Eat in

Take any stress out of the days be­tween Christ­mas and New Year with com­fort­ing, sim­ple dishes that ev­ery­one will en­joy

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - GOOD TASTE - food styling: va­lerie berry pho­tog­ra­phy: haar­ala hamil­ton with Diana Henry Stella’s award-win­ning cook­ery writer

PEO­PLE HAVE DIF­FER­ENT FEEL­INGS about Box­ing Day. As a child I hated it. My grand­par­ents left af­ter lunch and it would seem like Christ­mas, some­thing I had been wish­ing for and mak­ing pa­per chains for and buy­ing glit­ter for since Oc­to­ber, was over. I would be left with a sense not just of empti­ness, but of guilt.

The glit­ter had been flung and had dis­persed far and wide, but I couldn’t see it any more. I would sur­vey my presents and think that I had been given too much, that we had all, in fact, been given too much and eaten too much (the tin of Qual­ity Street was empty by Box­ing Day), and been stuck in a house that was too warm. The only way I could re­vive my sense of Christ­mas magic was to stand as far in­side the branches of the Christ­mas tree as I could and breathe in the scent of pine.

As an adult, I love Box­ing Day. There is no more cook­ing – yes, even I do not want to do the kind of cook­ing that re­sem­bles a mil­i­tary cam­paign two days in a row – be­cause the house is full of left­overs, the pres­sure of a sched­ule (back­tim­ing ev­ery­thing to hit The Hour At Which We Will All Sit Down) is no more and, cru­cially, the onus is no longer on the cook or host to pro­vide all the meals.

I some­times just refuse to do any­thing on Box­ing Day. I’ve had enough. Prac­tise say­ing this: ‘Oh, I think it’s some­one else’s turn. Where’s the corkscrew?’ If you have the req­ui­site in­gre­di­ents – bread, salad (ev­ery­one craves salad on Box­ing Day), may­on­naise, pick­les and chut­ney – then other peo­ple can carve and plate. Re­mem­ber, though, when do­ing your fi­nal Christ­mas shop, be­cause the fo­cus is al­ways on Christ­mas Day, it’s easy to for­get the foods you need to go with the cold cuts on Box­ing Day.

I don’t know why peo­ple think it is some­how a dere­lic­tion of duty to pro­vide only left­overs on Box­ing Day. Plat­ters of ham, tur­key and stuff­ing are there to be picked at and lusted af­ter in all their ‘we have a full fridge’ glory.

The other rea­son the cook has to stop is that if they keep go­ing – in re­sent­ment and/or in tired­ness – this feel­ing will af­fect ev­ery­one. I re­mem­ber this at­mos­phere. As the host/cook/par­ent, you need to keep this three- or four-day-long party go­ing with a swing, and en­sure that hap­pi­ness reigns (while ac­knowl­edg­ing that you are not a fam­ily ther­a­pist).

Re­fu­elled by a day off, I’m al­ways glad to get back to the stove on 27 De­cem­ber. Apart from any­thing, the kitchen be­comes a kind of sanc­tu­ary. You can close the door and have only the sound of chop­ping, the gen­tle siz­zle of fry­ing onions and the ra­dio for com­pany.

Pie is good at any time, but it’s not of­ten you’ll have the in­gre­di­ents for a tur­key and ham ver­sion. Since Christ­mas brings with it a long­ing for the tra­di­tional, a good old-fash­ioned pie whose fill­ing is bound with béchamel and scented with nut­meg is some­thing to look for­ward to. I al­ways serve this with Wal­dorf salad (if you’re go­ing to go back in time, why not go right back?), though these days I let down the may­on­naise dress­ing with but­ter­milk. Toad-in-the-hole is also on my post-Christ­mas list be­cause, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, one day of cold cuts is enough for chil­dren be­fore they want to get back to what they con­sider ‘proper’ meals.

Ev­ery year I write about dishes for the ‘in-be­tween’ days, but here’s the thing: if cook­ing the Christ­mas Day meal is enough for you – if you’ve just had it – then go out, keep the left­overs go­ing, or­der pizza, or stock up on ready meals for the days that fol­low. I didn’t love Box­ing Day when I was a kid, but I sure as hell am go­ing to en­joy it now. And so should you.

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