20 December 2020 18:33
The imposition of tier 4 restrictions for Christmas has forced millions of people into suddenly having to plan their first solo Christmas Day after decades of relying on mum and dad or gran and grandpa to do all the hard work. So what do you do if you had been counting on being at a three-household gathering but now face spending the big day at home? You need a plan, but it is does not need to be elaborate. "Keep it simple, says Neil Nugent, a retail food development chef. "We always start Christmas Day at breakfast time – we open a few presents and have something brunchy like poached egg." This means that you can give yourself plenty of time to cook the main meal, and that once you've eaten it you are unlikely to need to worry about a third meal in the evening.
For the main event, Nugent says go for a starter like smoked salmon or paté, "something you just put on the plate and that won't take away lots of space on your stove". For meat eaters, he suggests either a ready to roast turkey crown or similar, or a smaller bird. "Go for chicken, duck – there's lots of good game around, maybe partridge or guinea fowl." To cook it, get help. "Spend 10 minutes on YouTube – there will be someone on there showing you how to cook it. Don't leave this bit to the last minute – spend a bit of time early this week, so you are ready to go on Christmas morning." Juggling pans and oven space can be a problem, but Nugent says you should take the meat out of the oven an hour before you eat to let it rest, and this frees the oven for potatoes and other trimmings. You may be able to cook some things in advance – if you like mash, for instance, that could be done the night before and microwaved. "Just buy what you are going to eat, and don't try to do everything," he says. But most importantly "Don't try to do it all yourself – give everyone a bit to do." Supermarket delivery slots were snapped up weeks ago in most areas, and you will be lucky to find a store doing click and collect, but food shops are all open, many are running extended hours in the few days before Christmas. Make a list of what you want to buy, but have a plan B so you don't panic if when you get there they do not have exactly what you want. You might not need to buy as much as you think – for cooking, blogger Penny Golightly says "old spices in your cupboard can be revived by gently warming in a clean dry pan", so dust off your jars. The food-sharing app Olio is worth checking out. It allows neighbours to post details of extra food they have for others to claim. If someone on your street was planning to host dinner for 12 and now just has a family of four to feed, they may be advertising their spare sprouts, etc. Nugent says pick a bottle of something fizzy to have with your breakfast or starter, then look for something that goes with the main meal you have chosen. Again, the internet is a good place to research the best choice. The good news is that some retailers have slashed the cost of Christmas trees, so it's not a bad time to be decking the halls. Homebase has real trees reduced to as little as a fiver, and fake ones down at £25, and B&Q has similar deals and has cut the price of lights and other decorations. If you don't want to spend too much, hang cards you have received from string or wrapping ribbon to turn them into decorations in their own right. It doesn't take much to make the table look more festive. If you have a real Christmas tree, a couple of bits snipped off the back and put in a glass can be the start of a festive table arrangement – grab a couple more sprigs of something from the garden or a local park, to complete. Or arrange a few baubles in a nice bowl. You can still spend time with your loved ones, just remotely. Golightly advises: "Arrange a scheduled watch along of a silly Christmas movie with people you can't see." The video meeting platform Zoom has suspended its 40-minute limit temporarily, and other sites offer unlimited call, so you can enjoy the whole of Elf, or your film of choice with those you can't be with.