Hints and Tips for cooking your Christmas dinner

Posted On December 4, 2009

Filed under Festive Food

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Here are some Hints and Tips for cooking your Christmas dinner >

* Butter the inside of your turkey and place it upside down in the roasting tray. This lets the butter melt through the meat giving you a lovely flavour.

* Let the bird rest for 20 minutes before carving and serving.

* Cook your roast potatoes in goose or duck fat to give a fuller flavour.

Happy Cooking!

Christmas food good for sex

Experts say the traditional Christmas meal is a health timebomb. Bah, humbug, we say, because a festive feast is bursting with de-stressing nutrients that will put sizzle back into your sex life.

Sage, as we know, is essential for a good stuffing and in more ways than one recent research has proved. Scientists at Northumbria University have found that an extract of the herb reduces anxiety and stress, which are lethal for the libido. Professor Andrew Scholey says “We are optimistic about the potential for sage to improve mood”.

As many as one in three women loses interest in sex at some time and the most common reason given is stress. So if you’re looking for a festive frolic, here’s our guide to the benefits of the Christmas dinner.

TURKEY > This traditional roast is packed with protein but is still low in fat. Every cell in our bodies contains protein and it’s essential for the healthy working of most organs and production of vital hormones.

Turkey is a good source of zinc, a known fertility booster. High levels of this vital mineral are found in sperm fluid and research from the American Zinc Association shows if this level falls so can the number of sperm. Lack of zinc can also trigger impotence. Turkey also contains iron, which combats the tiredness associated with anaemia, phosphorus which strengthens muscles and potassium which aids kidney function and maintains the body’s water balance.

Another nutrient, tryptophan, is an amino acid which seems important for the immune system. Researchers discovered tryptophan metabolites, molecules formed when the body breaks it down, are as powerful as prescription medicines for combating some effects of multiple sclerosis. Tryptophan also helps to beat the blues by boosting production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.

SPROUTS > Christmas is one of the few days of the year when we hit the five-a-day target of fruit and veg that is proven to reduce cancer and heart disease risks.

Sprouts are the nutritional stars of the seasonal spread. A 2oz serving contains more than 60 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 40 per cent of the same of vitamin A. Research from Washington University shows Vitamin C may protect against DNA damage to sperm caused by toxins such as cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also makes sperm more mobile. Their bitter taste comes from compounds called indoles which appear to cut the risk of stomach, lung, breast and other cancers.

CARROTS > They have more vitamin A than any other veg and this helps to protect the cardiovascular system and to maintain sight.

They are also a rich source of vitamin K, which is very important for blood clotting. At least six studies have shown that the carotenoids which provide their colour reduce the risk of heart disease. A diet high in carotenoids has also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in older women by 20 per cent and cut the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon and larynx by up to 50 per cent.

PARSNIPS > This root vegetable is brimming with vitamin C and a great source of folate, a nutrient proven to reduce the risk of spina bifida and other birth defects.

The body also needs folate to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of all cells, and there is evidence it protects against cell damage that can lead to cancer. Tuck in if you’ve been overdoing the celebrations, as alcohol can deplete levels.

CRANBERRIES > These contain plant chemicals which stop urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria sticking to the bladder. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out the discomfort of a urinary tract infection like cystitis is a real passion killer.

SPUDS > Humble potatoes got a roasting with the popularity of the Atkins diet but as far as dieticians are concerned, they should never have been taken off the menu.

Potatoes contain more potassium than bananas and a shortage of potassium has long been known as a cause of cramps and heavy exercise depletes levels of it. But more recently strong evidence has emerged that a diet high in potassium keeps blood pressure down. One in five Brits suffers high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

PUDDING > Raisins are rich in iron, 3oz contains around a quarter of the recommended amount for women, who are often low in iron because of menstrual blood loss.

Nuts may be a no-no for people with severe allergies but for most of us they are a great source of healthy fats which cut the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of “lousy” LDL cholesterol. An American Heart Association study found people who ate a handful of nuts every day reduced their cholesterol levels by around ten per cent.

BRANDY > The artery-clogging saturated fats in brandy butter mean it will never be considered a health food. But brandy will, of course, lubricate your social and sexual confidence and it’s not surprising that Government statistics reveal a rise in the number of births in September.

