A much better bet

Hen sculptures at Broughton House, Kirkcudbright

The metal hen sculptures at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright. Their frames remind me that one of the best things about cooking birds is the stock that can be made from the bones for wonderfully warming soup.

Well, I’ve done it again. Each Christmas I go into battle with the turkey species and each year I come off the loser. Not good when it’s a supermarket turkey, much worse when it’s one that cost more than half the usual weekly shopping bill. It looked good, plump and firm with dark coloured thighs and a large cavity for stuffing. To me, stuffing is important, perhaps even better than the bird.

I’m not one for experimenting with stuffings. The tried and tested oatmeal one is what I use as it helps keep the bird moist and we all like its nutty flavour. Simplicity itself to make and forgiving as to ingredients and quantities, it’s merely the liver of the bird (if available) and/or a rasher or so of bacon chopped and fried in oil with a chopped onion, and a chopped mushroom or two if you want. Add a little soy sauce, add the oatmeal, mix together and hey presto that’s your stuffing. The amount of oatmeal can vary depending on size of bird, but the mixture should neither be too dry nor too wet. Spoon into cavity and enjoy with the cooked bird.

Black hen


White hen

…and white. Chickens I can cope with without incinerating or producing fibrous charcoal

Knowing my annual joust with the turkey is fraught with pitfalls, this year I was determined to minimise the possibility of failure, the hefty price tag egging me on. I noted the times advocated by the numerous TV chefs who appear on the box to tell us how easy it is, that with a little bit of planning we can all enjoy a hassle-free Christmas day. Ho, ho, ho. Who are they kidding! To be extra sure I even dug out the instruction manual for my oven and memorised the times given for a goose or turkey being cooked in the fan-assisted oven.

Bolstered by this, and the information given on the packet containing the cooking bag (I hate cleaning ovens) I lavished care on the bird, smothering it with olive oil, garlic, herbs, rashers of bacon and a branch of rosemary from the garden. Stuffed and inserted into its bag, it was nonchalantly slid into the oven while I turned my attention to the cranberry and orange sauce (with a hint of cinnamon – vroom!) the stock for the gravy, the potatoes and the veg.

Two geese

I have even coped with geese and ducks, pheasants, partridge, moorhens and more

Husband checked how long the bought Christmas pud had to be steamed for. I gave up making my own years ago as everyone is always too full to eat it, but this year we thought we’d have another go. Two hours. Could I be bothered sharing the kitchen with hassle, a hot oven and a steaming pud? No. We’d have it another day. So husband set out to make cranachan, a traditional Scottish sweet.

The oatmeal (wonderful tasty pinhead oatmeal from a mill in Kelso) was lightly toasted in a dry frying pan to enhance the nuttiness. The whipped cream is sweetened with runny honey and the oatmeal added with a generous slug of whisky (you could experiment with brandy or some other spirit or liqueur), then raspberries are folded in. Our raspberries from a jar lacked the sharp sweet flavour of fresh, but the juice helped considerably to give a simple yet good Christmas sweet.

Now back to the blasted turkey. Being encased in a bag meant it was difficult to see how the bird was coming along. And the need to have a sit down on a comfortable chair with a glass of restorative wine and a few nibbles meant my eyes were off the ball. But I assured myself all would be well as so many sources had indicated that three hours was the required cooking time. Less and you ran the gauntlet of miseries from flesh that wasn’t properly cooked.

Highland cow

A piece of good Scottish beef would have been a safer option, possibly even cheaper too

Horror of horrors, the beast was shrivelled, the meat falling from its bones. Once again, despite my best efforts, the Christmas turkey had beaten me. Still, I suppose when eaten with everything else and liberally smothered in gravy it was…acceptable. Just as well as we’ll be eating it for days.

Turkey...or at any rate a large turkey-like bird

Turkey…or at any rate a large turkey-like bird. Spotted at an outdoor antiques fair in Lucca, Tuscany.

Next year…? A friend tells me self basting goose is soooo easy. But somehow pasta seems a much better bet.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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10 Responses to A much better bet

  1. carolee1945 says:

    So, you decided to post a gorgeous piece of turkey art from an antique shop in Lucca, instead of taking a photo of a piece of your failed Christmas turkey????? I tried a Christmas goose one year, and it was an abject failure as well!!!

    • Thought the turkey art looked much more interesting. Besides, I was so frazzled by that stage that any idea of taking a photograph had gone with the wind. I did consider taking a shot of the cranberry sauce but a glass of wine was calling. Perhaps next year!

  2. Rita Kay says:

    I like your idea of pasta, who needs turkey anyway ?!!!

    • Everyone else regards it as a holiday, yet we poor women are expected to put in endless hours in the kitchen producing a ‘traditional’ meal which isn’t at all traditional. Something simpler and quicker seems very appealing. If we stayed somewhere warm Christmas dinner would be a wonderful salad without doubt.

    • Exactly, pasta would mean hours less spent in the kitchen too!

  3. mybrightlife says:

    The only way we have ever got turkey right is when my husband is home for Christmas and does what he calls his Chucky – that chicken in a duck in a turkey thing. I suspect the chicken and the duck and the layers of basting in between help! Otherwise it is chicken and lamb for us. Never mind the turkey though, your stuffing sounds great. Will try that next year.

  4. chris says:

    Mmm, that cranachan sounds delish! Never had oatmeal stuffing before. It’s always been a bread and potato stuffing in my family. Be careful with goose; it is self basting but to the point of dripping grease on the plate. Had it once and didn’t care for it because it was so oily.

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