This is going to be an odd year for many. May be you’re going to be tackling a smaller Christmas Dinner for the first time. May be you’ve decided to go all out now you don’t have to trek round to Auntie Sue’s because it’s “what you always do”! May be you’ve never cooked more than a fried egg but think this is your time to shine!
Whatever your situation, I thought it may be timely to do a little example of how to do a low effort Christmas Dinner as guidance for those that need it. Remember, Christmas Dinner is just a roast dinner but with cranberry sauce and crackers! Don’t let the weight of expectations get you down, this can be as simple or as complicated a meal as you want to make it!
You can look at the Christmas tag for some older recipes and round ups that are more comprehensive but I wanted to highlight some really simple recipes here. Whether you’re on your own or just a smaller family gathering this should hit the spot!
We like to have nibbles to tide us over from noon to 3pm when we have our Dinner. If you want to keep it super simple just grab some party food from the freezer section. These days they almost all cook at 180°C for around 15 minutes. Any leftovers are also great for grazing at!
In my family the Prawn Cocktail is king. (Well, for me it is, mum does try to do fancy smoked salmon thingies!) This is not only traditional but super simple. Finely sliced iceberg lettuce, prawns, cocktail sauce (Iceland’s is my favourite!) and a twist of lemon on top to look fancy. Less than 5 minutes and you’re done!
Turkey is, of course, traditional and if you want to keep it super simple I recommend a frozen Turkey crown. They’re about £10 and you can pick one up in almost any supermarket.
However, a large roast chicken will also do very nicely! I love to do a one pot chicken dish where you simply get a Really Big Pot, put in new potatoes in the base, add your chicken (put some herbs, garlic and half a lemon in the cavity), and scatter with bacon lardons. Drizzle with a little olive oil and cook according to the time on the packet (or 25 minutes per lb + 20 minutes in 180°C oven) Add a cup of frozen peas 30 minutes before the end. This also works well in a slow cooker on high for 3 hours if you need the space in the oven or even if you don’t have an oven! You can find the more detailed recipe here.
A roast dinner is all about timing. If you figure out your timings then it’s plain sailing. You can prep all of your veg in advance, even the night before, so all you have to do on the day is put dishes in the oven on time or you can get the roast in and then do your veg prep. I have a post outlining some of the timings for veg here.
2 hours before: Roast In
45 minutes before: parsnips in (I like them crispy.)
30 minutes before: leeks in cream sauce, stuffing balls & pigs in blankets in
25 minutes before: Brussels sprouts and carrots in steamer on the hob. Check the sprouts after 15 minutes by poking with a sharp knife. They should be soft but not soggy.
Serving Time: Remove the chicken from the pot and place on a serving board. Use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes and peas and bacon. You can make gravy with the juices. I explain how here.
Christmas pudding is traditional, easily available from the supermarket, and I hate it. So I have a couple of other seasonal options that you can make the day before:
If you’re on your own do not let this stop you from having a full roast! The leftovers are the best bit! From this dinner I will be able to make sandwiches, soup, risotto and may be a few other dishes as takes my fancy! I basically won’t have to cook again for the next week, which is exactly how I like it!
– Melt the butter in a medium sized pan. Add a small splash of olive oil to stop it catching.
– Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until soft and browned.
– Add the white wine and vegetable stock.
– Blend with a stick blender until your desired level of smooth. (I like bits in my soup but if you want a totally smooth soup you’ll need to decant into a liquidiser and blend in that then resume cooking.)
– Bring the soup to a boil then turn down to a simmer.
– Add the cream and heat gently until the edges are bubbling.
For a dish that bears my name this took me an embarrassingly long time to get right. I would have potatoes swimming in butter or too crisp to eat without worrying about your fillings. These little stacked Pommes Anna finally hit that sweet spot between buttery and crispy and look fab for what is actually minimal effort. You can do a lot of the prep beforehand in assembling the stacks in the muffin tin if you want to prepare these in advance and then just pop them in the oven when ready so good for dinner parties!
