Category Archives for Christmas

The 12 tips of Christmas

This year, at the ripe old age of 38, I hosted my first ever Christmas at home.  It was nerve-wracking, exhausting, exciting, fulfilling and well, wonderful.

We didn’t have a big crowd so I was eased in gently.  My brother and his girlfriend joined us on Christmas Eve for some festive fizz and a gorgeous baked ham (can I call it gorgeous if I cooked it? Oh well, my blog, my rules!)

Then on Christmas Day, after a simple breakfast and some stocking opening, they left and both lots of parents arrived – bringing with them many and varied offerings towards the day’s eating and drinking.

Only 30 minutes later than originally planned, we all tucked into our roast turkey and trimmings.  Plates were cleared, so I take that as a good sign. Although there are several tweaks I will make next year.

So what did I learn?  After much pondering, I have decided that there are 12 key things that I’ll take away for next year.  The 12 tips of Christmas if you will…

Those of you who are seasoned Christmas hosts may smile wisely at these and please feel free to add more of your own in the comments!

Before the big day

Christmas

1) Plan for space invaders

Before you plan your Christmas food extravaganza, make sure you actually have both the fridge and oven space to cope with it all.  If, like me, you only have one oven then it makes things trickier – it’s not impossible, but careful planning is required. Thankfully, turkeys can rest for a good hour or two without any harm coming to them so you can do all your potatoes and parsnips etc once the bird is out and relaxing in its foil.

Fridge-wise, if you have a garage or shed then make use of these for veggies etc. Those of you with any outdoor space can fill a bucket or crate with water and leave it outside with all of your drinks.

Oh, and before you buy your ridiculously expensive turkey, for goodness sake, make sure it’ll fit in your oven! Just sayin’..

2) Do what you can in advance

Of all the Christmas feast and festivities, there is very little that cannot be at least partly prepared beforehand.  Puddings and cakes – obvs.  Perhaps less obvs, prepare all your veg the day before.  Potatoes need to sit in water once peeled and chopped, then just pour out and give fresh water when you’re ready to par-boil. Carrots, parsnips and sprouts (or most other veg) can be peeled, chopped and stored in freezer bags in the fridge quite happily for a day or two.

Check your recipes and where possible, make what you can in advance!

3) Yes. You’ve done enough food

Throughout the whole process, I found myself constantly questioning whether there would be enough food to satisfy my guests.  Would the turkey be big enough (despite the fact that I’d purposefully ordered one that would serve 2 more people than were actually coming).  How many potatoes to do? How many parsnips?  The fact is, with so many different things on offer, people tend to have smaller portions of everything and chances are, you’ve done more than enough!

4) Don’t forget the non-drinkers

I come from a family of drinkers.  I’m not saying we’re booze hounds but we like our wine…and our gin…oooh, and a spot of port…and Champagne for goodness sake, it’s Christmas after all.  With that in mind, I was sure to get in plenty of supplies to see us through.  Chances are though, there will be at least someone who won’t be partaking, be it due to driving, pregnancy or infancy.  These poor folk shouldn’t feel that they’re being left out of the frivolities so make sure there’s something special for them too.  This year, I did a combination of 1 part orange juice, 1 part apple and 1 part cranberry in a large jug with plenty of ice.  It went down very well with children and drivers alike!

It may be that you and yours aren’t big drinkers and so the non-alcoholic choice is plentiful.  If that’s the case – then you should reverse this and remember to provide for your more boozy buddies!

decorations

5) Ambiance is easy

I’m not at all creative or arty but I really wanted people to arrive and feel surrounded by festive spirit and cheer.  Short of plying them all with sherry at the door, I was a little stumped.  It turns out that it really isn’t too tricky (or expensive) to create a spot of festive sparkle.  A few fir cones, a bunch of baubles and a whole table (well not quite) of tea lights and suddenly your home is like a little corner of pure Christmas.  

6) Write a timetable

I see you rolling your eyes but seriously, this will make  you feel so much more in control and will also let you know when you have free time for important things like unwrapping presents and drinking Champagne Cocktails (more on those later..)

It’s a bit of a pain to do – you need to work out all of the timings for all of the things you need to prepare.  I mean everything.  When do you need to pre-heat the oven? When does the water go on for the veg? When do you heat the fat for the potatoes?  Once it’s done though you’ll feel calmer and more relaxed – and if you’re calm and relaxed then your Christmas guests will be too.

Oh, and keep it for the following year! It’ll make life easier when you’re doing your next timetable.

The big day!

Christmas table

7) Forget the stupid timetable!

Huh?  Ok, so I don’t mean completely forget it, but DO allow yourself to be flexible.  The chances are that something will happen to throw the timetable out slightly. Don’t let this ruffle you.  The timetable is there to put YOU in control, not to control you. If a few tweaks are needed along the way, then go with it – show that timetable who’s boss!