More good news comes from researchers at Monash University in Australia. They discovered brandy is packed with antioxidants, some of which come from copper, picked up as it’s distilled. Dr Gordon Troup says: “When you are enjoying a slice of brandy-infused fruit cake or a drink of good-quality brandy over Christmas you can put your mind at rest that this amber liquid isn’t too bad for you at all.”

Evolution of the Christmas dinner

Humble pie, stuffed peacock and sugar mice have left our Christmas tables seemingly never to return. But what was it that forever pushed such dishes from our hearts and feasting?

To some, the Christmas institutions of turkey and sherry trifle are what make the season. But many other traditional recipes have faded into obscurity never to reappear on the festive table, leaving only a handful of retro staples.

Humble pie, which disappeared in the 18th century, was a concoction of deer ‘umbles’ including brain, liver and heart blended with suet, apples and currants. A treat that really defined Christmas for our forbears and now seems completely revolting, the pie recipe dates back to the 1700s and was mainly eaten by servants and peasants.

Animal offal was not favoured by the affluent set, who would instead have been treated to a banquet of force-fed wild boar head and roast swan, with a show-stopping stuffed peacock centrepiece.

The following course probably consisted of candied sweetmeats and fruits, all with enough spice and dye to take down a horse, but meant strictly for visual appeal only.

Now a protected species, the idea of catching a swan for the Christmas table is not only forbidden by law, but would turn the stomach of even the least environmentally friendly. And peacocks disappeared from the menu soon after the demise of the frivolous Elizabeth I.

But what happened to sugar mice, a children’s favourite for generations? Once hung on Christmas trees around the country and stuffed into every stocking, these candied animals with string tails have lost popularity, replaced by chocolate Santas and Mars selection boxes.

But not so long ago children would hang their stockings and wait for them to be filled with a few exotic treats like oranges, nuts, and candy mice.

Although the obligatory satsuma and nut selection may remain, health conscious parents have discarded the mice on the grounds that they are pure processed sugar and surely bad for teeth. So it seems we only cling onto a few steadfast recipes that have evolved to suit more modern 20th and 21st century palettes.

Mince pies, derived from medieval minced pies, were once rich and fruity, bursting with orange peel, brandy and beef remnants. Although the recipe remains, the tradition of adding meat was discontinued in the 1800s, and beef suet replaced it instead.

Now in another update of the ancient recipe the beef suet has been dropped in favour of a vegetable alternative, and some manufacturers even tout their pies and puddings as a functional food.

Meanwhile the unchanged hardy perennial Brussels sprouts, surely every child’s favourite, date back to 1587 where they were first cultivated in Belgium. Although the strain is thought to originate in Roman times it was not until their migration further north that they started to plague our festive spreads.

Now seen as an important weapon in the fight against cancer, the cruciferous vegetable is definitely here to stay with thousands of tonnes about to be consumed this season in the UK alone.

Clearly, unabashed appreciation of all things retro and twee is never greater than at Christmas time. Yet even this annual splurge of nostalgic references cannot quite stretch to innards of deer. But, we’d like a recount about the sugar mice.

Happy Christmas!

Three Kings Day > Customs

You all know that not everybody in the world eats black-eyed peas to ensure luck and prosperity on New Year’s Day, don’t cha?

If you want to be absolutely sure of your luck in 2007, you might want to assemble a meal of global New Year’s foods, as listed by Hallmark Magazine.

Begin at midnight, in fact, with the Spanish custom of eating one grape on each stroke of midnight.

Then, the next morning, start your day with doughnuts (Holland).

At dinner, begin the meal with soba noodles from Japan, moving on to lasagna (Sicily) made with sausage (Italy), with your black-eyes on the side.

Finish off with rice pudding with a lucky almond baked into it (Norway) and Saint Basil’s cake [Vasilopitta] from Greece, a sweet cake with a coin baked inside.

Before bed, snack on some marzipan pigs (Germany).

Turn a holiday twist > make breakfast the main attraction

The Christmas holiday breakfast is becoming more popular each year, and it’s easy to understand why.

You can offer a formal morning meal for less money than you’d spend on a dinner. You can do it early in the day, leaving you time for other commitments. And you can make many of the dishes ahead, which should free you up to spend more time to enjoy those around you.

