Roast potatoes are my favourite part of Christmas dinner. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and the perfect vehicle for gravy and other sauces, roast potatoes are the unsung heroes of the culinary world. Despite the very short list of ingredients and the one-pan nature of this side dish, they can be a little tricky to get right. Roast potatoes always need longer than you think to go brown on the outside, but too long and they can start to catch and become tough. It’s a fine balance, but one that you can definitely get right!
My top tips for getting perfect roast potatoes every time are:
- Buy a new roasting tray - if you don’t have the fanciest cooking equipment, like me, it’s worth investing in a new roasting tray just for Christmas. The non-stick can wear off after a while, which makes potatoes more difficult to cook, as they get stuck to the bottom.
- Use goose fat – I usually don’t bother and just use whatever cooking oil we have available, but when it’s Christmas it’s worth going the extra mile to make your potatoes extra delicious!
- Cut them quite small – the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook. Whilst you don’t want mini potatoes, you don’t want massive chunks either. Try to make sure they’re all a relatively uniform size so you don’t have some cooking quickly and others taking forever to brown.
- Cook at 200C – the hotter the better! You’ll know your oven better than me, but we have a standard fan oven and this is always the best temperature to cook them. Don’t forget to check back on Monday to find out how to juggle all of your dishes and get everything on the table at the same time!
- Pre-heat the fat – whether you’re using goose fat or oil, make sure it’s hot before the potatoes go in! Just stick the tray with a good coating of fat into the oven to warm up whilst you’re peeling and chopping – but do be careful when adding the potatoes, as you don’t want to accidentally splash hot fat onto you!
- Season - use your salt & pepper liberally!
- Cook for 20 minutes & then shuffle! Let your roasties get going and then give them a good shuffle in the pan. Use a spatula if they get a little stuck, and don’t worry too much if they stay intact.
- Get mashing! A gentle mash with a potato masher with fluff up the edges of your roast potatoes, giving them more surface area to go crispy. This is an optional stage, but a good one!
- Add some flavour - just before you throw the potatoes back in the oven, lob in a few whole garlic cloves (no need to peel) and some rosemary for a little bit of extra flavour. Lovely!
- Let them be – once you’ve done all your messing about, leave them in the oven for AT LEAST 25 more minutes, if not longer. Give yourself plenty of time so that they are at their best – this can take up to an hour or more so don’t panic if yours are still looking a little pale after 45 minutes.
- Whack the heat up - if all else fails and everything else is ready to be served, whack the heat up as high as it will go for a final five minutes and this should finish them off!
Have you got any roast potato tips?
I have been cooking Christmas dinner for the past six years, from humble beginnings for a handful of people in my University halls to the Real Deal on Christmas Day for my family. I have made mistakes, burnt things, allowed others to go cold, forgotten the gravy, but ultimately everyone ended up getting fed. Christmas dinner feels daunting, particularly if you’re cooking for a larger-than-normal group of people, but I know that you can do it, even if you’re a novice cook. I’m going to be sharing a few tips and tricks over the next few weeks for getting your Christmas dinner in tip-top shape on the big day, things that I have learnt by trial and error so you don’t have to. Once I’ve told you all I know, I’ll also be sharing my ultimate guide to Christmas dinner, including exact timings and shopping lists so you can be as prepared as possible for the big day so be sure to check back next Monday if you’re interested! Ready? Let’s do this!
I’m going to start by talking about meat. For many people, this is the key to Christmas dinner, the centrepiece that makes the whole thing worthwhile. It’s often the trickiest thing to get right, and the most expensive thing to get wrong, so nailing this is important. I’m going to give you my best secret right now, in this post, to make sure you get it right: Buy A Slow Cooker.
It’s as simple as that. Ditch the turkey (does anyone even like turkey?) and pick up a joint of beef from the butchers. Yes, it’s slightly less traditional, but if you’re new to the Christmas dinner game then it will save you hours of worry. Plus, you won’t have to eat dry turkey. You can thank me later. This beef could not be simpler or more delicious, cooked in red wine and herbs until tender and melt-in-the-mouth, you pretty much bung everything in the slow cooker and forget about it. It frees you up valuable oven space so you can juggle your side dishes and roast potatoes with ease, and the resulting juices will also make a spectacular gravy with very little effort. Tell me that’s not a win-win?
