Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Gastrolad Christmas Survival Guide

"A plastic jug, some Bisto gravy granules and lukewarm water from the kettle will do a fine job"

Andy Williams said Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year", but then what did he know? Maybe it is for some of us, but for the home cook Christmas is a disaster waiting to happen. An influx of rarely-seen relatives; a mountain of potatoes to be peeled; sprouts to boil; a monster turkey to roast; mince pies to take out of a packet; and a Christmas pudding to flame - what could go possibly wrong?

The pressure is on and everything is expected to go well. If it does, you will only get a grudging amount of praise from drunk family members, who, with their stomachs distended, lie sprawled on the sofa, groaning their way through the Strictly Come Prancing Christmas bore-fest.

However, if things go wrong then god help the chef. This happened round my joint last year and mother and I received the kind of vitriol usually reserved for RBS bankers and former associates of Jimmy Saville (who, you might be interested to learn, I once saw jog past my school gates - he didn't molest me though).

Despite employing a meat thermometer, the 28 day hung, rare breed, rib of beef was overcooked, and for dessert, the spiced panna cotta were the texture of squash balls. Mind you, the panna cotta recipe was the handiwork of that pair of bearded oafs, 'The Hairy Bikers', who seem to have taken over the mantle of TV's biggest halfwits from Jim Davidson, so criticism of mother for putting her faith in them was justified .

Anyway, to avoid this kind of disaster and militate against the risk of being skewered by a drunk uncle in the hunt for his turkey dinner, I have assembled a series of tips which will ensure your Christmas day goes without a hitch.

  1. For the lazy and unskilled, turkey twizzlers with ketchup make a fine substitute for the traditional dinner of roast turkey and all the 'trimmings'.
  2. To ease your load, put younger family members to work. Their small hands can be used for fiddly jobs like washing-up champagne flutes, and in a fit of Dickensian nostalgia, you can send them up the chimney with a dustpan and brush to give it a good sweep. After all, a chimney fire really would put a dampener on proceedings.
  3. Ignore those celebrity chefs whose Christmas gravy recipe involves a three day timetable and faffing about with giblets and root vegetables. A plastic jug, some Bisto gravy granules and lukewarm water from the kettle will do a fine job. 
  4. Like all normal people you will have ignored the annual ritual, observed only by widowed pensioners, of 'stir-up Sunday' - the last Sunday before Advent when the Christmas pudding is traditionally made. Buy one instead. However, I'd ignore all the crap about Heston's hidden clementines and go cheap. By the time dessert comes around, everyone's taste-buds and appetites will have been obliterated.
  5. In the same vein, vodka margarine is an excellent cheaper alternative to the traditional pudding accompaniment of brandy butter. 
  6. Other sources will advise you to draw up a 'to do' list so that you can organise your timings correctly. i.e. turkey in oven at 6am, sprouts on to boil at 7am, serve lunch at 3pm. Ignore this - lists just clutter up the kitchen. Unless your intellect is on a par with a hairy biker you should be able to do it in your head.
  7. Use paper plates and plastic cutlery to avoid the usual arguments over the washing up.
  8. Don't bother keeping any leftovers, they only clog up the fridge and no-one wants to eat cold turkey four days on the trot.
  9. Treat any criticism you, the chef, receive with very short shrift. The kitchen is a veritable arsenal of sharp implements - use these to your advantage to defend against the rampaging hordes of hungry cousins.
  10. Finally, if things really do start to go tits-up just pour yourself another sherry. With any luck you'll pass out and wake up on Boxing day when the storm has subsided.

Ten top tips to guarantee your Christmas will be as full of Feziwiggian cheer as can possible be imagined.

Ho ho ho and a happy Christmas to all readers....

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