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TEAM ZOELLA DECEMBER 20, 2021

How to Cook A *Chef’s Kiss* Christmas Dinner, From The Culinary Gods Who Know

From the secret to fluffy but crispy spuds to the golden rules for cooking a perfectly succulent turkey or no-beef wellington and the common mistakes us mere mortals make, here’s how to leave your guests saying ‘hats off to the chef’ this Christmas.

Pinnies on people, it’s time for the main event: Christmas Dinner.

Prepping your festive spread for the big day should be fun but feeding the family often becomes the most daunting part of the day, stuffed with family barnies, raw Yorkshire puddings (because of course, you turned the oven off) and lumpy gravy disasters.

To ensure you don’t get caught up in the stress of it all and enjoy the festivities sans the sprout showdown, we asked our favourite culinary gods of the internet, otherwise known as chefs, to share their foolproof tips for a Michelin star level Christmas feast!

From the secret to fluffy but crispy spuds to the golden rules for cooking a perfectly succulent turkey or no-beef wellington and the common mistakes us mere mortals make, here’s how to leave your guests saying ‘hats off to the chef’ this Christmas.

Luke Catleugh

Luke’s taste in food is just as good as his taste in fashion! His recipe reels will have you drooling away, so we couldn’t wait to see how he does Christmas! Follow Luke on Instagram here.

Prep-wise, what do you take care of in the run-up to save us time on the day?

I am a huge believer in failure to plan, then plan to fail. However, especially after last year with everything changing so last minute, it truly doesn’t matter what you have on your plate, it’s more-so who you have around you.

Having said that, we do tend to peel/chop as much as we can the night before. Christmas Day is always such a blur, so the less time spent in the kitchen the better. These things you can do on the 24th:

  • Peel your spuds and leave them in water overnight. Saves SO much time.
  • You can also peel and chop your carrots and parsnips, par-boil them and wrap them on a baking tray ready to roast.
  • If you are having meat (we don’t as I am veggie) it’s always a great idea to prep your turkey or meat the day before. Add any seasonings or stuffing and chill overnight. Don’t forget to bring your meat out to room temperature before cooking.

Sprouts are always pretty divisive. Have you got any trusty recipes or ideas to make them more likeable?

Sprouts have ALWAYS divided opinions in our household. I used to hate them with a passion and would try to hide them under the table or feed them to our dog. However, that was until I discovered a roasted sprout. Absolute game changer! My failsafe method is to blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes and then submerge them in iced water to stop them cooking. Then simply halve the sprouts, add them to a roasting tray drizzled in olive oil, rock salt and cracked black pepper. Roast them for 20 – 25 minutes at 200 degrees/180 fan. You can stop there, or for a festive kick add some torn sage leaves which have been drizzled with oil to stop them burning 5 minutes before they’re done. Gorgeous!

What’s your ultimate Christmas Day starter?

My Mam makes a MEAN cheese soufflé, it’s rich and indulgent. In recent years however, we haven’t bothered with starters as the main is where it’s at!

What about presentation – does the aesthetic matter?

I think we eat with our eyes, but I am a big believer in that you can hide a multitude of Christmas cooking sins with a well-decorated table. I love a table-scape! We tend to put everything on the table if there is room and folks can just dig in and help themselves. That way, people can have as much oras little as they want. Pomegranate seeds and sage leaves add a festive sparkle to any dish to finish!

No Christmas dinner is complete without…

Before I was vegetarian, pigs in blankets, without a shadow of a doubt. Now, I’d have to say a roast potato. Potatoes are life.

What makes for the best fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside roast pots?

There is an art to roast potatoes and everyone does them differently. Some good tips I have learned:

  • Cut your spuds on an angle, this gives better surface area for texture
  • Cut them different sizes, but not too small or they will disintegrate
  • Boil them in salt and a 1/4tsp of bicarbonate soda. This helps with the ‘fluff” until just softened.
  • Leave them to steam once drained and fluff them in the colander before adding them to the oil
  • The hotter the oil, the crispier the potato. We use olive oil but I know traditionally you’d use goose fat.
  • Turn them regularly too!