The only downside is the long cooking time; if you usually eat your main meal at lunch time it may mean setting your alarm extra early to turn on the slow cooker in time. It can be done, I promise – just leave everything ready to go in the slow cooker the night before so the meat can marinate and then roll out of bed to press the on switch at the appropriate time. Plus, you can have a sneaky look to see if Santa’s been before everyone else…
- 2.5kg beef joint (rump, brisket, silverside, salmon cut and topside will all work)
- Salt & pepper
- 500ml red wine
- 500ml beef stock
- 1 onion, chopped into large chunks
- 6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4-6 sprigs of rosemary
- Season your joint of beef liberally with salt and pepper.
- Scatter the onion and garlic cloves in the bottom of the slow cooker and rest the beef on top.
- Pour over the red wine and stock, followed by the rosemary and more salt & pepper.
- Turn on low and cook for 8 hours until tender. Remove from the slow cooker and carve into pieces.
- Transfer the juices to a saucepan and simmer over a medium-high heat until reduced into a delicious gravy.
This week has felt a little grey, hasn’t it? I’m not sure the sun has come out even once in Leeds, which is a sad state of affairs, really. It definitely puts me in a worse mood; summer has me literally skipping in the streets whilst the bitter cold of winter makes me hurry between places as quickly as possible. Luckily, I’ve had some fun places to hurry to; on Thursday I caught up with Emma at the newly opened Cabana and drank some delicious Caipirinhas, and this weekend we travelled down to Nottingham to visit some of our sweet friends. Whilst driving on the motorway for the first time was not my idea of fun, it was super fun to hang out with them all.
Today I’m having a lazy day; December feels like a whirlwind so I’m taking some time to chill out before everything gets caught up and suddenly it’s January. How about you?
- If you want to do a good deed this Christmas, check out Refuge’s wish list.
- Kate’s home is absolutely beautiful – and it was all done on a budget, so you can be sure that I’m trying to pick up tips from her.
- Searching for the perfect Christmas present? Check out my gift guide for feminists! (P.S. You might also be interested in gifts for geeks, hipsters and foodies).
- Sometimes you just need to make a mug cake. This banana caramel one is genius.
- This week I, like the rest of the Internet, have become obsessed with Serial. If you are addicted too, you might enjoy these charts and these books.
- I think I could get on board with brussels sprouts if they were always pan roasted with honey and garlic.
- What does it actually mean to be a shopaholic? It’s certainly more serious than it sounds.
- Are you making blogging mistakes?
- How do you keep your pie crusts from shrinking? This is the theory, let’s see if I can put it into practice.
- This cranberry brioche is perfect for this time of year. I can’t wait to make it.
- Chilli should definitely be made with chunks of beef, not mince – and this just proves it: Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chilli.
Thinking far too much about Christmas dinner.
Laughing along to One Man, Two Guvnors at the Leeds Grand Theatre.
Eating Bundobust’s Bhel Puri at every opportunity.
Drinking Winter Pimms at The Mustard Pot fireworks.
Starting my Christmas shopping.
Enjoying the winter sunshine, when it decides to show its face.
Celebrating my Dad’s engagement. A truly lovely piece of news.
Meeting new blogger friends.
Thinking about everything that 2014 has brought me and counting my blessings.
Tasting all different kinds of wines.
Taking a trip down to London for work. That city is best in small doses.
Planning our Copenhagen honeymoon. Any recommendations?
Sleeping in Christmas sheets, and never wanting to get up.
Feeling proud for running the Abbey Dash.
Baking bread. Why did no one tell me it was so fun?
Looking forward to seeing my favourite little lady (and her parents!) this weekend.
How about you?
I make no secret of the fact that Pinche Pinche is my favourite restaurant in Leeds. The food is delicious, the service is friendly, it’s close to my house and I’ve never spent more than £40 a head on three courses and as many drinks as I wanted. So it was with excitement and trepidation that I received an invitation to come down and try out their new menu; fajitas, enchiladas and burritos were out, small, tapas-style plates were in. I have always loved their food, so I was sad to see some of my favourite dishes go but definitely intrigued to try the new ‘antojitos’, which they’ve been trialling as specials for months in order to perfect the new menu.
Thankfully, everything else about the place is recognisable – the colourful decor, the cheerful ambience, the lovely staff – and it was a warm welcome that we received as we ducked out of the cold rain and into the restaurant. Gone was the extensive folder of dishes, replaced by a single sheet detailing everything they have to offer – from quality tequilas and cocktails to nibbles and bigger plates. Even the drinks menu has been pared down to a selection of carefully chosen beers, wines and cocktails. The Tommy’s Margarita is their signature drink and comes highly recommended from me – you can taste the quality of the tequila and the slight sharpness of many margaritas is replaced by a pleasant tang and a sweetness that is dangerous on a Friday night.
