faking it for christmas – 6 tips for stress free entertaining

poached ocean trout

It’s that time of year.

My sister Batgirl is getting ready to fly North to Utah for a winter of ski patrolling. The Christmas decorations have begun to appear in store. The days are getting warmer [or cooler].

Yes my friends it’s time for Fake Christmas.

For those of you not familiar with the concept [invented by my sister a few years back]. It’s basically an Australian version of Thanksgiving – you gather your family & friends together for a big meal – but there’s no pressure to buy gifts.

For the story behind our first Fake Christmas read more HERE.

We celebrated Fake Christmas last weekend. In the past I’ve gone for multiple courses and lots of stress. But this year I followed a more minimalist approach – seriously fun hanging out on the front verandah, enjoying a glass of champagne while watching the sun set.

Which got me thinking about my tips for stress free minimalist entertaining.

Happy Fake Christmas everyone.

6 tips for stress free entertaining

i. delegate
I used to feel compelled to do everything myself but with my new minimalist approach I’ve discovered the joys of delegating. While the obvious benefit is having less to do, I’ve found that it also brings everyone together. Much more inclusive and collaborative when everyone is contributing.

If you’re struggling to let go. Try little steps at a time. Trust someone with the wine or dessert or get someone to do an appetiser.

I’ve also found that the non-cooks generally love to be given the option to make a financial contribution – a massive help if you’re like me and spend a disproportinate amount of your income on food.

ii. outsource
Another minimalist discovery is that it isn’t always best practice to make everything from scratch. Your guests will understand if not everything has been created by your own hand.

While claiming a store bought roast chook as something you whipped up yourself may not win them over – claiming your sources will give you points for honesty and possibly inventiveness.

iii. do it ahead
There’s nothing like having things prepared ahead of time to take the pressure off the cook. It takes some planning but you’ll be very appreciative when you’re relaxed and sipping champagne with your guests.

iv. big is beautiful
Make the most of the opportunity of feeding a crowd. Go for larger, more impressive options. A whole salmon, a glazed ham, or a turkey with all the trimmings go hand in hand with larger gatherings for a reason.

v. simplify the sides
It’s easy to get carried away with the sides when you have a lot of mouths to feed. But here’s where you can really save on time. One larger serving of a green salad is far easier to make and looks more beautiful than 3 or 4 smaller fiddly offerings.

The other thing to look for is opportunities to combine your sides. Why go to the effort of a sauce and a salad when you can combine the two like my potato salad ‘tartare’.

vi. take the pressure off yourself
People are always so appreciative of being cooked for, myself included.

There’s something special about home cooking that fulfills needs on so many levels. Never feel that people are expecting or even wanting a fancy restaurant meal.

clancy family fake christmas 2009 menu

woodfired bread with smoked salmon & caperberries [by the lovely Rea]
whole poached ocean trout
potato salad ‘tartare’
green salad
little berry souffles with fresh cream

poached ocean trout

whole poached ocean trout
serves 8

Inspired by Sean Moran from his lovely book Let It Simmer – a collection recipes of one of my all time favourite restaurants, Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi. Pick up a copy at fishpond.com.au or amazon.com

This has to be one of the easiest ways to entertain. All the work is done the day before so you are free to relax and enjoy your guests. No setting the alarm for 6am to stuff the turkey and get it in the oven in time for lunch.The most difficult thing is sourcing a worthy fish and a pot big enough to hold it.

I’ve always been a bit wary of poaching – I hate loosing flavour to the poaching liquid. But by adding some veg and making a brine, this fish has a lovely flavour with that soft delicate texture that only poaching can bring. I hate to admit it but I think I’m becoming a convert.

1 ocean trout or salmon (2.5kg or 5.5 lb)
2 carrots, chopped
2 brown onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1C salt
1/3C sugar
1 bunch thyme
6L (6 quarts) water
lemon halves, to serve
potato salad ‘tartare’, to serve
green salad, to serve

Place fish in a large saucepan so it curves and sits upright like it is swimming. My saucepan was 30cm diameter and 18cm deep (that’s 12in by 7in). Add remaining ingredients except the lemon – if your pot is smaller you might want to mix up the water, sugar and salt in a separate bucket and then just add enough to cover the fish.

Place on the stove on a very high heat. When you see the very first signs of a simmer, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature for a few hours. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

To serve, remove fish from the liquid and allow to drain well. If you’re feeling theatrical place on a serving platter and remove skin, leaving the head and tail in tact, decorate with lemon halves and carve at the table.

Otherwise just remove the flesh in sections and place on a large platter with the lemon halves.

potato salad 'tartare'

potato salad ‘tartare’

serves 8

Also inspired by Sean – this salad is what happens when tartare sauce and potato salad hook up in the kitchen. Part salad, part sauce – very minimalist.

By all mean make your own mayo if you feel the urge, but the yoghurt will freshen things up enough to disguise if you do decide to outsource and use a store bought mayo.

1 1/2kg (3lb) waxy potatoes like kipfler or yukong gold
1C whole egg mayonnaise
1/4C natural yoghurt
2T capers
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 bunch chives, chopped

Scrub potatoes and place in a large saucepan. Cover with water and a generous scoop of salt and bring to the boil. Simmer until tender when pierced with a knife, approx 25 -30 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

When cool enough to handle, thickly slice potatoes and toss through the dressing. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold when you’re ready.


For any fellow writers, you might be interested in a guest post I wrote on writetodone about the benefits of having a writing mentor.

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  • Enjoyed reading your “fake Christmas”, and laughed when I clicked on the recipe for Sean Moran’s chocolate mousse cake. My husband made a chocolate chestnut cake as dessert for guests this weekend, and it flopped, looking pretty much the same as your cake photo. His brilliant idea was to push down on the cake with a saucer in an effort to bring the “Grand Canyon” cracks closer together, and then made a ganache for the top to disguise what had happened. The result also mirrored your finished cake, minus the fancy touch praline.
    Love your photos, by the way – the whole poached ocean trout looks scrumptious!

  • hey jennifer
    great minds think alike – your husband sounds like a very resourceful man
    the fish was even better than it looks.

  • Love your ideas. If we free ourselves to break from traditions that may not be working for us in favour of better traditions, we will ensure that Christmas is a time of family and togetherness rather than stress and anxiety.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Ahhh – fake christmas – the itinerant workers holiday of choice! Thanks for doing the cooking.

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