Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Christmas Meal

My written blogs are generally about travel and recipes. Others record daily happenings. This one is both a daily happening and how to make a Christmas meal less of the ordeal than many people seem to make of it. The key, I think, is timing – in the form of a kitchen alarm clock – and making a list of jobs to be done, and when to do them.
One or two items can be dealt with the day before to reduce hassle on Christmas day. I had, for instance, prepared breadcrumbs (for other occasions) from two slightly stale, white sandwich loaves, turning the crusts into breadcrumbs by baking them in the oven and crushing them in a pestle and mortar (no machinery, but helped by Margreet).
And I had made the cranberry sauce by boiling the cranberries in just a little water for 10 minutes. Thinking that orange goes well with cranberries, I had added chopped marmalade – to give them the orange taste and some sweetness. This did not really work. So I had to add the zest from the skin of a large orange and some sugar to get it right (and a little on the sour side to counteract the fatty richness of the goose). It was ready to serve - from a rather nice pot that had held the gift of an orchid.
Stock for gravy had been prepared by boiling up all the giblets in a pressure cooker. (The liver was turned into a small paté for future eating.)
Stuffing for the goose had also been prepared the day before by frying onion in olive oil, adding pounded sage leaves, a gift of prepared chestnuts, pepper and salt. Beaten egg, as binding, would be added before stuffing the bird on Christmas day.
Lastly, the brandy butter was made with butter and icing sugar, worked together with the fingers before the brandy was added. Actually, I experimented with calvados butter and rum butter as well – each served in small earthenware pots marked with garden labels. The outcome was that there was very little difference in taste between them. But into the refrigerator they went.
All these jobs had been done at my leisure and when I felt like doing them.
My timing list was made. Christmas day arrived.
I rose early, only to prick the goose and rub salt all over it – then back to bed.
The idea (and it worked beautifully) was to do the first job at the time prescribed, consult my list when the next one should be put into operation, and set the kitchen alarm for that time.
10 o’clock: Extract the fat from inside the rear of the goose and place it over the breast. Add beaten egg to stuffing, stuff goose, first with large chunks of Bramley Seedling apples (to fill the front cavity) and then sage and onion. Pin up the ends with wooden skewers.
10.45: Shove the bird on to a rack in the oven, with the pan destined for roast potatoes beneath it to catch the dripping fat. Position an oven tray beneath that, and a layer of foil beneath all – to catch fat and protect the oven. Turn the oven up high.
Peel and boil the spuds for 10 minutes (see later).
11 o’clock: Turn down the oven heat to its normal working temperature (for me that is a knob pointing upwards).
Trim and boil sprouts for 10 minutes, and at the same time fry small bits of back bacon until crisp, then adding pressed garlic. Add drained sprouts to the garlic and bacon, and keep an eye on them until they start to brown a bit. Heat it up once more before offering them at the table in a bowl.
Keep an eye on the fat in the pan and keep decanting it into a large bowl to be put into jars and distributed as gifts to friends.
11.20: The spuds are ready to be drained of water and added to the spud pan beneath the dripping goose (but I over-boiled them, or they were the disintegrating kind). Remember to salt and pepper them.
Make bread sauce by frying chopped onion in butter until transparent, adding milk and half an onion stuck with 6 cloves. Keep at the very lowest heat for a while to stop it curdling. Add pre-prepared breadcrumbs until the right consistency has been reached (it will thicken up a bit later) and turn off the heat until shortly before wanted at the table. Make plenty and have a bowl ready for it. It will need quite a bit of pepper and salt.
Make gravy with butter and flour, adding the stock that was made from pressure-cooking the giblets the day before. It might want a very little Worcester sauce, possibly a stock cube, and a touch of vinegar. Add pepper and salt. A little gravy browning added will improve its colour. Taste to get it right. Re-heat and put into a jug before serving.
12 o’clock: Start to heat the water around the supermarket Christmas pudding bowl on its trivet. Brush brandy over the goose’s breast.
12.30: Take the rum, calvados and brandy butter out of the refrigerator to soften.
Keep pouring off fat, now mainly from the potatoes in their tray.
Margreet will by now have made the first course of mozzarella slices between tomato slices with a garlicky vinaigrette, and cocktail sticks, each speared with a green olive, morsel of anchovy, and a quail’s egg. The latter will be for pre-lunch drinks.
1.30 or about: Guests will have arrived, consumed the said quail egg tapas morsels and be ready to eat from a very Christmassy, wipeable table covering, bought for £1 at a shop called Tiger.

A failure on my part was to make a mess of the par-boiled potatoes. The result was that they had partly disintegrated before being put into the pan beneath the goose. They turned out to be delicious, if not exactly potato-shape.
My timings list and kitchen alarm clock made everything go smoothly, but when reading what I have just written it does sound to be quite an ordeal – which it wasn’t at all. But there is quite a lot to think about and do for a Christmas meal, however efficiently, or otherwise, it has been conducted by the cook.