Christmas recipes: turkey and some of the trimmings

December 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

In 2009 I wrote down my pudding, cake and mincemeat recipes. This year I’ve decided to write about turkey, stuffings and cranberry sauce. Sometimes we have a goose at Christmas, sometimes turkey. A number of people have told me recently that goose is more traditional than turkey, but it is an enormous turkey which features in the closing scenes of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and you can’t get more traditional than that in my book.

I’ve done terrible things to turkeys over the years tending to over- rather than undercook them. Worst of all was when I took someone’s advice to put the turkey into the Aga simmering oven and leave it to cook overnight for 12 + hours. The turkey was cooked alright but swimming in a bath of caramel brown juice that should have been retained within the bird – the most wasteful turkey stock ever…

Since I discovered the slightly odd method suggested in “Leith’s Cookery Bible” of draping over the stuffed bird before it goes into the oven a folded piece of muslin soaked in an unfeasible quantity of melted butter, I’ve never looked back. Doing this and investing in a decent meat thermometer, I really don’t think you can go wrong.

This method produces a moist, perfectly cooked turkey with a deep burnished gold skin:

Family Christmases when I was growing up always involved a turkey with two different stuffings – sage and onion and chestnut and sausagemeat. When we have turkey now, that’s how it still has to be. Preparing the stuffings on Christmas eve was a family affair (although when I say family I mean the women in the family…) Tiny Auntie Em would always boil and chop the onions for the sage and onion stuffing but my mother would take charge of the chestnut and sausagemeat one. My mother was a fantastic but instinctive cook so never wrote her recipes down. I learned by watching and tasting. I have made the sage and onion stuffing recipe my own over time preferring now to fry rather than boil the onions and adding a handful of
oatmeal really lifts the texture of the stuffing and stops it being too stodgy.

Just 4 days to go now…

I found my cranberry sauce recipe in a pre Christmas newspaper article written by Simon Hopkinson. The brown sugar, port and orange zest add fantastic flavour and fill the kitchen with wonderful scents as the sauce cooks. I treasure this recipe and am now very happy to have set it down in writing as it currently exists as a single brown stained piece of newsprint. I got very, very twitchy one year when I couldn’t find it.

Recipe for perfect roast turkey

Adapted from a recipe in “Leith’s Cookery Bible”. Serves 12


1 turkey unstuffed weight 10-13lb/5-6kg
1 recipe sage and onion stuffing
1 recipe chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing
1 large square fine muslin about 4 times the size of the turkey
6 oz butter

Stuff the cavity of the turkey with some of the sage and onion stuffing. Stuff the neck end of the turkey with the chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing. Draw the skin flap down to cover the stuffing and secure with a skewer. Weigh the stuffed turkey and calculate the cooking time. Put any leftover stuffing into a shallow greased baking dish and bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes or so until cooked through and crusty on top.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter and in it soak the piece of muslin until all the butter has been absorbed.

Completely cover the bird with the doubled butter muslin and roast in the preheated oven for the calculated time – a 12lb/5.35kg turkey should take 3 to 3 and 3/4 hours.

I roast my turkey in the roasting oven of a two oven Aga on the lowest set of runners. The oven has quite a high temperature, 200 degrees C at the bottom, higher at the top, so the bird cooks a little more quickly. I turn it round after an hour or so to ensure it cooks evenly.

Other than this, there’s no need to turn, baste change the temperature, just leave it to do its thing in the oven.

I use a meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through, removing it from the oven when the internal temperature is 10 degrees C below the temperature I’m looking for (ie I take it out at 72 degrees C) degrees C). As the bird rests, the internal temperature rises to the required 82 degrees C.

A long resting time (at least 1 hour, in fact up to 2 hours for a good sized turkey) will ensure the bird is easy to carve and gives you time to prepare the gravy, finish the vegetables, and generally have a more relaxing time.

