I’ve been a bit late gearing myself up for Christmas, as I’ve been away from home for quite a while, first touring with my theatre show, and more recently (and I still have the jet lag to prove it!) visiting Gourmet Escape in beautiful Margaret River, Western Australia. I’ve loved every bit of it, especially as I’ve been able to meet so many of you, my lovely readers, and talk about a subject I never tire of: food.
It’s been a wonderful few months, but oh I am so glad to be back in my kitchen: I love this time of year, when it’s dark outside but cosy inside, and I can light the fire and potter about in my kitchen, with the obligatory fairy lights a-twinkling, getting myself into the seasonal spirit. So, first festive port of call - edible gifts. Give me the calm of an evening’s gentle cooking in my kitchen any day rather than face the crowds doing Christmas shopping. You can buy your ingredients in the normal course of your grocery shopping and a pretty preserving jar, some cellophane bags or decorative boxes, a handwritten label and maybe a rosette or a ribbon are all you need in the way of wrapping. Don’t forget, though, to write any storage instructions on the label, and a note of how long your present will keep for. So click here for my Fig and Olive Chutney, which is always a hit, and of course Christmas Chutney - which incidentally makes your kitchen smell wonderful, with its scents of cloves and cinnamon. My Chilli Jam also makes for a very welcome present – it’s fiery and fabulous with cold meats or cheese, and is cheeringly as red as Rudolph’s nose.
Sweet treats such as my Christmas Rocky Road, Chocolate Pistachio Fudge and dinky Christmas Puddini Bonbons all lend themselves well to the gift approach. Or buy a pretty tin and fill it with Forgotten Cookies, or Chocolate Christmas Cookies – both worth bearing in mind if you are going to someone’s house, and want to take a little something along. For me, though, Christmas proper starts with my Edible Christmas Tree Decorations. Once my house is filled with their peppery, gingerbready smell, I’m happy. Ritual is so important in life, and our Christmas traditions celebrate that. I find there is something both calming and uplifting about getting together with my children, and taking time together to make, decorate and hang them each year. They also happen to be the nigella.com Cookalong recipe for December, so do take a photo of yours and enter for the chance to win a signed book.
To the Day itself: I’ve never made any secret of my belief that Christmas dinner needs to be turkey. If you think likewise (and, actually, even if you don’t) you need my Spiced and Superjuicy Turkey. The brining really does give the juiciest meat imaginable, and I implore you to give it a go. But don’t take only my word for it: just read the comments underneath the recipe! If you feel like you want to stick with turkey, but cook it a little differently this year, then my Italian-inspired Turkey Breast Stuffed with Italian Sausage and Marsala-Steeped Cranberries is most definitely the one for you. And if you want to try something entirely different as your Christmas centrepiece, you could go for a goose, and in which case I suggest you try my Roast Goose with Pear and Cranberry Stuffing. Also a contender is my Roast Duck with Orange, Ginger and Soy - I’d suggest a pair of ducks, as don’t think you can feed more than 3 out of one duck, but my method is so simple and fail-safe, that you can add more ducks as needed! And my Roast Rib of Beef with Port and Stilton Gravy is always wonderfully celebratory, so good as an alternative for Christmas Day or for a special dinner around this time. And it also does make for fantastic sandwiches in the days that follow, assuming you have leftovers, of course, which I can’t guarantee.
And while we’re on the subject of leftovers - I always, always cook a ham at Christmas, usually on Christmas Eve for supper, and with a view to having cold meats for the days following the Big Day. It’s up to you whether you go for Ham in Coca Cola, Ginger-Glazed Ham or Slow-Cooked Black Treacle Ham. Whichever you go for, do consider serving with my Make-Ahead Mash. Oh, and some Spiced Peaches. If it’s a vegetarian or vegan option you want, then make it magnificent and go for my Roast Stuffed Pumpkin with a Gingery Tomato Sauce: it really is a showstopper.
And for the sweet treats - where should I start? Well, it has to be with the traditional - do try my Ultimate Christmas Pudding, its Pedro-Ximenez-infused fruit is out of this world delicious, and really does deserve its somewhat boastful title. But I know I won’t convert everyone – so I offer you my Chocolate Pudding for Christmas Pudding Haters. Serve either pudding – or, better still, both - with my No-Churn Salted Caramel Bourbon Ice Cream, just substituting the Bourbon with brandy, for a truly sensational alternative to brandy butter.
I couldn’t miss out, either, my Star-Topped Mince Pies and Yule Log, of course, but may I draw your attention to some other festive goodies? Christmas Cupcakes always go down a storm - decorate them however the mood takes you. And I can’t let the season go past without making my Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake quite a few times. Yes, you do need the special tin to get the wow-factor, but making this has become a Christmas tradition for me. I feel I must also draw your attention to a great favourite in Casa Lawson: the Chocolate Salame. It’s actually a lot easier to make than it looks, and it is just wonderful to bring out to the table with coffee in lieu of actual pudding. And Christmas Day itself really needs to start with a batch of Christmas Morning Muffins - cinnamony and orangey, they are the very smell of Christmas.
I could go on and on - so maybe I should just say there is a wealth of festive recipes on the site, and ideas for festive party food and drinks. But I mustn’t go without announcing the start of the annual nigella.com Christmas Pudding Hunt. Sign in (or register, if you haven’t already - it’s painless, and free, and we never pass your details on to anyone) and start following the daily clues to collect your puds. If you manage to find them all, you’ll be in with a chance to win a fabulous Netherton Foundry Copper Stove Top Tagine and Cast Iron Bowl, and a copy of the 20th anniversary reader’s edition of my first book, How To Eat.
All that’s left is for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.