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Christmas is a wonderful time to really push the boat out when it comes to food. The season has so many dishes and flavours associated with it, whether you’re hosting family and friends or keeping it small, what’s on the menu is one of the main questions on our minds.

There is good reason for the preoccupation with food at Christmas. Traditionally a time for gathering with loved ones, a generous and lovingly prepared menu is a wonderful way to make people feel welcome and cared for. With such high expectations put upon festive food, this can result in a great deal of stress and pressure on those who are cooking. Beyond the main Christmas day meal, which tends to be formulaic in its preparation, there are often countless other events to cater for and it can become overwhelming.

But how can one avoid some of the pressure of the festive season? If you’re the one in the kitchen, don’t forget that you’re in charge of what goes on the menu. So rather than taking on the challenge of recipes you’ve never made before, or indeed only make once a year, why not add a festive twist to tried and tested recipes you can practically cook in your sleep?

The real sense of Christmas comes from the flavours we associate with this time of year. Ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, orange and winter berries can be easily introduced into a recipe to infuse it with the flavour of Christmas. Add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to your usual apple crumble, a pavlova can be transformed into a festive centrepiece with cranberry and winter berries, or add some chestnuts to a savoury pie filling. The flavours and aromas from these ingredients provide the sense of a festive dish, so don’t be afraid to get creative this Christmas.

Christmas food is also about that initial wow factor of seeing the food laid out on the table, so you can find some easy ways to make dishes look festive too. Stars and snowflakes are a good cookie cutter shape to have to hand at this time of year, and with a dusting of icing sugar or edible gold even the simplest sugar cookie is transformed into something special. For both savoury and sweet dishes, the addition of fruits such as orange and cranberries will bring colour to your plates, with the latter adding a beautiful jewel tones to any dish. Don’t forget the simple delights of brussel sprout and red cabbage either – treated right these humble brassicas are delicious and bring a great deal of colour to the table.

Of course we always encourage learning new skills and techniques in the kitchen, but if you’re fretting about what to serve this Christmas then try to keep it simple with something familiar but festive. Merry Christmas and happy cooking!

Find out more about creative cooking techniques, our short cookery courses and our professional cooking courses.