MY GUIDE TO PUTTING ON YOUR BEST FESTIVE DINNER
We’re there! No use being in denial a moment longer. Time to make those shopping lists, draw up your timetables and throw yourself into the holiday hysteria. The festive season is upon us, and no matter how much we tell ourselves we’re going to do it “low-key” this year, it’s still a production, let’s face it, whether your feast involves pastorie hoender and brussels sprouts, or the whole nine yards. But first, let’s put on some music (to get us into the spirit and to calm the jitters), get comfy and hatch a plan. Once you’ve got your tick box sorted, you just have to join the dots. And whatever you do, don’t go into the kitchen with a battle axe. Enjoy every minute. It is, after all, the heart of the home.
YOUR OVEN IS NOT THE CENTRE OF YOUR HOLIDAY UNIVERSE
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the words “Preheat oven to 180° C” is enough to drive you over the edge on one of those days when butter turns to gloop at the mere mention of summer. Make yourself a rule. Pick one showstopper and one side to roast in the oven, and when opting for a baked dessert, make something ahead of time. Keep the rest cool and fresh. A handsome gammon, for instance, is enough to satisfy any meat lover’s festive fantasy. For the side, there are so many things you can do with a potato. For anything else, get creative with your styling.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF A TIMETABLE
I know. We’re not all wired the same way. Some of us are artists! Free spirits who hate routine and shelve words like “timetable” under swear words. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from a life in the kitchen, it’s that a little planning goes a long way. Every good recipe will come with an estimated cooking time. When putting together a feast, use it to map out your schedule for the day. For example:
18:00 the night before: Cook the gammon and weigh down in the fridge overnight
19:00 Make the ganache for your dessert and keep in the fridge overnight
10:00 the next morning: Take the gammon out of the fridge to “relax”
10:15 Prep your potatoes and carrot salad starter
11:00 Make your salad and store in the fridge
11:30 Mix the ingredients for the base of your dessert and bake in the oven
12:00 Meanwhile, make the batter for the choux puffs
12:30: Bake your choux puffs
13:00 Assemble your dessert
13:30 Assemble your carrot salad
14:00 Serve welcoming drinks and carrot salad
14:30 Finish off the gammon, plate and serve your mains
Let the festivities begin! And remember, it’s just a map. If you can’t stick to your schedule rigidly, pour more wine and just go with it.
WORK AHEAD WHEREVER YOU CAN
There are so many dishes where some components can be made a day or two in advance, which apart from taking a lot of pressure off on the day, also tastes better when the flavours have had time to mingle. And don’t be too hard on yourself either. What’s so wrong with precooked anyway? Precooked meals are also a great way to choose something delicious for anyone with special dietary requirements, like vegan guests or those with intolerances.
GO FOR CROWDPLEASERS
Sit yourself down for a second and ask yourself honestly: is this really the time to be taking that quinoa and sorghum salad situation you saw on Pinterest for a spin? Unless, of course, that’s totally how you and your nearest and dearest roll, there’s plenty of time for new-year-new-you when we welcome the new year. For your festive feast, however, you want comfort and indulgence. Think olive bread with an elegant tomato tartare for your starter. Or what about biltong crusted lamb with stuffed apples for your mains? And for dessert, malva bundt cakes with whipped cream or a rich chocolate torte. These are flavours that most people love. Be generous.
Don’t be a hero. If you know Aunt Jenny is the malva queen (and likes to cling on to that title), let her worry about dessert. It takes some of the pressure off you and she never shies away from an opportunity to wow everyone at the end of the meal. Everybody wins. But don’t stop at the food. Assign someone to the task of barkeeper, like your 19-year-old nephew who’s just discovered mixology might be his calling in life. Hook him up with a collection of cocktail recipes and let him run free. Also, no one’s expected to cater all the drinks. Ask each party to bring whatever they’d like to drink. If cocktails seem a bit complicated to you, you can’t go wrong with an easy-going collection of bubbly.