And just like that, the winter rolls back around. It’s been a busy couple of months for me. I’ve officially packed up from my lockdown bubble up north and moved back down to London, which has been a very full-on but exciting experience.
The capital city is a far cry from the place it was before I left in the spring, but it’s wonderful to be back to work.
Although we’re not quite sure how Christmas is going to look this year, it’s been great to step into a new season and delve deep into all the wonderful stuff it brings with it.
Read on for updates on my foodie world, my upcoming projects and how I’ve been adapting to ‘the new normal’ in my new London pad.
MY WORLD >>
I’ve been setting up home in my new London flat – and it’s fair to say it’s been quite overwhelming, moving from the countryside to the city.
It’s great, but it just takes a bit of getting used to – I feel completely new to London again, which is a very exciting thing I guess.
I’ve been catching up with friends, before restrictions were put in place. I’ve been out for dinner at some really nice new ‘locals’ – one being The River Café on Thames Wharf, which is a famous Italian restaurant – proper Italian food, done well with quality ingredients.
I’ve also discovered a really cool new Korean street food place called Seoul Bird at Westfield Shepherds Bush, created by Judy Joo and Andrew Hales.
I’ve never really eaten much in the way of Korean food to be totally honest, I haven’t been to Korea, but Korean fried chicken – I can confirm – is delicious.
In other news, we’ve launched the Cook With M&S Recipe Kits in 200 stores across the country, which is really exciting. We’re hoping to roll out to more stores soon, as well as online.
They feed two people and come with an easy-to-follow recipe card with all of the ingredients you need in the box.
My weekly M&S recipe cards are also proving popular. You can pop into your local store and pick out four cards every month. The idea is that they each feed four people in a family for £12.
MY FOOD DIARY >>
There’s no doubt about it, we find ourselves in very strange times as we start the countdown to Christmas.
A lot of people are worried about mixing up their usual routines and traditions; but for me, one thing that never stops, which I think the lockdown period has proven, is our love of food and getting creative in the kitchen.
The festive season brings a whole load of hearty home comforts to the table, many of which I’ve been sharing on my Instagram feed, alongside the live cook-a-longs I’ve been sharing on Instagram Live.
I’ve been hosting these virtual events every other Thursday at 6pm, sometimes I am joined by friends, guest chefs and famous faces.
I had Olympic sprinter, Colin Jackson, on with me recently, which was a lot of fun.
Following on from my live cook-a-longs, I’m going to be launching a new social series in 2021 which will involve cook-offs with celebrities. Stay tuned for more information on that as we step into the new year.
The book is an ongoing work in progress. I’ll have an update on that in the coming months.
INSPIRED BY THE SEASONS >>
Now is a great time to really hunker down and enjoy the bounty of brilliant produce winter brings. For me, the colder months are all about creating hearty, comforting meals to represent the shift in seasons – using stuff like butternut squash and pumpkin is wonderful – just rich, good-for-the-soul food.
My go-to winter staple is a good curry. Rice, veg, a dunk of naan bread – it’s just chunky, feast-worthy food, and it’s so easy to get right, which is always important.
FOODIE HAPPENINGS >>
All being well, I’ll be in the North East for Christmas. I love cooking the Christmas dinner back home. My one piece of advice for people heading up the home kitchen this Christmas is, make a plan, set out timings and work backwards from the time you plan to sit down and eat.
Write it all down and tick things off as you go, that way you won’t miss anything, as there’s often a lot going on in the kitchen on the day.
I’d also say, don’t feel like you need to make everything from scratch. M&S-bought stuffing is a big thing in our family, and it’s a definite crowd-pleaser on Christmas day, so I always stick to that. It’s also a good idea to share the workload.
Get the whole gang involved and make it an enjoyable experience. We grow some of our own veg in the garden, which is always a nice thing to do in the run up to the day.
Other festive traditions include a big Boxing Day walk along Hadrian’s Wall. We pack up a seasonal picnic full of leftover turkey sandwiches and plenty of tea and coffee and just enjoy a bit of good old fresh North East air.
That, and a trip to the coast for some fish and chips – are both synonymous with a trip back home at Christmas time.
CHRIS’S CHRISTMAS COOKING TIPS >>
Many of you may be worried about how your Christmas Day routine is going to pan out. Will you be cooking for your usual crowd? Or is it looking like a smaller affair in your bubble?
The way I’m looking at it is, let’s not worry about trying to reduce the size of the turkey or the veg offering, let’s go with our regular portions and really embrace the leftovers.
That’s what Christmas is all about, right? A fridge packed with turkey, veggies and all the festive trimmings.
If, in normal circumstances, you’re feeding 10, but there’s only four of you this year, well why not buy the same size turkey so no one is fighting over the leg or the breast on Christmas Day – and then you can do some creative stuff with the leftovers between Christmas and New Year.
It might be a Boxing Day dinner, a turkey katsu curry, a pie, a soup or a tagine. For me, it’s important that we put a positive spin on it – rather than stressing about the differences we might encounter this year, let’s just go with it, embrace it and get creative.
I promise you, you’ll have fun with it.
Stay tuned on Chris’s Instagram page (@chrisbaber) for tips, tricks and recipes to guide you through the festive season.