Relax, don’t overdo it, if you want to have fun...
Writing about food at Christmas is a little like shopping for wallpaper - endless variations on the same theme, some take your fancy more than others, the same old thing wrapped up in this year’s must have fashion, a “new twist on traditional style”.
In the end it won’t matter all that much until next time you have to choose when the whole thing rolls on again with a mind numbing inevitability year after year.
Okay, so it’s not exactly like choosing wallpaper, which presumably even the most interior conscious of us are unlikely to change more then once or twice a decade, but you get my point I am sure. It’s the way we all get so obsessed with the one meal – essentially just a nice roast dinner – that really irks me, and the way we are all supposed to be jolly despite the inevitable trials of the season grating on us like unwanted sandpaper in the underpants.
By now you could be getting me wrong, I do really rather like Christmas. I never used to, mostly because us cooks were mostly at workmthough these days I am lucky in that it is unlikely I will be called to work above and beyond preparing a nice roast to share with good friends.
My issue is that we seem to get so stressed about it all. So, my three ‘must have’ ingredients for December are a little off the wall – I hope you like them, and I hope you have a lovely December and a very Merry Christmas.
Just the right amount of everything… My first ingredient for December is thrift. More food is wasted in the UK every Christmas than any other time of the year. This is mostly because we buy too much in the first place. Despite the ritual feast on the big day itself we are all tempted to treat ourselves to all sorts of lovely luxuries – many of which will end up being unwanted, unneeded and often wasted.
Think carefully about what you actually need – remembering that the largest of shops are unlikely to be closed for more than a dozen hours straight. The best way to look at this is to concentrate your shopping for food into getting the very best you can even if you buy less – shop local, buy the best slow grown and skilfully reared meats and vegetables. Avoid those much touted trays of soggy pre-made canapés that people seem to think are the bee’s knees but I have yet to meet anyone who actually has ever had the thought of buying them at any other time of year.
Get creative and fresh with your drinks party nibbles and ditch the processed, prepackaged dreariness in return for smiles on people’s faces and a few hours spent enjoying your time in the kitchen preparing the food.
I, for one, would much rather have a nice plate of good quality local cheeses and a few nice crackers then an endless procession of limp, nondescript pink things from a foil packet. Enjoy the work, and share the labour, reap the rewards...
My second foodie essential for December is to say yes – when people arrive in the kitchen or in your home and offer to help I am delighted to immediately put them to work.
Some of my fondest festive season memories are of friends and family getting together to serve, eat and enjoy the labours of the kitchen and I think it breeds a sense of community that shines through in the food on offer and the clearing up seems to take care of itself with just a tiny bit of direction.
De-stress with the best… Lastly, and perhaps most importantly of all, is my theory that if you get stressed so will the food you cook and share. Remember…mostly you will be worrying about things that do not really matter that much. Do your best to keep things as simple as possible – too many different flavours on any one plate will most likely result in an unmemorable mish mash of oneness on the plate.
On the big day itself limit yourself to just five dishes in the table – that way you will have less to do and the food will be all the more memorable for it.
If possible get yourself invited to someone else’s house for Christmas, arrive with half the dishes ready to go and make sure you plan with them in advance so you don’t double up on anything – that way you all take it a little bit easier and get on with sorting out who is going to be the boot in Monopoly after lunch – which is far more important.
Finally – if all that is just so much twaddle and makes little or no impression on you then kale dressed in garlic butter, slow braised leeks with coriander seeds, olive oil and lemon and a fine slab of crisp and crackling free range pork belly would be my advice, with a nice dry cider to take the edge off it all. timmaddams.com