6-8 new potatoes (waxy)
125g unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs
– Heat the oven to gas mark 6.
– Use a mandolin or very sharp knife to slice the potatoes into 1/8” slices. Put in a small mixing bowl.
– Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
– Brush the insides of six muffin tins with melted butter.
– Place a small sprig of thyme in the bottom of each muffin cup.
– Add the garlic to the melted butter and remove the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs and add those too.
– Gently heat until fragrant.
– Pour the butter over the potatoes. Add salt and pepper to season and toss gently.
– Place the sliced potatoes carefully in the muffin tins. You want to arrange them so that they will look good when turned out. Press down firmly in the centre.
– Pour the remaining butter over the potatoes.
– Cover the muffin tray with foil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.
– Place a large oven dish over the muffin tin and carefully flip over so that the potato stacks come out intact. If any fall apart you can push them back into shape.
– Place the oven dish back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes until the stacks look nice and crispy on the edges.
From time to time I find myself craving the food I had in Japan. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things, like this Japanese egg salad sandwich. Because even though you’d think there isn’t much wiggle room in how to make egg salad you’d be amazed what a difference a few little tweaks make. I think the biggest difference is that the egg is mashed, not chopped and the mayonnaise must by kewpie for a truly authentic taste. The pinch of salt adds that little je ne sais quoi that makes this run of the mill sandwich spectacularly moreish!
For one sandwich:
2 hard boiled eggs
2tbsp kewpie Japanese mayonnaise
Pinch of salt
Soft salted butter
Two slices white bread
– Put the eggs, mayonnaise and salt in a bowl and mash with a fork until there are no large chunks. You could even use a food processor to get it even smoother (some conbini do) but I prefer a little texture.
– Spread the bread with butter and add the egg mix. This should be a well filled sandwich! (Though factors such as egg size and bread size will affect it, you may find this makes two less well filed sandwiches if using smaller bread.)
My final day on rations and I started with my coveted fresh egg! If you have been following along you’ll have seen that I have been forced to use a couple of fresh eggs previously but they were stand ins for the unobtainable dried egg powder. This one was the real deal, no way you can recreate a fried egg with that stuff! I had leftover Bacon and Potato Cakes from last night and some leftover baked beans so together it was breakfast!
I popped into town to run some errands and hit the old fashioned sweet shop for my sweet ration. I should have done this at the beginning of the week but I had been saving my sweet ration for chocolate. On further thought though, chocolate is for in a flash. Rhubarb and custards, on the other hand, last much longer!
The other reason I forewent my chocolate ration was that I knew I had these waiting for me at home. For my final day of rationing I was planning a picnic high tea to honour with a bang, these Bourbon Biscuits were perfect for it!
Economical Bourbon Biscuits: Cream 3oz margerine with 2oz caster sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup. Sift in 6oz plain flour, 1oz cocoa powder and 1oz corn flour. Mix with your hand to form a dough. Roll out the dough to 3mm thick and cut into equal rectangles. (*cough* equal, smeaquel!*) Place on a baking tray and prick with a fork. Bake at gas Mark 3 for 12 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray. For the icing cream together 1 1/2oz butter, 1 1/2oz cocoa powder and 2oz icing sugar with a few drops of milk. Spread thinly on half of the biscuits before sandwiching together.
The rest of my High Tea (which ended up having to be taken in the conservatory because we’re British and if you plan a picnic it rains!) consisted of the Honey Tea Loaf from Day 5 with finger sandwiches (One of the ladies I spoke to about her memories of rationing said that you always knew when it was a special meal because the sandwiches got smaller!), sausage rolls and pies, fresh berries from the garden and tinned peaches with custard. I felt it was definitely a proper send off to ration week!