What are you having as your main meat or alternative this year?

The past few years we have done a nut roast and it has always gone down a storm. This year, we are going for a mushroom, spinach and chestnut wellington for a change.

Let’s talk sauces. What’s the key to a great homemade cranberry or bread sauce?

Bread sauce is completely unchartered territory, however cranberry sauce is my go to! My Nana used to make a gorgeous cranberry sauce and she used to add a splash of port for good measure. She always said, the earlier you can make it the better the flavour gets. What makes for a 10/10 gravy? I am a northerner, so gravy is our thing! If you are a meat eater, save your cooking juices from the roasting of the meat and add that to your gravy. Depth of flavour is super important in gravy. I start with a base of onion, then add a good red wine and vegetable stock. I then stir in some cranberry sauce and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Leave it on the hob on low so the flavours have chance to develop. Cornflour will be your saviour if you have a thin gravy!

Thinking of the veggies, how does one level up their humble carrots or parsnips?

We always glaze our parsnips in honey and mustard. It’s an age old tradition. The mustard always has to be wholegrain. Last year, I tried fennel seeds and maple syrup on my carrots and instead of roasting them I fried them in a pan. They were gorgeous!

Talk to us about the cheese board situation – any pointers for layout, what needs to be on there and what can we do away with?

Cheeseboards are a thing of joy! I love them and you can go as overboard as you like. It’s Christmas after all! I think as long as you have 3-4 cheeses, a good robust cracker and some fruit, you are onto a winner. A classic cheddar is a crowd-pleaser, a creamy brie or a roulade will add flavour and a blue for those who love it. I think simplicity is key. Make sure you have more crackers on hand and plenty of cheese knives.

Have you got any Christmas Eve foodie traditions?

We always used to make hot chocolates before bed. As we grew up, we were allowed to join the adults and add a splash of whiskey or Cointreau for a festive touch. That would be the last thing we had before we went to bed.

Does the perfect time to serve up your Christmas dinner exist?

Absolutely not. We used to have our Christmas dinners SO early as kids, but it’s a much more relaxed affair now. I think everyones Christmas is different and special so enjoy it when it’s all ready!

Three sides you wouldn’t be without…

Roast potatoes, Sage and onion stuffing, Braised red cabbage!

If you could only have one festive dessert?

It has got to be a mince pie. I know so many people don’t like them but I just think they fully encapsulate Christmas. Always warmed and with a huge dollop of brandy cream. Delicious!

Katie Pix

Katie’s recipes are quick, easy and always filled to the brim with laughs! Her latest Food Flix series has Katie recreating the most delicious eats from well-loved films and TVs, and of course, recreating the costumes too. Follow Katie on Instagram here.

Prep-wise, what do you take care of in the run-up to save us time on the day?

In all honesty, we do very little forward-prep when it comes to Christmas dinner. Everyone’s assigned their various tasks (even grandma’s made to roll her sleeves up) and we all get stuck in on Christmas morning. It gathers us into the heart of the home and takes the pressure off any one person to get it all done. But things like sauces, the gravy and vegetable sides can all be happily prepped and ‘finished’ on the day. A great way to do it if you also have limited hob and oven space. 

Sprouts are always pretty divisive. Have you got any trusty recipes or ideas to make them more likeable?

Sprouts are sensational. If you’re eating sprouts and they evoke an unpleasant odour rather than a delicious taste, you’ve overcooked them! They’re essentially tiny little cabbages and relish being tossed through butter, generously seasoned and even served with chestnuts and bacon. Shred them up, fry them off with a dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon and give them a chance!

What’s your ultimate Christmas Day starter?

We love to go retro – prawn cocktail, melon and prosciutto or smoked salmon mousse with melba toast. Christmas is a time to indulge in nostalgia and it’s these dishes that help us revisit that wonderful feeling of Christmas every single year. 

What about presentation – does the aesthetic matter?

Absolutely! We eat with every one of our senses. Whether Christmas time or a mid-week meal in January, we almost always enjoy a plate of food more if it looks inviting. I’m not suggesting your crockery makes the difference but taking into consideration the balance of colour certainly will. Have you got some bright orange carrots and cherry red cranberry sauce alongside your ultimate beige delights? 

