Brussels & Beyond

14th December 2012

MasterChef host Gregg Wallace reflects on the joys of Christmas Day. Gregg, who has just published his autobiography Life on a Plate, offers advice to stressed cooks, and provides a recipe for Brussels that will have even the kids asking for more…

I love Christmas Day as much as I hate New Year’s Eve. In fact, I hate New Year’s Eve so much that I leave the country and go abroad to avoid spending that one night in Britain. I’m not kidding.

But as for Christmas Day? Well, it’s a time of family, a time for relaxing. It’s all about joy and warmth and a real sense of belonging, when all the people that you love most in the world are brought together; everyone taking from and giving to the atmosphere.

It’s also probably the only day of the year when I turn off my phone. I am a workaholic, which has become a bit of a problem and I need to sort it out, but I never seem to have the time to go shopping for presents so end up sending out someone to buy them. That sounds awful, and I hate to admit it, but there you go – I promise to change my ways.

I grew up in Peckham, south-east London and one of the most cherished Christmas memories was with my aunt and uncle. They’d bought a dog which was a cross between a Great Dane and Alsatian, and the enormous beast was called Shep. Father Christmas came into the room and Shep looked slightly nervous. Seconds later, Shep lunged at Santa who, in turn, went running out of the house and down the street. I said to myself, ‘Now I know how he gets through so many chimneys – because he’s frightened of being eaten alive.’

This Christmas I’ll be at home in Seasalter, Kent, with my kids, Tom, who is 18, and Libby, who is 15. On Christmas morning we’ll get up and open the presents under the tree. My two brothers will come over with their wives, and my little nephew Jude. Then it’s more presents and a great big turkey. We’ll have too much to drink, dance about a bit, play silly games, and then crash out. Sound familiar?

Cooking on Christmas Day is notoriously hellish but it really doesn’t need to be stressful. The toughest thing is getting it all served. Quite simply, we’re not used to catering for so many people and it means that guests are left sitting at the table, waiting endlessly for a plate of food to be put in front of them. I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.

Think about it – if you’ve got to plate up everything for… let’s say eight people… then by the time the last one gets his food the rest has gone stone cold. If I could give one piece of advice then it is this: let people serve themselves.

Your family and friends are there because they love you, not because they think you’re Claudia Roden. Don’t get stressed; just chill! If you can get them to help you, then do. Give them a beer, or a glass of wine and say, ‘Come and help me in the kitchen.’ Let everyone join in so that the burden is not on your shoulders alone.

Put all your veg into serving bowls and, if you’ve got oven space, keep them warm. Don’t worry about the turkey going cold but keep the gravy bubbling. Now yell out, “Everyone, sit down please.” Get one of your helpers to carry the veg to the table. Carve the bird, put slices on the plates and pass around. Simple and stress-free.

Merry Christmas!

Gregg’s Minted Sprouts

Brussels are in season at this time of year and that’s why they’re the original accompaniment with Christmas turkey. Here’s a simple recipe that works wonders for the terrible reputation of the good old sprout. The mint sauce gives brings sweetness and that means it’s popular with kids... and sweet-toothed adults like me.

Ingredients: 900g Brussels sprouts • 20g butter • 2 tbsp mint sauce (or to your taste) • Salt & pepper to taste

Serves: 8

• Slice the sprouts in half, lengthways. Put the sprouts in a large saucepan of salted, simmering water.
• Cook for about five minutes, but check and taste – you don’t want to overcook.
• Strain the sprouts, add the butter and then, in a liquidiser, or using a stick blender, blitz the sprouts until they are a purée. Add the mint sauce and salt and pepper to your taste. It’s ready to serve.

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