A Perfect Christmas Doesn’t HaveTo Be Perfect

I am a big fan of Christmas! It is easily my favourite time of the year, and I must do a good job of organising and cooking and hosting because this is the fourth time in the last five years I have been asked to host Christmas dinner (the only year my services were not requested was in 2015, though I was originally supposed to host but sadly my Mom died on the 17th of December). I think the reason I am always called on to host at Christmas is my almost zen-like sense of calm and organisation… Or maybe it is just my fully stocked bar; who knows?

My Yoda-ish sense of calm however isn’t something that is hard-wired into my personality. It is the result of years of chaotic holidays, filled with the mini-disasters that everyone has, and my taking simple steps to ensure they never happen again.

So this year, I shall once again post some steps to ensure you have a fun and relaxing Christmas.

Domestic Dad’s Guide to Christmas Bliss.

  1. REMEMBER Christmas is just another day of the year, but with added presents, and a bit more indulgent food. The real magic of Christmas doesn’t come from perfection, it comes from “togetherness”. When the red mist begins to decent, take a moment to remember that you want it to be perfect, because you are surrounded by the people in your life that you love the most, then maybe have a glass of your favourite beverage, and go back to making memories.
  2. PLANNING is key. Make a menu well in advance, collect any special requests and make a plan. Remember to check that you have the room in the fridge for everyone’s delights, check cooking times, and make sure you have room in the oven and on the stove to make your menu in time for dinner.
  3. LISTS make everything go to plan. There is nothing worse than waking on Christmas day to realise you have forgotten to buy carrots, or pototoes.
  4. GET AHEAD. Try cooking as much as you can in advance and freezing it, ready for Christmas day. I have already made and frozen my Cranberry relish, and Stuffing Balls, and my Christmas cake has been maturing for a couple of weeks. I have also set-up a reminder on my phone to alert me to get them out of the freezer in time to be defrosted, ready for heating up on the big day.
  5. RECRUIT help. Get the kids to peel the vegetables and lay the table, ask guests to bring their favourite dish, or just ask for a hand in the kitchen from your guests. Most people actually don’t mind helping out.
  6. SET UP a drinks and snacks bar and let people help themselves. After all it is your Christmas as well, so you don’t want to spend it working as a waiter.
  7. ALLOW the kids to eat what they want for dinner. If they don’t want sprouts don’t force them, it will only cause unnecessary stress.
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Cherry and Pistachio Stuffing

Growing up in Canada my mom always made a traditional stuffing that you shoved into the backside of your turkey, and for me it was the best part of Christmas dinner. Here in England though stuffing is a completely different creature all together, but no less delicious. This recipe is made in the traditional English style, but has a fruity modern twist that should delight even the most fussy eater in your house.

The best part of this recipe though is that you can make it now and freeze it. Just remember to take it out of the freezer a couple of days before so they have time to completely defrost.

  • Skill level: easy
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, finely diced. (see video)
  • 450g/1lb sausage meat (if you can’t find sausage meat, just pick your favourite sausage and remove them from their skins)
  • 175g/6oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • zest 1 lemon
  • zest 1 orange
  • 100g/4oz shelled pistachios
  • 100g/4oz dried sour cherries (or dried cranberries)
  • 1 large egg
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • drizzle of olive oil

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan, add the onion and cook until soft, and then leave to cool.
  2. Roughly chop the pistachios (I used a food processor and then just pulsed them a few times).
  3. Mix the ingredients, except for the olive oil. The best way to do this is by hand. Once mixed roll the stuffing into 24 walnut sized balls and put on a baking tray. or in a freezer proof container if freezing.
  4. Drizzle the stuffing with olive oil and cook at 220°C/Gas 7 on the middle shelf of your oven for 20 minutes before moving to the top shelf for 10 additional minutes.

These stuffing balls can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or put in the freezer for 2 months, but remember to take them out of the freezer a few days before Christmas and thoroughly defrost in the refrigerator before cooking.

Another year, another Christmas Cake 

A few years ago I made the family a Christmas cake and every year since it has fallen on my shoulders to make another. Occasionally I try a different recipe, but Delia’s Classic Christmas cake is still the recipe that I think is best. It holds the booze well, it has the right balance of fruit and spice and it keeps for ages so you can make it weeks in advance and feed it up with alcohol to make it even more delicious.

WARNING: Beware, if you make this cake, then you will be required to repeat the following process every year until the end of time.

