurous if you boil them too long.  4 minutes max.  Drain them.  And stir fry them for 30 seconds in a wok as you are about to serve everything else!  You can put lard-ons of bacon with them, or some of the chestnuts left over from the stuffing.  And you will learn to love them again.

You can cook a parsnip with the carrot – because mashed carrot and parsnip is really rather nice (and more tasty than carrot and turnip, I think).

You need to have a large roasting tin ready for the roasting veg – put this in the oven with about 4 tablespoons of oil (I use Olive Oil – but whichever is your favourite).  Some of you will have bought goose fat as a Christmas treat for roasting.  Now is the time to find it!  After about 5 minutes, you will see the fat is hot – so clear the top of your hob, and pull the roaster out after remembering your oven gloves!  Tip the tray so you can put the veg in slowly without splashing, and use the baster to cover them in the oil or fat once they are all in.  You will need to turn them a couple of times in the next hour or so.  And at 12.15, you need to peel back the foil on the turkey, and start basting it.

Baster - so useful!

Baster – so useful!

Sweetcorn or peas are useful and colourful and easy additions, if you have the crowds in– little people who don’t like sprouts yet…

Is it ready?

Right – it’s about 1.00.  You have basted for the third time.  Everything smells beautiful.  Roasting veg are browning nicely.  So is the turkey done? No-one wants a bad food reaction or even food poisoning–   Poke a small knife into the fattest bit of the leg and wait to see what oozes out.  If it is running clear, then it is ready.  If there are specs of blood, then carry on cooking.  The second test is to pull on the leg, and if it comes away easily, you have completed the cooking.

Get help to move the bird to your carving dish.  Ask them to hold onto the foil (it cools quickly, so they can use their hands without getting burnt) while you  lift the turkey off  the foil.  Often it sticks so they should gently pull off the foil if this happens.  A pair of turkey lifters (like mini garden forks) are useful for this.  (Have you got a picture??)

Turkey lifters - use in pairs!

Turkey lifters – use in pairs!

Increase the oven temperature to brown off the roast veg, finish off the other vegetables, You need to delegate the carving, or get help to serve.  You can’t do both!  The stuffing will carve with some of the breast meat or you can spoon it out into a serving dish (which I prefer).

The last 10 to 15 minutes are mad.  Have a drink, if you can, and enjoy the applause!

Have a splendid Christmas one and all.

Phil x

Turkey cooking…in a minimal world…

I had a panic text from a family friend last year, on Christmas morning.  Claire was helping her daughter to cook Christmas lunch – and they had not a single recipe book in the house with the advice on how to cook the turkey.  I managed to send them the entire recipe by text!.  If you can text a recipe, then it can’t be so difficult – can it?  Here it is, in its entirety:

“Turkey – 14lb, for serving at 1.45, cooked by 1.15, rested before carving. Start at 8.15 with bird at room temperature.  Loads of butter and strips of bacon on the breast.  First 45 minutes at 220 C or 200 C for fan oven.  Lower to 170 (160 fan).  Foil off / peeled back at 12.30.  Then lots of basting (every15 mins) to 1.15.  Usually takes longer than you think.”

67 words must be a record for a Christmas Turkey recipe! But at least with these timings, you can be confident of the main attraction being OK?

Perhaps you would like a little more detail?  And something to go with it?  Not unreasonable requests, I suppose!  Well, tune in again later today!

(I am re publishing this blog by request – of Claire, the originator of the panic text!)

Orange Infused Chicken Liver Pate

Isn’t it lovely when you are visiting friends and they request you to make one of your favourite dishes?  Such a feather in cap moment!

We tried for frozen chicken livers at our butchers.  “We can’t get them now.  The supplier has done an exclusive deal with Tesco, and they won’t let them supply small businesses”.  OK – I’m only getting one side of the story here, but if true, my chagrin muscle is overwrought.

Britain's Best Dish Pate

So we got a pack in the supermarket…50p a pack – amazing value nutrition!

You have to defrost thoroughly before use – I usually leave it overnight in the fridge.  Open it up, and chop it in the pot – scissors work well.  This saves losing any of the liquid (bloody, and tasty…).

I remember when I was on Britain’s Best dish that Gilly Goolden, one of the judges, said “He must be worried about his knife skills as he is chopping it with scissors…” You can hear the judges discussing you while you perform – a little off putting…  Anyway, it worked out well, as I won my heat.

Fry off the chopped livers slowly in a mix of olive oil and butter.  Keep them moving, and add 3 medium sized button mushrooms – chopped fine.  Keep it all mobile, so the livers don’t char or overcook (they do taste burnt and mmetallicif you let them overcook) . In the meantime, zizz up one small slice of bread and a garlic clove in the food processor.  Zest your orange into it.  Zizz it up – and sniff the lovely spicyness…Heady, hey?

