Argh! Your heart starts to race, your palms get a bit sweaty and you look more than a little flustered. I know that look of fear in your eyes – you must be hosting Christmas Dinner!
For many people, Christmas Dinner is their favourite meal of the year – no pressure, eh? Ours is far from perfect (one day I WILL work out how to serve everything hot at the same time!) but it’s much improved from my first attempts. So, if it’s your turn to cook the festive feast this year and you’re a bit overwhelmed, stay calm and fear not – here are some top tips I’ve picked up along the way to help you out.
As one of my best friends says –
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
I’m a bit of a control freak all year round, but even if you’re less of a stress head than me, you definitely need a plan for cooking Christmas Dinner. ‘Tis the season to be organised and you’ll have a far more relaxed day as a result.
Plan your menu in advance and work out quantities that you need. If you need to order food (e.g. from local butcher or supermarket) do it as early as you can. It’s something ticked off your to-do list and it’ll save you being THAT person fighting over a turkey on Christmas Eve!
For cooking on Christmas Day, I put together a list of times when I need to do things and stick it to the fridge so I can tick it off as I go. It’s pretty detailed (like when to pre heat the oven, check turkey, heat sausages etc.) but it means no thinking on the day so I prefer it.
Non Food Preparations
Firstly, make sure you have enough chairs, crockery and cutlery for the number of guests coming. We once had 14 people (!) and had to get people to bring extra. No one wants to try and eat a roast swimming in gravy with the promotional chopsticks you got from the takeaway!
I love Christmas morning and want to spend it relaxed and enjoying watching Wonderboy open his presents – I refuse to spend the whole day in the kitchen! So in our house, we set the table on Christmas Eve once Wonderboy’s in bed, put all the drinks in the fridge to chill (or even outside as it’s usually cold enough and saves space) and lay out all the glasses, serving dishes and plates.
What size should you buy? How long does it take to cook? How do you know it’s ready and avoid your guests leaving with food poisoning? It’s a poultry nightmare.
As a guide, I’ve always gone with the advice of allowing 500g of meat on the bone per person. This should give you enough for Christmas Dinner plus leftovers for some tasty meals later in the week. Obviously it’ll depend on how greedy your guests are though!
For all things turkey, check out the British Turkey website. I particularly love the calculators they have for working out the size of turkey to buy, cooking times and, for those of you who prefer to buy a frozen turkey, they also have a handy calculator for defrosting times.
Cooking and Preparing Things In Advance
I tried cooking everything on the day once and it was the most stressful cooking experience I’ve ever had. Never again.
Instead I have embraced the idea of cooking ahead and heating through – if it’s good enough for the posh restaurant kitchens on Masterchef, then it’s good enough for me! I make the stuffing the day before and put it (uncooked) in a loaf tin covered in tin foil ready to pop in the oven. I make the pigs in blankets and cook them under the grill, let them cool and put them on a baking tray covered in foil. This means they just need warmed through in the oven for 10/15 mins which is great.
The turkey gets prepped (butter stuffed under the skin and some streaky bacon over the breasts to protect them a bit) and put in its roasting tray with foil over it – ready to be the first thing in the oven on Christmas Day.
For the veg sides, I par cook my sprouts and put them in icy water to keep their colour. Drain and keep in a sealed tub overnight. Then I only need to cook them in a frying pan with some garlic, bacon and butter when they’re needed – 5 mins does it and, yes, I do chop up the bacon and mince the garlic the day before! Cabbage is shredded and carrots are chopped all ready just to be cooked for 10 mins before dinner.
I’ve not tried this tip myself, but I know plenty of people who make their gravy way in advance and freeze it so it just needs reheated.
(Obviously if you’re reheating anything, especially meat, make sure that it’s piping hot all the way through before serving. No one wants to combine food poisoning with a Christmas hangover!)
Best Tip – EVER!
We all know we’re meant to let meat rest for a while to let all the juices redistribute and for the meat to relax, apparently resulting in a more tender mouthful. BUT, did you know that if you cover your cooked turkey in a couple of layers of foil plus a tea towel over the top it’ll stay hot for a good 90mins or even more?! You maybe knew this already but I didn’t realise it would stay properly hot for that long until my Aunt shared her secret. Hurrah – problem with lack of oven space solved!
I now wait until the turkey is cooked and resting before cranking up the temperature and putting the potatoes in to roast for an hour. Stuffing follows and is then joined by pigs in blankets to reheat. No worries about fitting everything in because the turkey’s already sorted.
And if all that doesn’t prevent you losing it on the Big Day itself, you can always resort to copious amounts of wine!
Good luck and Merry Christmas x
If you have any of your own tips to make Christmas Dinner easier then share them below – I’m always on the lookout for good ideas!