"I’m a big pig – there’s not much I don’t love," says Gizzi Erskine, as she prepares to share her headline ideas for the festive season with Stylist magazine. One of the UK's most exciting foodie talents is typically irreverent and full of infectious enthusiasm when it comes to Christmas, championing the delights of cheese, clementine Bellinis and fairy lights in roughly equal measure. Here are the food writer and TV chef's top festive tips, covering everything from seasonality to simple starters and the importance of turkey timers...
1. Keep the starters simple
"I think canapés are a bit past it," says Gizzi. "You want something to nibble on but when you’re at home you don’t want it to be so formal. What we like to do, which is really simple, is wrap some dates and/or prunes in bacon ("devils on horseback"), alongside smoked cheese wrapped in smoked bacon on platters. Serve these with "Bull Shot" which is spiced shot beef consommé with vodka."
2. Use a turkey timer
According to Gizzi, turkey timers are key to the perfect Christmas dinner centrepiece.
"I used one for the first time two years ago and I’m not going to look back," she says. "Little things you pop in your turkey and when it pings open, it means your turkey is perfectly cooked."
And for stuffing? "There are so many rules and regulations about stuffing the bird. I’ve always stuffed the bird. I think it’s about getting a really hot oven (220°C) for half an hour and then reduce the temperature to around 180°C for the rest of the cooking time. Cover it for the first 2-3 hours (how long exactly depends on how big the turkey is) and then brown the turkey at the end because otherwise it’s going to get too dark."
3. Be creative with vegetarian options
Gizzi recently cooked a five-course vegetarian meal for Boy George (in her role as an ambassador for the Hepatitis C Trust), so she's well-versed in the art of non-meat treats. She recommends "old-school, vintage-y looking" crudité, for example sauce gribiche - "which is kind of a posh-looking mayonnaise, there’s no getting away from it" - with chopped eggs, mayonnaise, capers, tarragon and cornichon.
Other dishes Gizzi suggests delighting your vegetarian guests with include Tomato consommé with horseradish and basil ("it looks pale, like water - but it's full of flavour"), roasted beetroots served with walnuts and goats cheese purée and a "pièce de résistance" whole roasted cauliflower with cheese fondue and crispy onion rings.
4. Have a berry dessert
When it comes to festive desserts, Gizzi has a soft spot for Mark Hix's white chocolate iced berries. "You just pop some really good quality berries in the freezer for about two or three hours until they’re just starting to set and go sorbet-y," she explains. "And then you cover that with a white chocolate sauce. You’ve got that whole hot-cold thing going on. And if you get really good quality white chocolate with vanilla pods in it, it’s just delicious."
Gizzi's also a fan of "little panna cottas, made using really good low fat Greek yoghurt. Serve them with seasonal fruit – blackberries or roasted rhubarb is fantastic." Click here for the recipe.
5. It's all about the cheese
"You know at Christmas all I want is a Vacherin," says Gizzi. "I know it sounds really boring but I just want something that is so super-goey that you can just plunge your bread straight into the cheese and have that with some grapes or figs or something like that. Just stick me in the corner with a glass of wine and I’m happy. It’s so delicious – there’s something so filthy about cheese and so opulent."
6. Keep it seasonal
As you'd expect, Gizzi's a big advocate of seasonality and locality. "You’ve got so many great ingredients when it comes to Christmas," she says. "You’ve got clementines, you’ve got all of your root vegetables, you’ve got lovely leaf greens. And then you’ve got your chestnuts and your dried fruit. For me, it’s really inspiring, you can play around."
Her favourite seasonal tipple is a Clementine Bellini - "really, really yum."
7. Go gaudy with decorations
There are no limits for Gizzi when it comes to blinging up your Christmas.
"The gaudier the better. I love the weird and wonderful decorations and the tackier the better as far as I’m concerned. I get sad when fairy lights are taken down," she says.
8. Learn from the experts
And finally, don't forget to dust off those cooking tomes and grab some inspiration from the experts.
"Elizabeth David is, for me, the don of Christmas cooking, without a shadow of a doubt," says Gizzi. "We might mock her cooking but Fanny Cradock’s Christmas book is amazing. You can’t live without Delia. And Nigella, her ham recipe with coca cola – I’ve been doing that for many years. I change it now, I use mango juice and mango chutney but it's a very similar recipe. I think the great thing about the traditional recipes is you can evolve them as you go on.
"One of the Elizabeth David recipes that I thought was really inspiring was one with a pickled red cabbage with sausage in it. And I thought, what a lovely other way to serve your sausages, your pigs in a blanket – to put them in a cabbage. And it was actually so delicious and beautiful."
Gizzi Erskine is ambassador of The Hepatitis C Trust and hosted a dinner party at Boy George’s house as part of the Hepatitis C Trust’s 'C Party' campaign which has seen celebrities come together to raise awareness and vital funds for the charity. Click here to see more about the campaign 0r to organise your own 'C Party', click here.