Despite the fact that Christmas is clearly at the wrong time of the year, a traditional Lewis family Christmas, as the name suggests, means spending a lot of time with family.
A Lewis family Christmas is spread over two days. Typically with one day spent with my side () and the other spent with Julie’s side (). This year, Christmas was with Julie’s side and Boxing Day with mine. Next year Christmas Day will be spent with my side, etc.
This year, we were hosting both days…
Which meant I’d be feeding 11 people on Christmas Day and 10 on Boxing Day. So, the 2018 Lewis family Christmas was going to get pretty intense.
To be fair, I volunteered for it and I prefer it this way. For a start, I enjoy the challenge. Secondly, I like cooking, in particular, baking. Finally, I like being able to slope off to another room, when no one’s looking, and grab a bit of peace and quiet. (But we don’t need to tell anyone else about that last one. )
Within the house, the organisation of a Lewis family Christmas, much like at Halloween, is carefully split. Julie takes charge of all the decorations and eating arrangements. I make sure there is enough food and drink to keep everyone happy.
In theory, these roles are carefully delineated and we each have total autonomy within our respective area. In practice, Julie will ask if I have any thoughts about her side of things, knowing full well that I’ve learned that the only acceptable reply is a thoughtfully delivered, “No, you’ve got this.” And so, having given me the chance to get involved in her side of things, Julie feels it’s only fair to ‘help’ me in mine.
The ‘help’ she offers is usually in the form of trying to talk me down from whatever grandiose plans I’ve dreamed up for that particular year. She always insists that, the previous year, I baked far too much. Every Christmas she comes out with this, despite being repeatedly and completely right.
This year I tried really hard to listen. Not least because we’re going skiing in February and, the less I bake, the less I’ll end up eating to stop it, ‘going to waste’. And, this year, I don’t want to be so fat from Christmas that my knees give up after the first day. I’d like to make it to Wednesday, at least…
With that in mind, we agreed that all I would make was:
- Christmas Cake (although this was split into 3 cakes)
- Christmas Pudding (and this was split into 2 puddings)
- Mincemeat for Mince Pies (I never actually made the pies)
- A Gingerbread Christmas Tree
- A Shortbread Sleigh
I’d leave out other things that I often make, like:
- Tunis Cake
- Yule Log
- Gingerbread House (when I do this, I cast the sleigh in tempered chocolate instead)
- Shortbread place cards, for the table settings
- Some form of Christmas Bread
For the Christmas Lunch, I’d be serving:
- Roast Turkey
- Pigs in Blankets
- Roast Potatoes
- Roast Parsnips with rosemary and honey
- Glazed carrots with cider
- Brussels sprouts with bacon
- Petits pois
- Creamy bread and onion sauce
- Cranberry sauce
- Rich gravy (made from the turkey giblets)
That’s 11 aspects, which, now I come to write it down, does seem a lot. Particularly as 9 of them were made from scratch, with the exception of the pigs in blankets. Even the stuffing, although bought as a packet, was made up and then rolled into balls and then roasted.
On another interesting note, given that I just wrote about cutting down on sugar, the following recipes included sugar:
- Roast parsnips with rosemary and honey (I’m counting the honey)
- Glazed carrots and cider (15 g soft light brown sugar)
- Brussels sprouts with bacon (15 g caster sugar)
- Cranberry Sauce (250 g granulated sugar)
Ah, well; it’s Christmas… what’re you going to do?!
The dessert following the lunch was just whatever people wanted from the cakes, one of the puddings, the gingerbread and some shop bought mince pies. To go with this was ice cream, custard and a variety of creams.
The boxing day lunch was basically just leftovers from Christmas Day. Although, as there were some younger children coming for Boxing Day, I baked up the Shortbread Sleigh in the morning. I also cooked the other Christmas Pudding, for later on.
Invariably, no matter how sensible I try to be, a Lewis family Christmas results in leftovers. In terms of food, this leads on to my favorite aspect of the season: turkey sandwiches. I love turkey sandwiches! But, in addition to this lunchtime marvel, there’s also an evening meal to be had… The Leftover Christmas Dinner Pie, followed by the Leftover Christmas Dessert Cheesecake. The pie, in particular, is a family favourite.
And, by and large, all this cooking and baking went… fine, at least from the point of view of the diners. I certainly didn’t get any complaints. But, from my point of view, I was lurching from near disaster to near disaster and made so many mistakes that it’s astonishing. Which, in a bit, I’m going to list for amusement’s sake.
