"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man's hat. If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do. If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you." This nursery rhyme depicts an old English tradition whereby a goose was eaten at the Christmas feast, and needed time to fatten up before people could fatten themselves up! It was also a way to teach children that Christmas was a time for giving, and one should donate to charity according to their means.
Of course in Jamaica we are not waiting for the geese to get fat, but we may well be cooking turkey, chicken, ham, duck, and so on, on Christmas Day. In fact, we'll be cooking a whole load more than that. Rice and gungo peas, fried plantains, roast sweet potatoes, Christmas cake, etcetera. The thing is, most of us work, or have children, or both, so it is very difficult, and a lot of hard work, to prepare the huge family feast we so desire. It can be exhausting, almost pulling the fun of Christmas out of the day itself. So how can we prepare in a way that will give us that so-needed holiday break?
Well, you're going to have to be rather 'previous', and start slowly getting ready from now. The hitch? Where do you begin? That's where Thursday Life comes in. Each week leading up to Christmas, we'll give you some useful tips on how to be organised in the culinary department of your house!
With just over a month to go, shopping for your needed 'dried' goods should begin. If you haven't already started soaking dried fruit for your Christmas cake, this weekend is the perfect time to do so. Pretty much every supermarket will carry dried fruits, but some have a larger selection than others. The brand choice is wide, between Del Monte, Champion, Dole, and Sunsweet, but there is also the option to buy the generic form bagged by the supermarkets themselves. Load a pack, or two, each of currants, raisins, sultanas, prunes, dates, apricots, cherries, and citrus peel, into your trolley; pick up a bottle of Wray & Nephew Appleton Special and one of Jack Daniel's whisky (MegaMart and Loshusan should have this) for a change; stock up on baking essentials like flour, baking powder, baking soda, Benjamin's vanilla essence (or Waitrose Vanilla Pods), sugar and butter (keeps very well in the freezer), but wait a few weeks before getting the eggs for your cake. Once home, place all the dried fruit in a plastic bucket, pour the Appleton and Jack Daniels over the top, seal with the lid, and leave to soak for three weeks.
The next thing to think of are the sauces for your Christmas table. You have two options here. Use the chutneys and marinades that come ready-made, or buy the ingredients to make them yourself, and freeze them until Christmas Eve. Either way, write them on your shopping list for this week also.
Loshusan carries a range of Waitrose products from England, including Tapenade and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, both of which make delicious hors d'oeuvres when spread on slices of toasted French bread; Red Currant & Red Onion Chutney, which will be a great accompaniment for any roast/baked poultry, ham or lamb you are planning for your festive dinner; and Shallots in Pickled Malt Vinegar, that go superbly with baked ham. MegaMart has a section dedicated to Roland products: a variety of tinned smoked shellfish that top off crackers very nicely; capers that go well with smoked marlin or smoked salmon on brown bread; and a range of similarly convenient canape condiments.
In fact there is a great assortment, in most supermarkets, of items such as Crosse & Blackwell Ham Glaze with Montmorency Cherries, Baxters Cranberry Sauce (or Jelly), Baxters Cranberry & Caramelised Red Onion Chutney, Guavaliciously Irie Matie Sauce, Peppa di Pot Matie Sauce, Olde Cape Cod Raspberry Vinaigrette, Zedalini's Gourmet Spicy Cranberry Sauce or Groovy Guava Sauce, Walkerswood Sorrel Chutney, and Busha Browne Pepper Jelly. Each adds its own unique flavour when used to season and marinade meat, and consider stirring in a teaspoon of Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup (or honey), and one of the many Scotch bonnet sauces on the market.
If you feel inclined to make your own fruit chutney, pick a local fruit like tomato or pineapple (peel and chop), or one of the frozen foreign fruits like Emborg Strawberries, Cascadian Farm Raspberries, or Dole Marlon Blackberries, toss in a large pot with half-a-cup of lemon/lime juice or cider vinegar, half the fruit weight in sugar, and a little cinnamon or nutmeg. Cooked garlic and onion may also be added. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, increase heat and cook the fruit down until a compote (loose-looking jam) is formed. Pour into sterilised glass bottles, seal with caps immediately, and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
You could even shop for your frozen meats from now, if you have enough freezer space. Locally grown Chicklets (Cornish-Style hens), New Zealand Lamb roasts and French-style racks, Butterball Turkeys (bone in and out), whole ducks, and Grace hams are all available. Defrost two or three days before Christmas day, mix your marinade items, pour over your meat of choice, and marinade in the fridge until Christmas morning.
With all the typical heavy food one eats during the season, you may want to consider a few lighter alternatives for December meals. The Gourmet Touch, found in the frozen section at Loshusan, Sovereign and Megamart, offers six soups: Roasted Basil & Tomato, Simple Broccoli & Cheese, Fresh Carrot & Coriander, Vegetarian French Onion Soup, Elegant Mushroom & Sherry, and Tasty Pumpkin & Parmesan. Teamed up with Pagnifique French Demi Baguettes, they all make delicious, filling and healthy meals. Also in the Gourmet Touch series are six sauces suitable for pasta, fish and meat: Green Basil Pesto, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Creamy Mushroom Al Fredo, Classic Plain Al Fredo, Traditional Marinara, and Quattro Formaggi. Stir your cooked protein into one of these, pour into a casserole dish, top with a sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, bake in the oven, and you've got yourself another scrumptious supper for the family. Again, all these things may be bought from now, provided you have room in the freezer.
So don't get stressed out this season about how you'll be able to manage the Christmas cuisine. Allow us to guide you each week, so that Christmas does not only bring a cool breeze, but also becomes a breeze to get through!