We chose our dishes, with eyes bigger than our stomachs, and were overwhelmed when they all arrived at our table. There were some familiar hints from the previous menu, but there’s no doubt that these dishes were more exciting than those that came before. I won’t give you a detailed breakdown – I’ll let you try them for yourself – but I have to sing the praises of the Prawn & Cod Ceviche – a light, fresh dish that’s unlike anything else on the list. If I was to go again, there’s no doubt that would be the first thing I would order, swiftly followed by the Surf & Turf Tacos, which came with a very more-ish Mexican tartare sauce, and the Marinated lamb with Oaxacan cheese Quesadillas, which combined two of my favourite things – tender, slow-cooked meat and melted cheese.
After our feast, we were absolutely stuffed – three dishes is more than enough each, and with no dish more than £6.50, it’s a bargain of a meal. Of course, I can never resist the churros and had to find space for them, whilst Paul opted for the Crema Mexicana – a Mexican-style crème brûlée flavoured with orange. The churros are always delightfully crunchy, with a soft centre, covered in a sweet chocolate sauce, with a darker, more bitter sauce for dipping which creates a gorgeous contrast of flavours. I only managed half of mine after over-indulging on the main courses, so you could share them if you’re less greedy than me.
I know that there will be some that are unhappy with the changes at a beloved local restaurant, but I really applaud what Simon and his team are doing – it’s hard to move away from a formula that’s working but this is an exciting change and one which makes Pinche Pinche an interesting dining experience. We’ve been taking visiting friends there for years, and now we’ll have to start all over again so they can try the new menu!
Disclaimer: We were invited to try the new menu at Pinche Pinche for free, so our meal was complimentary on this occasion. However, I have paid for many meals at this restaurant and will continue to do so with the new menu – this is truly my favourite restaurant in Leeds and I genuinely recommend you check out those churros! In fact, we actually approached Pinche Pinche to cater our wedding, that’s how much we love it. Sadly that’s not to be (sorry, wedding guests!) so you’ll just have to go yourself and see what I’m talking about.
I have hit a bit of a reading rut. I have about three books on the go at the moment, none of which are particularly inspiring me. I’ve mistakenly chosen heavy tomes – Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro – when I think I really want to be reading something lighter, something more action-packed and fun. I think what I really need to be reading right now is The Hunger Games, about ten years after everyone else. Do you have a copy I can borrow?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
I think I might be the last person on earth to read this book; I remember the excitement about it when it first came out but for some reason have never actually picked it up and read it – until now. Inspired by the upcoming stage show, which hopefully will make its way to Leeds at some point, I tracked down the book and finished it in hours. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I’m annoyed at myself for not reading it all those years ago. It’s sweet and endearing, but also captivating and, at times, very sad. I just wanted to scoop up all of the characters into a big hug, especially Christopher – the autistic protagonist, who is both charming and occasionally infuriating. I actually didn’t see the twist coming, although Paul tells me that I’m ridiculous because it was obvious, but I was captivated the whole way through.
The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris
I picked this up in the Oxfam book shop after finishing Chocolat earlier this year. This is Joanne Harris’ first novel, and it comes with a disclaimer in the front that she was reluctant to allow it back into print, embarrassed by her first attempts at writing. It is certainly miles away from Chocolat, it could have been written by another person entirely and so I can see her hesitation. There are a couple of compelling moments in this book, which is a fantasy/mystery/thriller style – but overall there felt like there was little nuance in the story-telling (if you’ve read it, tell me you didn’t guess much of the detail right from the start?) and the ending was unsatisfying. I’d stick to Harris’ more famous titles, and give this one a miss if you like her work.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
This was my second time reading Trainspotting, and I was no less impressed this time around than I was the first. It’s a little hard to get into as it’s written in a heavy Scottish dialect, and it’s sometimes a little confusing as to which character is speaking at any one time, but it’ll soon hook you in. It’s hard-hitting in so many ways – sex, violence, drugs, politics, there are some uncomfortable scenes and important issues raised. Some of the characters are eccentric and sort of loveable, some are completely abhorrent, and there are stomach-churning moments throughout. This isn’t a spot of light reading, it challenges you and makes you think. It’s twenty years old now, which is a lifetime, but so much of what is raised is still relevant – perhaps even more so in light of the recent debate on Scottish nationalism. If you haven’t read it, you really need to.