Before that, though; a look at the timings involved.
Every year, Christmas seems to last longer in the UK. When I was a kid, the Christmas decorations would be up for ‘the 12 days of Christmas’ and that was that. When the girls were young, a Lewis family Christmas was pretty close to this ’12 days’ schedule. Decorations went up around the middle of December, so they wouldn’t interfere with Emma’s birthday. But, eventually, Emma got old enough to announce that she wanted a ‘Chistmasy Birthday’, and the decorations started going up in the first weekend of December.
Since then, I’ve noticed that, in a lot of houses, decorations are starting to go up in November. And while, of course, this is madness, there is a method to it. If you’re baking a Christmas Cake, for example, the process may well start in November. In which case, if you’ve starting baking for Christmas, surely there’s an argument that you can start decorating for Christmas?
Anyway, my point is, a Lewis family Christmas starts about a month before Christmas Day. First with the baking, then with the decorations. Once the decorations are up, and the tree is in place, the wrapping starts and presents begin appearing under the tree. As the month of December draws on, the level of baking (and wrapping) intensifies. And then, on the 23rd and 24th, as much food prep as possible is completed, ready for the big day. [In at least one pre-Amazon year, this has also been the time that I’ve done all my Christmas shopping, but we won’t talk about that, either…]
During the evenings of these last few days, after everyone else has gone to bed, and after I’ve wrapped anything that Amazon delivered during the day, I turn to Kahoot! Because part of a Lewis family Christmas is games. And, these days, one of those games is the quiz I put together on Kahoot! One quiz for Christmas Day and another for Boxing Day. Writing the quizzes means I can’t join in. But the look on people’s faces when they see the questions I’ve asked, more than makes up for this. Ah, the joy of making people answer obscure questions when they’re halfway into a food coma, is quite exquisite.
For example, what is the collective noun for husbands?!
And then the big day dawns. Julie was up at 7:30 to put the turkey in the oven. I stagger up at 9:30, after about four hours sleep due to the amount of time it took to put together a suitably evil Kahoot! quiz. The girls are already down searching for their presents. Because Santa asked the Easter Bunny to help, this year, and the Easter Bunny got confused and hid the presents everywhere. Yes, they’re 15 and 17…
The present opening is done one at a time, and includes an appreciative study of each gift. Which is nice, and all; BUT I’VE ONLY GOT SO MUCH TIME BEFORE I NEED TO GET IN THE KITCHEN AND START COOKING, BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE ARRIVING AT 1:30, SO CAN WE PLEASE HURRY UP…!
After somehow managing to get everything close to cooked, at close to the time it was supposed to be, guests arrive and help with the serving up. The meal was only 15 minutes late, this year; a personal best. Not bad considering that it included a pescetarian meal as well.
After the meal is a bit of light present opening, of the gifts exchanged between the family. After which, back to the table for dessert. Then back to the living room for games and drinks. Then some drinks and games. Until Christmas Day is done, and the prep starts for Boxing Day.
Boxing Day is more leisurely, by comparison. A later start, although an earlier meal. This meal, however, is served cold and more in a buffet style, with people helping themselves to whatever they want to put in their sandwiches. After which, there is dessert and then games, with a little light drinking. Until Boxing Day is done as well.
And then, exhausted but satisfied, we see another Lewis family Christmas draw to a close. A couple of days later, the Leftover Christmas Pie and Cheesecake will make an appearance. And a few days after that, the decorations will come down. But Boxing Day evening, as the last guest heads home, marks the end of the Lewis family Christmas.
And particularly good, I think the 2018 Lewis family Christmas was. Except for my cooking. Which, as I shall explain, was more entertaining than it should have been…
It all started with the turkey, as well it should. I got a whole bird instead of a crown this year. And it was a 20 pounder (9 kg), which is big. Too big, as it turned out. Not just for the fridge, but for the oven as well. It took 105 hours to defrost (4 days) and 4½ hours to cook. And even then, not all of the brown meat was cooked through. I covered it in bacon and put two oranges in the cavity to keep the white meat moist, which worked a treat. But all the extra fluid submerged the brown meat and prevented it cooking. It also occupied my main oven for virtually the whole day…
In the end, this wasn’t the end of the world. The white meat is used for sandwiches and the brown meat for later dishes, like the Leftover Christmas Dinner Pie. I’ve also got two, one pound bags of meat in the freezer to use in risottos over the coming month. All of this will be completely recooked, meaning that being originally under-cooked doesn’t matter, but it’s not ideal.