Recipe for sage and onion stuffing


2 oz butter
3 medium onions, finely chopped
15-20 fresh medium sized sage leaves, finely shredded
12 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz medium oatmeal
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until translucent but not browned. Stir in the breadcrumbs, sage and seasoning to taste.

Recipe for chestnut and sausagemeat stuffing


2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1 and 1/2 lb of your favourite sausagemeat
1 lb cooked peeled chestnuts (I like Merchant Gourmet vacuum packed chestnuts)
1 beaten egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the onions in the oil in a small frying pan until tranlucent. Cool. Roughly mash the chestnuts with a fork. Combine the cooled cooked onions, sausagemeat, mashed chestnuts, a teaspoon of salt and a couple of twists of black pepper in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and go in with your hands to mix and combine all the ingredients. Don’t try and taste this to check seasoning as it contains raw sausagemeat.

Recipe for cranberry sauce


8oz (200g) brown sugar (demerara or light soft brown or even golden granulated)
1/2 pint (1/4 litre) port – ruby or LBV is fine, don’t use your best stuff for cooking
12 oz (340g) cranberries, rinsed and drained
grated zest of 2 oranges

Put the sugar and port into a medium non-reactive (stainless steel or enamelled cast iron) saucepan. Mix well and bring to the boil over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cranberries and orange zest and simmer until the skins of the cranberries have burst. Be careful not to overcook at this stage as otherwise you’ll get a rubber set.

Who threw away all my grits? Bahamian breakfast

December 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

Tucking into our breakfast from the Bahamas – corned beef, grits and johnny cake felt like eating a plateful of history. That’s a big thing to be doing at 6.30 am on a dark and cold December Tuesday morning before work and school. Here’s younger son Arthur enjoying his corned beef sauté and grits, liberally sprinkled with Tabasco:

This was the latest in our series of breakfasts of the world (in alphabetical order) and after more than a year at this occasional project it feels good to be hitting the letter B for the Bahamas!

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is an island chain close to Florida and north of Cuba. Andros is the largest island but capital Nassau is on the smaller island of New Providence. Columbus first made landfall on one of the islands of the Bahamas in 1492 but the islands were not settled by Europeans until English Puritans arrived via Bermuda in 1648. These first settlers survived by salvaging goods from wrecks. The islands became known for piracy and the infamous Edward Teach aka Blackbeard was based here.

Following the American War of Independence (1775-1783) the islands were settled by Loyalists (American colonists remaining loyal to British rule) and their slaves who established plantations on the islands. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and thousands of Africans from slave ships subsequently made their home on the island.

On the menu was corned beef sauté (made from my own home-cured corned beef though the tinned variety may be more authentic) then grits – cornmeal porridge – in fact I used a quick cook polenta though I believe Bahamians prefer harder to obtain white grits. The hash was followed by a traditional Bahamian johnny cake, a simple baking powder raised scone/soda bread thing, quickly prepared then cooked in a skillet or sturdy frying pan:

Grits were the staple food of the slaves who worked on the plantations. They were a cheap carbohydrate and slave owners would give their slaves a weekly ration of cornmeal grits to boil up with water.

Corned beef reflects the British history of the islands. During the colonial period, Great Britain was the Bahamas’ major trading partner. Beef preserved in brine was shipped out in large quantities, another dietary staple for slaves and the poor. The native Bahamians made it their own, adding spices and vegetables to turn the corned beef into dishes like the sauté given below.

The name johnny cake is thought to derive from the name journey cake, so-called because it was quick and easy to make while travelling. Traditionally it’s cooked on the stove top but I opted for baking mine in the oven.

Here’s the home cured beef cubed and ready to be turned into hash:

It’s wonderful stuff and very easy to do but you do need to start thinking about it 2-3 weeks before you want to eat it. This deserves to be the subject of another post sometime soon.