Orange is the New Black: My Time in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman
After loving the show like everyone else, I decided to pick up the original memoir – after being reassured that there were no spoilers to be found. I raced through this, it was absolutely fascinating, as well as heart-wrenching and heart-warming in equal measure. The capacity for human kindness and mutual support in the face of adversity is astounding, and is in plain sight in the book, even more so than the show. As a fan of the show, it was fun to spot favourite characters and to see which bits they had dramatised for the sake of TV, but it was also a little disappointing in this regard. In the Netflix show, Piper is flawed but somehow likeable – she is very selfish and self-serving but is invested in her image as a good person; she’s very compelling. In the book, however, Piper paints herself in a very flattering light, pointing out the moments where she shows great compassion and selflessness to her fellow inmates. Now, I obviously don’t know Piper Kerman in real life and maybe she is an incredibly loving person, but I did feel a little disappointed; she describes her suffering and her past misdemeanours but the overwhelming sense is of the good that she does during her time in prison, and I did feel like it could be a little more balanced.
This week has been tiring. I’ve been a bit under the weather, and a work trip to London has totally finished me off. Travelling with work always seems like it’s going to be glamorous, until you get there (or when you’re travelling back hungover the next day…). That, combined with a lack of funds before pay day, means that this weekend has been very low key. Today I am cooking up a mega roast dinner and then I’m napping on the sofa. I’m trying to quash my productive urges and bloggers guilt, but it’s not working very well. How is your Sunday working out?
- How many of the top 50 cities to see in your lifetime have you been to? I’m only on about two…
- I may be making roast dinner, but what I’m really craving is this perfect strip steak.
- With Christmas coming up, I’m definitely feeling the squeeze of the 7 unexpected expenses of adulthood.
- If you read one thing this week, make it this: Why I had to Turn Down Band Aid.
- A post about coming off the pill. We need to talk more about contraception. I’ve been taking the pill for almost 8 years – it is quite scary to think about that.
- What do author’s houses look like now? I’m coveting Bram Stoker’s pad.
- Can we just rename it Cheesemas and be done with it? That’s my kind of holiday.
- What’s your favourite food scene on film? Chocolat springs to mind but there are some surprises in the list.
Thanks to various chick lit books and magazine articles, dinner parties always seemed like the bastion on adulthood to my teenage self. I was determined to become a perfect dinner party host; it seemed like the ideal social activity – wine, food and good friends, and all in the comfort of your own home (although there is the small issue of the washing up).
In many ways, adulthood is not how I imagined it, but my one true disappointment is the lack of dinner parties that I was promised. My minuscule dining table just doesn’t lend itself to sophisticated gatherings, and sadly the invites to other’s houses are also few and far between. Dinner is often offered, but a dinner party is scarce to materialise. Which may explain why a large dining room is top of my house-hunting wish list for when the time comes…
That being said, this is a perfect dinner party dessert if you are lucky enough to be involved in such things. It also makes a decadent weeknight dessert if you’re a food blogger who happens to have made a batch of them. They take mere minutes to whip up (you could even cheat and use ready-made caramel sauce if you’re in a rush) and will store nicely in the fridge ready to serve to your guests. Whilst I hesitate to be the first to mention Christmas dinner, these would also be a lovely Christmas Day dessert – make them on Christmas Eve and then gorge yourself silly with very little stress. I know salted caramel is horrible in fashion right now, but there’s a very good reason for it – and there will be few who can resist these gooey, creamy desserts when placed in front of them…
- 65g granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp. water
- 10g unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp. double cream
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. flaked sea salt
- 25g unsalted butter
- 200g milk chocolate
- 200ml double cream
- Flaked sea salt
- In a saucepan over a medium-high heat, mix together 65g sugar and 3 tbsp. water until the sugar has dissolved. Set the spoon to one side and continue to boil until the mixture is a golden-brown colour; resist the urge to stir and swirl the mixture in the pan instead when necessary.
- As soon as you have the desired colour, remove from the heat and add the butter. Swirl the saucepan to incorporate and then stir in the cream.
- Add the salt and vanilla extract and stir until smooth.
- Pour a quarter of the mixture into each ramekin so the bottom is covered and set aside to cool.
- In a bowl over a simmering pan of water, melt together the butter and chocolate.
- Once melted, stir in the cream and mix together until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a jug.
- Pour over the caramel in the ramekins until full.
- Pop in the fridge for half an hour to cool, and then sprinkle over the sea salt. Return to the fridge for another couple of hours until fully set.
