How to cook Christmas dinner without crying and a recipe for bread sauce

Crying at Christmas

My husband and I have teamed up to cook Christmas dinner for over 10 years now. At first we felt the pressure and really tried to impress. We trawled the internet for new ideas and watched all those Christmas cookery specials – amazed at the ability of celebrity chefs to churn out new takes on the traditional Christmas dinner year, after year, after year.

But in the end we’ve come to the rather undramatic conclusion that keeping things simple is the key. A few basic, well-cooked dishes is far better than a plate so packed full of miscellaneous items that it looks like you’re dining at one of those awful ‘all you can eat’ Chinese, Italian, Indian buffets.

This does make cooking Christmas dinner very undemanding (just think of it as a regular Sunday roast with a slightly bigger bird). But the real point here is that no one really cares whether the stuffing is in a beautiful roll and jewelled with cranberries, or if the carrots are delicately spiced with cumin. They just want a generous amount of food, a smiley/unstressed host, and a free flowing supply of wine. Save culinary excellence for another time when you can chose exactly what to cook based on who you’re cooking for.

To make our lives even easier we always prepare as much as possible beforehand so that on the day itself it’s just a case of bunging things in the oven. Christmas Eve is the day when everything happens in our house, we peel-chop-parboil all the vegetables and keep them in the fridge overnight, we make the stuffings and gravy…the kids watch far too much Christmas TV.

And on Christmas Day we always take the turkey out to rest in a double layer of foil before we start cooking the other stuff (potatoes, vegetables, stuffing etc.). That way we always have plenty of room in the oven. The meat does stay warm enough and with plenty of hot gravy over the top no one has ever complained.

This year I’m very excited because we’re finally getting the chance to cook in our very own kitchen. I’ve bought a special free range turkey from the butcher but apart from that we’re going to keep things pared down. Just potatoes roasted simply with oil and salt, some steamed cabbage from the allotment, roasted carrots, two stuffings (vegetarian sage and onion, sausage meat and chestnut), some really good gravy and…

…well despite everything I’ve said everyone has one thing that they see as an essential part of Christmas dinner and for me it has to be bread sauce. Someone asked me the other day what exactly it was and when I described it as bread soaked in milk flavoured with cloves, I realised that it sounded pretty horrible. But it isn’t. I don’t eat bread sauce at any other time of the year but for me the turkey (or should I really say Boxing Day turkey sandwiches) just wouldn’t be the same without it.  I always use the following Delia recipe and to make life easier I make it a day or two in advance and store it in a jar in the fridge. I then warm through and add the cream and butter just before serving on Christmas Day.

Delia Smith’s bread sauce

Serves 5-6 people (I usually double the recipe which makes enough for Christmas Day  (to feed 10 people) AND turkey sandwiches)

  • About 75g of two day old white bread, crusts removed and made into breadcrumbs using a food processor
  • 425ml full fat milk
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tablespoons of double cream
  • Salt and pepper

Cut the onion in half and stick the cloves in it. Place the onion, bayleaf, peppercorns and milk in a saucepan and leave to infuse for a couple of hours in a warm place.

Then, over a very low heat, slowly bring the milk to the boil (about 15 minutes). Remove the onion, bayleaf and peppercorns.

Stir in the breadcrumbs and add 25g of the butter and some salt. Leave the saucepan on a very low heat stirring now and then until the crumbs have swollen and thickened the sauce. I’ve made this many times and it’s difficult to be exact about the quantity of breadcrumbs needed because this depends on the texture and make up of your bread. But if the sauce is too runny don’t worry just add a few more breadcrumbs. The consistency should be thick enough to just about fall off a spoon. Leave to cool and place in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to serve.

On Christmas Day, heat the sauce in a saucepan, add the remaining 25g of butter and double cream and taste to check the seasoning adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with the turkey and a big, relaxed smile.

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