One week and counting until Christmas Day. Whether you are hosting a big festive celebration at home or heading off to a loved one's house for the day, here are some thoughts to make your celebrations a little smoother:
1. Get the drinks organised now - you will have enough to cart home from the supermarket next week. Get the mineral water, soft drinks, wine and champagne so you can cross them off the list. PS Always buy more mineral water than you think you will need because if Christmas Day is stinking hot, you will drink every last drop. Fill up your ice trays as well.
2. Go through the fridge and get rid of anything you don't need or want. Fridge space is more valuable than a city car spot at this time of year.
3. Finalise your menu. Whether you are planning a ham and turkey traditional baked dinner or a "cooler" seafood feast, decide on everything now. Make a list starting with nibblies with drinks, moving through the meal, side dishes, dessert and finishing with chocolates tea and coffee. Last minute menu decisions are more stressful than the queue for a photo with Santa. And by the way, make sure that you can manage what you are planning, from an oven and fridge capacity, as well as from the man hours needed to get the food on the table.
4. Make a master shopping list from your menu, and double check it against what you have in the fridge or pantry. Just because you think that you have enough apricot jam to glaze your ham, it is still worth double checking because you might be wrong and you will find nothing is open on Christmas morning. I speak with authority on this point. Then divide your shopping list in two between perishables and non-perishables (use 2 coloured highlighters). Buy all the non-perishables this weekend, and leave only the perishables for Dec 23 or 24.
5. Get out all the platters and serving dishes you are planning on using, and check what needs washing or polishing. A lot of this servingware won't have been touched since January, and may be a bit dusty, so get this tedious job out of the way this weekend.
6. Ditto for all the napery you will be using: cloths, napkins, hand towels, may all need a press to look welcoming on Christmas Day.
7. Decorate your table - steal some tinsel and ornaments from the tree for a Christmassy centrepiece.
8. If you are entertaining people who either don't know each other well or don't get along (surely every family lives through this at one time or another), plan your seating. You do not want people who don't get along rubbing elbows at the table. Opposite ends of the table works much better
9. Don't forget to put the crackers on the table. More than once I have realised after the Christmas meal that we forgot the crackers. Christmas just isn't Christmas without silly hats and stupid jokes.
10. Make the gravy ahead of time and freeze it. I would never have thought of this, but Jamie Oliver told me to do it, and you know how I like to keep him happy...
Get Ahead Gravy
Jamie Magazine Dec 09
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 large onions, roughly chopped
5 fresh sage leaves
5 fresh bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 star anise
2 rashers of smoked bacon, diced
8 chicken wings, smashed with a rolling pin to break them up a little
30ml olive oil
4 tbl plain flour
60ml sherry or port
Put the vegetables, herbs, and star anise in a baking dish. Scatter over the bacon and chicken wings. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 200C for 1 hour. Remove from the oven, and place over a low heat on the stove. Grind all the ingredients with a potato masher. Gradullay add the flour, continuing to fry. The longer you let this phase go, the darker the gravy will become. When the flour is combined, add 2 litres of water, turn up the heat and boil for ten mins. Then reduce the heat and let it simmer for another 20 mins or so, adding the port or sherry if you are using it. Strain through a sieve, pushing down on everything to extract as much moisture and flavour as possible. Store in containers/bags in the fridge/freezer. On Christmas Day, take gravy out of the freezer when you are putting your turkey in the oven and let it defrost as the turkey cooks. Warm up in a pot, tip in any pan juices from the turkey (drain fat first), and serve.