As 2020 is drawing to a close, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to resist decorating the house early this year. I think we all deserve a little sparkle after what has been quite a year!
When I was a child we had the most amazing decorations. Commercial sized decorations that included the thickest tinsel strung across the ceiling. Hall mirrors were framed with white tinsel and red bauble concoctions that would be achingly retro and sought after if we still had them all.
My decorations nowadays don’t include tinsel (think I’m allergic due to over exposure!!), but I still go hedonistically over the top with the decorations and warm white fairy lights. I love a dining table that’s heaving with decorations – my husband always complains that there’s no room for the food.
So far the Christmas decorations remain in the loft, though I’ve cleared a space for the tree in the sitting room. Hopefully next weekend both my grown up children will be here to help – something of a tradition in our family. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying seeing photos of other people’s tress and all the sparkling lights. Christmas is definitely on its way.
Food and more food, is a central part of Christmas celebrations for many of us. Eating until you’re desperate to get into your pjs. While it is true that ‘it’s just a roast’, for those less confident in the kitchen or those wanting more time to relax and spend with family, it can feel as if there’s a lot to juggle on the day and for many this can feel overwhelming.
To avoid feeling as if it’s all too much, consider making one dish a week and pop it in your freezer. Preparation might sound boring. But what’s boring about being relaxed on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve?
If cooking is all too much for any reason. Maybe you’re just fed up with feeding yourself or your family this year and feel as if most of your time has been spent in the kitchen, then hang up your apron and check out the ready made options in the shops. Buy something every week and pop it in your freezer (if you have one). This way you spread the cost of Christmas too.
A good gravy is so important – especially if you’re resting your cooked turkey for a while before serving. There are some delicious ready made gravies in the shops, but if you’d like to make your own then I have just the recipe you need by Jamie Oliver.
I love Jamie Oliver’s make ahead Christmas gravy. Ask your butcher for chicken wings and follow Jamie’s recipe. The wings are roasted in the oven along with celery, star anise and other delicious ingredients and then simmered on top of the hob before draining, cooling and popping in the freezer.
Always label your container – so you know what it is. I once defrosted chicken stock thinking it was a ginger shot.
Here’s the link to Jamie’s recipe and method. Bookmark it or print it off. Once you’ve made this, you’ll definitely want to make it again and again.
Stuffing. I hated this as a child. Sorry mum, but the stuffing of my childhood came from a box. Grey mushy stuff. Put me off stuffing for years.
Stuffing, however, can be incredible and packed full of goodness. This recipe is great as it can be prepared ahead and frozen. You can use the basic recipe without the sausages to make a vegetarian version.
I defrost the stuffing overnight in the fridge and then cook it on Christmas Day. Checking that the centre is hot by inserting a metal skewer and pressing against the palm of my hand to ensure it’s piping hot.
What you’ll need:
2 sticks of celery – finely chopped
1 large onion – finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 apple – cored and finely chopped
125g dried ready to eat apricots
1 pack of pork sausages – skins removed – I use gluten free sausages with high meat content
1 pack of cooked chestnuts – chopped – I use Merchant Gourmet
Zest of one orange
Large handful flat leaf parsley – chopped
1 egg – whisked with a fork
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1-2 packs of steaks bacon – I use a nitrite free brand Naked bacon
Fresh sage leaves (I have a plant going outside – a potted one I bought at a supermarket and just planted in a container that I keep near my kitchen door)
Start by heating the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the celery and onion. Cook gently until translucent – try not to brown – turn down the heat if necessary.
Then add the chopped apple for a minute or two. That’s the cooking part done!
Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients (except the bacon) with some sea salt and freshly ground pepper in a mixing bowl. Squeeze it all together using your hands and combine the cooled celery, apple and onion.
Grease a glass serving dish with some butter and then lay the bacon on the base of the dish so that one end is in the middle of the dish and the other end hangs over the edge of the dish. The whole dish should be covered.
Spoon in the stuffing mixture and level it with the back of your spoon, so that it fills the dish evenly. Add a few sage leaves on the top of the stuffing mixture.
Then fold the bacon back over the top of the stuffing mixture to cover it completely.
Cover and then freeze.
Defrost in your fridge overnight on Christmas Eve and then heat at 190º in a pre-heated oven for about 30-40 minutes – check centre to ensure it’s cooked thoroughly and is hot all the way through.
This will serve about 4-6 people as a side garnish.
If you’re looking for a meat-free option use the recipe above but add an extra onion, leave out the sausages and replace with 80g of gluten free bread crumbs and 40g of ground almonds. Form into golf sized balls, roll them in the palms of your hands.
Open freeze on a flat tray or plate. Once firm you can move them into a freezer bag or container. Open freezing will prevent them from sticking together or getting squashed.
Defrost overnight in fridge and cook for 20 minutes at 200º on a preheated baking tray lightly greased with butter. If you cook from frozen allow an extra 5-10 minutes cooking time.
With these two important elements in your freezer you will have extra time on Christmas Day to enjoy the moment.
Perfect roast potatoes……and cranberry sauce next time.