In early December the playlists start. Wherever you go, the sounds of Little Drummer Boy or All I Want for Christmas assault you in the shops; staff look pale and near suicidal by the 12th.
We’re there for Christmas shopping which is an annual ordeal for most. I know – some of you have bought, bagged and maybe even wrapped the pressies around last March or earlier, but that’s not me (or most of us, let’s be honest). So we browse the tedious ‘gifts for her or him’ sections on trendy sites and get frustrated.
Now I’m NOT the type to purchase Christmas gifts 8 months in advance but I do have a handy tip: make notes. Throughout the year, whenever your near and dear mention things they hanker after (and that’s to exclude yachts and private islands), make a note. You’ll be grateful for this on 15th December.
I won’t go into trees and decorations: my principle is the more, the better. Don’t get too hung up about tasteful – it’s not tasteful, it’s Christmas.
The most important element is food. And seeing as you’re reading this, you’re probably not the oven-ready, self-basting mini turkey roast kind. I’ve tried to put together here a bunch of tips and recipes, for what it’s worth. If it makes anyone enjoy Christmas more, I’ll be ecstatic.
Don’t get drunk on Christmas Eve. I know, the festive spirit (or spirits) and all, but if a turkey awaits you in the fridge, you need to be cold turkey. Excuse the bad pun and all the other bad puns.
Make a list. Make several lists: a present list (a past and a future too; see warning about puns), a food list with cooking dates, a shopping list (book groceries delivery NOW, it might be too late already), a baking list, a guest list and a party outfits list. And a list of people who on no account should be invited even on the Boxing Day
Food wasting is the cardinal sin of holidays, so if people will be bringing food, give clear instructions to people about what to bring. So they’ll think you’re a bully, so what. Better than five bowls of trifle.
Don’t serve trifle. It’s a wannabe-failed tiramisu and usually downright disgusting.
Go for the bowls on the table serving style. The pre-loaded plates belong in restaurants; otherwise everyone gets their food cold already: the first one through waiting, the last through being served from cooled down pans.
Don’t believe when they say they’re too full for pudding. Especially if it’s something chocolatey and tasty instead of trifle (see point 4).
Cheese before pudding if you’re French; cheese after pudding if you’re posh; cheese with the pudding for perfect balance. There’s nothing like a slice of fruit cake with a chunk of Stilton.
However large your dining table (but I’m talking to ordinary people here), get something to serve as a sideboard. Garden table. The massive box that Amazon sends really small things in. Kitchen stool. Sideboard. That’s where all your spuds, sprouts, desserts and cheeses can happily live waiting to be grabbed.
Set up somewhere for kids to go play as soon as they are bored with food, which will be about 10 minutes in. Garden shed. Under stairs cupboard. Just joking.
Get everyone out for a walk when things are flagging and you’re yearning for them to clear so you can finish your half bottle of pinot in peace and quiet. Half the guests will rush off home and the others will at least sober up on that walk.
Christmas breads are delightful. I can’t imagine holiday breakfasts without a huge wedge of, initially pillowy and soft and later toasted and buttered, sweet, yeasted cake studded with raisins or marzipan.
Check out festive breads from all over the world; they are often incredible and not so difficult to make.
Do you need a starter? Likely there’s a ten-pound bird to follow with more potatoes and sides to feed twice the crowd; and don’t forget the pudding.
But if you’re a master of creating well balanced festive meals, knock yourself out. Just make sure the starter is a/ cold, b/ can be prepped ahead and wait in the fridge and c/ light and small, preferably incorporating fresh things which we’re not likely to be ingesting loads of later on.
I have two (stretching to three if warming drawer included) ovens and still I wouldn’t cook three or even two different roasts. Unless people bring a variety of meats, go for one.
Ask the butcher or check online the required tonnage of the roast for your crowd and try to avoid the ‘turkey forever after’ scenario.
Except for chicken and pork (well cooked), and beef (medium-rare), the Christmas poultry wants to be cooked medium. Long resting time will make sure there will be well-cooked parts for the fussy ones. The roasting times below are for the turkey; they will work for goose and duck as well.
Turkey cooking times
Except for chicken and pork (well cooked) and beef (medium-rare), the poultry wants to be cooked medium. The resting time will make sure there will be well-cooked parts for the fussy eaters. The roasting times below are for the turkey; they will work for goose and duck as well. For any other roasts apply the rule of thumb: 20 minutes at high heat followed by 15 minutes at lower heat per pound of meat.
- 6 to 8 pounds (2.7 – 3.6kg) 2-1/2 to 3 hours
- 8 to 12 pounds (3.6 – 5.4kg) 3 to 4 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds (5.4 – 7.2kg) 4 to 5 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds (7.2 – 9kg) 5 to 5-1/2 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds (9 – 10.8kg) 5-1/2 to 6 hours
If your turkey comes with an instruction, use that.
Gravy and sauces
Gravy is a must. It’s more important than the roast. Don’t even think about Bisto.
The simple recipe: any fat spooned off the meat roasting dish about halfway through goes into a skillet, you don’t need much. Two tablespoons of flour whisked in, followed by a pint of stock/broth/vegetable cooking liquid; cook it down until almost too thick.
Secret ingredients: 2 tbsp. red currant jelly and a teaspoon of mustard. Then just pour in any roasting juices and there goes the best gravy.
As important, if not more than, as the roast. It is perfectly all right to pre-cook veg, just make sure it’s only light blanching. Roast potatoes can’t be prepped in advance – sorry. Parboiled potatoes from the fridge will take about ten years to roast properly.
Have them sitting instead on the worktop at room temperature; blast the roasting tray with oil in the oven until smoking and get them in an hour before serving time.
Cut corners here if you need to: shop-bought meringues topped with whipped cream and fruit will be fantastic. Don’t stress about Christmas pudding, nobody likes it anyway.
Or chop up some nuts, chocolate and dried fruit to put on good vanilla ice cream with custard or cream for sundaes – who says you can’t have ice cream at Christmas?
If you ran out of time or steam to make fancy desserts, serve a cheese selection. Carb-fearing crowd will thank you. Get them out of the fridge early (no sin like cold cheese) and serve with bunches or grapes, apples, crackers and blobs of chutney or good thick plum, fig or apricot jam.
For the board pick a couple of hard cheeses (Cheddar, Manchego, Tomme, Gouda or Gruyère); a couple of soft smelly ones (Brie, Camembert, St Nectaire, Époisses or Munster for the adventurous); one blue (Stilton, Gorgonzola, Fourme, Roquefort) and one goats.
Oh, and place three or four small knives as people will invariably walk off with a cheese knife.