And we’re nearly there…
By Linda Parker
If your home-made cookies, biscuits or cup-cakes don’t come out quite as precise as they should, there’s no shame in making a little investment if you need to impress. Put the professional ones at the top of the pile on the cake stand and the less glamorous ones at the bottom of the tin. These are some of my favourites, from the Biscuiteers, experts in all things festive, cakey and biscuity, view their wares at www.biscuiteers.com. Lucky Londoners can book onto various master classes and workshops in all things icing-related, I rather like the sound of the Après Ski master class on 3rd January 2016 at their Notting Hill branch. Or if you want to impress with an indulgently excellent gift for a foodie friend, investigate the class timetables on the website, where two to three hours can be booked ahead to learn a new life skill …
One thing I’ve realised this year is that it’s possible to produce an impressive, sparkly Christmas lunch without having to exert too many cooking skills at all. There is such a brilliant selection of ready-made festive dishes available that no-one has any excuse not to rustle up seasonal menus throughout December. Don’t get stressed, go to Lidl, Aldi, M&S or Waitrose! Particular current favourites include the Deluxe roasts and speciality meats (including Smoked Cured Reindeer Steak Slices and Cured Carpaccio Style Sliced Beef) from Lidl, www.lidl.co.uk. We’ve particularly enjoyed working our way through (in the interests of research, naturally) a selection of seasonal crisps … Winter Berries & Prosecco Hand Cooked Crisps from M&S are interesting, to say the least. My conclusion regarding the Xmas menu hasn’t moved much from this time last year, i.e. it’s not the time to experiment if you’re feeding a houseful of guests, stick to what you know, follow the instructions and timings on the pack to the letter if cooking a turkey, duck, or chicken. If you want to impress, proper home-made gravy, ditto bread sauce (use the Delia Smith recipe) and a good sprout dish should do the trick. Try Lesley Water’s simple recipe – totally easy-peasy www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/baconbutteredbrussel, add chopped roast parsnips to make a larger side dish .
At the other end of the scale, there are some jolly good value-for-money Christmas offerings available from the big stores. Tesco, www.tesco.com; Marks & Spencer, www.marksandspencer.com and Waitrose, www.waitrose.co.uk produce amazing festive cakes and goodies, and it’s not unknown for me to get creative with hand-made and decorated cake boxes or big ruffles of cellophane. And making a big fuss of wrapping up half a dozen cupcakes with a flourish of ivy and fairy dust to be hand delivered on Christmas morning. That idea works particularly well for the friends and relations who already have everything and who, quite frankly, do not need another cushion, candle or bottle of champagne. One more idea for a token Christmas prezzie, and which can genuinely show someone you are thinking of them, is a single, beautiful bauble. Many are easily post-able too, and there are simply millions to choose from, from fancy schmancy stiletto heels for your glam squad girlies to London landmarks for city colleague or teeny-tiny knitted animals for anyone who is crafty and creative. Try www.matalan.co.uk and www.bhs.co.uk for some irresistible decs which won’t bust the budget, however modest.
Hand-crafted stockings are something to be treasured, and if you’re feeling creative, I urge you to visit Vanessa Arbuthnott’s website, www.vanessaarbuthnott.co.uk. Be inspired by beautiful fabric designs, and perhaps to get planning for some new curtains, soft furnishings and bedding for next spring. One of our favourite designs is Wild & Free, shown here in Kale & Charcoal and made up into a festive stocking. Matching Harris tweed and stripes also available.
After an enjoyably unseasonable start to November, it’s been a bit of a shock to hurtle straight into the heart of winter. Hence my enthusiasm for a some gently creative cooking and crafty pastimes to make use of the cold winter evenings. And far preferable to waxing floors and sanding skirting boards in the new house, which is what I really should be getting on with. Of course, there’s a new batch of TV programmes which are already drawing me in, and I must pass on my recommendations. First of all, Building The Dream with Charlie Luxton, has some outstanding houses, with plenty of influential ideas for both full-house projects and/or smaller extension or conservatory type projects. We’re still thoroughly besotted with Restoring Britain’s Landmarks, which tell the stories of some of the Landmark Trusts’s recent projects. Having visited one or two of these amazing buildings, it’s well worth pencilling these into your viewing schedule, or tuck yourself up with the iPad and watch them on catch up… beware of getting into that binge-watching frame of mind though! (Here speaks someone who once watched six episodes of Salvage Hunters on a particularly stormy and cold Sunday. As a result, a favourite website is www.drewpritchard.co.uk.
Finishing on more food-related ideas, do try and watch The World’s Most Expensive Food, it will be available to catch-up with on All 4. It’s difficult to take in the extravagance, and anyone with an ounce of decency will question how much sense it all makes, but it’s compelling viewing, nonetheless. The same applies to Tomorrow’s Food which has just started on BBC1, and which will also be available on BBC iPlayer. Wonder at some of the bonkers ideas and worry about where we’re all headed health and food-wise. Presenter Dara O’Briain does the honours … my head is spinning already!
And finally, some more indulgent ideas in case you need to top up on chocolate … next time, it will be back to a bit of encouragement for healthy eating, with suggestions for gadgets, appliances and recipes.
Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, from myself and Kitchen Think team …