8) Delegate and accept all help gratefully and gracefully

If you’re anything like me then it will be easy to turn into a bit of a control freak.  You’ve done your planning, you’ve got your timetable and everything is under control goddamit! The only thing is, there are probably a few people there who would actually quite enjoy being involved, getting stuck in and well, helping you.  Don’t see this as showing weakness or failure.  Christmas is very much a team event.  Let people help, get everyone involved and share the fun!

Equally, people don’t like to turn up empty handed so if they ask you what they can bring – don’t say ‘oh nothing!’.  Christmas is pretty pricey and frankly, any offerings should be gratefully accepted. Your guests will feel happier that they’ve been able to contribute and your bank balance will definitely thank you.

9) Make mistakes and move on

I hate to break this to you but something will go wrong. It may be a whopper, like forgetting to buy the turkey, or it may be something so small that no one will even notice.  Whichever it is, don’t let it ruin the day.  If something doesn’t go according to plan, then change the plan, have a laugh about it and get on with enjoying your day.  It’s not about the perfection of the meal, or the beauty of the decorations.  It’s about you and your loved ones being together and sharing Christmas.

10) Use disposable foil roasting trays

Who wants to be scrubbing greasy toasting tins on Christmas Day?

11) Champagne Cocktails

This is a tradition passed down from my parents.  I’m not sure which side it came from originally but I am sure that it’s an absolute essential.  Here’s what you need:

In your Champagne glass;

Add 1 sugar cube and a couple of drops of Angostura Bitters. Cover the sugar with brandy, add a slice of orange and then top up with Champagne (or any other fizz that you have to hand).

Drink and be merry!

IMG_0081 (1) (2)

12) Enjoy yourself – it’s Christmas!

Hopefully, you’ll have spotted this as a general theme throughout.  It can be so easy to get completely caught up in the plan and in the moment, that suddenly the day ends and you realise that you didn’t speak to your loved ones apart from in barked orders or sharp retorts.  So fraught were you, that you didn’t notice your children as they frolicked with their wrapping paper.  So tense were you that you completely missed the hilarity when Dad fell asleep and his paper hat fell on to his face.

Don’t miss these moments.  Let the potatoes burn.  Let the sprouts go cold.  Enjoy your family. Love your people.  Happy Christmas xxx

Stress Free Christmas Part 7: Christmas Food and Drink

It’s time to Eat Drink Cook & be merry!

See what I did there?

In Part 7, we’ll be planning our Christmas food and drink shopping and I’m hoping to open your eyes to the many and wondrous options out there, other than the local supermarket.  I recently started getting a veg box delivered each week and discovered that I’m not spending any more than I would at Sainsburys but I’m getting fresher and more varied veg, while supporting a small business rather than a faceless supermarket.

More and more I am disappointed by what my supermarket has to offer – watery chicken, extortionate steak that is actually more fat than meat and cuts that are getting smaller and smaller each year.

Why settle for this when we have such huge choice out there that is both better quality and often-times, cheaper?  So, get your list making hat on and let’s get started with our Christmas food and drink planning!

Plan your Festive Food & Drink in 3 steps

Step 1: List your basic foody needs

Here, you need to think what different meals or foody occasions you need to cater for.  I’m not talking about your normal shopping from now until Christmas, you just need to think about those occasions which require special catering.  No need to be too specific just yet so don’t panic if you don’t have all your menus etc planned out.  We’re just getting a rough idea for now.  Here are a few examples…

Foody Event Rough Requirements
   
Christmas drinks party for 10 Wine for mulling (5 bottles?)
Soft drinks
3-4 easy nibbles
Something sweet
Christmas dinner for 10 Turkey
Potatoes & Veg
Stuffing
Bread Sauce
Condiments (cranberry sauce etc)
Drinks – Champagne, Wine, Beer, Soft
Christmas Pudding
Christmas Cake
Christmas Eve for 6 Ham
Red Cabbage
Potatoes
Pudding
Wine, Beer
Boxing Day for 4 Smoked Salmon
Bucks Fizz
Roast Pork?
Veg & Potatoes
Nibbles
Wine, Beer, Soft

Step 2: Adding the meat to the bones

Once you have your basic plan above sorted then you can start to work through a bit more of the detail.  It’s time to hit the recipe books and figure out what you’ll be feeding your family friends.  I’ll be adding a few recipes to help you along the way!

Here are a few other tidbits to mull (there I go again!) over…

To turkey or not to turkey?

I can’t be that helpful here because I’ve never had anything but turkey in all my thirty (ahem) something Christmases.  I love the stuff and feel no need to change the habit of a lifetime.  That being said, if you’re catering for smaller numbers then a goose can be a wonderful thing and one should never underestimate the value of a beautiful roast chicken if there are just a few of you.  I’m afraid I can’t back a plan to veer so wildly from tradition as to go with beef or some other non-poultry based meal.  Each to their own of course but it just seems wrong to me.