Now, add the cooked mushrooms and livers – zizz quickly for a few seconds.  Add the juice of the orange to the frying pan – and let it reduce a bit.  Transfer that to the processor.  Add the table spoon of Grand Marnier (or Drambuie, or cCointreauor even brandy) to the pan, allowing it to steam a bit.  Add that to the rest of the stuff in the processor – and now give it  agood 20 seconds, until it is fairly well mixed but still has a little slightly textured – which feels quite nice when you eat it.

The whole is lightly wet looking – spoon it out into a small serving dish and cover after about 30 mins of cooling.  It will the keep in the frdge for at least 24 hours – bu will never last that long!  You will have devoured it…

(film of me on TV making this…)

Eat with French stick, or warm Griddle Sones – as you se in the Britain’s Best Dish photo above…but you can find that full recipe if you look in my book – which you can buy on-line… Can Men Cook Banner Black


And so, it begins…The Feast of Christmas

Where do I begin?  This year – managed the Cranberry and Orange Relish a little early – bought fresh cranberries in panic 1 week early, just in case they run out…as you do.  Christmas is nearly always around the 25th, isn’t it?  And why does it always take us by surprise???

A bag of cranberries – weighing about half a pound.  £2.  OK – you can get  a sugary purple red concoction for less than that in a jar, but you don’t know where it’s been, do you? And you do know what’s in it?  Read the label, and weep…

I’m very happy to buy some convenience stuff, but this is one of those things that is just SO different if you make it yourself. And I am making it one week ahead – and will freeze it to be brought straight to table on the evening before…

and there they are - boiling away!

and there they are – boiling away!

It is one of my heroine, Dame Delia Smith of Norwich’s famous recipes.  I do it slightly differently – and more simply

You need:

  • Bag of cranberries
  • 7 teaspoons of sugar
  • Juice and an orange – and the zest from it – do that first!
  • Half a teaspoon of ginger.
  • A few cloves or 1/4 teaspoon of dried and ground cloves
  • Some dried cinnamon – about a level teaspoon, or one cinnamon stick
  • Tablespoon of port

And that’s it.  Nor e numbers. No excess sugar.  No extra bits of citric acid preservative or anything.

Start with the zester – great piece of kit.  Thin peelings with vegetable peeler if not, then chop finely.  Wash the cranberries.  Squeeze the orange juice out – I have an old fashioned glass one – like my Nan had (this is quite interesting, because it is hers!)  Chuck the slightly damp cranberries into a saucepan (No need to mince, as in the original recipe – the lovely things just soften up themselves, and you can mash them easily).  Add the zest, orange juice and sugar, and all the spices, stir, boil, lid on  and leave for 4 mins on low heat.  Take lid off, and turn off.  Get your spud masher in there and mash them up a bit.  I like to leave some ’roundness’, so don’t over-mash.  Add the port, and put into your serving dish (or two, like us – one for each end of the table…

Is that a good start?  While boiling – the whole house suddenly became suffused with the scent of Christmas…so warm and scrumptious.

I’m thinking of repeating my ‘Christmas cooking’ blogs, updated a bit – hope that may be useful for you all?

Don’t you just love the time of year?

“The poor can’t cook”

That’s not a quote from me…it was a Tory Peer – Baroness Jenkin, whilst on a visit to a food bank.  I’m not here to promulgate political divisiveness.  She did suggest that those on low income could and should eat porridge “at 4p a portion”.  That assumes no milk or honey, and making it with water, and no cooking/washing up costs…

Jay Dodson and I did that as our standard breakfast – cheap oats cooked in water – when we did the ‘live on a pound a day’ challenge in the spring. It was hard with just salt and no milk…and the whole diet was quite boring and repetitive.  It was do-able, but no fun at all.  In fact, we have porridge daily at home, but do have the luxury of full fat milk, and honey on top…so, a lot more than 4p a portion!

But it does make you think about cooking from scratch.  As I freely admit, we don’t do that everyday.  I like the occasional bought in pizza (I cook it in the oven – just too mean to buy from a delivery place!).  And there is joy in an M&S £10 meal deal (other deals are available from other supermarkets – they’re just not as good!).  We do the take away selections form other supermarkets – and crispy duck pancakes are as good as eating out.  The Indian, and other regional foods are all really good too…

Like when cooking form scratch though, I do tend to add to what is there, or cook something extra.  We have steak and a lovely medley of vegetables tonight from M&S.  I will do some of my famous part cooked in microwave and finished in the oven rosemary chips to go with these things.  It does help to have some cooking skills – and it is not that difficult.

The Advert!

The Advert!

That was the whole premise behind writing and publishing “Can Men Cook?”  I still have some left from the print run.  I’m sure Baroness Jenkin would like one.  And maybe someone in your life too – great last minute pressie!!  Click onto the website for more details:

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