There is only two weeks left until the flight of the jolly fat man we all know and love. For those of us responsible for cooking the Christmas Lunch or dinner, that could mean that a sense of panic is setting in as the pressure of making a magical Christmas meal grows.
For myself it will be the third time in four years that I have been coaxed into cooking what is arguably the most important meal of the year, but for the first time, I am actually looking forward to the challenge of creating some Christmas foodie magic. Part of this feeling of excitement is that I am actually much more confident about my cooking and baking skills, but mostly it is because I have picked up a lot of tips over the last few years to take some of the stress out of Christmas dinner.
Tips for Christmas Cooking Bliss
- Get a head start. Cook as much as you can in advance to limit the amount you have to do on the big day. Personally I have already cooked and frozen my stuffing, and made my cranberry sauce. Christmas Eve I will prepare my vegetables, and cook my roast potatoes. (More about that below)
- Make yourself the head chef, and delegate the other jobs to your helpers. As the head chef you control the kitchen, cherry pick the jobs you like the best and delegate tasks like setting the table, peeling vegetables and fetching you a glass or two of cheer to your helpers.
- Make time to play a game or watch some television. All work and no play makes Jack or Jacqui a very grumpy elf, so make sure you leave a space of time to take a break and have some fun, watch some television or play a game with the kids.
- Swap Christmas lunch for dinner. If you are nervous about having enough time to cook lunch in time for the Queen’s speech than break tradition, and have your big Christmas feast at dinner time.
- Write yourself a timetable. Sit down and get out your recipe books and plan your time-table ahead of time. Don’t forget to plan your break time.
Cook Roast Potatoes in Advance
Almost as important as a delicious bird are the roast potatoes. Nobody likes soggy, greasy roasties, and lets face it, dealing with pans of hot fat after a couple of glasses of Christmas cheer isn’t the most safe option… And if you didn’t know the potatoes will never crisp up outside if you cook them alongside the turkey, the most moisture from the turkey won’t allow it.
So your best bet is to cook the roast potatoes a day in advance, or even more if you space in your freezer. Store them in a cool place and then on Christmas day you just need to re-heat them in the oven while the turkey (or other chosen meat/veggie centre piece) rests.
Of course if you don’t have time on Christmas Eve to be cooking roast potatoes you could always delegate the job (see #2 above).
The countdown to Christmas has begun.
Yesterday, I ventured into the attic to bring out the Christmas decorations. Today I changed my blog theme to a more seasonal, cheerful one… And the WordPress snow has begun to fall.
Later today I will complete my Christmas menu, and then the job of making lists will begin. Lists of things to do, dishes to cook, people to see, outings to take, and things to buy… Lists of recipes to share with you all.
So with all this busy to-ing and fro-ing going on, who has time to spend another hour in the kitchen to make dinner for the family?
Not me. I have kids to look after, and a job which requires my attendance forty hours a week, and I have all those lists to make.
So what is the solution? Starve? A ready meal (yuck!), or perhaps I can get the kids to chip in?… I don’t think the destruction and mess to the kitchen left would be worth it.
No, I think the solution is to make quick hearty meals like a filling and delicious beef stew and throw in some lovely dumplings to fill empty bellies and provide energy to help get us through this busy month of festive fun.
Regular readers, if I have any left, will have noticed that the entries here dried up, shrivelled away like a piece of fruit left in the fruit-bowl too long, some time ago. And for that I can only apologise. I am back now, hopefully for some time to come because I have a new recipe which hopefully will suit both you my readers, and myself, the humble and apologetic writer and home cook.
After much thought and deliberation I think I have discovered why the recipe of this blog wasn’t working… I over-complicated it. I added too many ingredients, trying to make this blog a Michelin starred dish when really I am only an amateur home cook, sharing recipes. I was reviewing beers, books television shows and other silly things when really all I should have been doing was writing about my adventures in he kitchen as I initially intended… And that my friends is what I intend to get back to. The basics.
Of course if I do find a wonderful new ingredient, or kitchen gadget I certainly will let you know, but basically, I intend to stick to the basics, writing about my love of food and cooking. And hopefully this will become the dish I have always hoped this blog would be.
Thanks for reading.
There are millions of variations of the chilli con carne recipe, but this is a basic, easy and quick version that you can use as a base to create your own special chilli recipes.
This recipe is designed to be a low cost alternative to a take-away.
Preparation time: less than 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes to an hour
Skill level: easy
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 250g/9oz beef mince
- ½-1 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
- salt and pepper
- 1 x 400g/14oz tin chopped tomatoes
- 500ml/18fl oz stock, made from a stock cube (ideally beef, but chicken will work)
- ½ tsp dried mixed herbs
- 2 x 400g/14oz tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the olive oil and once hot fry the onion with a pinch of salt for five minutes, or until soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic and cook for two minutes.
- Add the mince, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until there are no raw bits of meat.
- Add the chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock and dried herbs. Stir to mix well and bring to a simmer.
- Pour in the drained kidney beans and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the chilli is thickened and rich. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. (I added a few dashes of chilli powder)
Serve the chilli on top of some Mexican rice, with a spoonful or two of soured cream on top of each portion. Eat while hot.
The United Kingdom and other parts of Europe have been rocked by a horse meat scandal, which is bad news for us carnivores who love beef. For chicken farmers though, it is like an early Christmas present because sales of chicken have soared since the scandal broke. The bad news of course is too our taste buds, because let’s be honest, chicken can be so boring. If however, you spend a few minutes and add a few tasty ingredients you can make your chicken sing, and what a better way to turn your boring chicken breast into something tasty than this easy and cheap Chicken Cacciatore recipe.
Skill level: easy
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
- 4 chicken breasts
- small handful basil leaves
- Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until softened. Add the tomatoes, rosemary and season to taste. Cook for 10-15 minutes until thickened.
- Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Top the chicken with chicken with the sauce, then bake for 20 minutes until cooked through. Serve scattered with basil leaves with some of your favourite seasonal vegetables or rice.