Cooking Christmas dinner for 16 fussy vegetarians

Apologies for such a long break from blogging – I was rushed off my feet, first with deadlines, and then preparing for Christmas. Cooking a six-course Christmas meal for 16 people is not a feat to be taken lightly. I’ve never cooked under such pressure, as Christmas seems to be the one day a year when a few mistakes will be magnified, rather than glossed over, particularly in a family full of food enthusiasts.

The most stressful course was probably the loveliest – fresh ravioli, stacked openly stuffed with layers of butternut squash, roasted before being mashed with truffle oil, alternating with chestnut mushrooms fried in garlic. The presentation was beautiful, though I must give credit to my brother for this as he  professionally swirled olive oil over the plate, dotting the edges with diced roast beetroot and mushrooms. Lovely idea, lovely food, but 16 plates was definitely ambitious. At times I felt as if Michel Roux Jr was somehow standing behind me, clapping his hands to speed us up, as my family sat round the table chanting ‘Why are we waiting?’. In retrospect, this should have been the first course. Then everyone would have shut up.

One area I definitely feel confident to have excelled in was the cheeseboard. The above-mentioned time pressure meant that my photo doesn’t express quite how beautiful it looked. I managed to get a few of my favourites from the Masterchef food show again – Amber Mist, by the Snowdonia Cheese Company, was a favourite. My seven-year-old nephew even loved it – though I’m not sure he should have been eating it. A smoked brie from Millets Farm Shop in Oxford also went down well. Although, to my slight disappointment, some of the classics from other years were probably the favourites again. Swaledale, a hard ewe’s cheese, was eaten most rapidly, and Cornish Yarg, a highly accessible cheese, managed to impress my Thai relatives. Although I didn’t manage to blow anyone away more than other years, as a whole it was better balanced than before. In other years we’ve gone a bit overboard with dinner – starting off with eight courses – and last year I filled three hampers with £75 of cheese which simply festered away after Christmas. This year dinner was much lighter than before, and I tried to get a good selection of different cheeses, rather than just buying everything I liked. To blow our own trumpet, the whole thing was a huge success – hopefully this year my Mum won’t make a word document to list our failures with over-feeding. It’s just as well too, because having eaten solidly for about three weeks, I need to stay away from cheese for a while. I’m going to try and make low-fat versions of all my favourite foods over the next few weeks, hopefully something nice enough to stop me missing cheese so much. Hope everyone else had a lovely foodie Christmas too.

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