Planning A Christmas Self Catering Holiday

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 Posted by

Spending your Christmas holiday in self catering accommodation needs some special planning to ensure that your break is memorable for all the right reasons. The problem with choosing to spend Christmas away from home is that it can become more difficult to carry out your usual traditions such as a roasted Christmas Dinner or decorating the tree on Christmas Eve. We look at a selection of ideas to ensure that you don’t miss out on any of your favourite parts of the festive vacation.

Food:
Cooking facilities in self catering apartments are often limited, both in space and equipment available. What this means in practice is that cooking a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings becomes rather tricky and stressful, even for the most experienced of chefs.

One way of tackling this problem is to plan ahead and book a meal in a restaurant for Christmas Day to ensure that you and your family get to eat all the usual favourites.  Some restaurants even do a takeaway service, although there is no guarantee that the food will be as good as Mum used to make and meals like these tend to be pricey, which is not so good if you are working to a tight budget.

If your self catering break finds you in a sunny climate, take a leaf out of the Aussie’s book and make your Christmas meal a festive picnic in the park or at a local beauty spot. Pack cold cuts of meat, seafood and any other easy to prepare and eat goodies. If you can get your hands on a portable BBQ you could even grill food to order – some people do this in the UK, but be prepared to wrap up in lots of warm clothing!

If your family really can’t bear to be without the traditional Christmas banquet, you could  try simplifying the menu. Think turkey or chicken breasts rather than a whole bird, which could take hours to cook, and  ready chopped vegetables if you have only a small preparation space to work within. Most ingredients can be bought prepared, so you save time and space as you only need to heat the food through and serve.

Decorations and Gifts:
You probably won’t want to heave your entire Christmas tree and all your decorations to your holiday destination, but there is no reason why your  self catering accommodation should be drab and dreary. Bring a little Christmas cheer to the room by making a elegant table decoration by filling a glass bowl with baubles, pine cones and mandarin oranges- with the addition of a few candles this could be used as a cheerful centrepiece for your dinner table.

If you find yourself in the countryside, take some inspiration from foliage, plants and berries which you find locally and make a creative arrangement or wreath. You could even make a mini Christmas tree to put your gifts under, using a small tree branch and a few colourful decorations.

Those who are travelling by air to their holiday destination will need to think through gifts carefully. Luggage weight limits, and restrictions on what can be carried should be consulted to ensure you do not end up having to abandon a special gift.

Entertainment:
An  important aspect of Christmas for many families is relaxing together and watching some classic Christmas movies on the television. Check ahead as to whether your accommodation includes a television and/or DVD player- if not you may want to pack a portable DVD player or laptop and some of your favourite films.

Those taking their break with children in tow might want to consider taking some extra “quiet time” activities to keep the kids busy- board games, cards or even a few favourite books will help to keep them occupied when you need peace and quiet!

If possible, research the area which you’ll be visiting before your vacation. Local newspapers and websites are a good source of information for what is going on in the region, and you’re sure to find events like carol singing, Santa’s Grotto and church services. You may even discover a new traditions to incorporate into your family’s annual festivities.

Many of our readers will have fond childhood memories of picking blackberries, or brambles as they are known in some parts of the U.K. While gathering foodstuffs from the forests and hedgerows is a less common  pastime these days, Britain’s countryside is still a veritable treasure chest of edible delights. If your self catering break takes you to the countryside,  this is a fabulous opportunity to spend some time looking at little closer at what nature has to offer.

While gathering the bounties of mother earth can be a fun activity for all the family, there are a few important rules to bear in mind. The first and most vital is Never put anything in your mouth if you are not 100% sure that it is safe. Although there are many delights to be found in the wild, there are also many highly toxic fruits and plants . The shiny black berries of Deadly Nightshade and pea-like seed pods of the Laburnum tree are two examples which might look tasty but can be deadly if consumed- even in small doses.
The second rule is not to pick more than you need. You might have discovered what looks like an abundant source of berries but remember that there are many small native species which rely on these natural foodstuffs to survive our chilly winters.
The third and final rule- don’t leave litter. It goes without saying really, but if we all threw bottles, packets and cigarette butts on the ground, every beautiful place would soon resemble a tip. Score some extra “karmic brownie points” by taking a spare rubbish bag with you and picking up any litter you come across.

So now we have got the rules out of the way, lets have a closer look at some of the wild food goodies which have been enjoyed by the people of Britain since ancient times.

Possibly the most common and easy to find hedgerow food is the aforementioned blackberry. If you have never had the pleasure of collecting and eating sweet, juicy blackberries on a late summer afternoon, then this is where to start. Blackberries grow prolifically in woodlands, through hedges and on waste ground. The bushy plant has many thorns along its stem so take care not to get spiked and wear old clothes, as the dark purple juice of the berries can easily stain.
According to old English superstition, blackberries should not be picked after the 11th of October (Old Michaelmas Day): it was said that the devil had passed and marked them as his!

