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Christmas tips

Categories: Expert guidance

Katherine Frelon’s guide to Christmas bliss

Don’t you just hate it when well-meaning people look at you with deep concern and say ‘calm down’ ‘you need to relax’. It makes me want to scream, because I love Christmas! There, I said it. And I truly do.

I love the warm, cosy feeling it gives me, I love the scented candles, the open fire, the smell of freshly baked buttery brioche and cinnamon muffins, Christmas carols that remind me of my childhood and the fact it is the one time of year I will NOT be cooking for anyone else but myself and my family. I have scented candles all the time, I have an open fire for most of the winter months, but it’s that Christmas magic which makes all the difference.

Christmas is about sharing, whatever your religious leanings—it’s a time to appreciate what you have and to take a moment to think of those less fortunate than yourselves.

A groaning table, multiple drinks parties and excess is the norm and to pare down the feast would be the saddest thing in the world. I, for one, am not going to be holding back, although a few brisk walks at some point during the festivities is a must!

If you don’t want to be totally kyboshed by all there is to do, embrace the preparations and minimise the festive stress by following some simple and practical tips.

Plan
Boring for most, I know, but essential for the ultimate festive serenity, and the perfect party host. This is the first thing I ever learnt to do in “the olden days” (quote taken from teenage son) during my home economics lessons and it is, I would say, the most important lesson I ever learnt.

What do you want to cook? There are hundreds—nay, thousands—of recipes to choose from, so take a moment and think about where you’ll be, who’ll be there, how long they’ll be there and make a plan.

Make a list—please don’t sigh, I can hear it from here—you won’t regret it I promise. It will keep your budget under control and will give you so much free time on Christmas day, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.

Make homemade gifts
Set aside a weekend to make gifts: spiced salts, fig and honey vinegar, raspberry vinegar, spiced orange and cardamom vinegar, elderberry, lavender and pomegranate vodka, jewelled Christmas mincemeat, peppermint creams, Turkish delight—yum! It’s also nice to make little bags of spices, aromatic pouches of loveliness, and peppermint cream place name parcels are a nice touch. Make in advance and keep in an airtight container then, on the day, place one on each plate with a name tag on.

Get the kids involved
If you haven’t got any, borrow some! Get a group of friends together and give each guest an ingredient to bring so you can do your preparations together.

For the children, get them making up gift bags for party games and baking cup cakes, cookies and caramels etc. For the grown-ups, get them to trial some Christmas cocktails (remember to write the ratios down before you succumb to blurred vision) while they are preparing dishes that can later be frozen: mini mince pies, macaroons, pigs in blankets, spicy nut mix for drinks, giant cheese straws, gougeres etc.  

Be prepared
Cook and freeze dishes in advance.

Why don’t more people do this? It’s such a good idea and keeps the place free of washing up, too. If you are cooking for guests who are coming to stay over a prolonged period of time and you’d like them to think you are the ultimate god/ goddess of house and home, start cooking dishes that you can keep in the freezer.

Clear out the fridge and make lots of soup (blend and freeze), or cook easy dishes to feed the family so you don’t spend your entire Christmas holidays cooking—things like, risotto, chilli, curry, pies and quiches, fruit crumbles, scones, cakes. To avoid forgetting to take them out of the freezer, set yourself a reminder on your phone, just like you would for a doctor appointment or a school event.

Save any chicken stock from a Sunday roast for the Christmas gravy and put it in the freezer. You can make the stuffing and canapes in advance, too.

Have mince pies on-hand
I always make loads of mini mince pies. When people drop by, I have some warmed in the oven before you can say ‘glass of mulled wine’.

Pre-prepare mulled wine
Speaking of which, mulled wine is a total must—make it up in bottles and store it in the fridge or a large vat (that’s my house!) so it’s ready to just take out when you need it. It’s totally delicious and will fill your house with fabulous Christmassy smells. Just remember to pace yourself if the neighbours pop in early—no snoozing allowed until after the turkey!

Providing entertainment
I love a bit of a party but sometimes find that different generations miss out on some aspects due to age. Little ones and teens do NOT mix—not in our house, anyway. The teens are easy—make them food and leave them to it! The little ones are so hyperactive with the impending delivery of their long and detailed Christmas lists that you can get them involved with a fun party with loads of games. I love an indoor sports day—it totally exhausts them, but depends on space of course.

I also love making up several dressing up boxes. Divide the group into two or three, depending how brave you are, and give them 30 minutes to come up with a festive theatre show. Every child likes being dramatic. Film it and then they can rewatch themselves. It’s hilarious. It will also make them pretty weary and give other parents time to tear round the shops for last minute bits and bobs—which you, of course, will not need to do because you’re so organised!

Roasting the turkey
There are many opinions on roasting a turkey and I have tried many of the theories, but you have to ask the question: if lunch is to be served at a reasonable time, say two to three pm, who on this earth wants to set their alarm at 4am to get the turkey ready? Not me! I vote for cooking the turkey upside down, having been soaked in brine overnight, drained from its bath while the coffee is on, then rubbed with soft butter and put into a large foil tin. No washing up. Treat yourself on Christmas Day, it’s the best Christmas present the chef can get!

Cooking the turkey this way means it will reduce the cooking time by half—yes you read it right, half. I’m not completely sure whose idea it was originally, but I heard it first from Nigella and she warns that the first year you cook it this way, you will be inclined to give it another 30 minutes or so because you just can’t believe it takes so little time. It does, so don’t add on extra time, just let it rest and trust the theory. Invest in a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the centre of your meat and you will have the perfect cooked turkey.

With everything planned and prepped the day and weeks before, once the turkey is in the oven, it’s time to just relax and enjoy your guests, family, kids and pressies! Follow my guide and I promise, you’ll spend no more than 60 minutes in the kitchen on the day.

Keep your eyes peeled for my countdown to Christmas check list.