By Jen Meakin, all-round foodie and co-founder of The Allergy Team
Every family celebrating Christmas will have its own festive traditions and food usually plays a huge part. I always love hosting gatherings at this time of year but it’s also completely exhausting, and I’m often left wondering why I agreed to have friends over three days in a row in between shopping for presents, navigating school nativities and digging the decorations out of the loft!
On top of the logistics there’s a lot of talk about what food to serve at Christmas too – do you stick with a good old turkey for Christmas dinner or change things up with something vegetarian this year, how many roast potatoes is too many and will anyone notice if the stuffing comes from a packet? Add in food allergies and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed but I hope my tips and tricks below will help – you might even enjoy catering Christmas this year!
Your Christmas, your way
Here at The Allergy Team, we’re pretty traditional and Christmas means turkey with all the trimmings – although a quick discussion revealed that “all the trimmings” meant different things to different people. Sarah and I have raided our family archives for our favourite recipes and included some ideas below but don’t get stressed about trying to create someone else’s ideal Christmas, find out what works for your family and embrace it.
Turkey – smother it with oil or dairy-free butter instead of butter and bung it in the oven according to the instructions. These will depend on whether you have a whole bird or just the crown. Either way, make sure that you take the meat out of the fridge a couple of hours before putting it in the oven and rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. If you are cooking a whole bird, you may like to cover the breast with bacon, as Sarah does, so that it doesn’t dry out while the legs are cooking.
Stuffing – there are lots of recipes for delicious stuffing. Whilst some include nuts and other allergens, these are easy to avoid, you just need to find the right recipe for your family. My childhood memory is helping to peel chestnuts on Christmas Eve for the stuffing – it was a labour of love that my mother’s cousin patiently did each year. In my mind, my brother and I did most of it but the reality is that I ducked out of it more often than not! I still make my mother’s recipe but I am delighted that you can buy chestnuts vacuum-packed these days! There are great alternatives too. Sarah’s stuffing involves breadcrumbs, dairy-free spread, an onion, seasoning and lots of lovely herbs.
Gravy – there’s no need to reach for gravy granules, which can be too salty for young children. Instead, you can use the cooking juices, some cornflour and stock and make the gravy while the turkey is resting. Pour most of the fat out of the roasting tin to dispose of later. Using a fish slice, mix a couple of teaspoons of cornflour into the roasting tin with the remaining meat juices. The holes in the fish slice should enable you to break down any lumps and scrape up those delicious bits stuck to the bottom of the tin! Add a splash of stock to loosen the mixture enough to transfer to a saucepan. Turn on the heat, gently at first, then gradually add more stock, stirring all the time until you have enough. Boil for a couple of minutes and add more stock or hot water if it is too thick as it will thicken slightly as it boils.
Pigs in Blanket – an absolute must, according to my husband. Check that the sausages you are using are suitable for your family’s diet before wrapping them in bacon and popping them in the oven.
Roast Potatoes – I will be cooking extra roast potatoes this year as we are having Christmas with my brother-in-law. He likes his roast potatoes to be cooked in goose fat. Peel and cut maincrop (for example King Edwards or Maris Piper) potatoes into 3cm cubes. You’ll want about 8 pieces per adult. Boil the potatoes for about 9 minutes so that they are slightly softened but not collapsing. (Check that the outsides aren’t completely hard and smooth as the roughened texture is more able to crisp.) Heat the goose fat in a roasting dish so that it melts then add potatoes. You need enough goose fat so that the potatoes are coated. Roast the potatoes in the oven with the meat for about an hour and a half. If you want to get ahead, you can cook the potatoes for about an hour at 180C in advance and then put them back in the oven for the final crisping up while the turkey is resting.
Vegetables – I love roasted carrots and parsnips just as they are – they are delicious and sweet on their own though I know some people like to add honey or maple syrup too. Love them or hate them, Brussel sprouts do not have to be boiled, in fact they are delicious roasted or even steamed – I cut them into halves or quarters, put in a frying pan with a bit of water and steam them when space in the oven is at a premium. Seasonal red in the form of red cabbage is a must in Sarah’s house. It tastes even better cooked in advance with some apple.
Bread Sauce – After they spent Christmas with friends and were introduced to the pleasures of bread sauce and turkey, it became a must in Sarah’s house. She follows Delia’s recipe but swaps out the milk and butter for dairy-free alternatives and leaves out the cream. She says it’s rich enough as it is. Whilst we haven’t tried it, we’re sure this will work with gluten-free bread too.
Christmas Pudding – we’ve got a fab Christmas pudding recipe for you here free from the top 14 allergens. We are sharing it with kind permission from Alexa Baracaia. She was given it when her son was first diagnosed with food allergies and has included it in her book My Family & Food Allergies.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own then check out our round-up of allergy-friendly supermarket Christmas puddings.
For me, the best thing about Christmas pudding is the brandy butter: cream together 200g of dairy-free spread with 175g of sifted icing sugar until it is pale in colour and fluffy then add brandy, a tablespoon at a time, until it tastes as you like it. Yum!
Mince Pies –my FAVOURITE Christmas food! If caught short, you can create your own with shop-bought pastry and a jar of mincemeat. To jazz it up you can stir in some clementine zest and grated apple to the mincemeat and then add some cut up clementine segments to the top of the dollops of mincemeat, just before the lids go on. Even if the pastry is ready-rolled, we find it is a good idea to roll it a bit thinner before cutting out the circles to put in the tin.
Christmas cake and biscuits – we all know the feeling, you get up from the table feeling full but half an hour later there’s a small child or rogue grandparent nosing around in the kitchen for a snack. I always have Christmas cake and biscuits hidden away and they often see us into the new year too! Check out our round-up of what’s in the supermarkets for some on-hand goodies.