Some people stress and fuss over party meals so much that they can’t relax and, consequently, neither can their guests. That’s because too many people don’t get themselves prepped. To get yourself organized, start with the menu. The good stuff is worth the effort. That means no skimping on the centerpiece, whether it’s sausage, bacon, smoked salmon or seafood.

Forget pancakes. They must be served immediately and that ties you up for the entire meal. Waffles, on the other hand, can be made before guests arrive and held in a warm oven to stay crisp. Plus, you can create a toppings buffet that lets everyone add fruit, whipped cream, butter, syrup or nuts. Crêpes can be made several days in advance and stored in a stack with waxed paper in between. Wrap them in a moist paper towel.

Before guests arrive, remove waxed paper and warm the crêpes to 300 degrees in the oven under a moist paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Then let people fill their crêpes with their choice of sweet or savory fillings, from strawberries Romanoff to chicken hash.

Quiches, egg casseroles, strata and frittatas can all be made ahead and slowly reheated or served at room temperature. Eggs and French toast are always inexpensive dishes to make, but they don’t have to taste that way. Dress up a frittata with crab, lobster or wild mushrooms. Use smoked salmon or shrimp on eggs Benedict. Mix up your French toast batter a couple of days in advance and flavor it with a liqueur such as Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Kahlua or Frangelico.

Mimosas and bellinis are breakfast standards, but let me suggest something slightly different: Mix peach purée with Moscato d’Asti, a semi-sparkling wine with a light touch of sweetness.

But the menu is only one part of the party to consider. Set a convenient time, such as 10 a.m., that is not too early for you or too late for your guests to go without a morning meal. Let your guests know how special they are by setting an elegant table. And don’t hold back. Set the table just like you would for a dinner party.

Merry Christmas and Bon Apetite! 

Big in Japan > Go global at Christmas

From French cuisine to turkey with all the trimmings, restaurants around Japan are offering diners a truly international Christmas experience.

Belle Vue Tokyo > This authentic Italian restaurant boasts a magnificent and romantic view of the city and from December 22 will be serving its 18,000 yen per person Christmas menu. The restaurant has a unique open kitchen where guests can watch Belle Vue’s chefs prepare a variety of dishes, including a fish and pasta appetizer, sirloin beef with a wine sauce as the main course and a choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream with coffee. Reservations are recommended. 4-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku, 102-8578, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3238-0020.

Hobgoblin > The British pub will be serving two traditional party menus this year as well as a vegetarian option. On Christmas Day, for 6,000 yen a head, guests can choose from shooters, sandwiches and range of festive finger foods, or for 8,000 yen a dinner buffet including starters. Ichiban Bldg. 3F, 1-3-11, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, 150-0043 Tokyo. Tel. 03- 6415-4244.

The Terrace Tokyo > This pan-European restaurant has been serving its Christmas menu since December 16, which includes a French and Italian style buffet. Based on the first floor of the Westin Tokyo hotel, chefs will be preparing traditional continental cuisine topped with a range of desserts. The restaurant is serving a 5,000 yen a head, 1 1/2-hour lunch buffet as well as a 2-hour dinner buffet, which will cost 8,000 yen per person. Advance reservations are recommended for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Mita 1-4-1, Westin Hotel 1F. Tokyo. Tel. 03-5423-7778.

Roti > On Christmas Eve, Roti will have three sittings for its traditional Christmas dinner buffet. Guests can chose to dine at 11.30 a.m. for an early brunch, 3 p.m. or 7 p.m. The restaurant will have a carving station with a selection of meats, including roast turkey, beef and ham and a range of seasonal delights. The course, which costs 4,800 yen a head, also includes a choice of pumpkin pie, a fruit crumble and chocolate brownies. On Christmas Day itself, the restaurant will be serving from its turkey menu all day. Roppongi 6-6-9, Minato-Ku. Tokyo. Tel. 03-5785-3671.

Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub > A traditional turkey dinner, including roast turkey, cranberry sauce served with roast potatoes and vegetables, will be on offer at the Irish pub from December 23, as part of Paddy Foley’s four-course meal, which costs 3,500 yen per person. Starters include a less-traditional avocado with wasabi dish and pasta with Parmesan cheese. Guests can enjoy a vanilla and butter pudding for dessert. 5-5-1 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3423-2250.

