Six steps to a stress-free Christmas Day
Christmas Day. One of the most eagerly awaited holidays of the year. Full of magic and wonder ... unless, of course, you happen to be in the kitchen. In which case, that magic and wonder is replaced with sweating and swearing, and vows to be more way prepared next year. Well, next year has arrived folks so it's time (and believe me, there still is time!) to put those best laid plans into action. Here then is my crucial six-step plan, which will hopefully make Christmas Day just that teeny bit more bearable ... please note; copious amounts of wine will still be required.
1. Let's cut right to the chase. Any decent plan requires a list and here's how mine tends to play out. It all begins on Christmas Eve - but don't worry, we're not spending the whole day in the kitchen, that would just be silly. I want you to be able to savour every moment - but also get yourself a little ahead of the game for tomorrow. I begin with breakfast ... that's Christmas Day brekkie I'm referring to and, in my opinion, baked goods are absolutely the way to go. Pumpkin Bread has become a bit of a tradition in our house, and it means we can open our gifts at leisure. A fresh pot of tea (or cafetiere of coffee) are the perfect accompaniment - maybe a few fresh figs or other fruit to pick on, and you've got yourself a delicious festive breakfast that will quash any hunger pangs but still leave plenty of room for that hefty midday (or, in our case, late afternoon) dinner.
Here's my go-to Pumpkin Bread recipe. Got more people coming? Just double the quantities and divide between two loaf tins. Whammo.
2. Okay, now you've made your breakfast bread it's time to turn your attention to your starter. Trust me, unless you're happy to faff about in the midst of preparing arguably the biggest/ most important meal of the year then you'll want this one done and dusted and ready to be re-heated as and when needed. This year, I've opted for a seriously simple Chestnut Soup. In the past, I've opted for stuffed mushrooms but when you're cooking for five or six, have limited room in both your fridge and oven, this can be a logistic nightmare. And besides, everyone is going to adore this silky smooth Chestnut Soup - it's just enough to whet the appetite without over-facing everyone.
3. Likewise, dessert needs to be a breeze, especially after consuming a plate of food the size of your head. We tend to leave quite a gap between our main on Christmas Day, meaning we enjoy it more. This year my Sister has requested my Mince-pie Galette (although my Mont-Blanc Cups would also be a good option), which can be partially or fully prepped in advance. For those wanting it completely fresh on the day you can simply make and refrigerate the pastry the day ahead, then roll it out when required. Otherwise, make the whole thing a day or two before (it keeps well, loosely wrapped in foil in the fridge) and then gently heat before serving. I wholeheartedly insist you serve it with both (soya) cream and 'ice-cream'. That and the Downton Christmas special equals festive perfection.
4. Don't forget nibbles and drinks ... my go-to drink is a glass of chilled prosecco with a splash of pomegranate juice, and (optional) dash of gingerbread syrup. You could also make my Pomegranate & Thyme Mocktail - to make more than one, skip the cocktail shaker method and simply double, triple or quadruple the ingredients. Place everything in a large jug and stir with wooden spoon. Divide the base mixture between the glasses and top with sparkling water - or for an alcoholic version, champagne.
For nibbles, I'm going down the Bloody Mary Bruschetta Route, partially because the colours scream Christmas but also because my version contains vodka. What can I say ... 'tis the season!
5. Set the table. Or, at the very least, delegate someone to do it for you. I always seem to be rushing prior to serving up, so I like to make sure the table is ready to go well in advance. Whilst everyone is busying themselves getting ready, take a moment to chose a simple theme that will really show off your food. I'm all about self-service, so like to lay everything out, which means that pretty bowls and crockery are essential. Dot the table with a few votives and foliage but don't over-do it ... people like to have room to 'breathe' too. I like things somewhat informal so minimal is the order of the day. I think of these few precious moments as the calm before the storm so enjoy it. Now's the time to potter, play and savour that Christmas spirit.
6. Onto the main event. I tend to go through all the side dishes I want to make and highlight those that can be made ahead without impairing the taste. I've also narrowed it down over the years ... reducing my sides from upwards of twelve (seriously) to around eight or nine, depending on how I'm feeling. Here's this years choices:
(2.) Maple Roasted Parsnips
(4.) Sweet Potato Casserole (recipe in 'Keep it Vegan')
(5.) Roast Potatoes
(6.) Gravy (here's a YouTube link to my 'Easy Vegan Gravy' recipe)
(7.) Cranberry Sauce
(8.) Carrot & Sage Slice
That's quite a hefty list as it is but imagine trying to make all that on the day ... er, nightmare! These are quite traditional offering so if you're after something a little more unusual may I suggest the following:
From my preferred side-dish list above, here are the ones that I can easily prep ahead:
Braised Red Cabbage, Cranberry Sauce, Carrot & Sage Slice, Sweet Potato Casserole (don't add the pecans until the following day) and Gravy.
Thus leaving these remaining dishes for the day:
Maple Roasted Parsnips, Roast Potatoes, Pan-fried Sprouts and the Tofurkey.
Seeing it laid out like that already makes it seems much more manageable. I get someone else to peel the potatoes meaning I can then happily prep the parsnips and slice the sprouts. I'll cook the tofurkey as instructed and then cover it in foil until needed, thus freeing up space in the oven. Most of my dishes take a maximum of 30 minutes to reheat so I'll par-boil the roasties before popping them in the oven first ... in case you're wondering I'll coat them in a basic sunflower oil and roast them for abut 45mins or until they properly crisp up. A few minutes later, I'll roast the 'snips and then gently re-heat the Braised Cabbage on the stove. Ensuring everything on the stove is re-heated at a medium temperature tends to keep panic to a minimum too. Sprinkle over the pecan topping before baking the Sweet Potato Casserole until piping hot along with the Carrot & Sage Slice, which is essentially acting as my 'stuffing' element this year. The last dish you want to cook is your Sprout because you want to ensure they still some freshness and bite. Stir-fry them on a high heat in some coconut oil and serve immediately.
Like I mentioned above, I don't personally serve everyone individually, I simply lay everything out on the table and let everyone help themselves. For me, this is all part of that communal eating atmosphere I love so much. Pass the gravy will ya!