Christmas made easy: Quick fix food ideas to take the stress out of the festive season
The secret to making sure you enjoy the festive celebrations too is to plan, plan and plan again. From make-ahead dishes to freeze, to festive makes that will look like they’ve taken hours and canapés that could have come from a top-notch restaurant, we’ve got it all.
Our favourite Christmas cheats
Pastry: It’s always good to have a pack of pastry in the freezer. Use puff pastry for cheese straws. Simply cut into lines and top with egg wash and grated cheese before baking – or use a star cutter for Christmas stars. Also good for bite-sized sausage rolls with bought sausagemeat.
Chipolatas: No one can resist mustard and honey chipolatas. Freeze a pack, thaw on day of use and roast in a baking tray with oil for 20-25 minutes until cooked then add an equal mix of mustard and honey (for 48 use 3tbsp of each) and roast for another 5-8 minutes.
Bread lifesaver: Rye bread keeps well, so buy a pack to cut into small squares and top with a myriad of flavours from cream cheese or crème fraiche and smoked salmon to prawn and avocado, or simply buffalo mozzarella and tomato.
Pizza: Make small individual pizza bases with bought pizza dough mix or make one long spectacular pizza for a buffet table.
Camembert circle: Bake a Camembert cheese in its box and surround in rings with assorted rolls or crispy toasts.
Nibbles: Breadsticks, raw veg and crisps can be dipped into bought dips or make your own.
Tortillas: Frozen flour tortillas thaw quickly and you can cut into triangles and bake on a baking tray for six minutes each side. Season with flavoured salt to add an extra kick.
Olives: Heat up some olive oil and flavoured it with crushed garlic, rosemary, thyme and orange peel. Then marinate olives – mix for an hour or two at least, preferably overnight. Other flavour ideas are basil, thyme, garlic, chilli powder, rosemary, lemon peel.
- Make a Ferrero Rocher ice cream cake – buy a block of vanilla ice cream and turn on to a plate. Drizzle with cold chocolate sauce then top with unwrapped Ferrero Rocher balls.
- Keep a shop-bought panettone in the cupboard. Dress for the buffet table by wrapping a festive napkin around it, top with cranberries and dust with icing sugar.
Feast your eyes on this
Cook-ahead glazed gammon
The gammon can be cooked and glazed up to three days ahead to serve cold. To serve hot, cook and skin three days ahead, then glaze and reheat in a hot oven to serve.
3kg mild-cure gammon
1 onion, halved
3 tangerines, zest removed with a vegetable peeler
4 star anise
2 litres ginger ale
For the glaze:
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Small handful cloves
Put the gammon, onion, tangerine zest and star anise in a large pan. Pour over all but 100ml of the ginger beer and, if necessary, top up with water so the gammon is just covered.
Bring to the boil, skim the surface to remove any fat, reduce to a simmer, then cover and cook for 3-3½ hrs or until the meat is tender.
When the gammon is cooked, remove it from the pan.
Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
Carefully cut the skin off the gammon, making sure to leave a layer of fat, then lightly score the fat into diamond shapes.
Place in a roasting tin lined with foil. Warm the honey, mustard and reserved 100ml ginger beer in a pan and boil until it thickens. Spoon over the fat, then stud a clove into the middle of each diamond.
Bake for 20-25 mins or until the glaze has caramelised.
Mince pies are a must
Freezer Mince Pies
Make ahead and you can cook these straight from the freezer.
500g pack sweet or dessert shortcrust pastry.
Little plain flour, for dusting.
About 300g/11oz mincemeat
Splash of milk
Roll out a little over half the pastry on a flourdusted surface to about the thickness of a £1 coin.
Stamp out circles of pastry to line the holes of a 12-hole bun tin – an 8cm cutter should be about right. Re-roll the trimmings until all 12 holes are lined.
Spoon a little mincemeat into each, then roll out the remaining pastry with a little more flour.
Use a 6cm fluted or plain round cutter to cut out 12 lids.
Top the mincemeat with the pastry lids, push around the edges to seal, then poke 1-2 small holes into each to allow steam to escape. Wrap the whole tray well in cling film.
These will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To cook, heat oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6.
Remove the mince pies from the freezer and brush the top of each with a little milk. Bake for 20-22 mins or until the pastry is golden and crisp and the filling piping hot.
Something the children can enjoy making - and eating...
You will need
Squeezy tube of chocolate for decoration
- Cut the hull end off the strawberry to make it flat and a tiny bit pointed end.
- Whip up the cream and put some on top of the strawberry, then top it off with the pointed end of the strawberry
- You can add a blob of cream to the top of the hat and create buttons down the front as well if you want (if the strawberries are big enough)
- Use the chocolate tube to create eyes and maybe a smiley face on the cream for extra effect
Allergy-free festive tips
If someone has a dairy or gluten intolerance, or other allergy, they may feel they’re missing out on traditional festive goodies. Most supermarkets now cater for all allergies. Here are some tips on how to enjoy a full feast.
- Take some allergy-free items with you or try making your own.
- Blinis make a great canapé. You can buy gluten and dairy-free blinis and top them with smoked salmon, avocado or roast beef and horseradish.
- If you don’t have a nut allergy then a bag of nuts mixed with seeds and dried fruit are an easy healthy and tasty option.
- Be careful with crisps, especially flavoured varieties, as they often contain gluten. Vegetable and fruit crisps are usually ok.
Christmas dinner accompaniments:
- Use cornflour or arrowroot to thicken the gravy – for an extra kick put in a spoonful of dry sherry, brandy or wine.
- There are plenty of gluten-free bread sauce recipes that use soya milk and dairy-free margarine.
- If you love mashed vegetables add a spoonful of soy spread and a little coconut milk for a creamy texture. Carrots with a light drizzling of maple syrup or honey add a bit of taste.
- For stuffing, shops stock plenty of gluten-free sausagemeat stuffing or adapt a favourite recipe with gluten-free bread and use soy spread if the recipe includes butter. Many sausages contain gluten so look for those labelled gluten free.
- Most supermarkets stock allergy-free Christmas puddings, but you can make your our own with gluten free breadcrumbs and gluten free flour to help hold the mixture together and soya spread. If nuts are a problem, just leave them out.
- Make your own dairy-free custard using cornflour and egg yolks to thicken the mixture, and soya milk.
- Everybody loves a trifle at Christmas and free from cake bars can be used for the base, topped with fruit, dairy free custard and soy yogurt instead of cream.
- Pavlovas are quick and easy to make and instead of cream use soya yogurt – its a lot healthier.
It is important to be aware of potential for cross-contamination.
Common culprits are:
- Using the same utensils and chopping boards for ‘safe’ foods
- Pans splashing allergens over uncovered food
- Allergen smears, smudges and crumbs transferred onto plates and glasses from unwashed hands
- Where there’s an unattended buffet table, double dipping in spreads and sauces, chocolate-smeared hands and people swigging randomly from any glass that comes to hand.
Some suggestions to avoid the risks:
- Make a separate preparation area for the person with the allergy
- Keep safe sauces and spreads away from the main buffet
- Get the children to create name tags or stickers for everyone’s glasses and plates