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Delia Smith’s Classic Christmas Cake

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  • Preparation time: 45 minutes + decorating
  • Baking time: 4 1/2-4 3/4 hours
  • Makes: 10-12 decent sized slices
  • Skill level: moderate

Ingredients

  • 450g currants
  • 175g sultanas
  • 175g raisins (I substitute the raisins for mixed dried fruit)
  • 50g glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
  • 3tbsp brandy
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp ground mixed spice
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g flaked almonds
  • 1 dessert spoon black treacle
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest of 1 orange

Equipment

  • A 20cm round or an 18cm square cake tin, greased and lined with a double thickness of baking parchment. Tie a band of baking parchment around the outside of the tin for extra protection.
  • An electric mixer.
  • Two large, and several smaller mixing bowls.

Method

The night before you are going to bake this cake weigh out the dried fruit and peel, place it in a mixing bowl and mix in the brandy as evenly and thoroughly as possible. Cover the bowl and leave the fruit to absorb the booze for 12 hours.

Top tip: the black treacle will be easier to measure if you remove the lid, and place the tin in a small pan of barely simmering water.

  1. Heat the oven to 140 C/275 F/gas 1.
  2. Measure out all the ingredients. Make a list and tick them off as you go to ensure they are all there.
  3. Begin the cake by sifting the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl, lifting the sieve up high to give it a good airing.
  4. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until it is light, pale and fluffy.
  5. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add them to the creamed mixture (butter and sugar) a tablespoon at a time, keeping the mixer running until all the egg is incorporated. This method should ensure that the mixture does not curdle, but if it does, don’t worry.
  6. Once all the eggs have been added, fold in the flour and spices gently. Do not use the mixer (this is preserve the precious air).
  7. Fold in the fruit, peel, chopped nuts and treacle, and finely the grated lemon and orange zests.
  8. Using a large spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Spread it out evenly with the back of the spoon. (If you don’t intend ice the cake, lightly drop whole blanched almonds all over the surface).
  9. Cover the cake with a double piece of baking parchment with a 50p sized (1 inch) hole cut in the center.
  10. Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4½-4¾ hours until it feels springy in the center when lightly touched. Sometimes it can take an extra ½-¾ hours longer, but in any case DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR FOR AT LEAST 4 HOURS.
  11. Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling. When it is cold “feed it”, wrap it in double baking parchment, secured with an elastic band, and either wrap again in foil or place it in an air tight tin.
  12. Continue feeding your cake at regular intervals until you are ready to eat or decorate your cake.

Caramelised Cranberry Relish

This is a recipe that I posted a couple of years ago, but I thought I would re-post it, so you can all start getting ahead of the big feast without searching through my archives.

I know Christmas is still weeks away, and I also know that December can fly by faster than Superman on his way to meet Lois Lane when we are busy. It is for this reason that I have decided to get ahead of the Christmas dinner game and prepare my Cranberry Relish now. It only takes ten minutes to make, so I probably could have made it on the day, but why would I want to do that when I could be relaxing with kids?

This recipe will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I have chosen not to take any chances. I am making it now and freezing it. Then I can just pop it out a few days in advance (I will be setting a reminder on my phone so I don’t forget) and it will be ready to go with my turkey dinner on the big day.

Carmelised Cranberry Relish

  • Skill level: Easy
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 large orange
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 100g/4oz caster sugar
  • 500g/1lb cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • splash of Port (optional)

Method

  1. Use a zester to zest the orange, or use a speed peeler to peel off the zest then finely shred it with a knife and set aside with the ginger.
  2. Halve and juice the orange. Tip the orange juice into a shallow saucepan and boil gently with the sugar until you get a light amber-orange caramel.
  3. Scatter the zest and ginger into the caramel, cook for 1 minute, then tip in the cranberries and port if using. Cook everything on a high heat for 5 minutes until the cranberries are starting to split but still have texture. Leave to cool and serve with the turkey.

This recipe will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for up to a month.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

Stress Free Christmas Dinner Plan; Get Ahead

The menu is planned, your shopping is ordered, and timetable is complete, so now is the time to start getting ahead. For every minute you spend getting ahead, it is one more minute you can spend relaxing and enjoying your company on Christmas day.

Many parts of your meal can be prepared beforehand, stuffing can be made and then frozen, or stored in the fridge for a couple of days, your cranberry sauce can be made the week before, or even weeks before and then frozen. This will free up time and oven space on Christmas day, just remember to take everything out of the freezer with enough time to let it thaw.

Over the next few days I will share with you some of the recipes I have used for the last few years which I have successfully prepared in advance.

So what are you waiting for, get those cook books out and start planning.