Today’s interview is with the lovely Mr John Whaite, winner of the third series of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off. He took some time out from his busy schedule today to have an exclusive chat with us and share some of his tips for Christmas food and entertaining, including ideas for cooks on a budget.
Here’s John’s best advice for festive entertaining on a budget. “Get as much done as you can in advance. Cook and freeze food in November: mince pies, meringues for pavlova, etc…If you have unexpected guests such as neighbours dropping round, you’ll have home made mince pies that look like you’ve just made them. They’ll be impressed that you’ve just whipped them up.”
When and where to save
If you’re very low on funds for the festive season, John says: “A frozen turkey is okay…don’t be too proud. In blind taste tests frozen turkey and value ranges often do well.” He also advises having cava or prosecco instead of vintage champagne and to “do all your own veg yourself, buy it and prepare it from scratch.” A family favourite in his household is a side dish of matchstick parsnips, thinly cut and deep fried until crispy, made by his Mum.
When it comes to the finishing touches such as cranberry sauce: “shop bought is completely fine, especially if you’re up against it for time…or get, say, a bag of fresh cranberries on the turn that’s been reduced and boil the hell out of it. It’ll be fine.”
John’s best known for his creative bakes, but for drinks parties he recommends keeping it simple and not getting too fussy with the nibbles and canapes. Ideas include chorizo and chickpea crostini, and fresh dates stuffed with soft goat’s cheese.
His method for creating a moist, delicious Christmas cake without a hint of staleness is unique. “I use a vacuum bag, like the ones you store your clothes in. I make my cake in November (stir up Sunday was this Sunday just past), seal it in a bag and remove all the air from it. Once a week I open it up, feed it about four or five tablespoons of brandy or whisky, and then take the air back out of it again and seal it.”
When to spend
What’s the one thing he thinks you shouldn’t scrimp on at Christmas? “The stuffing for the turkey. Make your own with fresh ingredients – I like to put some orange in mine – or buy a really good ready made one such as a deli version. Not the dried ones out of a packet made by a brand I won’t mention!”
Although John’s a skilled baker, cook and chocolatier he also has a timely reminder for anyone who’s getting a little too caught up in their Christmas preparations: “Be accommodating, try to please people, but don’t fixate on being the best host…The main thing is being together, and revelling in each other’s company. You’ll remember the time you spend together more than anything else.”
If you’d like some more ideas from John, have a watch of Tesco’s YouTube channel where he gives his top five festive tips as part of the ‘Every little helps make Christmas’ event. He’s also giving away some tasty recipes away completely free on his website, and you can download the 12 Bakes of Christmas there.
While John was far too polite to plug either of his books, they’re both excellent and heartily recommended. There’s John Whaite Bakes: Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood, and John Whaite Bakes At Home. Perfect for stocking fillers or just for treating yourself to.
Thanks very much to John! Back tomorrow with some top wine tips for the celebrations, and a bargain champagne deal that’ll have you popping your cork.