Here’s the freshly baked johnny cake just out of the oven:

and here it is sliced while warm ready to be thickly spread with butter and ready to be eaten Bahamian style with lots of sweet milky tea or coffee:

Definitely a breakfast to set you up for the day though in our case not for hard manual labour on plantations. And now the word of the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B (originally a folk son from the Bahamas) finally make sense. “The poor cook he got the fits, and threw away all my grits, and then he took and he ate up all of my corn”.

Recipe for corned beef sauté

Serves 4

From website which in turn credits the recipe to “Many Tastes Of The Bahamas & Culinary Influences of the Caribbean”

1 can (12 oz) corned beef
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped onion
1-2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tsp tomato paste
Hot pepper to taste
A few tbsp of water

Place the corned beef into a medium-sized bowl and break up with a fork in preparation for cooking. Sprinkle with lime juice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the corned beef with the onion and thyme for five to six mins. Stir in the tomato paste and crushed hot peppers to taste.

Add one to three tbsp of water for desired consistency and continue to cook, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 10 min.

Serve with grits or toast.

Recipe for Bahamian Johnny Cake


Makes one 7-8 inch round serving 4 comfortably

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup Crisco or other shortening (such as Trex in the UK but I used butter as I’m not an avid consumer of hydrogenated fats)
2/3 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients then cut in (rub in) shortening until the size of rice grains. Add milk gradually, just enough to make dough soft. Knead dough until smooth then let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Place dough in greased 8 or 9 inch round or square pan. Pierce top of dough with a fork. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven and baste top of bread with milk. Return to oven and allow to bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes.

Artisan baking part 3 white sourdough

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Pictured above are the beautiful baguettes à l’ancienne that I and my fellow novice bakers managed to conjure up after just a couple of hours tuition by master baker, bread enthusiast and all round great teacher Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. This post is the 3rd in a series describing the 4 day baking course I attended recently at the School of Artisan food on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Emmanuel is pictured in many of my photos and in my thrilling “white sourdough” video footage which you can find here:

Emmanuel’s white sourdough bread recipe is given at the end of this post. What the basic recipe can’t tell you is the wealth of knowhow needed to bake the perfect artisan loaf. This can only come from time spent handling dough and actually baking. All of the bread we amateurs produced on the course was outstanding. Back home, I have to say that my results with this most apparently simple of recipes have been a little more variable. I’ll try and point out the key things we learned on the course as I describe in more detail how we made this bread.

First of all, the raw ingredients. There are so few in the recipe that they have to be good. We worked exclusively with Shipton Mill organic flour in man-sized 25kg bags:

Then there’s the all-important sourdough, this time in a classroom-sized batch, bubbling away with its distinctive acetone scent:

Here’s my ingredients weighed out and ready to go. If only real life back home turned out to be clean, tidy, prepared, all weighed out…

You can see the dissolving of the sourdough in water and Emmanuel’s trademark “10 second knead” in the video clip referred to above. I like the idea that there’s very little work involved in preparing this dough – the wild yeasts quietly get to work and all you have to do is be patient and create the right conditions for this living organism to thrive. Time and a degree of patience are the things needed here.

Once the dough is prepared, it’s time for the fun bit, the shaping into loaves, baguettes or whatever. Artisan loaves obtain their distinctive appearance from the patterns left by natural cane or wicker proving baskets – also known as bannetons in French or Brotförme in German. Here’s a stack of them photographed at the commercially run Welbeck Bakehouse adjacent to the School:

The baskets need to be liberally dusted with flour before you pop the bread in – we used a mix of white flour and semolina for this purpose which gives a bit of crunch to the baked crust. The cane or wicker baskets can be used just as they are, no need for the washable liners you see advertised sometimes – this way you cut down on washing and get the beautiful cane spiral marks on your bread which mark it out as being the real deal.

