Christmas on Ice

Things to freeze for Christmas

Delia Smith's Christmas

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I have to admit there was a time when the idea of freezing ahead for Christmas offended my idealistic views: not only was it a cop-out, but the flavour of the food was bound to be affected. Time, and the experience of cooking for the family, have modified these ideals somewhat. Far better to acknowledge that the freezer does have its place in Christmas preparations, and can help to ease the pressure on the cook, than finish up a nervous wreck on Christmas Eve!

What I have set out below is a guide to what can usefully be frozen in advance. But first let me enter two words of caution. Not everything fares well in the freezer - it has to be used selectively (and anyway it doesn't have a bottomless capacity). Also, I still feel that the secret of successful freezing lies in not freezing anything too long. Therefore most of the experiments done for this book involved no more than 4-6 weeks' freezing.

Brandy or rum butter: Although these keep perfectly well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, any further ahead than that they should be frozen in rigid containers.

Bread: All kinds of bread will freeze well - rolls, freshly baked French sticks ( cut these in half for easier packing and pack in sealed polythene bags); family loaves, Walnut and raisin bread (see page 92) or Quick cheese, sage and onion bread (see page 100).

Breadcrumbs: These will be needed for Traditional bread sauce (see page 197) and stuffings, or for coating Ham hash cakes (see page 211). A good supply laid in early will save you hunting around for a 2-day-old loaf at the last minute.

Butter: Very often an imponderable. If you're not sure how much you will need, store a few extra packs, including Normandy or unsalted for serving with cheese.

Canape bases: Cheese pastry, croustades and baked croutons all freeze extremely well packed in sealed containers.

Casserole: Do you need to plan a casserole for supper on Christmas Eve when there will be precious little time for extra cooking? Decide now and put it in the freezer in a foil container with a cardboard lid.

Cheese: One thing I have discovered after years of trying to serve soft cheeses, such as Camembert, Brie or Reblochon, at the ripe, creamy stage without them going over the top is that if you buy them at the critical moment, wrap them in foil and freeze (for up to I month), when defrosted they will return to their perfect degree of readiness quite unimpaired.

Chestnuts (fresh): Because these are so tedious to peel, you would do well to save your temper by not attempting the job when the Christmas pressure is on. Peel them (see page 213) and either freeze them raw in a sealed bag, or else cook them, then mash and freeze ready for the stuffing.

Cranberries: You can shop early for your cranberries as they do freeze well. Spread them on a tray and seal in a polythene bag.

Croutons: Made just a couple of weeks in advance, these can be stored without freezing in sealed jars or tins. Otherwise freeze them in sealed polythene bags, and thaw by spreading them out on a baking sheet in a hot oven for about 10 minutes (for recipes see pages 86, 209 and 212).

Dates (fresh): Dried dates are a must at Christmas, but the fresh ones also taste wonderful with cheese and nuts. Freeze them in sealed polythene bags.

Fish: Sometimes, after the excesses of Christmas, it's nice to end the holiday with some fish -my own preference is for smoked had- dock (ready for an Omelette Arnold Bennett, see page 216). Pack in sealed polythene bags, but first check with your fishmonger that it hasn't already been frozen.

Ice creams: What could be nicer than a supply of ice creams (see pages 170-3), made well ahead and ready to serve? Make sure you remove the one you want to the main body of the fridge 30-40 minutes before serving (20- 30 minutes for a sorbet).

Ice cubes: The party season will call for lots of ice cubes for drinks. You can either fill polythene ice bags with still mineral water (tap water may cloud the cubes), or else buy a big bagful from your local off-licence.

Lemon, lime or orange slices (for drinks): Extremely handy to have ready prepared for drinks like gin and tonic, Campari or vermouth. Scrub the fruit well, slice into rounds and then into halves, spread them out on trays to open-freeze, then place these in sealed polythene bags.

Mince pies: These can be frozen (uncooked) in well-greased patty tins, then removed with a palette knife and stored in sealed foil containers or polythene bags. Return them to the patty tins for baking from frozen at gas mark 7, 425F (220C), for about 30 minutes. You can also freeze cooked mince pies and refresh them in a warm oven when defrosted.

Pastry: All pastry freezes well, so why not have portions of shortcrust or cheese pastry ready for tarts or quiches? I also like to have a quantity of Quick flaky pastry in the freezer for using with left-overs (see page 72).

Sausage rolls: These can be frozen (raw), packed between layers of greaseproof paper , then cooked from frozen. Brush with beaten egg and cook in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 7,425F (220C), for about 30 minutes.

Stuffings and sauces: All sauces (with the exception of hollandaise) can be frozen, but the end-product is never quite as .good as the original. I also feel that any stuffing should be put into the turkey at room temperature; if it is not very thoroughly defrosted it can cause problems (not least the worry of getting it defrosted in sufficient time), and I believe freezing is there to ease worry not add to it!

Recipes suitable for freezing (up to 4 weeks)

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Email: lesley.morris1@homecall.co.uk