Panic stations! Now let’s all calm down, I have some tips on how not to whine into your wine.
It’s almost here – the season where we’ve all have been instructed to be jolly. For some it’s easier said than done! I clearly remember Christmas when we were young; it seemed to take forever to come. We had the ritual of decorating the house on the Sunday at the beginning of December (which was a little stressful) as all the decorations had their place, year in year out; the lengths of string for the cards were made to measure for the beams in the lounge and if anyone dared to go ‘off piste’, and put something in a different place, there were serious repercussions! (First Christmas row of the season starts right here).
I look back now and really wonder how Mum did it. Christmas Day started with the ‘in for drinks’ crowd – usually about 50 friends and family. Dad, granddad and uncles (yes! I hear you cry, all the boys!) then pop off to the pub and return at 3pm, as Mum put lunch on the table for 30 of us. We had a small cooker, an under the counter fridge, no dishwasher and limitless food flowing, all delicious and plentiful. Supper then followed later that night. Boxing Day, and a few more family and friends seemed to come out of the woodwork for the ceremonious ‘bubble and squeak’. I have to say that I am now not actually convinced that she enjoyed it (I will ask her and report back next month). I am also convinced that Dad somehow took most of the credit! Now, some 30 years on, it’s my turn, not quite as many mouths to feed but with 20 or so coming to spend this day with us I am determined to get planning so I can enjoy it as much as everyone else.
Repeat after me: “I am a Goddess in the kitchen!” That’s our mantra for December.
Write your menu. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Please don’t attempt to hold the information in your head, there is far too much going on for us all at this time of year – and last minute panics involving racing to the supermarket on Christmas Eve do not make for a calm, in control, kitchen diva! Think ahead too. Boxing Day (usually for me my favourite meal) and beyond, as just as you have cracked the ‘Christmas Code’ don’t then put yourself under the pressure of trying to get back to normal meal times within 24 hours. Your other half, the kids and the rest of the family may well be in this ‘couch potato mode’ for a few days, so why can’t you? Think ‘one dish wonders’ that take very little effort but have the maximum effect. Hearty soup and crusty cheesy bread; cottage pie; chicken hot pot (fill it with loads of veg too); ‘left- overs’ curry and trimmings; pasta pesto (this is the 5* winner in our house, I now make it by the ton!) All of these can be made in advance. Use your freezer, this amazing machine is there to make your life easier. It is not a big white box designed to just keep peas, chips and ice cream at the ready should you fancy a TV dinner in a dash. Using the freezer sounds easy, but it is a change of thought process for many as it is often deemed as a cheat’s way to put food on the table. But for me it really is my best friend. Make it even easier by investing in good quality stacking plastic boxes and labels. By doing this, (rather than always looking for any empty receptacle), you will have twice as much space than you thought.
Now for the big day…
This is what we are having this year! You will all have your own ideas but the plan can stay the same.
Keep it cold – don’t give yourself anything else to juggle with in the oven. Smoked salmon, coronation chicken, prawn cocktail, homemade pate or rillettes – you are probably thinking that this doesn’t sound like anything new but it doesn’t matter, just make sure that it looks and tastes great, and is prepped ready to go on Christmas morning. Starters should take minutes to plate and serve, everything else for the main course is super ‘time sensitive’ so you don’t need to add to the pressure. Also, try and use the same plates for starters as you do for pud or cheese, turn them around with a quick wash (and yes make sure you delegate this chore) and you’ll have them back on the side ready to go with the dishwasher still empty.
The Main Event
Don’t panic. We’re going to have this all sorted for you. As well as your crib sheet, decide on what is going on what serviceware. Pop post-it notes on the dishes so there isn’t that last minute panic, also this means someone else can help you when you yell ‘pass me the dish for the parsnips’… rather than the response being a blank look (The Crystal Ball rarely works the rest of the year, so it sure as hell isn’t going to work today!) Split the menu into items. When it’s going to be cooked? Where in the oven it’s going? How it is going to be re-heated on the day? What’s it being served in?
Tips for a stress-free Christmas lunch
- The turkey – Christmas Eve cook, carve as well, cover with its juice. Main oven on the day, using a big oval platter.
- Smoked gammon (as above).
- Stuffing – already made (in individual balls) and in the freezer, take out to defrost on Christmas Eve. Main oven on the day, dress around the turkey and gammon.
- Pigs in blankets (as above)
- Roast potatoes – peeled the night before. Main oven on the day, serve in a round dish.
