Cheatin’ Christmas… Don’t panic!
By Linda Parker
If you’re reading about Christmas now, it’s a bit too late to start making home-made Christmas puddings and cakes. So … unless you are one of the ultra-organised home chefs who have already marinated their dates, frozen the home-made bread sauce and laid down a few bottles of home-made sloe gin or raspberry vodka you will be going to do the last-minute run to the supermarket on the 23rd Dec like the rest of us.
Sadly, even though I have the best of intentions, and however organised I try to be, food-wise, for Christmas, I am in the last-minute category. However I can absolutely assure you that there are not that many ready-prepared Xmas goodies that can’t be improved and given a home-made look by a splash of cream, a knob of butter, a dash of brandy and an ultra-confident assurance that yes, of course it’s all homemade, when your mother expresses surprise at the fact you’ve actually made bread sauce rather than elbow your way to the front of the queue in M&S.
Of course, remember to hide any ready-made packaging and foil trays and decant discreetly into your own serving dishes…
As far as cakes are concerned, if you’re worried that a shop-bought fruit Christmas cake may be on the dry-side, tip it upside down, use a skewer to make some holes and add a touch of brandy or sherry. Ditto for the Christmas pudding. And don’t even think about boiling/steaming a pudding. It will take just a few minutes in the microwave.
My own personal tips range from always having really one great home-made vegetable dish that you can turn out at the drop of the hat (try Sticky Caramelised Glazed Carrots by Jamie Oliver, which has popped up on my Instagram feed this morning) which you can do backwards, forward and sideways however many festive glasses of fizz you’ve had.
Another tip is to make sure your roast potato method is perfect; the family won’t mind having lots of trial runs ahead of Christmas. We could discuss the best roasties for ages, once again, Jamie Oliver’s method is pretty foolproof, as is the sainted Delia. But in essence, use either sunflower oil or goose fat, (although Delia says dripping or lard, but I can’t quite bring myself to do that…), cut them up small, par-boil, drain and let them cool a little, shake and toss into oil/fat (carefully!) … then don’t be afraid to turn the heat up high for as long as it takes till they look ready. Allow at least 40 minutes. And when you serve, don’t cover them up – trapped steam will mess up the crispiness.
As far as the turkey, duck, goose, leg of lamb or other centre-piece is concerned, my best and most simple advice is to weigh it accurately, pick a recipe from a chef you rate highly, and follow the instructions to the letter. Christmas lunch is not the time to experiment unless you’re already Michelin-starred. If you are a complete novice at the main course, then there is absolutely no shame in a ready-prepared, garnished and seasoned bird or joint from the likes of Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer.
Remember – timing is everything. Well, timing and multiple lists.
If you have a bit of time on your hands ahead of cooking, ten minutes spent sharpening all the knives is ten minutes well spent. Use a steel if you have one, you’ll get a finer finish than with a wheel-type sharpener.
On my never-ending mission to improve my own knife skills I’ve tried out the Ceramic Zirconium Oxide Rocknife which has a blade harder than steel and only slightly less hard than a diamond. It comes in a fabulous box with multiple warnings about it’s sharpness. It was wonderful for cutting veggies into really fine strips, and for fiddling around with cutting up cherries and nuts and other Christmas fripperies, and even the mini 3in bladed version is perfectly balanced and made a jolly good job of re-slicing some too-thick smoked salmon. See it here . It’s from £19.99 for a 3in blade up to £34.95 for a 6in blade. Watch out though, it certainly is razor-sharp, in fact the presentation box includes a box of plasters!
My mother’s trusty 20-year old microwave finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, and the lovely team at Whirlpool sent us the Max 38 750watt microwave to try out. There are several models in the range, but this one is so ultra-simple to use – literally one-touch operation, that it is highly recommended, and even techno-phobes will be able to work it out without over-defrosting or under-heating. Visit www.whirlpool.co.uk to see the colours available.
One of it’s stand-out features, apart from ease-of-use, is the curved back – meaning it can sit snugly in the corner, and takes up far less room that standard rectangular models. If you do a lot of steaming, there is also a version with a steamer set; well worth the investment if you want to be able to steam several layers of veggies in minutes – without steaming up the entire kitchen.
Once Christmas is done and dusted I think I will be having a major re-organization of the kitchen and equipment. I quite fancy the idea of looking at some of the old-school style gadgets … one of my favourite things ever was the double-barreled rotary hand whisk, which we’ve still got, but it’s a bit rickety-rackety now. So the arrival of the Chef’n Mix Quick was an occasion for much excitement.
It’s a neat hand-whisk with a frother and mixer, and is a lovely item to have if you just want to do a quick non-electrical mix! See it in action here . It’s £30 and available online from www.onlinekitchenware.co.uk or call 01730 811811. And yes, it is possible to have too much whipped cream in the fridge. Thank goodness it’s perfectly reasonable this weather to have a daily hot-chocolate, otherwise that cream would have been wasted. Try Nigella’s Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe for pretty much the perfect version!
Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, and do send us news and pictures of your festive food triumphs (and disasters…) and your decorated Christmas kitchen … this one is decked out with accessories from Retreat Home