We interrupt our usual monthly broadcast of Insta Inspo to present this very festive edition for the Christmas season ahead. As RoyWood has been singing every year since 1973, we wish it could be Christmas every day, and so this month I’m taking the “evergreen” part of my brief more literal than usual!
I am a sucker for Christmas because anything that makes me feel nostalgic and whimsical makes me happy. I love how beautiful the most wonderful time of the year makes everything look, and how we all know the words to every Christmas song ever written – despite ourselves.
2022 may not have fared the way we hoped it would while we packed away our decorations last year, but regardless of everything the last three years has thrown at us, Christmas is the one time we can find all we need to celebrate another year well done and enjoy spending time with those we love.
And we want to do it in style, so let’s dive in and see what seasonal Insta Inspo I’ve collected this month to make everything shimmer and glow that little bit extra.
First, set the table
It’s the part of the Christmas celebrations I love most. I begin thinking about how I want my table to look at the same time I begin planning my menu. After all the hustle and bustle of getting in the groceries and collecting the turkey from the butchers, the process of setting the table provides a much-needed moment of calmness. I pull out the glasses clean and shine them, iron the table linens, buff and polish the cutlery, and arrange the centrepiece of the table.
Simple is often best, and although scented candles are a no-no at the table, I say yes to foliage and decorations that naturally exude the fragrance of Christmas. That’s why I love this elegant tablescape design by @dearlillie. Fresh scents of pine, eucalyptus and orange gently rise to greet you as you sit at this table. The generous line of tapered candles ensures dinner can be eaten by gentle candlelight alone, and is the essence of Christmas decorating – bringing the outside in.
Dressing the Dresser
As a child, on Christmas Eve it was my job to dress our Welsh dresser in the dining room. Up went the tinsel and a string of fairy lights, and mum would bring in the shopping bag full of special festive treats. When it comes to food and treats, I’ve always been a more-is-more kind of person, as it was with festooning the dresser…
Glass bowls filled with brightly wrapped sweets and chocolates, the nuts in shell (and searching for the nutcracker not seen since the previous Christmas, of course!), salted and dry roasted nuts, sweets, packets of crisps and twiglets, and a stand of mince pies dusted with icing sugar (even though nobody liked them).
I love this image from @thereslifeintheoldchurchyet of her dresser; the colours seem to take on a naturally festive feel with the decorations. The cake stand holds freshly baked mince pies aloft – I imagine more treats are coming, and in reach of the table for furtive snacking when no-one is looking!
I always bake a batch of Christmas cookies – and when I say cookies, I mean the rough and rustic kind that are super forgiving of my complete lack of artistic flair while tasting utterly delicious. My go to recipe is Nigella Lawson’s white chocolate and cranberry oat cookies – they taste divine.
In the US, what we call biscuits they call cookies, so here I am flipping the language and talking about beautifully cut out biscuits that are a blank canvas for creating beautiful designs. I say aim high in your aspirations, so with this mindset I ogled @killerzebras account for far longer than I should. But can you blame me when she puts up Christmas Cookies that are as artful as these?
Eggnog, All Day…
Rich, thick, creamy, and laden with calories, is there any drink more perfect than Eggnog? Making eggnog every year isn’t an inherited tradition but has become a tradition in our home, and we love it. I age the eggnog, basically adding lashings of rum or whiskey to the base recipe and letting it sit in the fridge for a day or two. The alcohol sort of cooks or cures the egg and as it ages it thickens into an incredible tasting drink. Think boozy, drinkable custard (ermigerd!)
Decanted into a lovely glass and finished with some freshly grated nutmeg, few things will go better with those Christmas Cookies you’ve just spent an afternoon making while listening to Mr Bublé. Now, that’s what I call Christmas.
I love the look of this Eggnog by @bakingcapture, rich and creamy and with flecks of nutmeg throughout, it looks good enough to dive into.
A friend of mine used to make the most exquisite Gingerbread Houses. Intricate and detailed icing, and boiled fruit sweets baked into the gingerbread pieces to make a stained-glass window effect. I’d pop a couple of those little battery-operated tea lights inside and as they flickered and glowed, the candy-coloured glass windows came to life.
