Make some good choices when you stock up your kitchen for Christmas, and you'll always be able to throw together a gorgeous spread at the drop of a hat ... a Santa hat of course!
Christmas is a time of loving and giving. It's a time of joy and laughter; it's a time of family rows and overtired children, but it's also a time of eating - lots of eating ... lots of eating, with one meal often feeling like it runs into the next, especially if you are hosting family and friends.
There's a danger that we focus so much on Christmas dinner, that we lose sight of the fact that the turkey dinner is actually just one meal - one meal in what could be a week of festive feasts.
I'm guessing that you may have a couple of meals ready and stashed in the freezer - good for you. But if you also make some good choices around the foods to fill your fridge and cupboards, you will always be able to throw together some perfect spreads with the minimum of fuss. We'll be doing some regular meals over the festive season but we'll also do a lot of 'picnic' meals during the holiday season. And there'll be no tartan blankets or threats of rain, we'll be doing this in the comfort of our own home. In these 'picnic' meals, I'll lay out a whole host of foods on the table 'picnic style' and everyone digs in. There'll be a mix of leftovers and fresh stuff and often quite a collection of condiments too. This is high impact, low effort entertaining and in fact, the hardest part is packing all the leftovers away afterwards.
So here's how you can stock up your kitchen to help your future festive self -
Homemade, fresh from the deli or straight from a jar - this is a handy ingredient. It's a great addition to a picnic-style meal for sharing and will also pimp up a soft white roll stuffed with leftover roasted vegetables and some rocket leaves. And you could also rustle up a dish of pesto pasta - especially if you're feeding ravenous children.
Olives & gherkins
A few colours, a few sizes - perfect. And if you don't get through as many as you'd imagined, you could always rustle up a Pasta Puttanesca.
Not every holiday meal needs to be fancy, schmancy. Eggs are a wonderful ingredient for 'on toast' meals. Cook them as you like them and perhaps add some fried up lardons or a slither or two of smoked salmon if you're feeling festively fancy. And a few hard-boiled eggs in a picnic spread? Delicious.
Sausages (big & small)
Popular with all the family and a perfect addition to a 'picnic' spread. Try tossing cooked sausages in a little maple syrup and wholegrain mustard for a tasty (and sticky) change. Having a stash of ready-cooked sausages in the freezer is also a really handy tip.
Crisps & nuts
Perfect for keeping the crowd happy until the main event but also a bowl of crisps in a spread will help to turn a more grown-up selection into something more child friendly. It is Christmas after all.
Hard, soft, blue, orange, ripe, goat's ... this is the time of year when I stock up on cheese. But no matter how adventurous your children are, probably throw a bit of cheddar in there - they'll undoubtedly thank you for it.
Bread & crackers
I'll stash a selection of bread and rolls in the freezer and stock up on plenty of crackers too.
Mustard & chutney
We love our mustards and chutneys and they are magical ingredients to transform a meal or a sandwich.
The quickest and easiest and most festive dessert ...
Of course, there's always room for the sweet stuff when you stock up your kitchen. I'll also have a well-fed Christmas cake, a jar or two of pickled onions, some mince pies (stored in the freezer and ready to bake when I need them) and a box of chocolate tiffin in the fridge.
Ginger Glazed Ham
And I'll be sure to leave enough space in the fridge for a beautiful, roasted ham done in my favourite style - cooked in ginger beer and glazed with a punchy, mustardy ginger preserve (thanks Nigella).
Job done - no fuss....