WELL, only four days until the big day and the big over- indulgence.
I expect by now you have been offered enough advice about the merits of goose over turkey and the cooking methods and timings of both, not to mention 101 different ways to present a sprout and how to cook perfect roast potatoes, so I will not aggravate you further on these subjects.
Unless you are cooking for huge numbers, just think of the Christmas feast as a normal roast lunch. There is no reason why it should be any different from cooking roast chicken with all the trimmings.
A bit of forward planning is useful so you don’t miss out on too much of the action, and my one piece of advice would be to wash up as you go along.
There is nothing more daunting, dispiriting, depressing and panic-making than a sink full of dirty pots and pans.
I always advise never putting down or leaving a dirty saucepan or roasting tin in the sink.
Drain say, the potatoes, and while still holding the pan (don’t let go!) quickly wash it out – job done.
Made a white sauce? Use it and wash the pan immediately. Do not be tempted to fill anything with water and leave until later.
Plus, into the bargain, most things are easier to wash straight away. Once you get used to this it becomes second nature and you will find you are much less flustered.
Today I thought I would give you some ideas for different ways to enjoy potatoes over the next few weeks. All those cold cuts call out for some jazzy potatoes alongside and the variations are endless.
Firstly, I would recommend buying a sack of good local, all-round potatoes which only costs between £6-£10, great value and far cheaper than buying them in kilo bags from the supermarket.
They need to be kept somewhere cool and dark such as a garage, shed or porch and will last for several months. Plus you always have lunch or supper to hand and you don’t have to lug them home with the rest of your shopping.
They might come complete with clods of soil which just brings the whole thing back to nature and is the way it should be in my view.
Obviously, baked potatoes are the easiest and if you want to up the ante they can be halved, hollowed out, stuffed with cheese, butter and other goodies, spooned back into the skins and cooked until brown and bubbling when required. They can also be frozen after re-filling but before the second cooking, so good for getting ahead.
Boulangère potatoes are classic French and very comforting; thinly sliced potatoes and onions layered up with enough stock poured over the top to barely cover and then cooked for at least an hour until soft and yielding, and golden and crispy on top.
I am sure everyone is familiar with Dauphinoise potatoes, but perhaps not so familiar with the proper French way of cooking them, which is infinitely better than the usual ‘British’ way. In fact, one bears little resemblance to the other. The British way is to layer up sliced potatoes, pour over double cream and cook.
The French way is actually less fattening as it is made predominantly with milk and only a little cream.
The trick is to slowly bring all the ingredients up to the boil in a large saucepan, by which time the sloppy, runny milk and cream liquid will have thickened to the consistency of double cream, courtesy of the starch which is released from the potatoes.
This is then tipped into a fairly shallow oven-proof dish and cooked into a delicious creamy gratin.
If you are entertaining and would like to get ahead, and impress your guests into the bargain, an elegant and handy way of serving this gratin is to stamp out individual rounds with a plain pastry cutter.
To do this you need to make them a day or two ahead and allow them to get cold. Stamp out six rounds about 6-7 cm/2½ - 2¾ in across or cut into squares. Put on to a baking sheet lined with silicone paper and reheat when required.
Arranged down one side of a platter with meat down the other and possibly vegetables too, this is a very stylish way of serving the potatoes.
It is also convivial and friendly with the platter in the middle of the table so everyone can dig in and help themselves. A very Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.
Find lots more simple but contemporary recipes in Jane’s book Make it Easy, available from www.janelovett.com bookshops and Amazon
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THESE delicious potatoes can be made a day in advance and reheated at the last minute.
2lbs/900g floury potatoes such as Maris Piper
1/4pt/150ml double cream
12fl oz/350ml milk
2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas5. Butter an ovenproof gratin dish measuring approx 8 x 10in (18 x 24cm).
2. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Do not put the sliced potatoes into water.
3. Put the cream, milk, garlic, seasoning and potatoes into a large pan and using a wooden spoon, carefully mix together over a gentle heat. Continue until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.
4. Pour the mixture into the greased ovenproof dish and sprinkle the top with freshly grated Parmesan. Bake for around 1 hour until the potatoes are very tender and the top is golden brown and bubbling.
5. Serve straight from the gratin dish or allow to cool, cover, chill and reheat when required. Alternatively, allow to cool and using a plain pastry cutter, about 2 ¾ in/ 7cm across, stamp out six rounds or cut gratin into 6 squares. Place these on to a lightly buttered baking sheet and reheat for 10-15 minutes when required.
Wash up as you go along. I always advise never leaving a dirty saucepan or roasting tin in the sink