Many people wrap their barbecues up in a winter coat in the autumn and allow their tools and charcoal to gather dust until the weather warms up again. For those of us prepared to brave the cold, rain and wind, the long months between late autumn and early spring present a wonderful opportunity. Think roasts, stews, bakes and more – if summer is for burgers, sausages and kebabs with salads, then winter is for everything that makes you feel warm from the inside out.

It has become increasingly common for people to cook at least a part of their Christmas dinner outside, which is an excellent way to increase your overall cooking capacity and give your flavours the turbo boost that outdoor cooking brings. Plenty has been written about how to incorporate barbecuing on the big day, but what about the surrounding days spent with friends and family, when no one fancies yet another roast? It is on these days that we can enjoy pressure-free cooking without having to adhere to any kind of conventional menu tradition.

During December in my house, we reserve the classic roast with all the trimmings for the 25th only (maybe Boxing Day too, but we're only human and it IS delicious), so my course of action otherwise is to look to the rest of the world for inspiration for what to cook and eat. Here I will provide some tried and tested ideas for meals two days either side of Christmas Day, along with recommendations for equipment that can be put to good use. Recipes won't be included, but I think it's more fun to take an idea, experiment with your own flair and end up with something uniquely yours.

23rd December – Mediterranean – Pulled lamb shoulder with hearty spiced pilaf
This is a superb time of year to eat British lamb, especially cooked low and slow, as the animal is older and has therefore developed a deeper flavour. In December, lambs born in spring are closer to being considered hogget and, as such, are bigger and produce firmer meat with the fuller flavour mentioned. It is very easy to over-smoke lamb, so I recommend using only a small amount of a very mild fruit wood to give just a hint of smoke. For the pilaf, I use a Weber Dutch Oven to lightly colour some orzo with onion before adding basmati rice and cooking it in stock. How you spice it is up to you, but I favour things like cardamom, cinnamon with a dusting of sumac once cooked. You can also add dried fruit for a touch of tangy sweetness.

24th December – French – Sharing steak with sauce Robert and dauphinoise potatoes
I always recommend buying thicker steaks and sharing them, rather than buying a thinner individual steak for each person. For this recipe, I would almost always choose a rib eye on the bone (call it a côte du boeuf with a heavy French accent to really impress) of a thickness at least 1.5". Dimensions are somewhat dictated by the width of the bone, but speak to your butcher and get it as thick as possible. I choose to reverse sear such steaks, as it is nearly foolproof and guarantees delicious results. Cook it indirect until it has reached the desired internal temperature and then use something like the Weber Cast Iron Sear Grate over a terrifying heat to get a beautiful dark crust on the exterior.
The Weber Wok or Dutch Oven are perfect for making sauces (swap in a different sauce if you can't be bothered with fussing over a demi glace!) and the Weber Foil Trays make excellent baking vessels for dishes such as dauphinoise potatoes.

26th December – Indian – Leftovers biryani and vegetable curry
This is a time of breathtaking consumption and waist-expansion, but that doesn't mean it should be a time of waste. In my view, there is no excuse to throw any food away over the Christmas period. Biryanis and curries are so good for avoiding waste because you can put pretty much anything in them, finding a place for almost every scrap of leftovers. The Biryani is similar in concept to the pilaf, with the addition of whatever meat you have leftover. I haven't ever had leftover pigs in blankets to chuck in, but I see no reason why it wouldn't be a splendid, if not slightly ridiculous, idea. If you're feeling adventurous and have the time, making your own naan bread is fun, and the Weber Pizza Stone will get you closer to a restaurant style naan than your oven. A pizza oven will get you closer still, and is well worth the extra effort. Those of you lucky enough to have an actual tandoor oven should be familiar with the process and results. Of all the ideas I've given here, this day offers the most freedom: you can look up beautiful authentic recipes or you can chuck everything in a pot (the Weber Dutch Oven, perhaps) and add some spices and completely wing it. I've done both and both are completely valid approaches.

27th December – American/Mexican – Hot Caesar/Cobb salad
After days of heavy meals, I often crave something a bit lighter, although I stop short of having a conventional salad. Leaving the root on a romaine lettuce, I cut it into quarters and braise it in a mixture of seasoned water and butter. Stick it on a hot grill to get some nice char and it can be served hot with the assembled salad. I would always choose to cook a whole chicken on a Weber Rotisserie and shred the meat by hand before putting it with the other ingredients. Rotisserie cooked meat is some of the juiciest you can get as the juices inside are constantly redistributing as the joint turns. What else you put in this salad is up to you, but I would go for bacon, boiled egg, parmesan and croutons as a minimum.

Hopefully, this article has provided some ideas for ways to introduce some unusual dining to the festive period. I'm always on the hunt for such ideas myself, all year round, so would love to see some of what you are cooking. If you're on Instagram and post any photos of your food, tag me at @cookfood.eatfood (give me a follow too if you're feeling generous!).

Happy cooking!

Joe, Cook Food. Eat Food

Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

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