Thursday, 1 December 2011

Top Tips For Christmas #2


This week, my tip is KISS – but not this…

mistletoe kissing

no, K.I.S.S. which means

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Too many of us make Christmas far too complicated, especially the food side of things. We do not need to over-eat [see the recent thought provoking post by Frances] It is lovely to eat the traditional ‘special’ Christmas dishes – but the ‘treize desserts’ [13 puddings] of Provence is carrying things just a little too far, I think!

lunchI was looking through a magazine, which listed possible menus for the festive season. I was appalled by the sheer quantities of food involved.

You do NOT need to start with cocktails and canapés, then move on to a starter, THEN main course, FOLLOWED BY choice of 3 desserts and FINALLY coffee and chocolates!!

Our Christmas Lunch is usually just main course and dessert [plus a bowl of fresh fruit] Admittedly we have lots of vegetables – but there’s quite enough work involved in pulling all that together.

[and crackers to pull – wearing of silly hats being obligatory]


Many Mums feel that they have to ‘prove’ something at Christmas, and go overboard with masses of decorations and fancy food, and try to outdo Martha Stewart and Delia Smith in their hostess skills.

Let us make this one thing absolutely clear

Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver buy ready made puff pastry at Christmas time. So you can too!

[I cannot speak for Martha Stewart. She would probably counsel making your own, but I doubt she actually does-it-herself either. She has slaves paid staff for that sort of thing] I am all for make-it-from-scratch-and-save-money usually, but at Christmas time you need to check whether time-saving is better. Home-made cranberry sauce is delicious – but stir a tablespoonful of orange juice into a jar of budget stuff from Aldi and it tastes tine [and is actually cheaper]


To make things simpler for yourself, enlist the help of others.

We are very blessed in that Liz and Steph come home and cook Christmas lunch for us every year. After an Advent of wall-to-wall Carol Services, they reckon we’re too tired to do it properly – and I think they are right. I plan and shop, he preaches, they cook.

Even the smallest child can help set out cutlery and crackers or fold a napkin. Older folk will sit with a bowl of spuds and a peeler, or trim sprouts. The rest of the family can move chairs, bring in the bottles and cans which have been chilling in the garage [no room in fridge!] and if you all work together, it is much better. There’s less resentment too – why should Mum sit down all hot and sweaty from her exertions over the stove, when the teenagers have been slumped in front of TV or PC all morning?

Plan, plan, plan…

menuplanMake a little chart and plan your meals in advance for your family’s ‘festive season’. Remember to note how many people for each meal, and their dietary needs [e.g. Stacey’s boyfriend coming Boxing Day Evening. He has a nut allergy. Cousin Coriander* may pop in on Christmas Eve and she is a vegan] Usually such people are willing to fit round the ‘main’ meal – but it is only polite to check what you can serve them.

Don’t buy too much food

The shops are closed forone day… so don’t purchase for a month. This is just the Christmas break, it is not the Siege of Leningrad. You do not want to get to Easter and find strange seasonal items lurking in your freezer [a half used box of Iceland Prawn and Cranberry Fancies, a Festive Arctic Roll…]

Don’t try something new at an important meal

bikini turkeyI occasionally watch ‘Come Dine With Me’ – mainly for Dave Lamb’s wonderfully witty asides – and struggle with these people [who are trying to win £1000] who say ‘hope this dish works tonight – I’ve not done it before’ What?? They haven’t practised first? To some extent, Christmas dinner should be fairly predictable, I think.

It is NOT a time for strange and untried comestibles.

onionsIf one part of your meal looks too fiddly and time-consuming then maybe you should either try it out on a few family members earlier in the month, or leave it out of your menu plan.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s stuffed onions in this month’s Sainsbury’s mag** look delicious – and I love the suggestion that the stock and onion cores will make a great soup – but there is a lot of preparation involved. Is all that effort really worth it for a veg that is going alongside a greengrocery of others? [carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, peas…] Will anybody appreciate all the hours you have put in?  [**his recipe has been around for ages]

