- Plan, plan, plan. Christmas dinner is all about timing, and the more organised you are, the calmer you'll feel. So work out what you’re going to cook in advance, and draw up a schedule for when you’ll do each bit. And don’t just plan the food; think about all the utensils and equipment you’ll need and when you will need them, so you’re not hunting for them in a panic at a critical moment.
- Enlist an assistant to help you keep the kitchen under control. A good way to avoid the lost-utensil problem, and to help everything feel a bit more relaxed, is to ask a friend or family member to be your sous-chef, responsible for washing and clearing up as you go along. Make sure it's someone who is happy to be told what to do and won’t make things more stressful; with the right companion in place, it can actually be loads of fun.
- Cook as much in advance as possible. There's so much you can get done ahead, which means more time for celebrating and chatting on the day. You can prep things like sauces and marinades well in advance, and seek out desserts and other parts of the menu that don’t need to be made at the last minute. In particular...
- Peel and prep your veg the day before. Washing, peeling, and slicing the veg is both boring and time-consuming – so get it out of the way on Christmas Eve. You can also save cooking time by blanching the vegetables the day before. Just par-cook them in hot boiling water until just tender, then immediately plunge into cold water. Then, when cold, drain off and store in the fridge. On the day, all you'll need to do is reheat them (microwaving is great for veg) and add any extra flavours (such as crispy bacon with sprouts or an orange glaze for your carrots).
- Cook for the equipment you have. Don’t plan a meal that requires too many different dishes to go in the oven at the same time – that's a headache waiting to happen. Instead, work out a menu and a schedule that allows you to juggle dishes and timings between your microwave, oven and hobs. If need be, invest in a portable gas or electric cooker to pick up the slack.
- Keep your menu and quantities in check. Your family traditions may involve lots of dishes, but just because you've had something before, you don’t need to include it every year. So think about who will be with you on the day, and what they would like to eat, then cook just about enough, with a few leftovers for Boxing Day. No one wants to eat turkey sandwiches for a week, nor to be throwing food away, and trying to cook too many different things will only pile on the pressure; keep things simple, and you’ll enjoy it more.
- Make sure the turkey and tray fit in your oven. Forgetting to check this is a common rookie error, and one that still gives people nightmares years later. Don’t just check the width; check the height too (imagining a big turkey sitting in the tray) and make sure you can fully close the door.
- Make time-saving changes to traditional favourites. There are some really easy tweaks you can make to lower your stress levels. For example, you could make a carrot and parsnip mash in advance and then just reheat it in the microwave on the day. This turns two vegetable dishes into one and goes beautifully with the roast potatoes. Just make sure you add enough butter when cooking so it’s creamy and delicious when reheated; for an added twist, add a bit of cumin or cinnamon.
- Rest the roast before carving. This is one part of the cooking process that you really can’t rush. Resting the meat lets the juices relax back into it, making it tender and delicious; if you carve too soon, the juices will flow out, leaving it tough and possibly a bit tasteless. A turkey should be rested for at least 30 minutes before carving; if you cover it loosely with tin foil and leave it in a warm place, it will stay hot for up to 45 minutes (leaving your oven free to cook your roast potatoes).
- Don’t bother making a separate gravy. Resting time is also the perfect moment to make your gravy – using the juices from the meat. Once you have taken the roast from the tray, pour or skim off the fat and place the tray on the hob on a low heat. Pour in some port, Madeira or wine to deglaze the tray and get all the lovely bits off the bottom. use flour or cornflour to thicken it, and some butter to make it glossy and delicious. You can also add a spoon or two of cranberry jelly if you’d like to sweeten it up.
We hope these simple tips will help you enjoy a fun, relaxing meal; feel free to share your pictures with us on social media.
In the meantime, from all of us at Cook for Good, have a very merry Christmas.