Christmas Prep: November

Christmas in NovemberSorry to point this out, but there’s only a month to go until Christmas Day. Many of us will have two pay packets left, if your employer pays towards the end of this month, and also brings payments forward during the festive period. 

If you haven’t done any prep yet, don’t panic. There’s still time to:

  • Set a budget
  • Write a menu
  • Write a shopping list
  • Start off some gifts

As I mentioned in the October prep article, it’s good to manage other people’s gift expectations as early as possible, especially if you’re on a tighter budget this year. If you’re hosting Christmas, it’s also a time when certain people might start asking for all kinds of food and drink treats, and you may need to manage expectations there too. Now, you will almost certainly want to spoil your guests – but if you’re broke and busy, it can get a bit much.

For example, you could end up being asked for four different types of potato dishes with the main course, six different sauces on the table, fine wines you can’t really afford, and so on. Set the ground rules early, be polite but firm, and ask people to muck in. My usual line is: “I’ll be providing the main food and the trimmings, but if there’s anything special you want to eat or drink, can you please bring that along with you?”

Food and drink shopping

It’s still a good time for buying ingredients with a longer shelf life (biscuits, sweets, baking ingredients etc), but stick to the shopping list. You can also start buying many cheeses and salamis at this point, as they’ll usually keep for a month or so. You can also put in orders with local butchers or buy a frozen turkey.

Oh heck, the ‘F’ word. I know people turn their noses up at frozen turkey, but it isn’t all bad and some frozen ones do better in taste tests than fresh ones. Seriously. The Good Housekeeping 2013 festive food awards gave Morrisons’ free range frozen turkey (white, small, £18 for 3.2-4.5kg) the top marks, ahead of all the fresh produce.

There were quite a few other thrifty buys in those awards. Morrisons also won Best Stilton (Signature Stilton, £3.49 for 300g) and Best Stuffing (festive fruit stuffing balls, £2.99 for 12 portions), and Aldi won Best Christmas Pudding (Connoisseur, £3.89 for 907g). The expensive champagnes won out, but Aldi’s champagne finished a respectable sixth (Veuve Monsigny Brut, £12.99). There were also honourable mentions for various products from Asda and Lidl.

Speaking of Lidl, while not included in the GH taste test categories, their whole frozen lobsters (small-medium size for £5.99), and frozen crabs (£2.99, but just as nice as lobster) are in stock. They also have some nice marzipans, Stollen cake and other German-style festive treats.

This year, there seems to be less of a booze price war between the supermarkets. The only £10 champagne offer right now is at Asda, although other retailers do have deals on some good cava, prosecco and other sparkling wines. There are also fewer mega deals on favourites such as Irish Cream, malt whisky, brandy and other spirits, although Asda’s doing 700ml 10 year old Aberlour for £20.00 instead of the usual RRP of £32.00, and Tesco is offering 700ml of 12 year old The Glenlivet for £20 (usu £30.00) and 1 litre of Bailey’s Original for £12.00.

I’ll write more about general non food and drink gift shopping deals on here during the week, and stay tuned for deals on Twitter as well. Look out for the #XmasPrep hashtag.

Homemade Christmas goodies

Now is the traditional time to make most old-style Christmas puddings. After the first cooking they can be put aside to mature, tightly wrapped. Check the individual recipes to see how long they can safely be stored, and if in doubt, put it in the freezer.

There is still time to make your own Christmas cake, so you could do one of those at the same time. In fact, you could do up a batch of mince pies as well, to make the most of the heat in the oven, and these could go into the freezer to use as required next month. It’s also a time when you could make up and freeze some soups, casseroles, curries, buffet dishes, breads or nibbles. When the rush really starts there’ll be less to worry about.

If you’ve been making any alcoholic infusions over the last two or three months, and they’ve had time for the full flavour to come out, then this week or next you can strain them. Put the drinks back into their sterilised bottles and put away in a cool, dark place for the flavour to mellow.

It’s now too late to start off drinks like sloe gin and blackberry brandy, but you can still get away with other infusions that use citrus peel, dried fruits, spices or real vanilla. These often take only two or three days to take on the flavour.

If you’re planning on brewing your own beer, now’s your very last chance to get a batch started. Make sure you use a recipe that only takes four weeks – some take up to eight.

As for crafts, there’s still plenty of time to make your own cards, gift tags, tree decorations, place mats and so on. There’s also enough time to make knitted gifts, finish any patchwork or most embroidery, sew some Christmas stockings out of felt, make things out of clay, or do woodworking, soldering or painting.

It’s a bit late for traditional soapmaking, but you can still do things like poured glycerine soaps, bath grains and crystals, and fizzing bath bombs.

How’s your Christmas prep coming along? Trying anything different this year?

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