I have had a few requests to talk about what I do to navigate the holidays, food-wise.
If you have a restricted or ‘special’ diet, then the holidays can be a real minefield because they are so heavily focused around foods.
Side note – I am using the term holidays here instead of Christmas as despite being an Australian living in London, I am including Thanksgiving as I am married to an American and I know that I have people reading the blog from several different countries, continents and backgrounds.
I am actually going to write a separate post that discusses the emotional and social aspects of the holiday period as it pertains to food, family and friends, and my thoughts on surviving and thriving in what can be a time that is stressful and emotional. This post, I really just wanted to share my own menu and what I have done this last thanksgiving and the last christmas.
First of all, I basically hosted and was with my own family for the two holidays I am discussing. This is a lot of work, but I do find it easier as I’m in control of the kitchen and environment. I should also add that my immediate family are super supportive and helpful and appear happy to contribute and accommodate to an allergen free menu when we are all eating together, which makes me very happy of course.
I also try and choose foods that everyone will love and I do cook a couple of things that I can’t eat but know others will enjoy, as long as everything is Gluten Free so as not risk any cross contamination. I will include those recipes here as well, just for interest sake.
I will post separately about Christmas 2014 as this post got really long. That year I was away from my own kitchen, visiting family in Australia, and things were quite different. And both of these experiences are really different again from when I am a guest in someone else’s home. I shall probably write about that particular minefield at another time.
I personally think it’s lucky that these meals traditionally are focused around a roast, and so it’s really easy to incorporate a lot of vegetables and simple proteins into that. It makes it a lot easier to adjust to suit various dietary requirements as well. Going back to simple, whole foods and old school cooking it the way forward in my opinion and feels more in the spirit of the season and less commercial as well.
And so, without further ado, here are the menus and recipes.
This was a very simple affair, as it was just our immediate family unit (3 adults and a 1 year old), plus it was a normal work day in the UK, so I don’t necessarily think it reflects the whole production of a full US thanksgiving meal, however it was really yummy and I think a lot of the recipes would translate well to a Christmas meal.
Apple Cider Roasted Turkey Breast (in the Slow Cooker)
I used this recipe as a very loose base. Brined the turkey breast overnight in unfiltered apple juice and salt, then rinsed and dried it and rubbed it with smoked paprika, oregano and black pepper before adding it to the slow cooker with another cup of apple juice and a rosemary branch on top. I didn’t use butter, onion or garlic. I googled ‘applewood spice rub’ to see what that was all about, and that’s where I got the paprika and oregano from. Most rubs contain quite a lot of sugar, which is completely un-necessary in my opinion, plus onion and garlic which I don’t currently eat but you could add if you wanted, and some add a little chilli flake. I didn’t grill (broil) it at the end to brown it. This was really simple, few ingredients, turned out very moist and flavourful and I recommend it. It was also great as leftovers.
For the hubs, as it’s a comfort food for him. I made it with butter and cheese and didn’t eat any myself, which was fine with me but actually he surprised me by being a little put out that I had prepared something we all couldn’t eat as he couldn’t share it with the baby (who is dairy free). How cute is that :).
Roasted Green Beans
Super simple. This is my all-time favourite was to eat beans. Basically add green beans to a baking tray, add some fat (bacon fat is awesome, I used coconut oil in this case) and some salt and roast for about 20 minutes between 180 and 200 degrees celsius. Read more here.
Twice Baked Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
I got this recipe from Instagram here. Followed it to the letter and folks, it was delicious. I will definitely be making this again. It’s clearly a take on an American dish (maybe baked yams?) which is a little bit lost on me, but everybody at the table loved it. I also made some extra and it was awesome as leftovers too.
I prepared these the night before.
I’ve been promising to make pumpkin pie for my poor hubby for a few years, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried it. I just made some mini ones, rather than one large one as only half of us would be eating the crust. I could have made a more allergen-friendly crust for sure, but honestly I wanted to keep it fast and simple this year. I used this recipe for the filling, and I made a biscuit base by crushing some gluten-free digestives into crumb, adding melted butter and pressing the mix into the pie plates (for a proper recipe see here. Note you do NOT need to add more sugar to a cookie-base, I used the cleanest digestives that I could find and using commercial biscuits is obviously not a healthy option by any stretch of the imagination). I then baked these for 10 minutes on 180 and let them cool in the fridge while I made the filling. Then filled the bases, baked them again as per the recipe and left them in the fridge overnight.
This was just for the baby and I. Basically, I used the filling of the pumpkin pie recipe above and baked them into ramekins when I did the mini pies instead of into a crust. Oh, I should also mention that I used butternut squash instead of pumpkin for this as I couldn’t find proper pumpkin. I don’t think it made any difference and it was incredibly easy, just chop, steam till really soft and then blend it together with the coconut cream. I also just used a carton of coconut cream from Sainsbury. Didn’t make condensed coconut milk or separate out a can or anything like that. I used a little less maple syrup as I don’t love things to be as sweet as American recipes often call for, and no nutmeg as I don’t like it.
If given the option, I’d probably always just make the custard this way and skip the crust completely. It was really good and really easy.
When I served this meal, the baby was just at a stage where she was trying really hard to feed herself with a spoon. She was insistent on eating everything this way, but really didn’t have the skills for it yet, making every meal long and quite messy. When we got to the pumpkin custard part of the meal, she managed to lever a little bit into her mouth with the spoon and after trying to get more in, apparently decided this was far too time consuming and basically just bent her head down and stuck her face in the plate, so I guess she liked it!
