THERE'S no denying last Christmas was a bit of a flop, so there is much to make up for as we head into the 2021 Festive Season. Excitement is filling the air as families look forward to coming together after a year which has tried everyone’s mettle.
Of course, someone must host this most anticipated time of the year, and even the most seasoned host will spend time planning out what to do and when to do it so the day flows with food, fun, and festivities.
But maybe this year is your first-time hosting Christmas.
Stir up Sunday is the last Sunday in November and is the traditional day for making Christmas Pudding, and so called because every person in the house must have a turn at stirring the mixture for good luck.
Today is December 1, so now’s the time to mix up the pudding, stir it well for good luck, steam it, then store it to mellow in time for Christmas Day.
If guests are arriving Christmas Eve and leaving after St Stephen’s Day, remember you have three big meals to cook as well as breakfasts, lunch, and snacks.
Check for food allergies and dietary requirements. If someone is coming for whom you don’t feel confident cooking a separate meal that suits, seek out speciality food producers to make your life easier.
For coeliacs, check out www.coeliac.ie/about-the-food-list/, and for vegan guests, producers such as My Goodness can sort you out with everything you need – including drinks and sweet treats.
I order from my local butcher or direct from the farmer to pick up a day or two before Christmas Day, and fresh instead of frozen removes the stress of figuring out defrosting times.
The first shop is for Cupboard Stuff - the dried, tinned, and ambient foods that will see you through!
Check what you have and make a list of what you need. Stock up on tinned beans, dried pasta, rice, lentils; dried herbs and spices; ready to use stock cubes or jellies. Then layer up with festive bits: crackers, pickles; biscuits, sweets, crisps, chocolates, meringue nests; tea, coffee, sugar. Anything that doesn’t need to go in the fridge or freezer.
When it comes to wine, either order from a merchant, a specialist wine shop, or see what’s interesting at the local supermarket. What you get and from where will depend on budget, whether you’re the kind of person who loves to pair wine with food, or if you just want something easy going that everyone will like!
Stock up on beer. I like to keep a mix of good quality craft and commercial beers in. Check if you need spirits, and don’t forget the mixers. I prefer the mini single serve cans so they always keep their fizz.
The cost of buying crockery, cutlery, glassware, and table linens can seem like a huge cost. Be smart, visit local charity shops for everything you need. Yes, it’s nice to have everything matching – and you might get lucky in finding an entire dinner service - but having a quirky mismatched collection can be even prettier.
Haberdashery stores are a great place to pick up a nice fabric for a tablecloth and napkins for a fraction of the cost. Hessian always looks effective and is low cost. Paired with a seasonal floral arrangement, berries, fruits, and nuts can give your table the wow factor.
Build your own personalised Christmas Playlist. Whether Glam Rock and 80s, or the dulcet tones of rat pack crooners, make a list that won’t have you reaching for the skip button! Make it long enough too, no- one needs to hear White Christmas for the fourth time over their Christmas pudding!
Find out who might drop by and decide the best time for their visit – nothing worse than having to welcome a guest when busy juggling dinner!
Important not to forget those who aren’t with you in person. Schedule times for phone and zoom calls to loved ones and friends to share the festive cheer – wherever they are in the world!
*** At this point you can take a breather. Of course, presents need to be bought, parties to attend, and decorations to put up. All that’s left is getting in your fresh foods, but even then, you can sort this ahead of time. ***
Parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts, and potatoes can all be prepared and frozen ahead saving you stacks of time on the day!
Peel and blanch parsnips, carrots, and sprouts, drain, and place each into its own bag or container. Add seasoning, herbs, butter or olive oil, coat well, seal up and place in the freezer. Par-boil potatoes, drain, season, add duck or goose fat, coat well, place in a bag and store in the freezer.
You can make gravy ahead of time and store in the freezer; defrost before reheating. Make ahead Stuffing Balls and Pigs in Blankets, defrost, and add to the roasting pan after removing the turkey and set aside for resting.
Final Veg Shop Armed with your list in hand, head out to the shops to pick up fresh fruits and veg that can’t be prepared ahead of time.
Pick Up Meats, Bread, Dairy. Your butcher will have everything ready for you in a bag to pick up and go. Pick up bread, (you may have ordered bread from a local bakery ahead of time too); and shop for dairy ensuring you have plenty of butter and milk – extra milk can be stored in the freezer.
Festive cooking begins! If guests arrive Christmas Eve, greet them with the scent of freshly baked festive ham and mulled wine.
Food on this day is laid back and easy going.
Keep Calm and Have Fun!
A turkey will cook in less time than you think. Always leave 30 minutes for it to rest, well-wrapped, before serving. This gives you enough time to finish the veg and put the pudding onto steam, all of which you have prepped ahead of time.
Keep the starter small and light to leave room for the roast dinner. After all, Christmas dinner is just a very fancy roast, and everyone will enjoy it.
Have fun, play games, and check in on your loved ones too. But most of all, have a very Merry Christmas!