Just a few items ‘in reserve’ can save the day

  • Three or four packs of ‘part-baked baguettes’ will go wonderfully with a bowl of warming home-made soup for an easy supper – or slice and toast to make bruschetta – and the dry leftovers always make a fine bread and butter pudding.
  • A tub of vanilla ice cream [labelled DO NOT EAT] deep at the back of the freezer can form the basis of instant puds. Make a sauce from warmed leftover cranberry sauce, or your Bonne Maman Conserve. You can impress guests by using your coffee cups or fancy glasses and make Jamie’s Affogato.
  • Lidl sells “Eridanous Greek Yogurt” in huge buckets. It keeps for ages. I use it all year round but it is especially good at Christmas for all sorts of cooking purposes. And healthier than double cream too!
  • A bar of plain chocolate [hidden in freezer] can always be grated over things for a fancy garnish. Or eaten late at night on January 2nd by someone who feels she needs a treat now she has survived it all without too many crises or disasters!

Taking the strain


Use a metal tea strainer to sieve icing sugar or cocoa powder over things – very simple, but it looks very ‘cheffy’. Keep a sprig of plastic holly around for a last minute garnish too!

Plink, Plink, Fizz!

Whatever else you forget, do remember to get in some Gaviscon, Rennies, Alka Seltzers, Tums, Milk of Magnesia, Andrews Salts…or whatever is your preferred indigestion remedy! I am not saying your cooking will upset people’s stomachs – but folk do have a tendency to eat more than they should at this time, and may need relief!!

A very old advert!

[* does anyone have a Cousin Coriander- apart from the Snell family in ‘The Archers’, that is?]


  1. A great post. I know year after year I am amazed at how cupboards get stocked up with enough to withstand a siege of months.

  2. I'm stunned by the amount of stuff that people buy because the shops are going to close. The trouble is those same people will be back in the shops when they open again! I only buy/make things that I know we like and will eat, as opposed to some people I know who buy dates every Christmas despite the fact that nobody likes or eats them! Simple, and with minimum expenditure - that's my kind of Christmas.

  3. Keep it simple. Trick the eye by clever presentation.....all good stuff!
    Jane x
    No cousin Coriander, but I did have an ancestor called Christmas (poor thing).

  4. I love Christmas and all the preperations.
    I live on the French Island of Corsica where Christmas is a family holiday and not very commercial and I mix 3 traditions.
    So we will start with Corsican oysters,I will go down to the sea to buy them on the 24th(French tradition)
    fois gras(French)then
    roast kid and chestnuts(Corsican)on the night of the 24th
    turkey and citrus stuffing on the 25th( English and French)with baby roast potatoes then
    Christmas log both days, bought in the local patisserie (both English and French)
    There will be homemade Christmas cake and clemantines (Corsican).
    Not forgetting beautiful Corsican cheese either goats milk or ewes.
    Crackers will be on the table as my family love them.
    Whats leftover the next day (26th) will be made into shepards pie and eaten with the little gem salad that wasn't finished with the cheese.Thats it ,either made beforehand,bought or does itself!
    Christmas puddings will be eaten later on during the winter to cheer up an ordinary day. Liz

  5. And was your relative called Christmas a Happy one?
    Thank you Liz for this fascinating description of your multi-traditional Christmas in Corsica. Chestnuts, and desserts from the patisserie sound gorgeous, but I am not sure about oysters.
    blessings x

  6. If you dont like raw oysters I could cook them for you with lots of butter, parsley and garlic topped off with some bread crumbs and popped in the oven for a few minuites.The butter makes you mop up all the goodness with lots of bread.This is how I like mine, I'm not a Brit for nothing. Liz

  7. Now THAT I like the sound of [I enjoy mussels cooked that way] When are you coming for supper???

  8. Mouth watering comments! And very sound advice overall! List time is nearly upon us here!

  9. Wonderful advice, Angela, especially about keeping the decorations and food simple. I would like to have a look around your fridge some day--sounds like you keep hidden away all sorts of lovely things to eat!


  10. I forgot to say 'SNAP' when I last visited!!

    This week 'great minds think alike'. Some great tips here on yours.

    Sue xx

  11. My mother is called Pansy. A beautiful, pretty name, but she hates it - so don't tell anybody!

  12. Great tips Angela. I so agree about no need to over stock or over eat.Christmas seems to be a competition about spending more and having the best for so many people. I'm glad your girls look after you on the big day. You both deserve a treat after all the hard work.


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