Christmas Entertaining: a survival guide.
Now, if your idea of effortless entertaining is to take your friends to a restaurant, preferably within a short walking distance are you wondering how are you’re going to cope at Christmas when family and friends descend en masse, expecting to be royally entertained, housed, fed and watered for the duration?
How can you avoid enforced exile in the kitchen, feeling hot, sweaty and bad tempered because everyone else is enjoying themselves or getting in your way? I thought I would try and come up with some “top tips” to see you through the festive season with your sanity intact.
I have two sources for my tips. Firstly I turned to the unimpeachable Anne Dyson, author of “The Greedy Goose Entertains” for some expert advice. Anne runs The Greedy Goose Cookery School in the Aveyron and teaches others how to be perfect hosts*. To sum it up in one word it all comes down to PREPARATION!
Anne says to begin by making lists which include timings, starting with a list of every dish you’re going to prepare, including all the sauces and side dishes. Then shopping lists, followed by a list of all the jobs you’ll need to do and the order in which they need to be done. So you should end up with a note of everything you’ll need to buy and when, everything you’ll need to prepare and when and all the jobs that need to be done and when.
Secondly, she says to do as much as you can in advance. She makes her mincemeat in October, for example. Trimmings such as cranberry sauce, stuffing and sausages wrapped in bacon are made well in advance and frozen. Don’t forget to mark on your list to take things out of the freezer in time for them to defrost and come to room temperature. Anne says not to forget to label absolutely everything before you freeze it, even she once served what she thought was a meat pie and had the gravy and veg standing by, only discover it was in fact a gooseberry pie….
Thirdly, Anne advises you not to buy your vegetables too far in advance, if you want to enjoy them at their best and to prepare them on the day. If you’ve done everything else in advance, once your turkey or whatever is in the oven, that should be about the only job left to do. Anne likes to serve her sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, but she prepares the chestnuts in advance and freezes them and even the bacon is fried the day before and kept in the fridge.
My second source of advice was a less reliable survey of my friends. Catharine advises storing your turkey or goose in the oven away from greedy dogs until you’re ready to cook it. OK, good so far, but don’t forget to remove the plastic wrapping ”I forgot the bird was there and turned the oven on. Mother alerted me to the smell of burning plastic. We retrieved the goose, scraped off the burnt plastic and didn't confess.” Ooops!
Then there’s Steve who advises you to check that the container in which you’re going to cook your pudding is suitable for your cooking method. His sister once made her Christmas pudding in a plastic bowl and cooked it in a pressure cooker. OK so far….but “she hadn't checked it was suitable and it melted, so it was Christmas pud and plastic rather than custard” Nul points for Steve’s sister then.
Steve tells me she did redeem herself a year or two later when she rescued his family from a potential disaster at their first Christmas dinner in France.” I got the size of the turkey wrong for the eight people who were expected to attend and who actually turned into eleven. She managed to create a “chuckley” by stuffing four chicken breasts in between the skin and the turkey breast thus providing enough meat for all” OK sis you are officially pardoned.
I hope you all have an excellent stress- free Christmas with your friends and family and I leave you with some delicious recipes from Anne Dyson.
Stained Glass Window Biscuits
50g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
half tsp vanilla essence
110g boiled sweets in assorted colours
Set oven at 200C Mark 6. Combine all ingredients except the sweets with your hands in a mixing bowl to form a pliable dough. Cover with cling film and chill for 45 mins. Roll out the dough to about 8mm thickness on a floured surface and cut into seasonal shapes with pastry cutters. Make a hole with a skewer at the top of each biscuit for hanging. Place the biscuits on non stick baking sheets and place a boiled sweet in the middle of each biscuit, pushing the sweets right through the biscuit. Bake for 7 minutes until the sweets have melted and the biscuits are cooked. Leave to cool on the baking sheet. When cold, thread with ribbon or gold or silver thread and hang on the tree.
The two recipes below make a good addition to a Christmas buffet or a good entree, they both freeze very well.
Chicken liver mousse with orange and brandy
Serve with hot toast or fill tiny choux buns with the mousse as an aperitif.
Serves 6 to 8
225 gr chicken livers
sea salt and pepper
1 medium onion chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
50 gr butter
juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp. brandy
3 tbsp cream
Roughly chop trimmed livers, lightly season and set aside. Sweat onion and garlic in 25g butter until translucent, stir in livers. Fry gently for about 5 mins and add orange juice and zest and brandy. Cook for 3 to 4 min. or until livers are tender but still pink. Remove and combine with remaining butter and cream in a food processor. Adjust seasoning, pack in jar or container and keep in a cool place.
Chicken liver mouse with juniper and gin
Prepare as above but use 6 to 8 juniper berries, 1 tsp of chopped thyme and 1 tbsp of gin instead of orange and brandy.
*Details of Anne’s cookery courses can be found here http://facilitutors.com/index.php?ch=15&lcat=Food&id=376