How to eat well and cook little this festive period

Head chef, Paternoster Chop House

ONE OF the things I love about the festive period is the opportunity to do very little cooking at home. Yes, there is the main Christmas Day meal to be prepared and perhaps some party food for evenings with friends. But after all that, I relish being able to graze on cold meats and cured fish, snack on cheese and generally just enjoy one long picnic of leftovers and easy seasonal treats from Boxing Day until New Year’s Eve.

If you want hassle-free seasonal fare, here are my top picks:

• A truckle (a wheel of cheese) of some very good, strong cheddar or stilton, or alternatively some Lancashire or Stichelton which both are in season now, as well as some really stinky cheeses. For something different why not try Vacherin, a cow’s milk cheese which really comes into its own at this time of year. Having a truckle on the table is a great way to share with friends and family who can just scoop out what they want – it should see you through the whole festive period.

• A good selection of smoked, cured or potted meat and fish (such as gravadlax or smoked trout), dried sausages, cured ham or a terrine of pate, and a stock of pickled vegetables and chutneys. All these will last a long time, minimising the need for shopping and cooking over Christmas week.

• Some shellfish, which is at its best right now, to freshen your palate. British fishermen risk the terrible winter weather to bring us exceptional scallops, crab and lobster, which are at their meatiest and full of flavour at the moment, as the waters around the Atlantic coast are so fertile.

• Bowls of dried figs and dates, candied chestnuts and sugared plums, which can be eaten like sweets, as well as a dense fruit cake and some sloe gin to wash it all down.

Of course, everyone has their own, very personal, traditions of what – and how – they like to eat over the season. Usually this is rooted in our own upbringing, but we are increasingly embracing other nationalities’ traditions, with things like stollen, panetone, eggnog and smorgasbords (which can be prepared or bought in advance and are easy to serve) becoming favourites.

I might break with tradition this year and replace the turkey curry with a mole – a traditional Mexican stew made with chocolate and chilli, to use up the last of the bird. But other than that, I’ll be keeping it simple. I’m feeling hungry already...