This particular Christmas I had a 2 month old baby and hosted one of my sisters, her husband and my mother at our house. We essentially just made two meals that day, breakfast which was late morning, and then the main meal which was mid afternoon, and that was plenty.
Christmas Spiced Pancakes
I used this recipe and just followed it exactly. I’ve never made proper pancakes without egg before and to my surprise, they were perfect. Fluffy, a great texture, not too sweet and the sauce was a perfect addition.
Choose fruit. Wash and chop. Add to a large bowl with chopped mint and lemon, lime or grapefruit juice to prevent browning. Serve. Eat. Delicious.
Baked Breakfast Casserole
Used this recipe as a base. Used Sweet potato instead of butternut, added red peppers as well. Might have used normal GF sausage instead of chorizo but can’t actually remember now. Also, baked in the oven in a casserole dish instead of using the crock pot.
I used this recipe as a base. Used GF oats, raspberries, coconut milk and halved the maple syrup. I then baked them in a silicone muffin tray instead of as squares.
Hot Spiced (Mulled) Apple Juice
I don’t drink very much fruit juice throughout the year, if any, unless I squeeze it myself. However here I confess that I have never gone to the effort of juicing the apples for this recipe myself. I bet it would be amazing though.
Instead I purchase the best quality apple juice I can find (usually something like this) in a glass bottle, and then I also dilute it down with water as well.
Then I add three cloves, two cinnamon sticks and coarsely peeled orange rind and heat this all on the stove on a very low setting for about 20 minutes or so. Strain off the liquid and serve with breakfast or of an evening.
I use a whole lemon and fresh rosemary inside the chicken cavity. I separate the skin over the breast and stuff this with coconut oil and dried rosemary. Then I massage the chicken all over with more coconut oil and rosemary, sometimes I also add parsley, sage and thyme. I cook the chicken breast side down for the first 30 minutes, and then flip them up, salt the skin and cook the remainder of the time per weight of the bird. I use Leiths Cookery Bible for instructions – it’s one of the books that I couldn’t be without in my kitchen! See more on that here.
Mustard Clove Baked Ham in Cider
I followed this recipe. But threw the ham in the slow cooker instead of the oven to finish it off and of course, I did not use the white sauce at the end. It certainly didn’t need it.
Brussel Sprouts with Apple and Bacon
Balsamic Green Beans and Mushrooms
Duck Fat Roast Potatoes
I basically follow this recipe from Jamie Oliver, but I don’t generally use any extra flavouring, just salt. I do tend to make these the day before and finish on the day. I always buy fat in glass containers btw, don’t use fat from a plastic container as it can leach the plastic, which is toxic.
Recipe here. Seriously, everything Michelle Tam makes is so tasty! I’m such a fan.
Triple Berry Cranberry Sauce
From my all-time favourite chef, Sueson Vess. Allergen friendly kitchen extraordinaire. She cooked this for me the first time and I have made it religiously every since. I love it! Recipe here.
I use the basic principles Sueson outlines here, but use chicken juice from the roast instead of turkey broth.
So, I try to let Christmas and the holidays be a bit balanced. I don’t believe it should be a time of deprivation and austerity, and I also don’t like to just go completely mad with the treats either (which I certainly have done in the past), simply because too much sugar, even in the form of maple syrup and honey, makes me feel tired and blah and I don’t like feeling that way. Also, I have learned from experience, that blood sugar swings from overindulgence = grumpy adults = more arguing! And who needs that at Christmas.
That being said, chocolate makes me very happy. I prefer to make my own, again so I can control how much (natural) sugar goes in and to avoid white sugar, but also because it’s way more allergen friendly. So here are some of my favourite sweet treats for the holidays.
Hot Chocolate (For watching Christmas movies in PJs on Christmas Eve)
I make my own hot chocolate. It’s pretty simple to do and I love knowing that it has just a couple of ingredients, not a ton of sugar at all, and it’s rich, creamy and decadent. I measure 3/4 of a cup of almond, hazelnut or coconut milk out not using standard cup measures, but instead the mug I’ll be using to drink out of, and then add 1-2 teaspoons of raw cacao powder and 1 tsp of organic honey. For just one or two people, I then throw this all in the nutribullet (one of my kitchen essentials) and blend together for a second or two. For a group, I put everything in a saucepan and use the immersion blender. Then I add to the stove top and heat. Nut milks in particular become very foamy and creamy when blended and heated.
You could add a drop or two of peppermint or vanilla extract. I have also added cinnamon in the past but to be honest I love it best just plain.
Chocolate Bark (Boxing Day)
This is pretty simple and looks impressive. It’s essentially just melt chocolate, spread on lined tray and top with things. I made a GF/DF dark version with fruit and nuts, and then a couple with crushed candy canes and milk chocolate for my brother-in-law and guests who politely follow the healthier menu and never complain, but for whom it’s not really their preferred path.
Just used this recipe. They were very fudgy and decedent!
This year I’m going to try these.
Recipe here. These were pretty simple, not actually particularly sweet and pretty morish. We burned them a little bit, so keep a close eye on them. I also though the addition of rosemary might be great, so will probably try them again this year.u
Are you wondering why I’m not sharing this coming Christmas menu with you and writing about Christmas Past instead? It’s not the usual food blogger way (although of course I am not a food blogger). Well this year is different from usual in that I can’t really plan ahead very well, and also it’s going to just be the hubs and I. So I will write about what we do, but that will also be retrospective as I don’t know what we will be doing yet!
Wishing you all the best of everything for this coming holiday season, and wishing you all the very best of health for 2017 to come!