Party Fare

If you’re going for a nibbles type do then follow Nigella’s advice and keep it simple.  No need to spend days in preparation!  Just pick 3 or 4 nibbles that take little or no effort. Here are a few of my faves:

Cocktail Sausages: What party is complete without them?  Nigella has a few recipes for these little beauties.  Here’s just one to tickle your tastebuds..

Nigella’s Cocktail Sausages

Nuts & Olives: It’s not cheating to just open the odd packet and pour things into pretty containers.  People like nuts and olives – no need to fix what ain’t broken.

Smoked Salmon: Not being a particular fan of caviar, this would always be my choice when it comes to a celebratory snack.  Personally, I don’t think you can beat it on some brown bread and butter with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper. If you want to be fancy schmancy about it though, here are a couple of ideas…

Smoked Salmon Blinis – from BBC Good Food

Smoked Salmon Crostini with Horseradish – from Delicious Magazine

Cheese – no need to keep the old fromage just for after dinner.  It can make some super little nibbles too…

Manchego & Honey – Jamie includes this in a great set of tapas recipes from his 30 Minute Meals book.  Just slice the manchego and drizzle over some good quality honey and some fresh thyme.  Yum.

Goats Cheese – There are loads of lovely little nibbles that can be made around goats cheese.  They tend to be more assembly jobs than actual cooking but they always go down very well!

Bruschettas with Goat’s Cheese, Tomato & Basil – from Delia Online

ps – bruschettas make another great little nibble.  You could just do 3 or 4 different toppings and leave it at that!

Baked Camembert – this is one of my all time favourites!  There’s something so decadent about the oozing, melted cheese.  Just cut the top off, drizzle some good olive oil over, along with seasoning and some fresh herb of your choice (I go for thyme).  Honey works well too.  Pop in the oven at about 180 C for 20 minutes until it’s all melted and delicious and then put on the table with a big basket of crusty bread for dipping.  Don’t expect there to be any left if you go back to the kitchen for more than 5 minutes!

Drinks

Most people go to a party or to Christmas dinner expecting there to be to be some celebratory tipple or other.  It would be a brave man who didn’t have both wine and beer to offer guests, but the really memorable host will have a little something extra too – perhaps a little cocktail on arrival or some after dinner digestif to round things off.  Don’t forget soft drinks for the poor old designated driver and for any children too!

Christmas Cocktails & Drinks – Jamie Oliver

Christmas Cocktails & Mocktails – Martha Stewart

Step 3: Sourcing your Food (or should that be ‘Saucing’?

Right, now you know roughly what you’ll be needing you can have a think about where you want to get it from.  Chances are that if you want to, you can just order the whole shabang from your local supermarket, but seeing as we’re being really organised here, it’s worth checking if that’s actually the best way to go.

Before I go on, I would like to stress that my suggestions below are NOT based on any commission and neither are they based on any experience of the companies I refer to.  I am just sharing the results of my own research in the hope it will help save you a bit of time 🙂

Meat/Fish

Do you have a local butcher of fishmonger?  If so, chances are, you’ll certainly get better quality fare from them than from your supermarket.  It may even work out cheaper too so it’s definitely worth looking into.   Another option to consider is whether you can order any of your meat or fish online – again, potentially it could be cheaper and/or better quality. Plus, I’d much rather support a small business or local farmer than a massive supermarket!  I’ve been doing a spot of gentle research and have found a few Christmas deals worth a look…

Farmison & Co Christmas Shop

Piper’s Farm 

Donald Russell Online Butcher

Fish Fanatics

Booze

Supermarkets tend to have some good deals on alcohol, especially around Christmas but again, always worth having a little lookie to see if local off licenses can offer you something better.  Online options also tend to offer good savings so it definitely pays to shop around.  A few more of my findings below:

Bargain Booze (the name says it all!)

World & Craft Beer (got to be worth a look, if only for the great punnage – ‘Good Libations’)

Majestic Wines – their offers are always worth a little look

Naked Wines – get a good bargain AND support independent wine makers!

Fruit & Veg

I recently started getting a weekly veg box from a local farm and I am so glad that I did.  Guaranteed freshness, guaranteed organic and guaranteed to support local business rather than faceless supermarkets.  Here are a few options to consider:

Green Grocers’ Choice

Farmisons

Riverford Farm

Right, now I’ve made myself thoroughly hungry with all this talk of festive food and drink, I think I’m going to go and make myself a snack…

Have your say

As always, I’d love to hear your comments.  What’s your Christmas Dinner or Party Food of choice?

Take me to Part 8: Party Planning Phase 2 – Food & Clothes!

Catch Up

Part 1: Christmas Budget

Part 2: Making Christmas lists & Checking them twice

Part 3: Picking Presents

Part 4: Pickling Presents

Part 5: Christmas Party Invites

Part 6: Christmas Shopping