For some unknown reason (read: societal pressure and capitulating to comparison envy on Instagram), many of us are overcome by one last surge of cuisine-heroism at Christmas. Not only do we aspire to be Jamie Oliver, but we feel we must do it all to show how fancy and capable we are. For heaven’s sake, why?
We rethought some of what makes Christmas cooking so stressful and over the top to present you with this food guide for rethinking the Christmas cooking approach. Think of this as your festive cooking cheat sheet to have a jolly season rather than a jolly stressful one. Pick the rule-breakers that work for you and break ’em good and properly.
1. Take the bloat out of the gloat
You’re bound to hit a heavy meal or several ‘over the toppers’, during the season so make yours the one that makes everyone feel relieved. Serve some light and fresh summer food to give everyone’s digestive systems a break. Think cucumber-and-mint salads or a tomato gazpacho instead of all the starches.
2. Keep a cool head
Which brings me to my next point. What’s with all the hot meals? It’s summer here, folks. Instead of roast potatoes, just make a classic potato salad. It’s fresher, it means less time in front of a hot oven, and you can make them ahead of time!
TRY: Biltong and braaied potato salad
3. Stick to your happy meals
How did this strange tendency come about where once a year (at the end of it, when we’re all exhausted), we take on the peculiar inclination of wanting to make a host of dishes we’ve never tried before for an audience of critical relatives. No wonder it’s highly stressful. Make what you know, what you love, what you’re known for and what you’re already good at.
4. The importance of substitute players
If you’re attempting a new dish designed specifically for the festive season, chances are it’s peppered with unusual ingredients. Sourcing weird things at the busiest time of year is crazy business. Not only are they more expensive because they’re exclusive and rare, but everyone else will be wanting them too, so you’re going to have to dash around to find it. Substitutes are your go-to here. If the recipe calls for shallots, go with onions. Need chestnuts? Use hazelnuts. Can’t find cranberries? Cherries and figs do the trick. All out of cardamom? Cinnamon and nutmeg give a similar flavour. You get the idea.
ALSO READ: 8 fun and festive must-try cherry desserts
5. Uncook the book
Who decided that all the manic cooking had to happen on the day? I’ll tell you who. The northern hemispherians who need everything to be cooked and piping hot to warm their bitterly cold bodies from the inside out. Serve cold pre-cooked meats and chicken with ingredients that are enjoyed raw, like fresh carrot sticks, peppers and sugar snaps with garlic aïoli.
6. Get by with a little help
This is an obvious one, but that ‘hostess with the mostest’ monster (thanks, Monica Geller) has a way of worming itself into our egos. For one, delegate the dishes. And you have significantly less to worry about if everyone makes a side or dessert. This is the one time of year where an efficiently run Whatsapp group will be welcomed by everyone.
7. The incredible bulk
Another bizarre tendency we have is to make a dizzying array of dishes and sides. All that ingredient variety is not only a nightmare to shop for and keep prepped and stored in the fridge, but invariably you’re just creating complexity and decision overload. People are more likely to gravitate to the things they know and love. Then there’s nothing left of the good stuff for seconds and all these other first-timer odd dishes that no one really wants are left over. Guess who ends up with a fridge full of unwanted leftovers? Make the most popular dishes only and make them in bulk. Variety is not always the spice of life.
Remember that most Christmas traditions were invented by people who want to sell you stuff. Instead of following that, do it the way that really suits you. Check in with yourself. See what feels right for you this year. A less stressed you is the best gift this season.