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 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’..
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Who wants to be scrubbing greasy toasting tins on Christmas Day?
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!
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
I SO know that feeling. It’s kind of like writer’s block for cooks. You’re sitting, pen in hand and surrounded by recipe books, trying to plan your week’s meals but completely without inspiration. Or worse still, you’re stuck in supermarket hell – no list, no plan, no clue – and no escape until you’ve managed to fill your trolley with ingredients for the next seven days.
You end up with the same old tried and tested meals week in and week out. You make them in auto-pilot while absent-mindedly reliving a conversation with some idiot who annoyed you earlier in the day (only this time giving them a much wittier and more cutting response). Then you and the family sit down and eat the meal without really noticing it as you all gaze at the telly letting yet another repeat of The Simpsons wash over you…
In this new monthly post, I hope that I can help you to keep things fresh (literally and metaphorically) by keeping them seasonal.
I’m a big fan of seasonal eating and in today’s world of ‘natural’ this and ‘free from’ that, then what could make more sense than planning your meals around foods that are local, fresh and at their cheapest and most delicious?
Regular readers of my blog (I love you all – thank you!) will know that I post a monthly summary of the foods that are coming into season along with a few suggestions on what recipes you could make with them.
Plus this month I did this guest post with three great seasonal recipes for July!
In these new seasonal feast posts, I will combine two of my favourite foodie topics – eating seasonally, and turning mealtimes from something functional and habit driven into an occasion to savour and take pleasure from.
Here’s a quick re-cap of what’s in season this month...
This is when we hit the peak of British summertime (although admittedly it can sometimes be hard to believe. I write this as the rain beats down outside…)
Ideally it’s a time when we can make the most of our outside spaces, whether they be gardens, local parks or beaches. So why not grab a basket, cool box and a few blankets and surprise you family with an impromptu picnic one evening instead of the usual TV dinner?
It doesn’t need to be fancy, elaborate or time consuming – you don’t even need to go further than your own back lawn if you don’t want to! Just get out there, chat about your day, laugh about that annoying idiot from earlier, and savour the tastes of the summer!
I have to say, all was NOT smooth sailing before the big day came! We decided to invite everyone back to our home after the service – but this rather foolhardy plan relied heavily on the weather being clement. With nearly 30 people coming, we most certainly wouldn’t have room for everyone inside and so (after much browsing on Pinterest for inspiration), I came up with the plan to put on a picnic in the garden. Hampers were sought out and many a list was written. Finally, all the planning started to come together!
Imagine my despair on Monday when we awoke to dark skies and heavy rain, with the forecast promising more of the same for the rest of the week! Nick (Hubby) and I frantically tried to come up with a plan B and I tried not to get so disheartened that I just washed my hands of the whole affair!
Prayers were said and the preparation continued…
I had a distinct picture in my head of what I wanted. Our garden is relatively small but would just about fit the thirty odd people invited. I envisioned people coming into the garden to be greeted with a drink (from my much loved drinks dispensers!) of either Summer Punch or a non-alcoholic equivalent. After mingling on the patio with their welcome drink, they would be ushered to the lawn which would be filled with round tables with white table cloths and some pretty flowers at the centre of each. Wicker baskets filled with goodies to eat and drink would welcome the guests as they took their seats and on opening up and exploring the contents, they would find a bottle of Prosecco and glasses in amongst the picnic food for toasting our boy.
On arrival, people were offered a choice of alcoholic or non-alcoholic punch. For the alcoholic version, I used a recipe for Summer Punch by Gino DaCampo from his book The Italian Diet. I’m afraid I can’t find a version online so you’ll just have to buy it!
The non-alcholic drink was Elderflower & Passion Fruit Cooler from Nigella’s book Summer and proved very popular with the designated drivers!
I wanted to keep things as simple as possible. I had no intention of staying up till the small hours cooking! So pretty much everything in the hampers was shop bought. Here’s what my family and friends found inside..
(Each hamper contained enough for 4-5 people)
A selection of cold meats (ham, beef, pastrami and chorizo)
A family sized pork pie
A selection of cheeses (Cheddar, Red Leicester, Stilton, Camembert and White Stilton with cranberries)
A pot of olives
Three mini pots of hummus of various flavours
A crusty baguette
A pot of harissa couscous with cherry tomatoes, mint and chickpeas
A bag of artisan crisps
Prosecco & glasses
With eight children coming (plus my own two), I wanted to make sure they had something nice too and so packed up some little cardboard lunchboxes with ham rolls, quavers, mini packs of chocolate animal biscuits and a smoothie.
After my Mum kindly offered to bring a lovely homemade fruit salad, I decided that pudding would be some DIY mini pavlovas – shop bought meringue nests, squirty cream on top and finished off with a spoon of fruit salad. Light, fresh, delicious and easy! We rounded the afternoon off with some cake (made by a lovely lady called Joy who agreed last minute to take it on and in doing do, wasn’t able to finish her own son’s 30th birthday cake!)
After my panic, the day dawned with blue skies. They didn’t stay blue all day but it didn’t rain and it was warm(ish) – Hurrah! Do you know what though? As I looked round at everyone gathered, I realised that it wouldn’t have mattered. I was surrounded by people I love who were just happy to be sharing our special day with us and who wouldn’t have cared whether it was spent sitting out in the sunshine or squished together inside…. still I’m glad it didn’t come to that…
Yesterday was our eleventh wedding anniversary – how time flies! We celebrated with a small group of friends and family by having a barbecue at our home for the week in Derbyshire (kindly provided by my in-laws who are away in France).
I’m rather excited about this – both the gorgeous punch I made but also the rather snazzy drink dispenser that I have recently bought and was able to use for the first time! The punch comes from one of my favourite cookery books, A love for food (and no – I’m not on commission!) Suffice to say, it was very popular with all who sampled it, and I shall definitely be making it again.
As we’re on holiday, I certainly didn’t want to do anything too labour intensive so we just planned the standard BBQ fayre – sausages, burgers and some chicken (I laboured over this for hours by marinading it in a tub of Greek yoghurt and a jar of tandoori paste..)
Well you have to have something to go with all the meat right? (I can hear my husband somewhere shouting ‘NOOOOO!’ – I choose to ignore it. Ah, wedded bliss!)
On this occasion, I made a lovely Turkish bulgur wheat salad from Sabrina Ghayour’s fabulous book, Persiana. It contains some of my favourite flavours – harrissa, tomatoes and lots of mint. It’s gorgeously fresh and Summery.
I also made Nigella’s watermelon, feta and black olive salad. Sounds an odd combination but it really works!
Along with the gorgeous punch I raved about earlier, I think this was the other triumph of the evening. It was a rather scrumptious Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova – another of Nigella’s. It was wonderfully easy to make (and mostly done in advance which is always handy) and it was gobbled down with glee by everyone – myself included! Even better, there’s a little smidge left today for a bit of hangover comfort.
Despite having to retreat inside because of torrential rain, we had a really special evening with great friends, gorgeous food and a very more-ish punch. Here’s to the next eleven years, Nick!