No Christmas dinner is complete without…

Pigs in blankets. And if you give Tom Kerridge’s ultimate pigs in blankets a try, you will absolutely agree with this statement (unless if you’re vegetarian, of course!). Juicy pork sausages wrapped in black pudding and crispy streaky bacon and glazed in a sticky cranberry and honey sauce. OOOOUFF! 

What makes for the best fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside roast pots?

1) Par-boil your potatoes in unseasoned water until they are just about to fall apart. 2) Lightly shake them in a colander to rough up the sides. 3) Allow them time to steam dry. 4) Use beef dripping or goose fat and make sure it has rendered first. 5) Add some rosemary and garlic about 10-15 minutes from the end and season upon serving. My mouth is watering. 

What are you having as your main meat or alternative this year?

We get a Kelly Bronze turkey every year – the best of the best – and a side of pork belly. Bring on the meat sweats. 

Let’s talk sauces. What’s the key to a great homemade cranberry or bread sauce?

Take your time. Allowing flavour to infuse and mature is game-changing when it comes to sauces. For example, let the milk in your bread sauce prep infused with cloves, onion, bay, peppercorns and nutmeg for all long as possible before adding the breadcrumbs and finishing it off. 

What makes for a 10/10 gravy?

Use your trimmings! Vegetable peelings, giblets and meat scraps can all be merrily roasted off and added to your gravy. Be sure to really mash them into the sauce before pouring it through a fine sieve to get the most flavour from them. Texture also makes for a game-changing gravy. Making a cornflour slurry will help add a velvety, thick viscosity to your gravy without having to panic about measurements. 

Thinking of the veggies, how does one level up their humble carrots or parsnips?

Cook carrots vichy-style. It is a French cooking technique where you cook the carrots in water, sugar, star anise and butter to make an outrageously festive glaze. And no parsnip is complete without a drizzle of honey and sprinkle of sea salt. 

Talk to us about the cheese board situation – any pointers for layout, what needs to be on there and what can we do away with?

Hold my butter knife… I’m going in.

It may be controversial but there should be 3-4 cheeses. Any more than that and there’s too much for the palate to enjoy. So with such a reserved number of cheeses, it’s important to include different styles, textures and flavours. Now, put away your packet of sandwich cheddar and don’t you DARE buy pre-sliced, it’s time to treat yourself and your taste buds with a sophisticated lineup. A soft cheese (often my lightest flavour option), a hard cheese (like a gnarly, tangy cheddar), something blue (can’t go wrong with a stilton) and an alternative cheese (something really special). I always like to buy straight from the cheese counter, not only to get a perfect size and shape for my table but to have a natter with knowledgeable cheese specialists.

If you’ve chosen your cheeses well, you shouldn’t need nor want to lay on too many additional flavours, but a lovely chutney and seasonal fruits and nuts not only offer new textures, they are colour to an otherwise beige cheeseboard canvas!  As for the crackers, it’s a minefield – the purist’s water biscuit, the classic cream cracker, the crumbly oatcake, the savoury digestive, classy charcoal squares, sophisticated crispbreads… But, there’s really no need to go mad! Blue cheeses go best with something a bit sweet and soft cheeses with a crisp, light cracker, but something neutral should work with everything.
It’s called a cheese BOARD for a reason. Grab yourself a beautiful hunk of wood and go wild. No need to be too strategic in how they are laid out. Often the ‘scattered’ tactic makes for a sumptuously rustic look. By bundling it all onto one plate, you also play a part in the true sentiment of Christmas – sharing. Reaching over one another, grabbing a slice and clashing knives on the stilton makes for a lot of loving interaction.

To help people know where to go, number your cheeses with little flags – guiding your guests from mild to strong – you need to start mild so you can actually taste each one as you go. Cheese is happiest wrapped in greaseproof paper, or even tin foil, so unpack and re-wrap it once you get home if you need to. In the grocery store, most cheeses (unless they’re vacuum packed) are kept cold in a refrigerated section, so it’s logical to assume that cheese should be served cold. However, cheese is at its best when served at room temperature, so remove it from refrigeration at least a half-hour before serving. If you have a large piece of cheese, only take out what you intend to serve.

