Solving Christmas kitchen disasters

JUSTINE COSTIGAN
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2013
Turkey
William Meppem
TRICKS OF THE TRADE: Is there a trick to stopping the turkey from drying out? Martha Stewart recommends stuffing butter under the skin.

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Overcooked meat? Lumpy custard? We've got five tips to avoid knocking the stuffing out of your Christmas fare.

Roast turkey

Like all lean meats, turkey runs the risk of becoming dry and tasteless if overcooked. This is especially true if you're roasting a whole bird as the breast meat will cook faster than the legs, thighs and wings.

Martha Stewart recommends stuffing generous quantities of butter under the skin all over the bird.

This helps brown and crisp the skin while keeping the meat moist. If you're not cooking for a crowd, breast on the bone or a stuffed, rolled breast is a good option.

Whole turkeys should be brought to room temperature before cooking and although you can make stuffing in advance, don't add it to the turkey until it goes into the oven if you want to avoid poisoning your family.

A meat thermometer is a good idea - to spend so much time and money on a bird for a poor result is no way to create Christmas cheer.

Custard/creme anglaise

Successful custard requires time and patience, two qualities often in short supply at Christmas. If you want to make a smooth, creamy creme anglaise, you need to cook it over a very low heat and stir constantly.

When the custard cooks too quickly, you may end up with scrambled eggs. If this happens, take the pan off the stove and place it in a sink filled with cold water. Nick Creswick from city cafe Le Traiteur says a curdled custard can be saved by putting it in a blender at high speed. Adding icy-cold milk or cream will also help reduce the temperature.

An easier option is to use a thickening agent. Beverley Sutherland Smith's classic custard recipe includes two teaspoons of cornflour to prevent curdling and ensure a dense, creamy custard.

If you want to flavour your custard with brandy, add one-quarter of a cup of alcohol to your warmed cream-and-milk mixture before adding the eggs. The milk and/or cream can also be infused with orange rind, vanilla bean or spices.

Christmas cake

Christmas cakes require long, slow baking for the dense batter to be thoroughly cooked, so there's often a risk the outside of the cake will be scorched. Most recipes suggest up to three layers of brown or baking paper as protection.

Even though your cake may take up to three hours in the oven, don't wander off - you may need to turn the cake or adjust the temperature.

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If your cake is scorched, you may be able to save it, provided that the centre of the cake is still moist. Cool the cake, then carefully slice or grate the scorched parts off. Using a thin skewer, poke tiny holes in the cake and then drizzle (or drench) the cake in your favourite fortified spirit. By now, even if your cake is not looking great, it will probably smell and taste wonderful. An ugly cake is easily remedied by using a traditional marzipan and royal icing. If you're not keen on that option, paint the top of the cake with warmed apricot jam and decorate with glace fruit and nuts. Glaze with more apricot jam. Cover the sides of the cake with pretty Christmas ribbon.

Gravy

There is no substitute for home-made gravy unless you have an excellent local food store that will make it for you. Don't think of using a commercial gravy - you only have to read the ingredients list to know why.

Gravy is usually made with roasted meat juices, flour and water but to ensure a really rich, delicious gravy, use a good stock instead of the water. To avoid lumps, stir constantly over a medium heat. If your gravy is too thin, make a slurry of flour and water and add it. If your gravy is lumpy, pass it through a sieve and blend with a stick mixer. Make sure you add any juices that have accumulated under the resting roasted meat. Taste for seasoning.

A bland gravy can be enhanced with a dab of Vegemite, a couple of mashed anchovies or soy sauce.

Glazed ham

It used to be common to buy a raw ham and take it home for poaching, baking and glazing. Now most butchers sell smoked hams that can be eaten as they are or glazed and baked, if you want to eat your ham hot. Glazed hams can also be eaten cold. The process is fairly straightforward - remove the thick ham rind from the top of the leg, score the fat and paint with glaze, basting throughout the cooking process. If you're not glazing your ham, keep the rind attached so it can be folded back over the ham to keep it moist. A long, thin knife with a bit of flexibility is the best choice for carving ham.

This meat works beautifully with relish - think beetroot, pickle or cranberry sauce.

To store a ham, replace the rind over the flesh, drape the ham with a clean tea towel that has been rinsed and wrung out in water and store in the fridge. Change the tea towel daily.

- Good Food

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