The festive season is almost upon us. And while Christmas always serves up helpings of fab food and time with loved ones, it often comes with its fair share of testing moments too. But not this year. Not if we can help it. To take some of the tension out of the holiday frenzy, we asked five experts for their nuggets of advice on how to shine, not stress, over Christmas.
From a make-now-bake-later pie to all-important pudding pointers and reasons why gravy from scratch should be the last thing on your mind come 25 December, this collection of top tips is designed to lend you a hand at home this Christmas.
Easy as pie
A homemade pie or pie dough is a great thing to have in the freezer over the Christmas period, perfect when you’re tired of cooking and want something that tastes fantastic and doesn’t require any effort. My top pick is a salmon pie made with organic Scottish salmon, inspired by the one I used to buy every Saturday from a market in north Sydney. To this day I still dream about that pie.
Mark the tradition of Stir-up Sunday (the last Sunday in November) on your calendar now and set aside some time to make a Christmas pudding. Starting the process four weeks before the big day gives the flavours a chance to really mingle and mature. Making the pudding from scratch is a lovely (and easy) way to start your festive season – especially if kids are helping out – plus you’ll feel a little bit smug about being so well prepared.
Please your cheese
Plan your festive cheeseboard now. That way you can read up on your choices and impress guests with extra info, such as which flavours to look out for or where the cheeses come from. For me, there’s no better accompaniment than homemade chutneys. They get better with time, look and taste fantastic and double up as delicious homemade gifts.
It's all gravy
I’m a firm believer that Christmas cooking is all about making things as simple as can be. For me, one way to do that is to prepare and freeze your gravy for the big day well ahead of time. I tend to use chicken wings or the remains of a roast chicken for this, adding a generous spoonful of cranberry sauce and plenty of rosemary and thyme to my usual base for extra festive flair. Remove the gravy from the freezer when you start to cook the turkey to give it time to defrost, then warm it through just before serving, adding the juices from the rested roasted bird.
Little hands on deck
Spend an afternoon in the kitchen with your children putting together thrifty homemade gifts or decorations. Salt dough is easy to make and is a really fun, rewarding activity for kids. Simply beat together 300g fine salt and 300g plain flour with 300ml warm water. Roll the dough between sheets of baking paper then stamp out your favourite festive shapes. Bake at 150°C, gas mark 2 for 2-3 hours until nice and firm.
Click here for more festive recipes, tips and tricks.