Ahh, it’s the most wonderful time of the year again … even if it’s mainly virtual … and it’s summative season. After the year we’ve had, it’s fair to say we’re looking to celebrate getting through it in any (safe and socially-distanced) way we can, and as Market Square’s Christmas lights get turned on, and Tesco’s start running out of their stock of mince pies and mulled wines, the best celebration of this time of year is Friendsmas.
For the freshers who haven’t yet faced the chaos of a friends Christmas dinner, to the third-years who still haven’t quite reached the peak of juggling trays in and out of the oven, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to get you through your end of term feast.
Starting with the prep, don’t forget to book your grocery delivery slots, and with lockdown in full bloom, trust us when we say it’s never too early. Chase those friends who haven’t transferred their share yet, double-check the vegans are happy to sort their own, and add as many bottles of mulled wine as you can before you hit the unfortunate alcohol delivery limit.
By far, the most important part of any Christmas party is the alcohol. And for students, mulled wine is definitely a sophisticated treat. Whether you’re drinking straight from the bottle (although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it cold like that), or trying your best to infuse spices, orange slices and whatever else you’ve found to garnish, into a pan on the hob, our best advice is to heat it gently, take it slow, and don’t assume it’s the same as Sangria. Although red wine isn’t a personal favourite of mine, there is something so seasonal and cosy about the spiced wine, and if you’re a non-alcoholic or just prefer to stick to the bellinis, Whittard’s do the yummiest instant mulled wine tea.
To go alongside your pre-dinner drinks, whilst you settle for some Secret Santa surprises, or daringly start a game of Monopoly, decently priced sharing platters from Tesco and Iceland will provide you with plenty of treats before the main delight.
How could we forget the mains? For most people, a turkey is the centrepiece of any successful Christmas dinner: the best turkeys are juicy, tender, golden-brown, and filled to the brim with flavourful stuffing. One of my closest friends has been counting down the days until Christmas dinner
since the first of November. Every year, he eagerly awaits the turkey, which is intricately prepared by his mum, and served with a tantalising array of sides (including her famous Yorkshire puddings). She rubs seasoned butter under the turkey’s skin, and places a quartered onion and sliced lemon into the rib cavity.
Though some people espouse a ‘less is more’ approach in the kitchen, during Christmas we can definitively agree that ‘more is more’. And what better way to improve Christmas dinner than to stuff the turkey with more delicious food? My friend’s mum prepares a sausage stuffing, made with good quality meat, sage, and onion. To this, she adds dried cranberries and chipped chestnuts, infusing the turkey with more Christmassy flavours.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious this year, why not try the Turducken on F.R.I.E.N.D.S? Joey Tribbiani was able to single-handedly devour this trifecta of roasted chicken, duck, and turkey, all while leaving room for dessert, so bonus points if you can too!
As far as student Christmas feast rules go, each side is dedicated to each student. So if one over steams the carrots, at least the potatoes and parsnips are in other people’s hands (and also, other people’s ovens). The thing about student ovens is there’s never enough space. And you will realistically need different temperatures, and definitely different times. Whilst there remains a debate over whether Yorkshire puddings qualify for Christmas, there’s at least six sides that are vital for Christmas dinner: parsnips, potatoes and carrots (as said), the all-important stuffing (Aunt Bessy’s frozen do the perfect job), controversial cranberry sauce (more there to look pretty on the table than actually placed in anyone’s plates), and the gravy. Top tip for the gravy: stir the granules (we won’t even pretend anyone’s making it from scratch) straight into the measuring jug, keep the kettle topped-up and boiled, and just make more as you go (instead of a very messy humongous batch at the beginning of the night which goes cold before anyone’s even carved the turkey).
Without a doubt, Christmas pudding is an unforgettable mainstay at the dessert table during the holiday season. It’s even better when you light it on fire, but definitely a challenge to replicate in a student house.
For something that will create less of a fire hazard, try making a Christmas cake with your housemates. You get the best of both worlds: not only can you enjoy the delicious flavours of Christmas pudding, you can also have even more fun rolling fondant into different shapes. If you don’t like dried fruit, make any flavour of cake you want — chocolate is always a firm favourite. Now is the time to shamelessly display your creativity: the artists among us might create a whole Nativity scene. The less artistically inclined (myself included) may create questionable fondant monstrosities. I have yet to meet someone who dislikes eating gingerbread. This year, I’ll be begging my housemates to make gingerbread cookies with me, and possibly to build a gingerbread house. The beauty of gingerbread is its versatility: you can buy premade mixes, or you can make your own from scratch, and it will still be delicious. Deck the halls of your gingerbread house with icing in any colour of your choice – go wild with the decorations! Your landlord might not like you sticking blu-tack on the walls, but in your gingerbread house you’ll have free reign.
If you’re feeling adventurous, play some games in the kitchen with your housemates! With the remaining uncooked root vegetables (baby potatoes and brussel sprouts) and toothpicks, compete to see who can create the best sculpture. My friend created a brussel sprouts ferris wheel that managed to spin – can you top that? Luckily, none of these vegetables will go to waste, as they can be used afterwards. Better yet, you can play this game on Zoom with a bigger group of friends!
And after the massive food coma hits, you’ll want to pass the time: preferably sitting down. You could go the traditional route and screen all the classic Christmas movies – every Home Alone film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Love Actually, Elf, The Polar Express, and more. This is the perfect way to recover from a massive meal: or if you’re like me, this is also the ideal opportunity for more snacking. Mince pies, anyone?
Illustration by Verity Laycock