The season of eating, drinking and merriment is on our doorstep. Are you ready? I’m not. Perhaps as a way to motivate myself, I have elected to write to you about getting ready for the Christmas holidays.
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger are the spice stars for this season, therefore, check that you have an ample supply of each. As you check the cupboards and bottles, get rid of whatever you have there that’s been sitting for months, even years untouched as they most likely have lost their potency. Remember these spices are used for food and drinks so get more than you need. Better to not run short in the midst of cooking. Some of these spices will be used in different forms – whole, cracked, ground or grated. If you have the time and equipment, make your own ground cinnamon by simply breaking the bark into small pieces and grinding them in a coffee or spice grinder. Trust me, once you do it and realize the stark difference in taste, freshness, flavour and aroma, you’ll never go back to store-bought.
Ginger freezes well. When ready to use, grate directly into the pot. Scrub the skin before freezing or peel and freeze. You can grate or puree ginger depending on how you plan to use and then freeze. For example, throughout the year, I make ginger-garlic paste, put the mixture into ice trays to freeze then store in a zip bag. So easy when it is time to make a curry, stir fry, fried rice etc. I also make a batch of only the pureed ginger that I can add to syrups, drinks, desserts and other baked goods.
While we use parchment paper, greaseproof (wax) paper, plastic wrap and aluminium foil all year round, they are indispensable at this time of the year. They are used for cooking, protecting, storing, wrapping and sharing. Buy the mega rolls, if not, double up on the rolls; you’ll need it.
Baking pans and tins – check on your stock, wash and gave them a little scrub (depending on the material), so that they are ready for your pies, tarts, cakes, puddings, roasts and bakes.
One way to ease the hassle of washing pans this holiday is to stock up on some sturdy foil pans. It is not only about the relief from having to wash up but they are perfect for when you have to cook and take things to potluck get together. No worries of not getting back your dish or dishes.
Just as with the spices, check that you have a good supply of yeast, baking powder and baking soda – important leaving agents for the breads, rolls, bakes, cakes etc., that you are bound to be making.
A lot, if not most of the time in cooking is spent is prepping ingredients; try to cut down on that time by chopping, slicing and cutting certain things a day or 2 before actual cooking. Store in airtight containers, storage or freezer bags.
There are certain things I prep ahead and store that I know I will need for multiple uses. I portion, parcel and label them so that there is no guesswork when I am ready to access them. I make batches of freshly grated coconuts, pastry dough, and meat sauce. For an easy and quick meal, I simply defrost the meat sauce and boil some pasta. A little salad and you’re good to go. I also make a large jar of roasted garlic; actually, it is one of the things I always have stocked. The roasted garlic can be quickly mashed and be stirred and combined with other things – think garlic butter for garlic bread, garlic mashed potatoes, garlic-thyme-mustard topping for roast pork or steaks, dips and spreads.
To each, his or her own – some people like that last minute rush of doing certain things, not me. Maybe it is because I usually have other things to do and therefore need to be as organized as I can. Here are some things I do so as not to over stress myself.
Make Pepperpot exactly a week before Christmas. This serves 2 purposes – no last minute cooking but even more importantly, by the time Christmas Eve comes around, the Pepperpot sauce is thick, silky-finger licking a necessary act-meat tender, and bones suck-able. The only thing you’re waiting on, somewhat impatiently, is the homemade bread.
Garlic Pork for obvious reasons should be set 3 weeks in advance, minimum 2 weeks. This is to ensure that the meat is properly cured to avoid foodborne botulism.
Christmas cake, black cake, whatever you call it is excellent when it is made a few days ahead before eating. A 3 to 5-day resting period is good. It allows the cake to set properly and cure. Each slice is moist, boozy, almost pudding like in texture.
If you are planning to make any liqueurs, set them now. Most homemade liqueurs take about 3 weeks, a full 21 days to mature. I have a couple of bottles of sorrel liqueur from last year; can you imagine how potent it will be? See what a good note I leave you on?