Not to be confused with the Horse Chestnut or Conker Tree, the Sweet Chestnut provides us with delicious chestnuts best enjoyed roasted on an open fire. The Sweet Chestnut tree, like many other so called hedgerow foods, was brought to Britain by the Romans. The Sweet Chestnut Tree is fast growing and can reach heights of up to 30m.
Sweet Chestnuts can be gathered in autumn, when they ripen and fall from the tree. Before roasting over the fire or in a hot oven, use a sharp knife to cut a small cross in the bottom of each nut, this prevents the nut exploding! Roasted chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are similar in texture to a roasted potato.

The distinctive smell of wild garlic is hard to miss. Known by many names including ransoms, bear’s garlic and wood garlic, wild garlic is part of the chive family and can be found growing in deciduous woods. The white flowered plant could be confused with poisonous garden flower lily of the valley, one way to check is to crush it’s leaves between your fingers- if a smell of garlic is released then your identification is correct.
Use wild garlic to flavour an omelette or as an ingredient for a crisp green salad. You could also try making a healthy soup using the leaves along with some potatoes and a rich stock.

These are just three of the most common hedgerow foods you can find on a walk through the countryside. If you would like to learn more about what is safe to eat and what to avoid, Ray Mear’s Wild Food Guide comes highly recommended.

A Full English Breakfast is a lovely way to start a lazy Sunday morning on a self catering holiday. Start your day with this favourite meal and you’ll be full of energy however you plan to pass the day. We have come up with a list of these nine vital ingredients for a delicious Full English to add to your shopping list – follow our tips on how to cook them to perfection in your self catering accommodation. 

1. Sausages
The best British Bangers are the ones that you can buy at your local butcher shop, where they are prepared using traditional methods. These tend to contain higher quality and quantity pork meat and are packed with far more flavour than their cheaper supermarket alternatives.
Sausages can be grilled or fried until they are crispy and golden brown, which some sausage fanatics say should take as long as forty minutes on a slow heat! You’ll probably find it easier to fry them at a medium temperature for about twenty minutes.

2. Bacon
For a proper English breakfast you need real English bacon. For that authentic flavour, ask your butcher for a dry cured smoked bacon. Allow two rashers of bacon for each person eating, and fry on both sides until cooked through- some people prefer it to be crunchier so let theirs fry for slightly longer. To keep the bacon from curling up in the pan, you might like to cut into the strip of fat with a pair of scissors or sharp knife.

3. Egg
If you are feeling particularly energetic you may offer your diners a choice of fried, poached, boiled or scrambled eggs- although with an English breakfast eggs are typically served fried.
Allow one egg per person- try to get free range, organic eggs where possible as they have significantly more flavour than factory eggs. Cook fried eggs in a a few teaspoons of sunflower oil, heated up in a frying pan. For those who like their egg yolk runny, fry the egg for 2/3 minutes and for a firmer consistency let it cook for a few minutes longer.

4. Baked Beans
You either love or hate baked beans, so these are an optional extra for your English breakfast.
Tinned baked beans can be most easily heated in a microwave, but can be warmed on a cooker top if required.

5. Grilled Tomato
Choose ripe and juicy Beefsteak tomatoes, where possible ripened on the vine. Each tomato will serve two people, cut in half and seasoned with black pepper and salt, then grilled until it is soft. If you do not have a grill in your accommodation, you can fry your tomato.
Avoid tinned tomatoes like the plague- they lack in flavour and spread a watery juice all over the plate which makes the crispier elements of your breakfast soggy.

6. Toast
Choose a thick or medium sliced white bread and toast under the grill until it is golden brown on both sides. Spread with butter and keep warm by wrapping in a clean tea towel or foil until serving. Two slices is usually sufficient for each person, though extra hungry family members may demand a second helping!

7. Grilled Mushroom
Select large flat mushrooms such as Portabello and allow one or two per person depending on their appetite. To prepare mushrooms, all you need to do it cut away the stem, and brush away any debris or soil remaining on the mushroom. Cook under a hot grill for two minutes on each side, or until the mushroom is soft and hot through.

8. Tea
A good hot cup of strong tea washes down your breakfast perfectly. For a delicious cuppa, use a teapot if there is one available. Purists might prefer loose tea such as Assam, but in self catering accommodations it’s unlikely that you’d want to be fiddling around with tea leaves- good quality tea bags will do. As a rule you will need one teabag per person and one for “the pot”.
Boil a pot of fresh water, and when it comes to boiling point allow it to cool slightly- tea connoisseurs say that the ideal water temperature for black tea is 70/80 degrees . You can warm the teapot to help keep the tea warmer for longer.
Allow your tea to infuse and release the flavour before pouring the tea and adding milk and sugar to taste.

9. Condiments
To complement the varied flavours and textures of your traditional breakfast, ensure that you provide a full selection of condiments. Since it is unlikely that you’ll need a whole bottle of tomato ketchup, mustard or brown sauce during your self catering break, look out for sachets of sauce which you get when you eat out at fast food restaurants. These can easily be packed into a small plastic box and slipped into a corner of your suitcase.
As well as your favourite sauces, remember to provide salt and black pepper, and perhaps a pot of jam or marmalade for those diners who like to finish their breakfast on a sweet note!