Although I grew up with ginger biscuits and Lebkuchen, we didn’t have the tradition of gingerbread houses. They did seem rather grand, back then. My friend that made them is from Hungary where the rituals of making, baking, constructing and decorating gingerbread houses are part of the advent countdown. Children are less reticence about smashing apart their masterpieces to gobble up every piece of gingerbread and candy. I took some persuasion, but I managed it in the end.
I love @julkarameller’s version. She says to place the gingerbread house proudly on a cake stand and decorate around it with spears of rosemary to mimic fir trees. Pure whimsey, I love it.
Mulled wine, mulled cider, or a hot port – this time of year I want to drink as much of it as often as I can; those comforting flavours and the glee of wrapping chilly hands around a warm mug of something invigorating.
Whether served in a wine glass or a mug, the experience is on the rustic side, but I love @foxglovecocktailco suggestion of presenting mulled wine in an elegant cup and saucer. It’s the perfect serving size (and of course, we can always go back for more), and provides more “real estate” for garnishes – a fresh orange slice, or a stick of cinnamon to stir with.
I also love their suggestion for anyone looking for a low/no alcohol version of the classic mulled wine – swap the wine for pomegranate juice and then proceed as normal. I think that sounds delicious too.
Now you’ve been readied on a diet of mulled wine and cookies, it’s time to get the dinner on. Over the years, I’ve moved away from turkey as the meat of choice for Christmas day. It’s a practical decision – Christmas is a modest gathering for us, and turkey goes so dry so quickly if not used within a day or two ending up in the bin. It frustrates me because I’m very anti-food waste.
I’ve cooked venison and porchetta, large chickens and goose. Of them all, the goose is my favourite. It’s perfect for a small number of people with just enough pickings thereafter for a few sandwiches or a pie the next day with some ham. It cannot be rushed and is a little messier draining off the fat in stages, but the bonus is you can immediately use that goose fat to cook your roast potatoes.
If you’re not yet convinced, take a closer look @kriskirkham’s beautifully styled Christmas Roast Goose. Imagine bring this majestic looking thing to the table. Look at you, carving it with a big cheesy grin on your face…now, didn’t you make an excellent choice!
It’s Not Christmas Dinner Without Roast Potatoes
This Christmas, there’s been a lot of talk about ways to reduce the amount of energy used to cook the festive roast. One way is cooking potatoes in a bake at the same temperature as the bird – no need to crank up the heat or leave the oven going for longer than necessary.
I put it to my husband: Potato Gratin or Dauphinoise instead of roast potatoes? A man not usually known for making quick, unequivocal decisions, shouted “no, absolutely not” before I’d even finished the sentence.
I must admit, I do agree with him. Is it even Christmas Dinner without an absolute mountain of crisp roast potatoes? Nobody will ever fight you for the last spoon of potato gratin, but they would for the last roast spud. And when you look at how beautiful they can be, like these from @therealfoodgeek, it’s understandable why this is one tradition that should never be broken…
In our house, growing up, Christmas Pudding was never made but bought. It didn’t bother us because most of us didn’t like it, but then maybe that was because I’d never tasted a truly delicious homemade one before. One of the best I’ve ever tasted is the @nash19restaurant Christmas pudding which is delicious on its own, but a signature serve is a thin slice of pudding with Cashel Blue cheese – an absolutely knock out combo!
We are so used to the usual domed shape to the pudding it’s easy to forget that anyone encountering a pudding recipe for the first time might not realise that’s the traditional shape. On her first attempt making Plum Pudding, @mlkfredcooks used a deep, fluted cake tin and steamed hers in a crockpot. The result is a gorgeous variation on a traditional pudding.
When all have been fed to bursting, the last of the brandy butter mopped up by any remaining nuggets of pudding, and the sofa is beckoning you to its cushion-y sanctuary, someone remembers there are dishes to be done.
Pity anyone who doesn’t have a dishwasher, but even so, there are cooking pots and pans and crystal glasses that ne’re go into it and rely on the hands of an overstuffed human to wash and scrub them back to life.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, no-one posts their Christmas Dinner Aftermath photos to Instagram. I think they should because it’s all part of the day but until they do, I thought this laugh-out-loud funny tea towel available from @acottageinthecity might be a suitable substitution!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of Insta Inspo!
WRITTEN BY KATE RYAN – @FLAVOUR.IE