This time of year is utterly bonkers in Britain. Trolleys groan with unwanted gifts, enough food to make Gargantua vomit and a bucket of invitees whose company is about as engaging as Trump’s intellect.
Apart from anything else, the sheer piggery for the sake of it is exceptionally in bad taste; the swingeing cuts by the government have put thousands in poverty and I cannot imagine what sleeping rough is like in snowy conditions.
Relate’s phone is red hot in January with couples who’ve had enough and the heart stopping credit card statement plopping onto the doormat is just about the last straw.
Answer? Well, for a start, never assume you HAVE to be with people because they are related. Why? you don’t bother at any other time of year. It makes for ill will in my book.
My family banned Christmas presents a decade ago. With 26 of us, it was the logical choice. If you are strapped, or just overwhelmed by the thought of fighting your way through the grim faced hordes, arrange for a secret Santa. Everyone gets something; what’s simpler? Give the money to a food bank or a homeless charity.
If you have a small or large gathering, prepping ahead makes total sense. It means you’ll have more time to enjoy the day and less time sweating in the kitchen, being utterly resentful and overdoing it on the sherry. More of that later (including some decent ‘cheating’ advice).
Once you’ve sorted out the guest list, ask people to contribute by bringing things like a cheese board, the pudding, some decent wine etc.
In my cafe, we now serve supremes of chicken as practically nobody wanted turkey. For Pete’s sake, check with your guests first if they fancy something different with all the trimmings still on offer.
If you do want a turkey, one thing you can do the night before is to steep it in salted water and orange to ensure it is really juicy.
Now, onto the menu. If you want some canapes, there are some gorgeous foods out there to take the strain. A favourite of mine is to buy Waitrose walnut bread (divine) and for the veggies buy feta and aubergine pate. Toast the bread, spread it on quite thickly and top with snipped chives. For the traditional smoked salmon lovers, you can add a real touch of class with the base of cream cheese, the salmon and then a drop of beetroot relish which you can make two days before (see recipe).
You don’t need a starter if you have canapes. They are filling and with a large lunch full of so many elements it’s just pure piggery.
So, the day before you can prep your veg. Peel the potatoes and leave them in cold water.
Peel the carrots and parsnips. Lay them in a tin lined with foil and sprinkle with salt and a little balsamic vinegar. Cover with cling film.
I now serve a pea puree (see recipe) which you can freeze ahead and defrost the night before and whack in the micro just before serving.
Make the bread sauce two days in advance and keep covered in the fridge.
The day before, make stuffing balls out of sausage meat and a commercial sage and onion stuffing and place in a muffin tin and refrigerate, covered with cling film.
Obey the goddess that is Delia Smith. Her timings are impeccable and you can always trust her as a brilliant home cook. Just google her or Jamie Oliver actually. They are both full of time saving tips.
Never, ever under any circumstances use gravy granules (the very thought makes me gag). Making your own gravy is a piece of the proverbial (see recipe) and it brings the whole thing together beautifully.
If you insist on having Yorkshires, the Aunt Bessy range are really fine as a substitute. If that fills you with horror, I’m sorry but at the end of the day it’s all personal and I’m fine with them.
You can, of course, escape the crowds and the decadence by sodding off to Spain as I do and indulge in mussels Espagnole and a deconstructed fish and chips (hake with a prawn sauce with sweet potato wedges) which are also on the blog.
Lastly, may your God go with you and may your sanity be intact. A very happy Christmas to all my patient readers who have had to put up with a silent blog for the last two months. The New Year brings many much awaited and exciting changes.