There’s no need to invest in a stack of pricey proving baskets before you start making bread – I’ve been managing at home lately with a couple of ordinary small wicker baskets lined with (freshly laundered) waffle teatowels. I have a notion that the plastic basket from my salad spinner would also be fit for purpose. That said, I’m now hooked on breadmaking and have just ordered myself an early Christmas present online – 6 cane baskets from specialist artisan baking supplies website

You can see Emmanuel demonstrating how to shape a loaf before popping it in a proving basket in the video clip above. It may look nonchalant but the folding and tightening of the dough at this stage is key to a well risen and shapely baked final result. As Emmanuel says “don’t be shy to use a little bit of force”.

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try shaping your own baguettes? It’s not as daunting as it looks and you don’t need any special equipment or tins as it’s only industrial bakers that shape their baguettes in tins. Real bakers look in scorn at the telltale spot marks on the base of an industrially baked baguette which come from the tins used to shape and bake them.

What you need to do is divide you dough into 4 equal pieces (scales are needed to do this accurately). As the video clip shows, each piece of dough is rolled into a tight sausage shape and is placed seam side down on pleated calico liberally dusted with the flour/semolina mix to prevent sticking. Back home, I’ve found that a pleated linen or waffle cotton teatowel works well here though I had to shorten the length of my baguettes to fit the size of my domestic linen. Here’s a photo of Emmanuel’s baguettes nestling in their floured calico:

Once the loaves have proved and are doubled in size and the oven is hot, there’s one more key procedure – slashing. This is not merely decorative but also vital to make the loaf rise evenly and to promote what those in the know call “oven spring”. You’re looking for a plump, pert loaf rather than something too flat and pancakey.

For slashing, a medium sized really sharp blade and a deft swift and not too light touch are needed. You don’t want to just scratch the surface as you need to make a proper incision I would say at least a centimetre deep. A really sharp blade will mean you cut the dough cleanly rather than drag and stretch it which in turn will cause your beautifully risen dough to deflate demoralisingly.

In the video clip you can see us delivering the 5 traditional diagonal slashes to a baguette. Here’s me attempting the alternative scissor and twist technique for shaping the show-off épi baguette pictured at the beginning of this post.

Getting the bread into the oven is a little tricky, especially for baguettes. At the School, we baked this first batch of sourdough loaves in the professional Tom Chandley deck oven which has several stacked ovens which delivers a really good all over crust because of the direct heat at the base.

The proved loaves were turned out onto peels – thin wooden trays – thence straight onto the base of the oven with a deft in and out sliding motion. Think of the trick of whisking away a tablecloth but leaving all the china and cutlery on it intact. Back home I’ve not gone to the trouble (yet…) of investing in a small domestic peel and baking stone but instead have preheated metal baking sheets and have tipped out my proved loaves directly into these and popped them straight back into the hot oven.

One further point on technique – the steam referred to in the recipe is absolutely essential as it delays the formation of a thick skin on the loaf which will turn into an unpleasantly thick crust.

You can see the baked baguettes at the beginning of this post. This is what the baked artisan loaves should like, each decorated with its own individual slash mark:

And finally, what do you see when you cut into your freshly baked loaf? This is the perfect uneven, open crumb and elastic texture.

All that’s needed now is a wedge of your favourite cheese and glass of red wine…

Recipe for white sourdough bread


500g strong white flour
150g white sourdough
+/- 300g water
8g salt

Mix the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, dissolve the sourdough in the water. Add the flour mixture to the water and mix until it forms a dough. Cover the dough with the small mixing bowl and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Knead the dough, still in the bowl, for 10 seconds. Shape into a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat these two steps until the dough has been kneaded four times. Cover and rest the dough for an hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and portion into the required sizes. This quantity of dough will make a single rustic loaf or 4 baguettes. Shape the loaf/loaves into proving baskets or into pleated calico for baguettes or into a greased tin.

Allow to prove for 3-6 hours or until approximately doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C with a deep tray in the base of the oven. Once the bread is ready for baking, slash with a very sharp knife. Place the loaf in the oven at 250 degrees C, put a cup of water in the hot tray to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 210 degrees C.