I used the turkey giblets to make the base of the gravy. The plan was to add the roasting juices to make the body of the gravy. I’d poured the juices off and left them to settle. I then cooked up some butter and flour, to make the roux, and added some of the roasting juice. Except that I hadn’t poured off the fat, so all that happened was the roux got thinned down. Which meant I had to add move flour to thicken it up again, while I poured off the fat. By the time I finished stirring in all the roasting juice, the gravy was still a paste. By this stage, the only flavoured water I had left was from the petits pois, so that went in too. It helped, but the gravy was still so thick the serving spoon stood upright in it. It was tasty, mind.
Due to the lack of space in my ovens, the parsnips had to share with the roast potatoes. And they had to all go in one tray. Which meant they were overcrowded in the coolest part of the oven. As such, they weren’t as crisp as they might’ve been. Fortunately, I’d anticipated this problem and chosen a recipe that included honey. As such, it was perfectly plausible that they’d started crisp but the honey made them softer…
My recipe included double cream. It also said that the sauce could be made the night before and reheated when needed. Which is what I did. Except, come the morning, the sauce was thick enough to use as a building material. It got thinner after heating but it was a constant battle to stop it burning on the pan. Next time I’ll know to cut it with a bit of milk before reheating. Which is what I did when I added it to the Leftover Pie.
I’d expected to need to parboil these before cooking them with the bacon. The recipe insisted that this was not the case. The recipe lied. Hard! But not as hard as the sprouts ended up…
The Orange Shortbread recipe needed the zest of four oranges, which would’ve been fine, except I’d stuffed two of them inside the turkey. What I should’ve done was zest them first. But I didn’t think of that until waaaaay too late. Fortunately, I had plenty of lemons and limes. Which is how I ended up making Citrus Shortbread. I was sure it’d be fine…
It wasn’t fine!
The shortbread was baked in molds to make a reindeer-drawn sleigh. I knocked up a quick Glacé Icing to ‘glue’ the parts of the sleigh together. But the shortbread was more crumbly than expected, with a tenancy to fall apart if you so much as looked at it funny. Anyway, the whole thing essentially exploded, a couple of seconds after the photo was taken.
Leftover Christmas Dessert Cheesecake
The idea is to use the leftover Mince Pies for the base, and any leftover cream for the body. I even had three pots of mascarpone cheese in the freezer, from a cheesecake I hadn’t made earlier in the year. To top it, I’d use the spare gingerbread that we’d baked after making the Gingerbread Tree.
This spare gingerbread had ended up overworked, with too much flour and then slightly over cooked. The resulting gingerbread stars could only really be used as weapons, a sort of baked shuriken, if you will. Although, they could be dunked in tea, coffee or hot chocolate, if you were willing to risk your teeth. Nobody was, so I blitzed them up to add to the top of the cheesecake.
As for the cheesecake, well… I learned something new. I learned that mascarpone cheese, after it’s been frozen and then thawed, loses some of its consistency. This becomes important if, for example, you whisk it together with cream until it goes firm, and then chill it overnight. Because, what you expect, when you take the side of the springform baking tin away from the cheesecake, is a firm, free-standing cake. What you get is… gloop!
To be honest, the Christmas cake went fine. At least, to my eyes.
I use the same recipe every year and just change the form in which I cook it. Last year, it took the form of a couple of Bundt cakes. The year before that, a dome. Before that, it was Christmas Cake cupcakes.
This year was novelty baking tins, that I’d had for ages for just this purpose. I’d collected three and, correctly, assumed the mix would fill all three. Julie, correctly, assumed that three cakes would be at least one too many. But by the time we’d all finished making assumptions, it was faaaaar too late. Still, the plan is to keep the snowman cake until Easter. Because nothing says Easter like a snowman…
This, genuinely went really well. Though, I did have some doubts at the start, where the recipe called for 350 g (12 oz) breadcrumbs. That’s an awful lot of breadcrumbs! Anyway, the recipe said it’d make two medium sized puddings, and two medium sized puddings I got.
What I did learn was that Christmas puddings are better after they’re flambéed. Somewhat ironically, given they’ve been steamed for a total time of 12 hours each, they tend to be a bit dry. The flambé process makes them more moist and tender. Better, if you will. Plus, it makes an excellent photo.
And that was the, particularly enjoyable, Lewis family Christmas for 2018. Time to start planning for the 2019 Lewis family Christmas…