How does mince pie cake sound? Or chilled Christmas pudding mousse? Dan Parzefall, Facilities manager who leads the Catering department at ellenor, has plenty of tricks up the sleeves of his chef whites to make our traditional festive fare delicious and palatable for the whole family.
The kitchen staff at the hospice in Northfleet are looking forward to making Christmas special for patients and their families. And this year Dan is sharing some of their kitchen secrets. They mostly involve variations of our much-loved traditional favourites – but with a few ingenious modifications that might surprise you!
Dan, who started his career as a chef, said: “Some foods can taste bland to patients, so it is even more important at Christmas to make sure everything is juicy and full of flavour. And that benefits all the dinner guests!
“A lot of dishes can be prepared in advance. You can steam your veggies, cover them, and put them in the fridge, then all you need to do is microwave them when you need them. You don’t need expensive brands and posh ingredients. After all the preparation, the truth is that the meal itself is usually eaten in about 20 minutes!”
Pate: Cut the crusts off the toast and slather it in butter to make it soft. Serve with pretty little pieces of cooling cucumber, with the skin pre-peeled off. If you sprinkle the cucumber with a little salt beforehand, it draws the moisture out and gives it a softer texture.
Prawn cocktail: Shred the lettuce and chop the prawns up into tiny pieces. It’ll still tastes great! You don’t need a complicated seafood sauce either – just mix some mayo and some tomato sauce with a pinch of smoked paprika. Again, you can decorate with skinless cucumber, sliced like coins. Serve with toast on the side.
Melon balls: Rather than the traditional melon boat, have you tried blending the melon and serving it in a little glass dish? It’s delicious with a swirl of strawberry sauce on top. You can use the topping sauce that you buy readymade, or warm up a few strawberries with some sugar and then mash them. Just keep it simple.
Turkey: So many people dread the dry meat of Christmases paste, but there is absolutely no reason for your bird to be anything but succulent. The trick is to cook it a few days before, slice it and keep it in the fridge. On Christmas day all you need to do is put it in a baking dish, cover with gravy and pop it back in the oven until the meat is piping hot and falls apart.
Roasties: Everyone loves their Christmas spuds, and all families have their secrets when it comes to cooking them. Use your usual tricks to get them crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. Dan par boils the potatoes, tips them into a mixing bowl with salt, pepper, rosemary and oil, then throws them into a tray and into the oven. Then he leaves well alone until they are cooked. You can’t really cut corners when you are producing your perfect roast potato, but you can always cut some of the crunchy sides off when you serve them.
Veggies: It’s fashionable these days to pimp up your Brussels sprouts with pancetta or bacon lardons, but in Dan’s book, it’s best just to cook them in some stock – and the same goes for the carrot batons. It gives your veg so much more flavour! And to get your dinner guests’ taste buds going even more, why not pimp up your parsnips with a butter and honey taste? With your Parsnips, it’ probably best to pre-boil them to keep the end result a bit softer, then brush them with a little melted butter and honey, then just slow cook them and they will come out of the oven hot and delicious. Dan also likes to prepare a tasty steamed red cabbage and apple dish, which takes about 30-40 minutes. There’s no need to muck around with the flavours too much; just add a bit of soft brown sugar and a splash of mulled wine to scent the ingredients.