- Roast parsnips (as above)
- Braised red cabbage – prepare and cook Christmas Eve. Microwave on the day, heat in the dish that it is going to be served in.
- Cauliflower cheese – make the cheese sauce now and freeze, Christmas Eve cook the cauli ‘al dente’ and cover with the sauce. Main oven on the day, heat in the dish that it is going to be served in.
- Creamed celeriac – I LOVE THIS! Christmas Eve prepare, cook and mash. Microwave on the day, heat in the dish that it is going to be served in.
- Sauté sprouts with chestnuts – buy prepped sprouts, go on cheat! On the day sauté on the hob in a wok all together and serve in a round dish
- Carrots – Christmas Eve prep/ cook on the hob on the day. Serve in a round dish.
- Purple sprouting broccoli– (as above). Share the dish with the carrots.
- Gravy – I have a gravy pot going all the time and freeze as I go, do here what you are most comfortable with as this seems to me to be very individual.
- Condiments – put in dishes Christmas Eve all ready to go, saying that… some of the jars are just lovely, so serve just as they are.
Getting a drink in everyone’s hand as they arrive will make your evening start as you mean to carry on. It also takes the ‘waiting for someone to make a decision’ moment out of the equation, which can be somewhat painful. It’s not exactly a tricky question is it?
It’s fizz all the way for me, or, I am rather partial to a 70’s throwback…who doesn’t love a snowball?
Have a little look around the local charity shops, beautiful cut glass goblets can really set the scene, they don’t need to match. Fill with Prosecco and our absolute new favourite St Germain Elderflower liqueur is top of the pops. Put a blackberry in the bottom of the glass to add a little va va voom! If serving wine, again keep it simple.
You do need to remember that your guests are here to see you, not to judge your sommelier skills. Go with what you know, if you like it then your guests will probably too!
A choice of puds, or have both!
Christmas Pudding – already made. Heat in the microwave.
Tipsy trifle and chocolate and ginger shots are also on the menu for us this year (by popular demand). I make them all in individual cups and glasses for easy service. Lay the table the night before too. It really does give your guests that overwhelming feeling as they arrive that you are in total control.
Then the friends descend!
So, we have the big day sorted and the family taken care of. What about your friends too? Yes, that social aspect of your life that you never seem to have enough time for. Let’s set the scene… Sparkly dress, shoes a little too high, but you’re going to go through the pain barrier in the name of fashion, quick wash and blow dry in the local salon to get those big swishy curls like the city party girls on the telly have, maybe a little more adventurous than usual with the make -up, and a generous squirt of the ‘special’ perfume that you keep for ‘one of those’ occasions! Look at you! Everything’s just spot on. Shame you have 20 friends about to descend on the doorstep for your Christmas Party that seemed ‘oh such a great idea’ four weeks ago! Listen hard here girls, I’m going to take you through the steps to serve and smile all night long. There’s absolutely no reason to whine in your wine tonight!
There is one thread to everything that I believe in when it comes to hosting an event. I will repeat myself time and time again but this simple rule works. it’s the 5 x P’s…Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
Sounds a little harsh I know, but it is how you start the evening as the host and end as a Goddess, rather start as the host and end as a Godzilla!
Fab festival fodder
How much space have you got? Is there enough room in the fridge? More importantly, how much time have you got? Before you start planning anything ask yourself these very simple questions. The more space, the more time, the more you can do. It’s not rocket science! Do not break your back trying to decipher the latest canapé cookbook. Stop right now!! Less is more on occasions like this …and the supermarket do the most amazing selection – make half and buy half (just hide the wrappers!) I am quite a big fan of individual pots and shots. I think it really helps with portioning and when it’s gone it’s gone, you are not left with a half-hacked ham to deal with in the middle of the evening.
To pass around…
- Pressed Ham Hock with Piccalilli in little pots with bread sticks
- Bloody Mary shot with a shucked oyster
- Paprika dusted whitebait (save little tuna and sardine tins to serve in)
- Posh cheese and pineapple
- Surf and turf sticks
- Oven frittes (the really skinny ones) with béarnaise sauce (a true winner!)…look out for little chip cones (or make your own ) to serve them in
On the table…
- Cheeseboard to die for…lots of crackers and fruit
So there we have it! A few tips to take the stress out of Christmas hosting and help you enjoy the season just as much as your family and guests! Remember the mantra… I am a Goddess in the kitchen!