Like so many things throughout 2020, the traditional Christmas dinner might look a little different this year. Depending on mid-December’s COVID-19 restrictions, our gatherings might be a little smaller, or may even take place at different times. Change like this can be difficult to deal with, but I’m certainly trying to find the positives, and “control the controllables”. I might not be in charge of who I can and can’t sit down with – but I can decide exactly what to serve at my table. In other words, there has never been a better time to free yourself from seasonal culinary constraints. If you’ve never been a fan of traditional turkey, this is most definitely the year you don’t have to cook one! I think 2020 is the perfect opportunity to experiment with other any Christmas dinner recipes you’ve had your eye on, and please your own personal palate.
The main event, reimagined
In years gone by, Christmas dinner recipes meant poor pickings for vegetarians. The traditional Christmas meal – minus the meat, pigs in blankets and gravy – was often the only option on offer. How times have changed! If you have vegetarian guests to feed, or simply fancy cutting down on your meat consumption during the season of excess, this Festive Tomato Lentil Stuffed Squash recipe, courtesy of food blogger Nourishing Amy, is an absolute winner. I’ve found it a filling, crowd-pleasing dish that’s simple to prepare. Serve with roasted potatoes and extra fresh thyme. It’s delicious!
If you’re keen to serve up a show-stopping vegetarian centrepiece for Christmas dinner, I recommend this Mushroom, Lentil and Red Wine Wellington. This unique recipe has been conjured up by the brilliant chefs at Riverford Farm. The cooking time required is fairly speedy but, as with its beef-based counterpart, this dish does require some assembly. However, it looks impressive, and tastes amazing, so be assured that the effort you put in is completely worthwhile.
Top tip: Allowing plenty of time for the filling to cool will make the pastry much easier to work with. If possible, prepare the interior elements the day before. Then all you need to do is wrap and bake on Christmas morning!
Nut roasts have endured their fair share of bad press in years past. But this vegan Cashew Nut Roast recipe, courtesy of writer and blogger Thinly Spread, is an absolute game-changer. Firstly, let’s admire the presentation. I absolute love the clever Christmas tree design, don’t you? Of course, you can prepare this dish in a regular roasting tin if that’s all you have. Don’t be put off by the longish list of ingredients either. Most of it is seasoning, and there’s nothing that’s difficult or expensive to source. This nut roast is packed with flavour and works really well with all the usual festive accompaniments. Think roast potatoes, gravy (vegan or regular) and vegetables. Tasty, filling and easy on the eye, I think it’s one of the best vegan Christmas dinner recipes I’ve found.
Top tip: Grease your tin thoroughly to aid extraction after cooking. If the top of your roast is browning too quickly in the oven, simply cover it with foil or baking parchment.
Going with goose
Carnivores, rejoice. Christmas dinner this year most certainly doesn’t have to mean dry, tasteless turkey. In recent years, roast goose has become a popular option with the general public and TV chefs alike. It’s true that goose is fattier than turkey. However, that’s why it tastes so good. But most of this fat is under the skin, as opposed to in the meat. As it melts, it bastes the breast, keeping it moist and juicy, so it’s naturally less labour-intensive, too. If you’ve never roasted a goose before, this Gressingham recipe is simple and straightforward to follow. If you really don’t feel you can forgo traditional turkey, Kitchen Queen Nigella’s recommendation may suit you well. She suggests cooking a goose for Christmas Eve dinner instead, which could be your perfect compromise.
Top tip: Conserve the goose fat you pour off to make the most divine roast potatoes. Remember that this extra fat layer means that weight for weight, a goose a will feed fewer people than a turkey. So adjust your calculations accordingly.
Puddings that please
Christmas Pudding is the traditional festive dessert but I have never been a huge fan. I tend to find it rather too heavy to enjoy much after a filling roast dinner. However, I’m going to add this Christmas Pudding Ice Cream to my Christmas dinner recipe repertoire. I think the combination of seasonal fruits, rich maple syrup and hand-made ice cream sounds absolutely mouth-watering! And how pretty does that holly garnish look?
Another dessert I like to indulge in on special occasions is Crème Brûlée. However, that hasn’t felt like a particularly festive option – until now. This Clarence Court recipe for Spiced Cranberry Crème Brûlée is a genius seasonal take on a classic French stalwart. The jewel-like cranberries add a refreshing zing to the custard. And they will add a welcome splash of colour to your Christmas table, too.
Top tip: This is not an express dessert option suitable for impromptu entertaining. The method involves cooking, cooling and chilling, so plan well ahead instead.
No feature on Christmas dinner recipes would be complete without mince pies. This vegan version, courtesy of The Wholefood Warrier, is a lighter, healthier option than the traditional shortcrust equivalent. It’s also gluten-free, so do give these a go if you are catering for guests on special diets.
Top tip: Serve these warm from the oven with a glass of sherry, homemade mulled wine. You could try it with a cheeky cocktail!
Another firm festive dessert favourite is Panettone. This Italian sweet bread is traditionally made with raisins, almonds and candied fruit. However, it’s now available in many non-traditional versions, such as chocolate and orange. However, just like turkey, I often find Panettone to be disappointingly dry. This marvellous Panettone Festivo recipe is from Carluccio’s. It features layers of nuts, chocolate cream, chocolate sauce and Vin Santo. These combined elevate this humble bake into something quite extraordinary. It’s become one of my favourite Christmas dinner recipes. Add it to yours and let me know how you get on!
Is there an easier way?
Hosting friends and family can be stressful. I am fully aware that not everyone enjoys cooking, at Christmas or indeed at any other time. The good news is, it’s not obligatory to be chained to your kitchen sink! Even if you do usually enjoy cooking, if you’re not hosting friends and family this year, you may wonder whether all the time and effort is worthwhile.
Cheat with Cook
Enter Cook…I’m a huge fan of this company, which appeals to people who enjoy eating good food but don’t always have the time or inclination to actually cook it from scratch. They’re a great option if you fancy a night off from the kitchen. And they provide the perfect meal if you want something a little more nutritious than a calorific take-away. They have an extensive Christmas menu that’s a fast track to delicious homemade dishes, without the hard work. If you’re dining à deux this December, they have some excellent set menu bundles. These include Christmas Dinner For 2, Christmas Veggie Dinner for 2 and Christmas Vegan Dinner for 2.
All Cook dishes are frozen, so you just pop them in the freezer until you need them. I always have a couple in case of emergencies! Click and Collect is free, although home delivery is also available. I must confess I have ordered their eye-catching Winter Pudding. This colourful twist on the traditional summer recipe features blackberries, apple, raspberries, cranberries and blueberries. You’ll even find a touch of cinnamon for instant Christmas on a plate!
Top tip: Defrost this overnight in your fridge. And don’t try and turn it out until just before you serve it.
Feeling festive? Keen to explore more Christmas dinner recipes? Click here to discover a bigger selection of my favourite Christmas dessert ideas.