Christmas was easy. I was stress-free, relaxed, organised and I enjoyed it. Although I certainly won’t be hosting Christmas in 2014 (6 month old baby and a 4 year old who is going to be going mental?) I will happily do it again and again, making things a little more complicated each time. That much I can guarantee. But for my first Christmas? I kept it simple. And for me, that is saying something. It probably was made a little easier that I was catering for James’ family who tend to like things simpler than mine (I also think it was a good thing that my mum wasn’t there because, although she would have let me get on with it, I would have been running to her everytime I wasn’t sure of something. As it was, I just got on with it).
However, what made Christmas really simple was Abel & Cole. It was probably Abel & Cole that gave me my first hankering (my word of the week… I hate it!) when I first started using them 2 and a bit years ago because when Christmas came around that year I was gifted with a beautiful booklet full of their Christmas offerings, recipes, and the best Christmas dinner timeline I have so far seen. I kept it, tucked inside my Delia’s Christmas book (a bargain charity shop buy bought only for the Parmesan Parsnips and Spiced Apricot and Orange Chutney), flicking through it every time I had a longing to ‘do’ Christmas, finally giving it pride of place on my recipe stand. Of course, they sent me a similar booklet this year but I much prefer the first.
I can’t say I went crazy with my planning. I had a dozen lists in a dozen notebooks and on scraps of paper which I amalgamated again and again but I guess, when it came down to it, I had thought of little else for a couple of months (ooh, so that’s what happened to the writing…) that it was all in my head. What I was doing, when I would prepare it, what I would need (crackers, carving knife and pigs in blankets were not immediately thought of but the week before Christmas I was so prepared I felt sure I had forgotten something. I’m still not sure what it was.). It all went as follows:
Christmas Eve – Christmassy afternoon tea with mulled wine (non-alcoholic, of course) when James’ parents arrived followed by gammon in the evening.
Harry and I had prepared the afternoon tea in the lead up to Christmas – Christmas shortbread, scones (with cranberries), and mincepies were in the freezer and would be served with chocolate truffles, clotted cream and jam (both with Christmassy alternatives). The sandwiches were ham and mustard, turkey and cranberry, and smoked salmon and cream cheese. Harry helped me prepare the sandwiches on the day although I would not let him help me display it all on my beautiful slate cakestand that my parents had given me especially for my Birthday! My non-alcoholic mulled wine waas basically blackcurrant squash with mulled wine spices in – very tasty and a good alternative!
James had taken responsibility of the gammon, although I had tasks such as soaking it overnight, preparing the potatoes (dauphinoise, prepared that morning so they were ready to go in the oven), red cabbage (prepared at the weekend once my Christmas veg had arrived) and peas (well…). After simmering it in a lovely aromatic selection of stock veg and herbs, James glazed it with mustard, honey, whisky and cloves and roasted it. The whole meal was very tasty and finished off with my dessert of pears poached in mulled wine served with a Maya Gold chocolate ganache (an inspiration that came off to great success!)
Christmas Eve evening was probably the nearest we got to stressful – it just wasn’t the most relaxing evening ever as we were doing last minute wrapping, taking stuff out of fridge and freezer, filling stockings, etc., but we eventually came to relax come 11pm.
Christmas Day – Harry gave us our first lie in in at least a week and on Christmas Day at that! So after waking up at 7.15am and Harry discovering that Father Christmas had been (although he had to wait for Nanny and Grampy to arrive until we could open our stockings he certainly had a good look through them all!) I whacked the oven on.
Breakfast consisted of warm croissants with a selection of jams and Buck’s Fizz, following which I got the turkey in the oven. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about the turkey. It was the one thing that I hadn’t planned. All I knew was that I needed a turkey but how I was going to cook it and for how long for was still a mystery as I followed two recipes at once by stuffing a couple of onions in it and glazing the skin with melted butter and a sprinkle of salt. I still couldn’t tell you how long I cooked it for. I was finding very mixed opinions on how long to cook a small turkey crown for. However, I was aiming for a 12 o’clock lunch and as it happened everything was on the table by quarter to and beautifully cooked.
This is where the simplicity came in. Christmas dinner was pretty much all supplied by Abel & Cole. Their Christmas Day fruit and veg box which contained potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, red cabbage, sprouts, herbs, lemons, clementines and even a bunch of mistletoe, was the thing that first made me want to do Christmas. But I then discovered that they also offered a trimmings box – gravy, apricot and walnut stuffing, sausages, bacon, goose fat and cranberry sauce. For my first Christmas, or for any Christmas should you want it ridiculously simple, this was a life saver. Gravy is not my forte as it is so just to bung it in a pan was fantastic! And the stuffing was gorgeous.
I was very prepared. The weekend before I had prepared my parmesan parsnips (and red cabbage as previously mentioned). Christmas Eve I parboiled my potatoes and chopped my carrots. My Mum had given me one of her homemade Christmas puddings. Come Christmas Day, after opening our stockings, I turned the oven done, set an alarm on my phone, and we went out for a drink at the hotel where James’ parents were staying. My turkey alarm went off just as we were paying. When we got home I enlisted James’ help in finishing the preparation – in other words, the sprouts. The one thing I had a mental block against doing! Meanwhile, I put the Christmas pudding in the steamer, wrapped the sausages in the bacon, whacked the oven back up, put in the potatoes, parsnips, stuffing and pigs in blankets and after about 15 minutes took the turkey out to rest. A few more presents, James and I set the table, then I got the veg and gravy on and James carved the turkey. We were done by 12.30, although we then had a break before dessert. Overall, we had great success – only things were the sprouts could have been a bit more cooked (next time, do not put them in the top steamer basket) and the Christmas pudding collapsed a bit when I took it out of the bowl. However, it did light a teeny tiny bit so I was happy with that!
Our evening meal was the essence of simplicity. A cheeseboard accompanied with chutneys, some yummy savoury shortbread that Father Christmas had brought me, and cold meats, followed by Christmas cake.
Kitchen was sparkling (amazingly) by about 8pm! I had stripped the turkey, alas I had not made stock on this occasion (the smell has been getting to me) but I usually would.
Boxing Day – a normal breakfast, a day out, and in the evening it was turkey curry. James chopped my onions as I was a bit queasy. We used a Christmas curry spice mix that I get from the market which is always really good and accompanied the curry with the usual rice, naan, samosas, bhajis and pakoras… We were rather full by the end of it but still managed to demolish half of the raspberry and white chocolate maccaroon we had bought from Abel & Cole for the occasion!
James’ parents left on the 27th and after a brunch of cold turkey and bubble and squeak, we left too, laiden with leftovers, to spend a few days with my family and the joy of being cooked for. Did I say joy? I hate being cooked for… After about two days I just want to cook for myself, so one day I did make some pasta for lunch while everyone else was out.
Anyway, Christmas went well and I enjoyed every minute of it. Christmas Day I did not feel like I was stuck in the kitchen. Even in the lead up to Christmas and on Christmas Eve any time I had in there did not feel like a chore, it was fun and I had the opportunity to share it with Harry and James. We all contributed, which was great. The one thing that surprised me though is that we have the tiniest fridge ever invented. In fact, I would like to find the person who designed it and ask why the heck they designed it like they did. Yet, I never ran out of space. I had even taken out a shelf to put in my turkey, but once it was in I was able to put the shelf back in! It was like one of those magic bags…