The Mermaid > For 5,000 yen per person, The Mermaid will be serving Christmas classics such as roast beef, turkey pasties with cranberry sauce, fish fingers, sausage rolls and mince pies for dessert. The recently opened and self-proclaimed “most authentic British pub in Tokyo” also has a selection of over 60 types of beer from around the world. Granbell Hotel, 3-10-9 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tokyo. Tel. 03-3584-2006.

Moti Tokyo > For spicy seasonal fare, Moti will be serving traditional North Indian Christmas cuisine with a choice of vegetarian and meat options. For 2,600 yen, guests can enjoy an all-vegetarian set menu, or for 3,000 yen per head, can try Moti’s four different curries on the special menu, which include vegetable, prawn and chicken with naan bread. The Roppongi restaurant is offering a discounted special set menu price of 5,250 yen for two, with a range of desserts. 3F Hama Building, 6-2-35 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tokyo. Tel. 03- 3479-1939.

The Meguro Tavern > The Meguro Tavern will be hosting up to two sittings of Christmas Dinner, which include a two-, five- and seven-course selection. For those looking for all the comforts of a local pub at Christmas time, for 5,000 yen per person, guests can enjoy a traditional Christmas main course, a cheese board for dessert and a soup and shrimp starter. The pub has a wide selection of draught and bottled beers, a comprehensive wine list and up to 100 different cocktails. Reservations are recommended, and a deposit is needed for group bookings of 10 or more. 2F, Sunwood Meguro Bldg, 1-3-28, Shimomeguro, Meguro Ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3779-0280.

The Tavern Yokohama > Brits will feel at home in this traditional pub, which is located in the center of Yokohama. The Tavern will be serving a traditional all-you-can-eat Christmas dinner turkey buffet on Christmas Eve, including everything from roast potatoes to mince pies and brandy eggnog. For 2,950 yen, guests can eat in from midday to 6 p.m. B1 Nishiguchi Meiwa Bld., 2-14 Minami Saiwai Cho, Nishi Ku, Yokohama. Tel. 045-322-9727.

Accendo > This Chiba Italian restaurant has a selection of two menus to celebrate the festive season from December 22 to Christmas Day. For 7,500 yen, guests can enjoy a fusion of Italian cuisine. The menu includes ciabatta bread with sun-dried tomato, pesto citrus marinated salmon on shaved fennel with salmon caviar and avocado. The traditional Christmas dinner palette includes roast turkey, glazed ham, and a mushroom casserole, For 10,000 yen per person, the restaurant is serving a grilled sirloin of Japanese beef with twice-baked potatoes. For dessert guests can enjoy white and dark chocolate ice cream, coffee tea and mini “bouche de noel.” 1-8 Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba, 279-0031. Tel. 047-355-5000.

Porugalia Osaka > Porugalia’s chef will be cooking Portuguese delicacies as well as more traditional cuisine this Christmas. The set menu, which costs 7,000 yen per person, includes traditional turkey, a choice of desserts, sparkling white wine and a glass of port. The Portuguese are renowned for their traditional serving of cod at Christmas time, while the restaurant itself is famous for its selection of unusual Portuguese wines. Guests can also order from an a la carte menu. Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11. Osaka. Tel. 06-6362-6668.

Cafe Soholm, Kyoto > For 3,500 yen a head, from December 23 to Christmas Day, guests can enjoy a mix of Asian and Italian cuisine served with a selection of desserts and mains. Cafe Soholm is offering spaghetti in white sauce, shrimp, roast duck and a choice of vegetables. Reservations are recommended and guests who choose to book early will receive a complimentary bottle of champagne. Karasuma-dori Shijo-sagaru, Suiginyacho 620 Cocon Karasuma 2F. Kyoto. Tel. 075-353-5644.

Tavola 36, Osaka > The restaurant based in the Swiss Hotel in Osaka is serving three separate Christmas menus ranging from 18,000 yen to 25,000 yen on Christmas Eve and from 15,000 yen to 21,000 yen on Christmas Day itself. The hotel restaurant will be serving Parma ham and tuna as an appetizer, a selection of deer, crab and beef as part of the main meal and chocolate ravioli for dessert. Nanba 5-1-60, Swiss Hotel Nankai. Osaka. Tel. 06-6646-5125.

