Well, there's no avoiding it now. The season of goodwill is upon us and we had better be ready in the kitchen or heaven knows what could happen! Don't go to mad though, it's a fact that more food is wasted at this time of year than any other as people purchase more than they could possibly use and then of course the fridge is overloaded and not working as well as it could. The inevitable result is that things go off, or just get forgotten at the back of the fridge. It's worth remembering also that these days the shops really only shut for a day or two so there's no real need to stock up. Anyway, that little nugget of Scrooge-like misery out of the way... time for the creative advice to lend that certain sparkle to your festive holiday.
I have deliberately ignored the "main event" of the Christmas Day lunch as so much is written every year on the perfect roast potato/ turkey/Brussels sprouts that I just can't bring myself to add to the mountain of – often conflicting – advice on the subject. It's a roast dinner, most people cook one every week or so, it's really not a big drama.
The thing I really love most, food-wise, about this time of year is that for a few sweet days, everywhere you go, people seem to offer you a drink and a nibble. It could be anything from a coffee and a mince pie, to mulled wine and ginger cake or a nice cold beer and some crisp,s but wherever you are everyone always seems to make the effort to offer you that extra slice of hospitality.
I love this, it's one of those great times to have a few tricks up your sleeve because with just a little imagination, a few store cupboard ingredients, a few leftovers from the fridge, a little creativity and some care, you can serve much more exciting nibbles with your drinks.
To do this, I operate a sort of "devil-may-care on the outside, crafty-little-bit-of-preparation on the inside" kind of attitude that makes the whole thing a simple episode from start to finish, and will enable you to whip up a few tasty treats in next to no time to wow your guests and make these few days a foodie triumph that will stand out from the crowd but not see you chained to the kitchen. Ready? Good here we go then... remember, these are just ideas, so play with them.
A white sauce is for lots, not just for Christmas. Can you make a decent white sauce? Great, make a pint or so and pop it in the fridge in a tub. This will keep for three or four days and will stand you in good stead for a few "Things on Toast"
Now, Things on Toast is vague, and necessarily so. I like to toast three or four slices of bread under the grill, then in a small mixing bowl I will mix a little cold white sauce with some grated cheese and a little mustard. Spread that on one slice of toast and bung it under the grill till its bubbling and golden. Place the whole slice on a small wooden board and cut it into four or five pieces with a sharp knife. Pop that on the coffee table once the drinks are served. Then from there you can go anywhere you like with the next slice of toast. How about a bit of leftover cooked kale or leeks? Or even a cold roast parsnip? Give it the same treatment, or you could mix through some ham or leftover roast meat... get the picture? You serve up each new toasted treat until you want the guest to leave or you can't be bothered any more. The great thing is, it takes minutes, creates limited mess and uses up some of those bits and bobs in the fridge. Bored of toasted things yet?
How about some groovy little pancakes? I like to do these little chaps in various different ways. I often cook a batch in the morning, sprinkle them with seeds, honey and spices and serve them as a warm treat for the family. This works well as an afternoon tea for unexpected guests and are exquisite served up with a spoon full of jam and a little butter, or dare I say it, some cream left over from a previous meal?
Get a mixing bowl, some flour (I use a mixture of brown spelt, white spelt and rye but its up to you) add a little baking powder and an egg, then just enough milk to make a thick batter. Let this rest for a few minutes, maybe while you get the mulled cider on the go?
Heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and then lightly oil, wiping it with a piece of kitchen roll. Now carefully put spoonfuls of the mixture in the pan leaving a little room for them to spread a bit. Flip them over once they have a nice brown colour and have bubbled a little. Once flipped they are pretty much ready to serve. You don't have to think sweet with these, I often serve them with smoked fish or cured ham on the top, maybe with a little yoghurt or they are a good vehicle for a raw vegetable slaw, finely shredded veg dressed in a little pumpkin oil and lemon juice... there really is no limit to what can go on the top... maybe even smoked organic salmon and scrambled egg?
Little plates. I like this idea, it's kind of like serving tapas but a little more substantial – an in-between size portion that can be served on a small plate and quite often I will serve this as a grand finale to the food offering. Just as everyone thinks that there won't be any more food, the nibbles having stopped and a fair few festive drinks having passed the lips, out of the kitchen I come with a nice plate steaming and savoury, a winner every time. Often I will put the dish on the wood burner in the front room once ready and let people serve themselves.
Now I might reach for the dried pasta here with a simple sauce or oil dressing. Think anchovy, chilli, garlic and parsley or leftover carrot and parsnip mash, Cheddar cheese and a little of that white sauce from the fridge... or I might go completely the other way with a tin of chick peas, some leftover roast meat, an onion, some chicken stock and some fresh chopped herbs and olive oil to finish. But no mater which direction I take, I will never purchase food specifically for it or use more than one pan. After all, I want to have a drink with my guests, not hide in the kitchen. Keep it simple, quick and fun and you will find it a relaxing rather than taxing time.
If all that sounds like too much work, why not hire a caterer? I know a very good chap as it happens, at www.greensauce.co.uk!