Have you got any Christmas Eve foodie traditions?

Homemade pâté. It’s the first thing I make with my Dad when I head home for Christmas. We’ll often open up some ‘picky bits’ alongside but otherwise hold ourselves back from anything resembling a full dinner to mentally prepare for the feast to come!

Does the perfect time to serve up your Christmas dinner exist?

Yes – when you’re hungry! Christmas traditions should come with an asterisk to say *unique and applicable to you and your family* as we’re all so different, but I think this rule applies across the board. We are often up early in the Pix household, opening presents and tucking into smoked salmon and scrambled eggs alongside our Cadbury’s selection boxes.

By the time we’ve polished off a few bottles of bubbles we are slowly starting to get washed and dressed and lunchtime has been and gone. Our Christmas dinner starts at 3pm. Primetime to leisurely indulge, play party games and take full advantage of the perfectly timed post-Christmas-dinner lethargy around 5.30pm with a sofa nap. 

Three sides you wouldn’t be without…

Cauliflower cheese, Vichy carrots and red cabbage. ( I don’t think I’ve answered a question more speedily). 

If you could only have one festive dessert?

Bread and butter pudding made with leftover panettone and slathered in a thick vanilla custard. 

Madeleine Shaw

Madeleine brings an element of health and wellness to all of her foodie content which is always welcome over the Christmas period! Follow Madeleine on Instagram here.

Prep-wise, what do you take care of in the run-up to save us time on the day?

I always pre-make my Yorkshire pudding batter in advance and freeze it so that it is already ready for the day. I also make a homemade cranberry sauce that lasts all Christmas.

Sprouts are always pretty divisive. Have you got any trusty recipes or ideas to make them more likeable?

I absolutely love brussel sprouts, which for some people may seem ridiculous. But I truly believe if you don’t like them, it’s because you have been doing them wrong. I’ve rustled up mine with some maple syrup, roasted sweet potato, dried cranberries, pickled cabbage, pecans, coconut flakes and almond butter. WITH, a delicious miso dressing…. Now, if this doesn’t convert you, I don’t know what will

What’s your ultimate Christmas Day starter?

I love to make a grazing board and smoked salmon blinis as it gives a lot of variety and you can keep going back to them.

What about presentation – does the aesthetic matter?

Of course, it always helps to eat something that looks appetising and colourful as we always eat with our eyes first, I think the addition of fresh herbs or pomegranates are great at Christmas to add on top of dishes but we always know what we are getting at Christmas and it tends to never disappoint even if sometimes it is a little burnt!

No Christmas dinner is complete without…

Honey roasted vegetables!!

What makes for the best fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside roast pots?

It’s all about the shaking of the potatoes before you put them in the hot oil before roasting.

What are you having as your main meat or alternative this year?

I love a mushroom wellington. As there are a few different dietary needs with our families we tend to have a great mix of meat and veggie options to cater to all. 

Let’s talk sauces. What’s the key to a great homemade cranberry or bread sauce?

Maple syrup for the perfect refined sugar cranberry sauce.

What makes for a 10/10 gravy?

The juices from the roasted veg and meat – you can’t beat it.

Thinking of the veggies, how does one level up their humble carrots or parsnips?

Smothered in cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic or of course the honey-roasted veg.

Talk to us about the cheese board situation – any pointers for layout, what needs to be on there and what can we do away with?

I have never been a huge fan of cheese so I always do a vegan grazing board and this goes down a treat. With lots of dips, crackers, dried fruits and nuts.

Have you got any Christmas Eve foodie traditions?

I love to eat some fish the day before a heavy Christmas day – usually something light and fresh like my Pomegranate Glazed Salmon.

Does the perfect time to serve up your Christmas dinner exist?

No, I think the key is to let the day flow, sometimes things are out of your control so just enjoy every moment.

Three sides you wouldn’t be without…

Yorkshire puddings, roasted potatoes, Brussel sprouts 

If you could only have one festive dessert?

It’s got to be a perfect Christmas pudding or some gluten-free mince pies.

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