Sofitel: The Cypress, Nagoya > From December 22 to December 25, this French restaurant will be serving from a 10,000 yen and a 15,000 yen menu. Both options come complete with 10 separate dishes throughout the evening, including sea food, soup, shrimp, crab, steak, salad and toffee cake. Chefs will also be preparing French style fish and foie gras. Reservations are recommended. Kakueki, Nakamuraku, Nagoya. Tel. 052-571-0111.

Take 7 Mince Pies

Today’s traditional mince pies bear little resemblance to those enjoyed in the Middle Ages. Back then, mince pies were filled with minced meats, mostly game, plus liver and hearts. Various flavourings and spices enhanced the filling. Mince pies, having been banned with other Christmas celebrations by the Puritans in Oliver Cromwell’s time, came back into favour after the restoration in 1660. Their meat content also gradually changed, and has today virtually disappeared.

Walkers Glenfiddich > These combine the rich, all-butter shortbread of Walkers with succulent mincemeat that has been enriched with 12-year-old Glenfiddich Whisky. Generously sized mince pies come in foil cases but have plain tops with little steam holes. A good balance between pastry and filling, which is deliciously boozy with obvious fruit pieces, stem ginger included, and distinct flavours but the pastry verged on the tough. The package gives a good description of ingredients and heating guidelines. Price: £3.50 for 6 luxury mincemeat tarts.

Walkers > Baked in the heart of the Scottish highlands, Walkers mince pies have the crumbliest, melt-in-the-mouth pastry (although it is a touch too salty) with a sweet filling of mincemeat that’s loaded with fruit and flavour. Again the pies are a generous size, come in foil cases and have a plain top with little steam holes. Good description of ingredients and heating guidelines included on package. Price: £2.45 for 6 luxury mincemeat tarts.

Cole’s Traditional Foods > These come in a stylish container and are attractive, holly-decorated mince pies. The pies came in individual foil cases with a sprinkle of sugar. They are well cooked with a nice, golden colour but soggy pastry that was hard to swallow and left a salty aftertaste. The filling was rather dry, not as generous as one would have expected. Suitable for home freezing and vegetarians. Cannot warm in a microwave and may contain traces of nuts. Price: £3.25 for 4 cranberry mince pies with orange liqueur.

Pearl’s Luxury Deep Dish Mince Pie > “A rich and succulent luxury deep-dish mince pie,” proclaimed the package. A great disappointment once opened and cut. It resembled a shallow sponge cake in a tart case. There is hardly any mincemeat between the thin layer of shortcrust pastry and the crumbly sponge, topped with icing sugar. Overall, the pie has a distinctly artificial taste and texture. The appetising cover photograph with luscious filling was very misleading. Price: £1.45 for one, 6-inch pie.

Iceland > A pretty star decorates the top of these pies but they proved undercooked and difficult to get out of the foil cases in one piece. They definitely need more baking not just warming up. Soft, crumbly pastry and blunt, questionable filling. The package gives a good description of heating guidelines and ingredients. Among other things, it contains preservatives and citric acid. May contain coconut and nuts. Veggie friendly. Price: £1.39 for 6 deep fill mince pies.

Iceland > Shallow pastry cases and very basic appearance, in two packs of 6. Pale looking pastry, which perked up once warmed. Crumbly, overgenerous pastry with hardly a trace of filling. The mincemeat had a rather artificial smell and taste. May contain coconut and nuts. Veggie friendly. Price: £1.49 for 12 shallow mince pies.

Royale Bakeries > Shallow-pan mince pies with a nice golden colour and a light sprinkling of sugar. Attractive mince pies with a hole in the centre but no foil cases. Soft, sweet pastry (more like the texture of sweet bread or soft biscuit) that’s nothing like the rest of the mince pies. Good, generous filling but again with distinctive aromas. Overall, a good product but not as a mince pie. Lacking in packaging and information. It has to be one of the shortest ingredient lists ever: “Flour, yeast, sugar, mincemeat.” The only local made mince pies put to the test. Price: £1.30 for 4 mince pies.

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