Bake for +/- 35 minutes until golden brown. Turn out of its tin (if you have used one) and cool on a wire rack.

Red sea fish? I’ll have chips with mine please…

December 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

The recent scary news of shark attacks at Sharm el Sheikh reminds me that I’m due to write a sequel to my previous post describing our attempts to find a taste of the real Egypt during a recent package holiday.

That phrase “a taste of the real Egypt” has taken on a gruesome tint following the news of the death of one tourist and the maiming of three others – though they were not Egyptian but respectively German, Ukrainian and Russian. The news reports are big on sensationalism but short on key detail but a bit of delving reveals that the shark attacks all happened in the Middle Garden reef, adjacent to all the 5 star luxury establishments in the resort. We were some 10 miles further south in the mid-range price bracket – I knew there had to be a good reason for trading down…

Scenes like this one (not a brilliant picture I know but you try holding your breath and snapping through the minuscule viewfinder of a dodgy disposable underwater camera) look to be temporarily on hold while the guilty white-tip shark is hunted down. I feel shades of Moby Dick coming on…

Having spent most of our week in the water gazing at the incredible colours of the tropical fish, by the end of the week we decided it was time to eat some. This meant leaving the hotel compound and taking a taxi to the Old Market area of Sharm. This was the location of the first of the July 2005 terrorist attacks (it’s not just sharks you have to worry about here). The Old Market turned out to be a misnomer is it’s neither old nor is there a market there. You will find more marble shopping malls and inside you can get the bazaar feel by visiting one of the spice shops like this one:

I duly went in and haggled over the price of an odd selection of goodies: Bedouin tea, karkade (dried hibiscus flowers), kurkuma (I’m pretty sure this yellow powder is turmeric), and “black seeds” which appear very frequently on Egyptian bread (nigella also known as kalonji or, confusingly, onion seeds). Here I am clinching the deal after protracted negotiations and tea-drinking.

Transaction complete, our next task was to find somewhere authentic to eat. After asking round during the week and consulting our Lonely Planet guidebook I’d narrowed the choice down to two possibilities. The first was the straightforwardly named Red Sea Fish restaurant whose splendid display is pictured below:

Younger son Arthur decided that fish wasn’t for him this evening so that meant dinner was to be in local Sharm institution El Masrien:

The hotel staff had looked at me oddly when I’d asked if I needed to book here. Walking in it soon became apparent why. It’s more of a working man’s café than a restaurant – spotless formica tables, speedy service, TV in the corner and a short grill-based menu. Prices are cheap, very cheap as local Egyptians eat here and we saw that rare sight in Sharm, an Egyptian woman as, tourists aside, it’s a very male-based society.

We began on familiar territory with hummus, baba ganoush and pita bread (please excuse the random spelling of these Arabic words). All spanking fresh and full of flavour.

Thinking (wrongly) this wouldn’t be enough, I’d also ordered some grilled stuffed vegetables. This huge platter arrived which we failed to do full justice to:

The boys opted for kebabs as a straightforward choice – a mixture of shish (whole pieces of marinated lamb) and kofte (minced lamb with spices) both grilled over hot coals. These were wolfed down in seconds – I barely got a look in:

My choice was the more adventurous one of rice-stuffed pigeon. This splendid creature duly arrived allaying my fears of the scrawny feral birds pecking at detritus on the streets of Manchester:

The pigeon was impressive but my abiding memory of that evening will be watching a woman in full burqa delicately eating forkfuls of lamb – one hand would raise the fork to her facial area and at the last minute the other hand would dart up and swiftly swing aside the black veil and the speared morsel would disappear. I was transfixed but far too polite to try and video the performance.

So, next time you feel inclined to brave shark and terrorist attacks and visit Sharm, do consider leaving the gilded cage of your hotel compound and check out what the Old Market has to offer.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for December, 2010 at The Rhubarb Fool.