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RECIPE: Christmas Day

Guest Brixton food blogger, Lucy Ferguson, hosted a Christmas dinner for twelve in South London a few weeks ago – she gives us her tips for a (sort of) successful Christmas Day meal

X Factor has finished and River Cottage Christmas Special is on Television. It’s that time that our thoughts turn to why on earth we offered to cook Christmas dinner and how on earth to tackle it.

If any of you have seen my blog TV Dinners, you’ll know I’m an unconfident and indeed sometimes talentless cook. But recently I hosted a traditional Christmas dinner for twelve with all the trimmings – everyone ate too much, no-one died and nothing went wrong (well except for the bread sauce, but who cares about bread sauce?) If I can do it, I absolutely promise you anyone can. So here’s my hints, tips, cheats and workarounds for the big day. 

1) Seek Help

Firstly – don’t worry about asking for help! Get everyone to muck in and bring a starter, or some cheese, or a whole pudding – or if that’s not feasible, then get people peeling, chopping and dishing up the mulled wine. 

Everyone who came for dinner brought a component of the meal.

So as I had absolutely nothing to do with the starter I can tell you it was utterly lovely, boozy and light. We had beetroot, wrapped in smoked salmon, with a vodka horseradish crème fraîche. 

2) Get merry

As well as a bit of alcohol in every course, it’s good to distract everyone with a variety of drinks. Bubbly, port, whatever. I managed to find this awesome punch bowl from a Tooting charity shop for a tenner the day before (I was actually on a hunt for additional knives and forks, which I forgot to buy, but you can see why). I’m not sure the image really shows just how big and insane this glassware is, it’s basically an elaborate bucket with twelve mugs attached. I filled it with mulled wine and put someone in charge of keeping everyone topped up 

3) Do it early

The day before Christmas dinner (which will of course be Christmas Eve, if you’re being traditional) I poured over my trusty, battered, second hand copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas and got to work on making the bread sauce and the cranberry sauce. Delia’s homemade cranberry sauce is wonderful, it’s tart and rich with port and orange juice, it makes the whole house smell of Christmas and takes no time at all. Don’t know what all the Christmas fuss is about – oh, hold on…

…I have to admit I ruined the bread pudding. I think I used too much nutmeg and soaked the milk with the onion for too long – either way it was way too bitter, with a horrible aftertaste. So perhaps don’t use Delia’s recipe for this.

4) Get lots of rest 

Not you, the turkey…

I ordered a 14lb turkey from my local butcher and got him to advise me on the cooking. He advised putting it into a oven bag to keep it moist and cooking for two and a half hours and resting for as long as possible. This is great advice, the longer you can rest the better – for one if you’re anything like me a 14lb turkey will take up a sizeable amount of the oven. I would never have thought it, but get it cooked and out of the oven TWO HOURS before you want to serve it! Sounds made I know, but I wrapped it in foil and wrapped it in a load of towels and it stayed hot for when we went to carve.

Incidentally, I don’t think there are many times I have more looked more stupid than when I tried to put an extremely heavy, extremely slippery with butter, 14lb turkey into a tightly fitting plastic bag. I tried dropping the turkey in, pulling the bag over the top, inching it over, like when you put a sleeping bag in its bag. It took forever and this gigantic bird kept slipping all over the place.

Once in the bag (don’t forget to pierce the bag, I did at first, it looked worryingly like it was going to explode) I followed Jamie’s advice and whacked the oven on full to heat up. Once the bird goes in, turn it down to 180.

As the turkey is resting, you can parboil any vegetables, then get them all in the oven to roast with stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, and if you’re that way inclined Yorkshire puddings, and serve it up to your guests. Hurrah!


What you eat after turkey is served is entirely up to you, but here’s what our group ate – unless you’re particularly keen on Man V Food style challenges, you may not want to copy…

For pudding we had a superb (I can again call it this, I didn’t cook it) Bread and Butter Panettone Pudding with lots of rum. Then Quality Street. Then chocolate brownies. Then meringue nests with brandy cream and raspberries. Someone was then caught dipping gingerbread men into the brandy cream (which certainly wasn’t me…) and everyone around the table had to try this, just to realise how terribly wrong that was. Then cheese and biscuits. Disgraceful. Expect January’s post to be about healthy food.  Merry Christmas!