I’ve really enjoyed this challenge and I hope you have too. It’s been such an experience seeing what I can work with to make things go furthest! But I have never once been hungry or felt a lack of anything. That being said, it has been exhausting! Planning 3 meals a day and cooking them has been a time consuming endeavour and that’s without having to do all the washing up by hand too! I look forward to cooking things that only require one pan again!
I hope I’ve shown you a good cross section of what was available to people living in 1951. I’ve tried to come up with different foods every day to show you the breadth of foods on offer. I could easily have made most of these recipes go further and make at least 2 meals rather than just one. I am very proud of my puddings and cakes though and all of that was achieved with just one person’s rations! I’ve rediscovered a love of mashed potato and have got some new recipes to add to my repertoire. I’m especially looking forward to eating the Sausages In Cider from Day 4 again!
The Festival of 50s is happening at Beamish Museum from the 14th to the 17th July so if you fancy more of a taste of 1950s life get yourself along!
Today started off well with me measuring out how much tea I had for the week. More than I thought actually. There are enough teabags there for 3 cups a day, and it’s Yorkshire Tea so you can easily make 2 cups from each bag. So, I’m happy about that. (For those wondering why I’m not having coffee given that it was available, I have 3 sugars (sweetener actually) in my coffee so I’d go through my sugar ration in no time!)
Breakfast was this very cheerful bowl of porridge! Fresh berries from the garden and honey from the bees set it off nicely. I used water with a splash of milk to make it and I actually think I preferred the flavour to that of porridge made with all milk!
Porridge: 60g porridge oats, pinch of salt, 300ml water, splash of milk: simmer until thick and creamy, stirring constantly
Lunch actually caused me some issues. I was going out walking and needed something I could pack up and eat on the go. My usual sandwich preferences would be ham (I’m saving that ration!) or cheese, (which would probably have used the whole ration in one go!). Chicken would have been ok but I didn’t have any cooked. I looked at a few other options but without detouring to do a shop I had one: Jam Sandwiches! So it was a nostalgic picnic lunch of jam sandwiches and elderflower cordial in the delightful surrounds of Parceval Hall.
I was quite excited about dinner. Chicken Stew and Herb Dumplings. I hadn’t ever cooked dumplings before so I was keen to try something new. They’re rather pleasing to watch as they cook.
Dumplings: 4oz self raising flour, 1 oz lard, large pinch salt, chopped parsley, a few tbsp cold water: rub the lard into the flour, salt and parsley, add water gradually, mixing by hand until a soft rollable consistency is reached. Shape into 4 balls, place in a pan of boiling salted water, boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then turn down and simmer for a further 10. You can also place them directly on top of a stew in the oven to cook for a more crispy, browned dumpling.
The stew was as basic as they come: 1 chicken breast, 1 small carrot, 1/2 stick celery, 1/3 of a leek, 1 medium potato, all chopped up and a couple of radishes I had from the garden. Put everything in a heavy saucepan with a lid and fry (with only the tiniest sliver of lard) Pour in water just to cover everything, add a good amount of salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Take 2 tsp cornflour and mix with a little water, add to the stew and stir until thickened.
I served this with broccoli and cauliflower too. It was extremely tasty! You didn’t notice the lack of fat at all, and the flavour base of the vegetables and the chicken browning first meant you didn’t need stock either. All in all an extremely frugal dish that filled me right up! We used to eat things like this when we were kids, stew and dumplings in the slow cooker used to feature regularly for us kids but it’s been years since I had dumplings! They’ll definitely be making a come back in my kitchen and this stew served as a nice reminder that things don’t have to be complicated to taste great!
Hi, I'm Anna and this is what's going on in my kitchen and growing in my garden.
Everything you see here is how it looked as I cooked and ate it. I don't like to make things too fussy. I want you to know that if you try one of my recipes what you see is what you'll get.
Don't forget to leave a comment, I love to know what you're thinking and if you do try out a recipe then let me know how it worked for you. Happy cooking!