Making life easier this Christmas

PUBLISHED: 16:20 03 December 2015

Make extra cheese sauce now, freeze and use for easy Saturday suppers such as cauliflower cheese (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Make extra cheese sauce now, freeze and use for easy Saturday suppers such as cauliflower cheese (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Our very own 'Christmas Elf' Bonnie May takes some of the hassle out of the festive season with advice on making life easier in the kitchen, suggestions on keeping family and friends entertained, plus some novel ideas for gifts

Christmas! There you go, I’ve said it! I can’t believe we are already thinking about what to present on our sacred cooking day of the year to impress the family on one hand and, on the other, not to completely push us, the host or hostess, completely over the edge with a list as long as your arm.

Like everything this means planning. With a few weeks up our sleeves, we can secretly get started by just thinking about what we are already making for our meals at home between now and then, and taking the opportunity to make extra and bank it in the freezer. Don’t put yourself under the pressure of having to squeeze a ‘cook-a-thon‘ into an already busy schedule.

Plan a few of your family meals now around what can be prepared and then stashed away for Christmas. Little pork patties, a great Saturday supper that can be the base of the stuffing; when making lasagne make a vat of cheese sauce that can be cauliflower cheese; red cabbage is a super side dish to add colour to almost any plate… and it freezes so well. Individual Yorkshire puddings are great to ‘get out of the way’ and not have to peer through the glass of the cooker to see if they will rise or not, and once defrosted only take minutes to heat up.

And get that gravy on the way, too. This can be freezing the leftovers over the next few Sundays as well as going ‘stock-tastic’ – the base of a great gravy! If you can have this all made before the day, in my book that’s one last minute job that you can well do without on the morning of the big day.

Sneaky tips

This is not the time to try something new. Roll out your showstoppers, something that you are really comfortable in cooking and enjoy serving. I am quite partial to individual servings in glasses, this makes service really easy and storage too.

Mastering the Christmas lunch does take practice, but often cooking the meal is only half of the effort that is needed. The washing up and the putting away is then the chore on the day that no-one really wants to face once you have eaten like kings and queens. So, a little tip that I often use when entertaining at home for slightly larger numbers than the normal family crowd… hire it in and send it back dirty! There are a few really great companies in our area that hire out

crockery, cutlery and glassware, get it delivered to your door and then collected back in the boxes with no washing up needed.

For instance, www.notjustknivesandforks.co.uk can bring all you need to your doorstep. Yes, it comes at a cost, BUT it is so worth it when you see those kitchen surfaces all clear within an hour of service! As well as this, I also buy disposable cooking trays, the foil ones, all for the same reasons, once served they can go in the bin. I am going to leave the Christmas cooking subject now, you really don’t need to follow all of these ideas but just a couple of them really could make your day go a little smoother and keep you a little calmer, which is probably quite a good idea on a day such as this.

We all look forward to having time off over the festive period, entertaining family and friends and having a houseful to stay. In practice this can be much harder work than envisaged when the open invitation was offered… and here they all are, the 4/5/6 extra mouths to feed, and what to do to keep everyone entertained all day, fed and watered, without costing you a small fortune! I have been looking at what is on the doorstep to keep an excitable bunch really busy and also restaurants that offer great deals when dining out with a crowd, www.groupon.co.uk and www.buyagift.co.uk are excellent for deals and ideas, so remember to check on here to save yourself a penny.

Dining in and out

When it comes to eating, this can really add up in the pennies department, try and mix up eating out with ‘one pot wonders’ at home. Audience participation meals are always fun. Everyone can get stuck in and get their hands sticky. Mexican fajitas with all the trimmings are a good choice and you can make the ‘meat’ part of this go a long way by the time it is all padded out with loads of vegetables, sour cream, salsa and guacamole - all of which add to this great combo.

Deals on meals are abundant, but you sometimes need to hunt them out, look out for the voucher cloud app on your phone that will flag up savings, or if you know where you actually want to go, just google the restaurant then… ***code and if you are lucky you will get the saving. With bigger numbers over the festive season it is always best to book, hovering at the door of a pub or restaurant with 8 to 10 people in tow is not a good idea.

Thinking of others

There are some really lovely thoughtful ideas that can make a real difference to someone’s life. Each year www.helpforheroes.org.uk provide over 600 Christmas stockings to heroes in hospital, Headley Court and the five Recovery Centres around the country, so why not send gift-sets to the Help for Heroes Christmas Stocking Appeal and get involved with #OperationChristmasCheer.

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity is incredible and they accept gifts for their children all year round, take a look at their website to see what gifts their children love, www.gosh.org/donate/gifts-kind.

If you want to keep this really close to home then ‘The Toybank’ is where you should be looking. This wonderful idea, without the support of our local community, could never happen - toybank.co.uk. This heartfelt concept is the brainchild of Claire Rooney, which indeed then won her The Pride of Bucks Award last year. The website explains all, but in a nutshell Claire and her Elves collect toys, both pre-loved and new for children of all ages and set up a ‘pop-up ‘shop in Chesham for December.

Last year it was bursting with all sorts of donated items. Then it’s simple, the doors are flung open, the Christmas cheer is bursting at the seams, its smiles all round… and for those who are struggling to buy Christmas pressies for their children they can just come on in and, with the help of an Elf, choose an item that will hopefully turn their Christmas Day into something really special. I was lucky enough to pop in a few times last year and the excitement in there was infectious… so much so that this year you’ll see me in there at some point dressed in a little green outfit too.


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