If you’re the one doing the festive menu this Christmas, you could do a whole lot worse than have someone like Jamie Oliver hold your hand.
The celebrity chef and prolific book-writer has just written Christmas Cookbook, but he is adamant that he’s going to do a seasonal book only once and this is it. It is the culmination of 17 years’ work fine-tuning recipes, three of which are included here. They will, he says, guide you to “a really scrumptious Christmas”.
Note that he says “scrumptious”, not calm, smooth or controlled because Christmas doesn’t go like that – not even for Jamie Oliver. On the dedication page, he honours his late Nan, Betty Marjorie Palmer, and recalls how she managed to set her paper crown – and her heavily hair-sprayed blue rinse – on fire one year, while moving too close to a candle in an overenthusiastic lunge for the stuffing.
“I clearly remember recoiling in horror at what Dad had to do to put her out,” he recalls, though when she was extinguished, the meal carried on with gusto.
“And that’s Christmas for you – it never goes according to plan. But as long as you keeping laughing, it will be alright,” he adds.
So, don’t expect Jamie to stave off unexpected disasters but he has lots of great advice when it comes to cooking the classics, loving the leftovers and, if you’ve the time and energy, making edible food gifts.
The festive season is all about indulgence – and the recipes here are luscious and full-fat – but Oliver’s recent qualification in nutrition is reflected on every page; the nutritional content is spelled out in detail so that you can make informed choices.
He also advises home chefs to buy organic whenever possible: “It is slightly more expensive, but every time you buy organic, you vote for a better food system,” he says.
When it comes to meat, there’s no point eating it unless the animal was raised well and was at optimal health. “So please choose organic, free-range or higher-welfare meat and responsibly sourced fish whenever you can,” he says.
Here are Jamie Oliver’s tips for a stress-free Christmas.
Check your equipment: "I can’t tell you how many stories I hear about people going to cook their turkey and realising that they don’t have a tray big enough for it, or that they’ve gone the other way and bought a tray that doesn’t fit in their oven! One of the best bits of advice I can give you to avoid big-day stress is to check your equipment a few weeks in advance."
Timing, organisation and lists are really important: "There’s no such thing as luck when it comes to a really well done Christmas meal. Planning ahead will give you not only wonderful, tasty food, but also the ability to wow people."
Plan meals: "I’m not just talking about the big day. Think about where you’ll be and who you’ll be entertaining on Christmas Eve, on Boxing Day, and on those days between Boxing Day and New Year when shops are a bit scarce. Stock up and plan ahead and you’ll be super-thankful for it."
Your freezer is your best friend: "Can you make stuff ahead and freeze it? Freeze trays of mince pies or sausage rolls ready for nibbles, or make a batch of curry sauce ready to knock up a quick festive meal with a moment’s notice."
Freezing advice: "Let food cool before freezing, and break it down into portions so it cools quicker and you can get it into the freezer within two hours of cooking. Thaw in the fridge before use. Generally, if you’ve cooked frozen food, don’t freeze it again after you’ve reheated it."
Delegation is the name of the game: "Delegate jobs, whether it’s getting the kids to set the table and make place settings, tasking everyone with a different prep job, or asking any friends or family members who can’t cook to bring the cheese or take control of washing-up duties. If everyone chips in and does their bit, you’ll have dinner on the table with minimum stress and, most importantly, a room full of happy, well-fed faces."
Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook is published by Michael Joseph, €30.
I love all mince pies at Christmas. This is my nod to the more traditional variety, but I think these are just a bit more interesting than usual, as the addition of delicious, sweet squash really lightens the classic mix.
Makes: 24 pies
Total time: 2 hours 15 minutes, plus cooling
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Roast the whole squash for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Once cool enough to handle, halve and deseed, then scoop half the soft flesh into a bowl to cool (you only need half here, so keep the remaining roasted squash for another recipe, such as the one on page 146).
Meanwhile, to make the pastry, sieve the flour and icing sugar on to a clean work surface. Cube the cold butter, then use your thumbs and fingertips to rub it into the flour and sugar until you end up with a fine, crumbly mixture. Beat 2 eggs and the milk and add to the mixture, then gently work it together until you have a ball of dough – don’t work it too much at this stage as you want to keep it crumbly and short. Flour your clean work surface, pat the dough into a flat round, flour it lightly, wrap in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for at least half an hour.
Lightly grease two 12-hole muffin tins with butter. Add the mincemeat and maple syrup to the bowl of cooled squash, then chop and add the almonds and mix together. Roll out the pastry on a clean flour-dusted surface to 3mm thick. Use a 10cm pastry cutter to cut out 24 circles of dough, then ease and press them into your prepared tins. Equally divide up the filling, then cut out 8cm circles from your leftover pastry to top the pies, crimping the edges together as you go. You can also add pastry shapes to decorate, depending on how many offcuts you have. Brush the tops of the pies with beaten egg, also using it to help you stick on any pastry decorations you’ve cut out.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until golden. Leave to cool and firm up for 10 minutes in the tins, then carefully transfer to a wire cooling rack. Dust lightly from a height with icing sugar and serve. Lovely hot with a drizzle of custard, or warm or cold with a cup of tea. You can also box them up for another day, and they’re great as a gift, too.