My relationship with exercise has always been fraught. I was not a sporty kid – I was awkward, un-coordinated and pretty much incapable of catching or throwing a ball. As a result, I avoided any sort of sport or exercise like the plague, and developed a deeply mistrustful relationship with the whole deal. Thankfully, due to some stroke of genetic luck, I have also always been pretty healthy and relatively slim, so it didn’t seem like too much of a big deal. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided to try and kick my butt into gear, and at least try to go to the gym on a semi-regular basis – despite looking like a healthy person, there was no doubt that it was *not* healthy to be panting and wheezing at the top of a hill or particularly steep set of stairs. A lot of people go to the gym to lose weight or tone up; those things feel kind of secondary to me – I am a lot more motivated by the thought of an early grave caused by unfitness. Which is morbid, but whatever works, right?
Exercising is such a strange thing, and yet it’s so important. It feels horrible. It hurts, during and afterwards. I am never motivated to do it. I never, ever feel like going for a run. And part of that is because it is an uncomfortable thing to put your body through, but also I think it’s partly because I remember all those awkward PE lessons – me and running are just not friends. People genuinely laughed when I told them that I was running the Abbey Dash – a 10k race around Leeds. It seems ridiculous, me actively opting to do exercise, but I don’t want that to be the case anymore. I am not a fast runner, or a good runner or a happy runner, but I still ran on Sunday and I am pretty pleased with how it went. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:05:38 – at least 10 minutes faster than my most optimistic of guesses for what I’d manage on the day.
All this to say, that I’m pretty proud. This isn’t a triumph-over-adversity story. It’s just a getting-shit-done story. Choosing to do something, setting a goal, and then just doing it. I didn’t train as much as I should (see above: I never *want* to go for a run) and I am aching all over as a result, but I made it round and I ran all the way (no walking!). Having that negative relationship with exercise makes it feel impossible at the beginning; those first few runs are slow and you feel like they’ll never get better. All those success stories of people going from couch potatoes to marathon runners feel like utter rubbish. But slowly, things start to change and you can run a little further or a little faster each time. It’s not some revelation, it’s just a slow steady chug towards the end goal, with a lot of blisters along the way. Which is probably a metaphor for life, but is also the reason I’ll be running another 10k in March – and this time, I want to go faster.
Despite drinking quite copious amounts of wine, I know nothing about it. If faced with a wine list, I always opt for Pinot Grigio or, failing that, anything white that says the word ‘dry’ in the description and won’t bankrupt me. At the supermarket, we opt for £10 bottles of white that are on half off offers, the paler the better. That’s about it. I know that words like ‘oaked’ and ‘tannins’ exist, but I am completely stumped as to their use. This is hardly a state of affairs to boast about, so it was with excitement and trepidation that I attended a wine tasting hosted by Latitude at White Cloth Gallery last week.
Upon arrival we were presented with a small wine glass and a booklet listing all of the wines and spirits on offer. Lining the walls of the room were trestle tables – 27 of them – each boasting a selection of wines and liquors to try, with helpful staff members ready to recommend and explain about each of the bottles. It was a little overwhelming, with what felt like hundreds of things to try and no knowledge on what would be best. We made our way around the room, trying a little here and there, choosing as much by label and bottle shape as by provenance or grape variety.
We were there for just two hours, but we managed to try an impressive selection. The liquor room was dangerous – mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) shots of potent and delicious alcohol were thrust into our hands, and we were all a little pink-cheeked and effusive by the end of it. I did pick up some new favourites, handily marked in my booklet so I wouldn’t forget them – although looking back it was definitely the more expensive that tickled our tastebuds. My student self – for whom a bottle of Malibu was the height of sophistication – could never have guessed that I would acquire a taste for unusual and expensive alcohol, but there you have it.
My personal recommendations, were you to want to recreate the experience yourself, would start with the Peller Estate Ice Cuvee – a sparkling iced wine that was delightfully dry but with a hint of sweetness and bubbled deliciously. I also enjoyed the Boutinot ‘Les Cerisieres’ rosé, which was, again, lovely and dry, with a beautiful pale pink colour. The stars of the liquor room were definitely Licor 43 – a warming vanilla liquor – and the Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur with a sweet stem ginger flavour, perfect for a Christmas present, although I also very much enjoyed the Chase Rhubarb Vodka and the Sloe Bloom Gin that we tried.
Whether it’s the alcohol talking (which is very probable) or not, it was a fantastic evening, helped along by wonderful company. Whilst I don’t think I know much more about wine than I started with, I did enjoy the opportunity to try some new varieties, and I’d definitely recommend going along to an event like this. Latitude is a wonderful shop in Leeds, and they host a variety of events so do keep an eye out on them if you’re a Leeds local!