Christmas brings gifts, celebrations and all the joy of the season, but for some it also brings the worrying spectre of catering for a house-load of people who are expecting a lovely spread. If the prospect of cooking convincing canapes for 20-plus, getting a roast ready for the ravenous masses and keeping the fizz flowing for the extended family is crushing your Christmas spirit, our head chef, Adam Davenport, is here to help.
Here are some top tips from the heart of the 99 City Road kitchen, which regularly caters for hundreds of people at one time, to help you achieve Christmas catering success.
• Confirm your guest numbers in good time. Encourage them to RSVP, so you know how much food you need to buy and cook. Find out early if there are any special dietary needs to be considered.
• Plan carefully. Most catering faux pas can be avoided at this planning stage. Think carefully about creating a simple menu that allows you to do much of the preparation ahead of time, and then to assemble the dishes later. Sauces, pastry cases, dips, bean salads, dressings and many pudding-style desserts can be made ahead of time, to save labour and stress on the day.
• Do the Math. Whether you are opting for a buffet or for a sit-down meal it is important to get your quantities right. Work out how many sprouts, how many Yorkshire puddings, how many mince pies one person is likely to eat and multiply, so you aren’t fearful of under-estimating how much food you will need.
• Make space in your fridge or freezer. This can be the biggest challenge of using a domestic kitchen to cater for a large crowd, so, again, think ahead. Can you store space-stealing bottles in cool boxes outdoors, or in your garage, to free up space for your canapes? Can you buy ice in advance to help you keep some items cool, outside of the fridge?
• Stay hydrated. It is tempting, once the Christmas tunes start playing and the fizz starts flowing, to drink while you cook. Go slowly with the booze and alternate with water until you are out of the kitchen and settled at the table. Only Keith Floyd was a convincing cook while sozzled.
• Don’t be a martyr to the kitchen. Of course, you want to see everyone to have a good time and you want to keep the food and drink coming, but your guests will be keen to see you enjoy yourself too. Don’t feel bad about giving your nominated helpers a task each – whether that is making sure glasses are refilled, the courses are served swiftly, or the desserts are thawed.
• Be more Med. If you have spent a long afternoon eating with a French, Italian or a Spanish family you will have noticed that they don’t get stressed about feeding a large gathering. They excel at keeping things simple – a selection of fabulous breads, bowls of olive oil and vinegar, a sumptuous salad, a simply cooked joint of meat. These memorable meals are easy to replicate in your own kitchen. If you want to add some extra Christmas luxury, just make or buy a selection of show-stopper desserts to complete your simpler main course.
• Breathe, laugh, have a dance. Remember, these people are your friends and family and they are here to enjoy the day with you. They won’t notice if the carrots aren’t caramelised or the trifle is a tad too tipsy. They will remember how much they laughed and who won at Trivial Pursuit. Enjoy yourself. It’s Christmas!