How to cook a full turkey dinner in 60 minutes? Cheat!
Had I been a contestant on 'Come Dine With Me', I would have been named and shamed.
I had been tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of preparing a three-course Christmas dinner with all the trimmings - in an hour. I realised this was going to have to be about compromise. In other words, not a single thing would be made from scratch.
In the hit TV format 'Come Dine with Me', opting for shop-bought produce is comparable to duping your dinner guests into investing in a Ponzi scheme. And I doubt if Rachel Allen would approve. But this is the real world, dammit.
If I wanted to make a dinner that was remotely edible, 'cheating' was the only way forward. I accepted from the start my Christmas dinner would not include a whole turkey for several reasons. First off, I can't be dealing with giblets. Second, it's also physically impossible to cook a whole bird within 60 minutes. And third, I don't fancy being hospitalised with salmonella.
Instead, I bought three turkey breasts that came in nifty individual roasting tins (€10.50) from Marks & Spencer. I also bought pre-peeled M&S Chef's Carrots (€1.50) because they sounded fancy, and I am a complete sucker for marketing. This is also why I spent €6 on M&S Posh Turkey Gravy.
The packaging said the turkey would take an hour and five minutes to cook. But I hoped by slightly increasing the suggested cooking temperature they would be done in an hour. With the turkey in the oven I prepared the starter - I was going for smoked salmon and brown bread, as it's foolproof.
I used Tesco's Smoked Salmon (€2.99 for 200g), Googled how to make smoked salmon roses, and then plated them up with lemon wedges (journalist's own) and buttered Tesco Brown Soda Bread (€0.57 for 454g).
I also splashed out on Aldi's Specially Selected Argentinian Prawns (€4.99), to give the dish some pzazz. Somehow 30 minutes had now gone by, and I realised I had forgotten the wine.
That was when the lights blew in my living room and kitchen. Things were getting stressful. In the semi darkness, I put Aldi's Potato Gratin (€1.79) and stuffing (Tesco Sage & Onion Stuffing Mix, €0.47) in the oven and sorted out the trip switch.
I tried to remain upbeat. Who needs wine anyway? Surely I could make my own festive cocktail out of gin and some Aperol I had found in a drawer. (Disclaimer: you 100pc can not.)
Having laid the table, it was now time to start boiling up the fancy carrots, and M&S Baby Sprouts (€1.50 and much cuter than regular sprouts). There were now only 12 minutes left on the clock, and photographer Steve had arrived. I microwaved the gravy and started on the dessert.
I lashed Aldi's Hand-Rolled Roulade (€3.99) on a plate, and drizzled pouring cream over the top to make it look more 'homey'. Then it was time to plate up the main course. This was very rushed, and the presentation was definitely lacking in impact. There were other slip-ups: I had not added enough gravy, and the carrots were al dente - or semi raw.
But it was definitely a lot better than I had anticipated. And it was proof, that, with some planning and a healthy pinch of cheating, Christmas dinner needn't be a total stress-fest. Sixty minute Christmas dinner done and dusted. Jamie Oliver would be proud - sort of.