My daughter asked yesterday whether we could be super organised this Christmas so that I could spend loads of time with the family and not be fiddling in the kitchen…. I usually try to get a lot done and stashed away in the freezer before the main event but last year, as we were a smaller gathering than previously, I left more to do on the day. This may be to what she was referring. Whilst I was still fairly organised I could, as I was told many times at school, have done better.
The mistake I made was not to slavishly refer to all my do ahead tips. I am all for whipping things out of the freezer and cooking them in the stylish silver containers (Christmas sparkle) they were frozen in. I will then transfer them to warm serving dishes, chuck the foil containers and won’t have a mountain of sauce pans glaring at me from the sink. On this point I implore you to heat your serving plates – there are many components to the Christmas feast and getting them from the stove to peoples plates takes more than a minute of two. You want it served hot and warm dishes and plates makes a huge difference, that and piping hot gravy too.
So this year I will be making and freezing the stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce (add a little milk on heating) and gravy (add meat juices after resting to boost this) for the big event. Don’t laugh I will even be parboiling and freezing the roast potatoes (see tips). Sausage rolls, Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt (December 2013) and Gougeres (recipe below) will be frozen in good time to accompany drinks alongside Spiced Cherries in Bacon which I am preparing now (and recommend you do the same!). Firecracker red cabbage (November 2013) to serve with Christmas Eve’s baked ham, a curry, a stew and lots of mince pies will also make their way into the frozen holding pen.
Have I mentioned my Christmas tips (Do ahead Christmas tips and Spiced Cherries November 2013 and Feta and Spinach Parcels a couple more make ahead tips November 2013)?! I will be referring back to them again and again. It may sound bossy to suggest you do too but I know they make a world of difference on a day that is notoriously hectic.
To get you started here are my Cheese Gougeres, warm little clouds of cheesy savoury deliciousness. I honestly struggled not to eat all the ones you see in the pictures. Very easy to make (baked not fried despite their light and fluffy appearance) and they freeze and reheat a dream. Make them now then open freeze flat on a tray, once frozen tumble into a bag or plastic tub. Serve these warm with drinks and you will undoubtedly be the hostess with the mostess.
A good strong cheese is required here. I use a mouth tingling cheddar or a combination of cheddar and parmesan. You could take an Alpine route with gruyere to great effect. I sometimes like to add mustard or cayenne pepper for further pep and bite in which case sprinkle some tiny dried chilli flakes on the gougeres before you cook to indicate heat. Other times I might add thyme leaves or sprinkle grated parmesan as in the picture above but am just as happy to leave them unadorned and boldly goldly resplendent.
1 teaspoon salt
175g strong plain flour
100g strong cheese
Mustard powder/cayenne pepper/thyme leaves – see above.
Preheat the oven to 200 and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment. Put the butter, water and salt in a pan, heat until the butter is melted then whoosh in the flour in one go and beat hard. Add the eggs one by one (the mixture will become a little sloppy between each addition but persevere) then add the cheese and stir until well combined followed by any additional flavourings (mustard/chilli). Either pipe small blobs onto the baking sheet or use two teaspoons dipped in hot water. I am no piping expert but find it the easiest route with this thick and sticky mixture. With a wet finger push down any pointy bits as these may catch and burn in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, they need to be a good burnished gold and feel crisp if you tap one (cautiously). If underdone they will deflate on cooling. Cool on a wire rack if you are going to freeze (or keep in a tin for a day or two) or serve straight away. Reheat in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Makes 20-30 depending on size.