I love making these in advance. Stack them in the freezer and you can cook the directly from frozen, with a light egg wash, for 35 minutes.
CALORIES - 317kcal
FAT - 13.6g
SAT FAT - 5.6g
PROTEIN - 4.6g
CARBS - 47.4g
SUGARS - 29.4g
SALT - 0.1g
FIBRE - 1.4g
This Yule log brings back loads of happy memories for me – it was one of the first desserts I ever made as a kid, at Christmas time, of course! This is my slightly more grown-up version, which is really good fun to make and decorate.
Serves: 12 to 14 portions
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. For the sponge, line a 25cm x 30cm baking tray with greaseproof paper. Separate the eggs. In an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks with a pinch of sea salt. Gradually whisk in the icing sugar, then, one-by-one, whisk in the egg yolks until really pale and light. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, add the vanilla bean paste, then fold everything together with a large metal spoon so you keep in as much air as possible. Spoon the mixture into the lined tray, gently and evenly spread it out, then bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just cooked through and springy to the touch.
Place a large sheet of greaseproof paper (35cm x 45cm) on a flat surface and evenly sprinkle over the caster sugar from a height. While it’s still hot and flexible, turn the sponge out on to the paper. Peel off and discard the baked piece of greaseproof. With one of the longest sides in front of you, fold up the excess paper, then roll up the sponge with the paper inside (as it cools, this will set the shape but prevent the sponge from cracking). Leave to cool.
For the filling, mix the chestnut purée and cinnamon together. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to soft peaks, then fold in the honey. To assemble, unroll the sponge so it’s flat, removing the paper. Spread all over with the chestnut purée, followed by the cream, then smash and sprinkle over the Crunchie bar or honeycomb. Re-roll and pop into the fridge. Meanwhile, make your buttercream.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, then remove and leave to cool. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until pale, then, with the mixer still running, gradually add the icing sugar and cool melted chocolate.
Take the log out of the fridge, chop off a quarter at an angle – that’s the branch – and position it on your serving board like in the picture, using a splodge of buttercream to keep it in place. Evenly cover the whole log with buttercream, then use a fork to decorate it. Dust with extra icing sugar and a pinch of sea salt, shaved chocolate, sprinkles, plastic Bambi figures, whatever you like – go to town!
CALORIES - 397kcal
FAT - 25g
SAT FAT - 14.7g
PROTEIN - 5.1g
CARBS - 39.7g
SUGARS - 31.3g
SALT - 0.2g
FIBRE - 2.3g
This is a super-easy, old-school dish that uses leftover turkey or chicken in a brilliant way. As a kid I made it with dumplings, but when I was in the USA they would top stews with these lovely biscuits, so this is my hybrid of the two.
Serves: 6 portions
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
To start the dumplings, roughly chop the bacon and place in a large frying pan on a medium-low heat to crisp up while you wash, trim and finely slice the leeks. Stir them into the pan with 1 tablespoon of oil, then cook for 15 minutes, or until soft and sweet, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, for the stew, peel the onions, trim the celery, then roughly chop both and place in a large, wide casserole pan on a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of oil (or even better, use turkey dripping to intensify the flavours). Add the herb sprigs and bay, and cook for 15 minutes, or until soft but not coloured, stirring regularly. Stir in the mustard and flour for 2 minutes, then gradually stir in the stock to make a nice thick sauce. Crumble in the leftover stuffing and turn the heat off. Scoop out and discard the herb sprigs and bay leaves, then shred the turkey or chicken meat, stir it into your stew, taste, and season to perfection.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Place the flours, baking powder and bicarb in a large bowl. Dice and add the butter, then use your thumbs and forefingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the middle, pour in the buttermilk, then gradually mix into the crumbs, bringing them in from the outside. Stir in the cooled leeks and bacon until just combined, but don’t overwork it – we want the dough as light as possible. Gently roll it out on a clean flour-dusted surface until 2cm thick, then use a 5cm fluted cutter to stamp out as many round dumplings as you can, re-rolling and using up any offcuts – you should get at least 12 from this amount.
Brush the dumplings with beaten egg, then sit them on top of the stew. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the dumplings are risen and golden and the stew is blipping and bubbling away nicely. Delicious with simple steamed greens.
CALORIES - 490kcal
FAT - 19.7g
SAT FAT - 6.2g
PROTEIN - 38.1g
CARBS - 42g
SUGARS - 10.7g
SALT - 1.9g
FIBRE - 4g
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