People tend to get really worried about Christmas, because they think it’s an event and panic. But really, it is just a big family roast. Sit down with a large sheet of paper, not the back of an envelope, and make some lists: who’s coming, how many days you’ve got people round, when you’re going out, when you’re staying in and so on… Once you know who’s coming for what meals, and when you’re likely to be out, you can do a little master plan (which can change, of course; it doesn’t need to be set in stone – the point is that it means you don’t end up over-buying). Christmas is an expensive time, so to spread the cost out, start early: buy tinned things, or things that have a long use-by date. Or non-perishables like red candles – something the shops always seem to run out of in December! It’s all just a matter of organsation.
Be realistic about what you can get done in the time you have available, and also don’t feel guilty if you haven’t time to do things: you can buy them. I always use frozen chestnuts, for example. If you can make things in advance that freeze well, like stuffing and the odd pud, by all means do. It’ll give you peace of mind.
A note on Christmas cooking >>
It’s really all a matter of being organised, but these are my two top tips:
Order your turkey in advance, or, if you have a frozen one, be sure to allow time for it to defrost.
Make as much as possible ahead, to give yourself less to do on the day: bread sauce and stuffing (in a tin, or a roasting dish) can both be made the day before, then refrigerated and reheated on the day. Cranberry sauce can also be made in advance, or bought.
Clementines & oranges >>
Clementines and oranges are a favourite around Christmas-time, and the peel has a variety of uses. Citrus-flavoured sugar can be created simply by adding the dried peel to a jar of granulated sugar and leaving it to infuse. Dried peel also burns very well in an open fire and gives a lovely smell, or you can make homemade potpourri by adding it to a bowl along with cinnamon sticks, pine cones and star anise.
To dry citrus peel:
Peel off the rind with a serrated peeler, avoiding the white pith.
Place the peel flat on top of a low radiator or at the back of an Aga, or on a piece of kitchen paper in an airing cupboard for a few days, until dried.
• Serve a mixture of vegetarian and meat and fish, bread and pastry-based things and lighter bites, and hot and cold – think about what you need the oven for, and don’t overload it.
• Think of different types of presentation – pieces of slate, wooden boards, trays, different- shaped plates, bowls, baskets, and leaves used to line plates make the canapés look exciting and different.
• Ask your guests to help you pass platters round.
• Consolidate half-empty plates or platters and arrange the food prettily on one plate.
• Place cocktail sticks for spearing (e.g. mini sausages) in a small glass – and put empty bowls out so that your guests have somewhere to place the sticks when they’re done.
• Have small napkins to hand.
If you’re serving a first course/starter: just 1–2 per person
If you’re not serving a first course/ starter: 3–4 per person
If it’s a nibbles only drinks party: 8–10 per person
Drinks need as much consideration as the menu.
If it’s mid-winter and cold, offering a hot drink such as mulled wine is a nice touch and has the added benefit of smelling lovely.
It’s also very important to have interesting non-alcoholic drinks available, especially if you have guests who don’t drink, are driving, or are pregnant (not to mention younger guests).
Increasingly, many people are choosing not to drink, and so there are a wide range of juices, cordials, flavoured sparkling waters and tonics available, plus a variety of low alcohol beers (0.5% and below).
When people come to stay and you’ve got time, you can really go for it on the breakfast front: eggs, bacon, black pudding, kippers . . . It’s worth considering that you might not be hungry for lunch if you have a cooked breakfast, so if that’s on the cards, something lighter might be more sensible. I always think it’s a good idea to have a very light lunch, and then you can go to town in the evening.
Mary’s Household Tips & Tricks by Mary Berry, £20 | Penguin/Michael Joseph