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Christmas cheats

Quick and easy ideas to take the fuss out of festive fare

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Party wine

Christmas equals stress for cooks. Especially if you have hordes of family and friends to cater for. The secret to making sure you enjoy the festive celebrations too is to plan, plan, plan… and do a little more planning. 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 makes: 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.

Lifesaving bread: 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 goodness: Make small individual pizza bases with bought pizza dough mix or make one long spectacular pizza for a buffet table.

Nibbles: Breadsticks, raw veg and crisps can be dipped into bought dips or make your own.

Dip it: Peanut and yogurt dip is simple – one part peanut butter to two parts natural yogurt – delicous! Or try one-and-a-half cups of yogurt mixed with one tbsp curry powder and I tbsp lime juice for a speedy curry dip.
Beetroot crème fraiche dip is easy too – mix a 250g pack cooked beetroot (not in vinegar), drained and grated with 200g crème fraîche, two tbsp horseradish cream and snipped chives.

Keep flour tortillas in the freezer: They thaw quickly and you can cut into triangles and bake on a baking tray for six minutes each side. Season with flavoured salt if liked.

Jazz up your olives: Rather than paying a lot for bought ones, add a little zing to plain ones yourself. 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.

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


Buy yourself a bottle of Cranes Cranberry & Blood Orange liqueur for classy Christmassy cocktails.

Make the Crallini, the Cranes twist on a Bellini, by using a dash of Cranes liqueur to top up your prosecco for a delicious fruity finish.

Or reinvent the famous Cosmopolitan with Cranes liqueur, vodka and fresh lime juice.

Sweet treats

Fudge it: Buy Fudge Kitchen fudge and slice up, put on plate with some holly decoration and you’ve got a sweet treat for the buffet table. We particularly like the giant Continental Gingerbread Yule log – a whole 850g for around £24.99.

Or try the 12 flavours of Christmas selection – a circular gift box of seasonal flavours metamorphosed into gourmet fudge, including Mince pie, Christmas Cookie, Hazelnut Heaven and Chocolate Orange.

Shops in Oxford, Windsor and Bath. Or you can buy online at

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.

Pretty panettone: 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.

Cheese please

Camembert circle: Bake a Camembert cheese in its box and surround in rings with assorted rolls or crispy toasts.

Savoury scones: Make mini cheese scones and fill with crème fraiche and chives or tapenade.

Meals in a hurry

This is the planning bit we mentioned… Plan to be able to rustle these dishes up at short notice and you’ll be the Christmas star.

Chilli and lime prawns

Keep a bag of prawns in the freezer, thaw and use for a quick dish to serve with salad and crusty bread.
1/2 kg prawns uncooked
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup basil chopped
2 tsp lime rind grated
1 tsp chilli fresh chopped
1 tsp garlic fresh crushed

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
  • Cook the prawns in a heated, oiled grill pan for a few minutes each side until cooked through.
  • Serve with salad or salsa.

Salmon with Sweet Soy Sauce
Keep a side of salmon in the freezer and thaw for a spectacular meal.
1 side of salmon
5 tbsp sweet soy sauce (try buying from a specialist like See Woo in Reading)

  • Roast the salmon in a medium oven covered in foil for about 20 minutes.
  • Pour over sweet soy sauce (about 5tbsp for a large salmon) and reseal and return to oven for 5-10 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and stir-fried veg.

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 flour-dusted 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.

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

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