In our house, it’s usually the same couple of people who organise most of the festive food for the extended household. It’s great fun – they love it – but it can sometimes mean that the chefs don’t end up getting much of a break (I don’t know about you, but we get through a LOT of food over a big family Christmas!).
So we’ve started a new tradition. On at least one day over the holidays, no cooking gets done. We’re quite strict about this – anything goes so long as the oven or hob is not turned on – but funnily enough, no-one minds. That’s because on this day, we often end up having the best feast of all!
What we do is put out a great big ‘help-yourself’ buffet. It gets spread out somewhere coolish at lunchtime, and stays there for the rest of the day. Everyone drifts up as they feel like it, ready to pick at another little slice of whatever takes their fancy – and believe me, there’s a fairly constant stream of nibblers. It’s all completely easy-going, and everyone gets the chance to put their feet up and relax. Ahhh!
Take a look at what’s on offer, and you’ll understand why this new tradition is a favourite with our household. Sitting in pride of place is that celebration essential, a juicy ham studded with cloves. Beside it, a platter of salt beef – there’s always a bit of a competition to see who can carve the thinnest slices of this! Beside both of these sit little pots of mustard, chutney and piccalilli, and loaves of crusty bread.
There’s always a bit of salmon, too. Sometimes a whole side of smoked salmon for us to slice as we please, or a side of hot roasted salmon to flake off in delicious chunks. Ready sliced gravadlax keeps things easy – it’s my mum’s favourite so it usually makes an appearance!
There must be at least one old-fashioned cold pie, too. Whether it’s traditional pork, chicken & ham or my own favourite, game, it never lasts very long before being reduced to a few crumbs of gorgeous, hot-water pastry.
If anyone’s feeling particularly energetic (I jest) we’ll sometimes put out a pot of confit duck or smoked mackerel pâté. As both of these only involve mashing up the main ingredient with a little cream, they fit perfectly within the ‘no cook’ rules, and are seriously good dolloped on a cracker or two.
And of course, being an all-day feast, there has to be something sweet on the table too. Our current preference is these extra-creamy cheesecakes, and for those moments when you can barely manage another mouthful, our wonderfully indulgent patisserie selection are the perfect dainty treats.
So there you have it. Our new family tradition of giving the oven a day off is fast becoming our favourite day of the year – hardly surprising when we’ve got all this to choose from!