Festive and fun
My idea of a modern Christmas dinner is a fabulous feast that doesn’t require a lot of work, and ideally doesn’t cost a fortune. These days it’s also handy to have a menu that dairy-free and gluten-free eaters can enjoy too.
For years I tried to emulate the efforts of my dear mother at our Christmas feasts, thinking that adhering to our family traditions would make everyone feel happy and anchored in a wonderful handed-down family ritual. My mother would rise pre-dawn to stuff birds, prepare her spectacular pavlova, pod broad beans, scrape the skins off my father’s first dig of tiny new-season potatoes, whip up a treat for elevenses with the neighbours and, oh yes, kick off the day’s proceedings with a fancy breakfast for us all, laid out on a beautifully set table.
I could never match her efforts but oh, how I tried. Finally I figured out that no one was having any fun. It wasn’t just me who was stressed out the entire family took on my stress and the weight of all my expectations.
It’s not hard to lose all sense of Christmas bonhomie in the face of too much schlepping. Drop the bar and lower your expectations, I say. It will still be delicious, memorable and, most of all, fun.
If you can, share the love and get everyone to bring a course or a dish. But if it’s your turn to dish up the goods this year, then an easy, prep-ahead menu is the way to go.
So much of the way we feel about things is driven by how they look. Setting a festive table with candles and Christmas crackers and little bowls of cherries, almonds, figs and chocolates, sets the scene for a Christmas feast and signals the rituals we associate with this particular festival.
A meal always feels special if you add in an extra course — and seafood comes to the fore as a simple prepahead option. This year I’m opting for a raw salmon starter, followed by a main of succulent slowcooked lamb, and a fabulous dairy-free icecream.
SALMON TARTARE Ready in 15 mins Serves 8
400g boneless, skinless salmon fillet
1 Tbsp preserved lemon, very finely chopped, or the zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 small spring onion, very finely chopped 1 Tbsp very finely chopped capers
2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
12-18 baby cos lettuce leaves
2 Tbsp salmon roe, to garnish (optional) Use a very sharp knife to finely dice the salmon. Place in a bowl with the lemon, spring onion, capers, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to combine, cover and chill until ready to serve. It will keep for at least 12 hours. To serve, divide baby cos leaves between 8 serving plates then top with salmon and garnish with salmon roe, if using. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil around the plates. Annabel says: This is such a light, pretty starter. The key is to use very fresh fish. You can use tuna or kingfish instead of salmon if you prefer. Accompany with crusty bread or crostini or gluten-free crispbreads.