Christmas in the Kitchen, Conquered!
Top tips to cracking your culinary mission. Plus, there's still time to hop onto a festive course at Ashburton Cookery School. Look at what I made!
Once again *sigh*, catering for Christmas has fallen to me, as the in-laws descend on us for a few days of food and booze-filled fun. What did I do in a previous life to deserve this? Cooking is most definitely not my forte – I’m more neanderthal than Nigella clattering about the kitchen, if I’m honest.
But thank God the culinary wizards at Ashburton Cookery School have stepped in and saved me from a champagne infused meltdown this year. They invited me onto a couple of their fab Christmas cookery courses and, frankly, I bit their hand off.
Throughout December, there’s lots on offer at the school, from Christmas baking and bread making, to game cookery. I decided I quite fancied learning how to make Christmas Macarons (four for me, one for you) and festive canapés. What fun!
I love the experience of being at this school, having taken part in the Beginner’s Weekend course last year (review here). For one, the chefs are always super-encouraging, even if you always seem to be lagging behind everyone else (that’s me); your fellow students are always really lovely and the KP’s are like little Christmas elves, prepping, clearing and washing up, to make the whole experience as hassle-free as possible.
But of course, the big deal is that you pick up a load of new skills, plus get to prepare and take home some delicious food – honestly, if I can manage it then so can you! Yesterday, I arrived home with enough food to feed the whole Muddy clan…except Mr M is away and so I’m basically still working my way through it all, like a Boxing Day buffet.
I mean, would you look at these macarons? The School Christmas Fair has struck gold this year – a definite notch up on my usual last-minute offering from the supermarket…
And as for the Christmas canapés – I’m still slightly in awe of what we managed to get through in one afternoon. See for yourself…
It was fast and furious, but school director Darrin Hosgrove steered us through, parting with lots of little tips along the way.
I’m particularly proud of my turkey and chestnut scotch quail’s eggs…
So, who’s coming to my next little gathering, then? I’m actually quite looking forward to unleashing my newfound skills in my own kitchen now. As for rustling up the big day dinner, I managed to persuade Darrin to coach us all through the ordeal (sorry, festivities) with some sage (and onion) advice. So, pour a glass of something nice, aprons on and crank up the music: we’re in this together!
It’s all in the planning
Take time to plan your shopping list wisely and well in advance and only buy what’s on it. This way you will definitely avoid food wastage.
Make sure you buy a turkey of the correct size, so you’re not still trying to eat it for days afterwards. It might seem like a good idea to buy bigger for leftovers, but turkey will just get drier and drier left in the fridge.
Let’s talk turkey
Always buy fresh and, if possible hung for at least a week. This makes the bird feel drier to the touch when raw but helps lock in all of the moisture when cooked. The flavour is so much better, you can really tell the difference.
Bored of your bird?
Fresh partridge are bang in season this time of the year and a great alternative to Turkey if you fancy being more adventurous. Serve one bird per person with a lovely rich game gravy and bread sauce.
Never leave it all until the last minute. You can actually get going with nearly everything from the 23rd onwards and remember, food does last if your fridge is well managed and runs at the correct temperature.
Killer tip klaxon!
Pre-boil your potatoes until fully cooked then place them in the freezer. On the day, roast them in really hot duck fat straight from frozen. This saves another pan on your hob on Christmas day.
Divide & Conquer
Get the rest of the family involved in the preparation – give everybody a job. There is generally a lot more to do and doing it yourself takes lots of time. Why should you miss out on all the festive fun!
Crank up the cheesy choons!
On the day, don’t forget to enjoy the festivities, even if you are spending a large part of it in the kitchen. Remember it’s just another dinner and not worth getting stressed about!
Perfect your plating
The biggest problem students tell us they have with Christmas dinner is plating, as most people don’t normally plate food for large numbers of people. Make sure your plates are nice and hot, get somebody to help you, rather than trying to do it all yourself and use your microwave wisely to reheat vegetables, so that not everything is coming out of the oven or is on top of the hob. Make sure all the food is piping hot before plating, that way it gives you a couple more minutes to get it all finished before presenting to your guests.
Don’t make the wine an afterthought; spend a little bit extra on some good quality wine to go with your meal – it’s really worth it.
Don’t forget bread sauce! It’s the most underrated ingredient in a Christmas feast. A beautiful homemade bread sauce can’t be beaten and is perfect with any roasted bird. Use fresh breadcrumbs, full fat milk, sea salt, white pepper and freshly ground nutmeg for the perfect balance.
If you fancy picking up some more tips and advice, there’s still time to enrol yourself on one of Ashburton Cookery School’s special Christmas courses. Take your pick from this lovely lot here: ashburtoncookeryschool.co.uk or give ’em a call: 01364 652784