What are you having for Christmas dinner this year? Are you cooking or getting away from it all? Do you have a better bread sauce recipe? Let us know! 

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Haircuts and lager, courtesy of Lambeth

Guest blogger, Kaye Wiggins, finds a more concrete policy in Lambeth’s cooperative council plans

You can picture the tabloid headlines already, can’t you? As part of its plan to become a co-operative council, Lambeth is going to give direct payments to more and more of the people that use its services, to spend as they choose.

This could include haircuts, horse riding lessons, presents for their children and even going to the pub, according to a recent report about the plan.

Giving money directly to people, rather than spending it on services they can use, is part of the ‘personalisation’ agenda, a key part of the council’s plan to go co-op.

The report, called Survive and Thrive and published last month by the council and the charity representatives’ group Acevo, says this agenda will be extended in future, and will cover services including health, social care, criminal justice, welfare to work, education, children’s services and substance abuse.

Under the plan, the council will fund charities and community groups that will let the people using their services decide on how their problems could best be addressed.

If a person’s situation could best be helped by rebuilding their self-confidence, and that person decides that a haircut or horse riding is the best way to do it, then they can choose for the money to be spent in this way.

“Anything should be possible as long as it is legal and it contributes towards achieving a mutually agreed outcome,” the report says.

It gives the example of a supported housing association in Tower Hamlets, called Look Ahead Housing and Care, which used funding from the council to give service users £40 a week to spend however they liked.

It says one used the money to buy presents for her children, another had her hair styled and another “used it at a pub as a way of making contact with a local darts team”.

The report says: “Although this was initially challenging for staff, these activities reconnected those living at Coventry Road with the local community, developed skills in communication and social awareness and, ultimately, began making the believe there was a route to recovery.”

It looks as though more and more of the council’s services will be provided in this way as it progresses with its co-operative plans. There’s a stark warning in the report for organisations that don’t deliver personalised services: “It is essential that they do not rely on on-going support from Lambeth, the PCT or other statutory agencies which are committed to a new commissioning model based on personalisation.”

This might become the biggest way in which Lambeth residents are affected by the co-op council agenda. The plan to go co-operative has been criticised for being a big idea that local residents struggle to see the relevance of – but here, at least, is a concrete policy.

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Reporting from the town hall…

Guest blogger Kaye Wiggins, journalist for Third Sector magazine, reports from last night’s co-operative council meeting

About 70 residents gathered in a warm, crowded room in Lambeth town hall last night to discuss the co-operative council plans.

During the two-and-a-half hour question and answer session with council leader Steve Reed, almost all of those that asked questions said they welcomed the idea, at least in theory. But they raised concerns about how it would work in practice.

One of the biggest concerns was how the council would make sure the whole local community had its say about the plans. “I know most of the faces here,” said a lady on the front row. “We’re always here; we’re always debating with the council. There are a lot of other people in the borough. We need to get to the grass roots.”

Reed said the public consultation on becoming a cooperative was the biggest the council had ever held. He said there would be surveys, roadshows, public meetings and – surprisingly – random vox pops outside tube stations during rush hours to ask local people what they thought.

He also said the co-operative idea was not just a way of coping with the 25 per cent cut the council will make to its overall spending in the next four years.

He said involving local people in providing public services would make the services more responsive to the community’s needs. He stopped short of saying which services would be provided in this way, but said housing would be “an extremely interesting area to look at”.

One resident voiced a concern that seems likely to be repeated as the consultation goes on. “I already co-operate with the council by paying my taxes,” she said.

But maybe we should take heart from a suggestion made by councillor Jackie Meldrum, who said there could be “some kind currency to be a reward system” for residents that helped the council to deliver its services.


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