The Main Menu: Keep it simple and plan ahead for your Christmas dinner this year

Jan Main has some turkey (and gravy) tips to help you enjoy your Christmas Day celebration.

By JAN MAIN

Christmas Day is almost here!

Hopefully the Omicron variant won’t throw a wrench into our plans to celebrate with friends and family this year.

However, after what was last year’s subdued Christmas due to the pandemic, I’m rusty when it comes to preparing for a larger gathering! My friends have confessed the same. We’re lacking in confidence, slower with preparations. Our hospitality know-how has been on hold!

Enjoy every minute in the kitchen with these tips and recipes designed for make-ahead ease, and delicious taste. And enjoy your Christmas celebration.

Preparations

For a number of years, I catered Christmas events. Like any special occasion, it had to be as perfect as possible. From those years of experience, here are suggestions that worked:

Make a daily plan from first steps to the grand finale:

  • Monday – prepare desserts and baked goods. If possible, arrange on serving platters; cover well, refrigerate or freeze ready to serve.
  • Tuesday – Prepare salad dressings, refrigerate. Make grocery list and do shopping.
  • Wednesday – If possible, set table; at least prepare and put aside all things that are needed: put out necessary serving plates and serving utensils
  • Thursday – Make vegetable casseroles, stuffing and refrigerate. Prepare cranberry sauce and any appetizers. (if having)
  • Friday– Cook turkey, carve and arrange on platter. Refrigerate pan juices; organize remaining ingredients for gravy. Take desserts out of the freezer.
  • Saturday (Christmas Day) Preheat oven for re-heating. Re-heat food. Last minute table adjustments. Serve and enjoy!

The Menu

Appetizers: Although people love appetizers, keep them to a minimum. You don’t need many before a rich meal. However, if someone offers to bring an appetizer, take them up on the offer!

Salted almonds, some olives and a few crudites are a simple, light nibble.

Turkey

Defrosting: If you are serving turkey, make sure you allow a minimum of three days to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. If it is a large turkey, allow four days to defrost. Allow a minimum of 5 hours/lb to defrost in the refrigerator.

Stuffing: Cook the frozen or fresh turkey unstuffed, with stuffing a separate casserole. The bird cooks faster this way and you can assemble your stuffing the same day as the vegetable casseroles. The other bonus is the stuffing is easier to digest because it has not absorbed the fat from the bird.

Barbecued Fresh Turkey: Consider using a fresh turkey and cooking it on the barbecue in a disposable pan. You get fantastic results, have the oven free for other food and you can throw the disposable pan out without washing. Hurrah!

How to Barbecue a Turkey

Pre-heat barbecue to medium-high. Arrange a 12-16 lb (5.5-7.25 kg) unstuffed turkey on a trivet in a large, disposable aluminum pan. Pour 2-3 cups (500 -750 mL) water in bottom of the pan (this keeps the turkey moist!) Drizzle 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil and fresh lemon juice over bird; sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh pepper. Sprinkle with 2 tsp (10 mL) dried thyme.

Fill the cavity with the finished lemon pieces and a quartered onion and 3 whole cloves of crushed garlic. Cover with heavy duty foil sealing edges. Cook 2- 2 ½ hours or until legs wiggle easily and thermometer reaches 185 F (85 C). Remove and allow to stand about 15 minutes before carving. Remember to save the pan juices for gravy before discarding the pan!

Prepare Turkey the Day Ahead: There is no rule to say you have to cook and serve turkey the same day as it is cooked.

If you want to enjoy your Christmas Day, do as much preparation as possible before the big day, including cooking the turkey. Cook and carve the turkey the day before. That way you can arrange the turkey slices attractively on an ovenproof platter (or aluminum pan) ready to re-heat the next day.

If the meat has been sprinkled with the pan juices, covered with foil and refrigerated over-night, it will be ready to be re-heated on Christmas Day in a 350 F (180 C) oven for 30- 40 minutes or until heated through. It will be moist, tasty and fragrant! (A Christmas kitchen has to have wonderful smell!)

Best of all, there is a minimum of mess to clean up on Christmas Day!

Drain and save all pan juices from the turkey; cover and refrigerate. The pan juices serve as the foundation for delicious gravy. Once chilled the fat comes to the surface and can be removed and discarded. Save all your vegetable juices when making your veggie casseroles, to add to the stock for the gravy.

Stock for the Gravy

People love gravy especially with mashed potatoes!

Reserved juices from the cooked bird, cooled with fat discarded. Measure this amount and any vegetable juices with chicken stock to make 6 cups (1 ½ L).

The stock and gravy can be made a day ahead to simplify last minute prep.

6 cups/ 1 ½ L reserved turkey juices, any vegetable juices and chicken stock

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 each, carrot and celery coarsely sliced

1 bay leaf

½ tsp (2 mL)  leaf thyme

Gravy

3 tbsp (45 mL) cornstarch

3 tbsp (45 mL) cold water

6 cups (1 ½ L) reserved turkey stock (as above)

¼ (50 ml) dry sherry (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Stock: In a large saucepan combine 6 cups (1 ½ L) of turkey juice, from vegetable juice and chicken stock. Add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and thyme.  Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer about 1 hours. Sieve and discard solids to produce 6 cups ( 1  ½ L).

To Prepare the Gravy: In separate measuring cup, whisk together cornstarch and water. Whisk into hot stock and cook whisking frequently to prevent lumps about 5 minutes or until gravy is thickened. Stir in sherry if using, taste. Season with salt and pepper. Ready to serve. Makes 6 cups (1 ½ L).

Happy Holidays everyone!


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