Local experts in Greenwich and Blackheath share their insider tips on how to have a fun, fabulous stress-free Christmas…
Alexandra McMillan-Sparkes of GG Sparkes Butchers, Blackheath
What qualities should you look for when buying your turkey?
A well known and accredited supplier, which for us are Appledore, for free-range turkeys, and Copas, for organic turkeys. We recently visited Appledore and were really impressed, again, by the husbandry and provenance, the business is so professionally run and they have maintained that personal touch.
What size turkey should you buy?
The million dollar question! Every year we are at the mercy of the weather – how much those turkeys gobble up depends if it’s mild or cold. The smallest is about 4kg, and on average a 4.5-5kg turkey will feed 8-10. If you have fewer people than that, the rest can could be used up in sarnies and soup.
What’s your top turkey cooking tip?
Remove the bird from the fridge the night before to allow it to reach room temperature (keep it away from four-legged friends!). Stuff the neck with a large peeled onion (I like my stuffing served separate, but each to their own). Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4, sprinkle the bird with salt and pepper and place it breast-side down in a roasting tray. Halfway through roasting, turn the bird onto its back to brown the breast and season again. Insert a skewer on the inside thigh – if the juices run clear, the bird is ready, but if the juices are pink, pop it back in the oven and check at 10-minute intervals. Let the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes once cooked, then carve and enjoy!
Dale Penfold, co-founder of cookfood.net, which has a branch in Blackheath
What’s the idea behind Cook?
We cook so you don’t have to. We use the same ingredients and techniques you would at home, so everything looks and tastes homemade, then we blast freeze it to lock in flavour without preservatives.
Can ready meals ever beat home cooking?
That depends on the cook… I think we’ve all probably been to dinner parties and complemented the chef while wishing they’d served up a ready meal! We like to think our food gives even the best home cooks a run for their money. There are plenty of good cooks who wouldn’t dream of ever buying a supermarket ready meal but happily shop with Cook, because they appreciate our food is made like they would do it at home.
Tell us about your Christmas service…
Our stress-free Christmas lunch for eight is an absolute winner. It’s ready in less than three hours and we’ve worked out all the timings for you. Online at cookfood.net you can order a home delivery or click-and-collect from a shop – just remember you need to get your Stuffed Crown of Turkey by 23 December as it needs 36 hours to defrost before cooking. The new Chocolate & Salted Caramel Vacharin, made down in Somerset under the watchful eye of Liz Dove, our pudding maestro, might be our best pudding ever. Every year, in January, we get some lovely letters and emails from customers telling us how we transformed their Christmas Day.
What would you do with all the time Cook can save you on Christmas Day?
Last Christmas I went to a local drop-in centre, Caring Hands in Rochester, with a team of volunteers from Cook. We made turkey with all the trimmings for more than 100 people. It was great fun. Then I went home and did Christmas lunch with the family.
Daniel Illsley of theatreofwine.com, Greenwich
What advice would you give to novice wine buyers?
Seek the help of a good wine merchant, of course! If Christmas is one of the only times in the year when you’re going to make a statement purchase, do beware of the hype! And think about your festive days. I want a glass of bubbly, a frisky white, a complicated red, an exotic sweet wine, a fortified to congratulate you on your effort, and a digestif to knock you out. But unless you have a good wine merchant, and you don’t want to spend a fortune on that aged first growth, experiment with countries and regions you don’t know – spend a bit more than usual in those categories and you’re assured of a treat.
If you could only have three bottles of wine over the festive period, what would you recommend?
That’s a difficult one! If money is no object, the Wiston Estate Brut Vintage UK (£36), Vignoble Guillaume Chardonnay Collection 2009 in magnum (£58) and Dalzocchio Pinot Nero 2010 in magnum (£60). For those watching the budget, Vignoble Guillaume Flute Enchantee NV methode tradionelle (£12.90 – get at least three bottles), Domaine Galevan Libre Expression Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc 2013 (£11.80) and Lantos Hit Kekfrankos 2012 Hungary (£13.80).
The $100 question – which wine would you recommend with the turkey?
The wine must have fruit, and lots of it. You could do a New World pinot noir, but I love syrah/shiraz or blends of the same with turkey. Just buy the most expensive you can. With French wines, look for any good older vintage, although you can’t go wrong with a 2012 or 2010.
Rosemarie Cecilia of puresynergie.co.uk, Greenwich
What treatment would you recommend for stressed out Christmas elves?
You can never go wrong with a massage. Imagine a warm couch, calming music and being firmly kneaded with an aromatic hot oil and expert touch. You’ll soon forget any seasonal stress, or what you may have said to your boss at the office Christmas party the previous night!
If there’s only time for one beauty treat, which would you recommend?
The 75-minute Pure Synergie Signature Facial is pure indulgence. With both microdermabrasion and oxygen therapies along with a stimulating facial massage, it will leave your skin fresh, glowing and ready for any parties or opportune dates!
Beauty is often geared towards women, what would you recommend for men?
Most men choose a massage, but many of our male clients have discovered that, once they’ve tried a body scrub or facial, there’s no turning back. Our indulgent body scrubs start with a relaxing massage, followed by a vigorous, hydrating salt scrub and finally a warm shower, leaving the skin baby soft.
What’s your stress-free Christmas tip?
Being a mother of six-month-old twins it’s all about organisation – and catering! You can get amazing Christmas menus delivered to your door and those hours you’d spend slaving away can be better spent in the company of loved ones.
Gillie Bexson of Greenwich Hospital, which manages greenwichmarketlondon.com
Do you prefer online shopping or getting out to the shops?
I just can’t do online shopping other than for essentials, I love the serendipity of a good mooch around a selection of shops. There’s nothing better than finding something that really suits someone and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, it’s more about the thought that’s gone into it. I just love that shopping experience.
Which three market traders are your go-tos when you’re stuck for gift inspiration?
CMK for faux furs, hats, snoods and gorgeous throws; Sinead O’Moore for handmade ceramics, and Leatherbound for handmade note books that are beautifully lined with Italian papers.
Tell us about the exciting festive events coming up at Greenwich Market…
This year’s Lantern Parade and light switch-on is on 25 November and I can’t wait to see the newly refurbished market lit up! The market will be open every day from 1 December with loads of designer-makers showcasing beautiful gift ideas, Santa arrives at his grotto on 19 December and on Friday 4 December we’re hosting a free Music and Mulled Wine evening with late night shopping.
What’s your stress-free Christmas tip?
I cook lunch with my dad and my two daughters and we don’t stress about timings or anything. Then, on Boxing Day, we always go for a long walk.
Sam Lyle of pinesandneedles.com which offers a tree delivery and decoration service
Why is tree provenance important?
We prefer Ambrolauri Nordman Fir seeds from Georgia as we have found them to grow into the fullest, most evenly shaped trees.
Tell us about your services…
We have many tiers to our services, from delivery to a full tree-decoration service. We’ll install and decorate your tree while you sit back, relax and watch the creation of your perfect Christmas theme, from our Scandi-inspired Nordic Enchantment Collection to our Jewelled Opulence Collection full of luxurious textures. Plus, we have a unique inner London delivery service – who doesn’t love a knowledgeable man in a kilt and Santa hat?
What are your top tree-decorating tips?
Make sure the tree is in a very secure stand, preferably water holding, as it will keep the tree fresh for longer. Test the lights before putting them on the tree and then decorate colour by colour to ensure you get an even spread.
What happens once Christmas is over?
They’re chipped, recycled and go back into the circle of life! All the trees we cut down are replaced with new seedlings – in fact we plant far more than we cut.