I know I say it every year, but if you’re cooking the Christmas lunch/dinner this year, it’s really important to remember that it’s YOUR Christmas too. I’ve got loads of tips here to make it as stress free as possible, so grab a drink, have a read through, and get your plan in order. At the end of the day, it’s just a big roast dinner, and this guide will help you spend as much time as possible with the family, and as little as possible in the kitchen!
Tip 1: plan now, relax later
You’ll have a much calmer Christmas if you spend a little time beforehand planning and preparing, so grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down a rough plan. Start at the time you want to serve the dinner (or lunch) and work backwards. This means that when Christmas day is in full flow, you can quickly refer to your timings and know exactly what you’re doing.
I’ve found a fantastic Christmas turkey guide here with everything you need to know, including prep, timings and even carving. Remember, if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding on the day, you’ll need to add this to your timetable (or you can free up an extra ring on the hob and just microwave it), and if you’re serving things like bacon wrapped sausages, stuffing, etc, don’t forget to add them in. Once you’ve got your plan, you can just tick stuff off as you do it.
Tip 2: do as much as you can in advance
Really, you can start now (I’m writing this on the 22nd) with a lot of the prep…
Potatoes: peel them, cut them into even sized chunks and pop them into cold water. Bring to them boil, then turn them down to a simmer and cook for as long as you dare (you need to keep a sharp eye on them, but the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze them (by this I mean pop them on a tray until solid) before sealing them in a large freezer bag and chucking them in the freezer (don’t put them straight into a bag – they’ll freeze together into one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from frozen.
Parsnips: peel, cut into quarters or whatever you like and pop the in the fridge. They don’t need blanching, but DO benefit from a nice little squidge of honey and a sprinkling of thyme before roasting for about half an hour.
Carrots: peel and blanch, cool, bag up and pop in the fridge. They can just be warmed up in some butter on the day, or just leave them raw and roast them along with the parsnips.
Sprouts: cut a bit off the bottom and take off any scruffy outer leaves. Blanch until just tender, cool and pop into the fridge. On the day, fry some pancetta or streaky bacon in lots of butter in a large frying pan, then add in the cooked sprouts and stir fry until they’re piping hot. A pack of those shrink-wrapped chestnuts go really well in this dish too.
Tip 3: home made stuffing is easy and delicious!
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 8-10, double up as necessary):
2 tbsp butter
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 dessert apples, grated (don’t bother to peel)
700 g pork sausage meat
1 pack whole chestnuts (vacuum packed) 200g
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Seasoning (I use Steenberg’s Perfect Salt)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat, chopped chestnuts and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. It will keep a good couple of days. On the day, it’ll take about 30-45 minutes (180 C, gas 4 – obviously more if you double up).
Tip 4: prep your turkey on Christmas Eve so it’s all ready to bung in the oven on Christmas morning.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas. Just recycle it afterwards.
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley. Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper. You can also criss cross the breast with some lovely streaky bacon.
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better to leave a bit of room for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weigh your turkey (remember if you ARE stuffing, you need to stuff before you weigh) and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it – a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap you’ll need to pack a bit of ice around it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
Tip 5: get organised on Christmas morning
First things first, check to see if Santa’s been. Then fetch the turkey from its hiding place and allow it to come to room temperature for about half an hour at least. There’s really no point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking.
Preheat the oven for half an hour before you need it, then when your carefully worked out timetable says so, just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, and stick the turkey on. If you remember, baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.
To make sure the turkey is done you should be able to wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
Remember, once covered with foil and maybe a couple of tea towels, the turkey will keep warm for AT LEAST an hour, leaving your oven free for all your other accompaniments:
Tip 6: for great roasties…
You really don’t need loats of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, whack the heat up high, then just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely with oil, goose fat or lard. Make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen (or chilled) potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then put them in your nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
Tip 7: make excellent gravy
You’ll have the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Skim off the worst of the fat from the stuff left in the roasting tin, then pop it on the hob, add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and whisk well, cooking out that ‘raw’ flour taste, before adding plenty of stock (buy ready made, or you can get even get turkey cubes – don’t worry about not using ‘home made’, all the flavours from the turkey will make it delicious. Bubble until thick and taste. If it’s at all bitter, a spoonful or two of cranberry sauce will lift it back up.
Get your veg on, stir fry your sprouts (or whatever you’re doing), and don’t forget to pop cranberry sauce on the table (here’s my favourite recipe).
Tip 8: forget the starters
Skip a starter – you’ll all be stuffed anyway – and just serve a lovely cocktail and a few nibbles: try a Poinsettia – a slug of Cointreau in the bottom of a champagne glass, then up to about half way with cranberry juice, and top up with fizz. Decorate with a little spiral of orange peel if you have time.
Tip 9: flame your Christmas pud
We tend to use vodka to flame the pudding as it gives really good, long lasting flames. Heat a ladle-full gently over the hob (be careful, nobody wants to see firemen on Christmas Day),then pour it over the pud and light it with a match. Beautiful! We buy brandy cream to serve with our pudding, but if you prefer custard, do yourself a favour and buy ready made – you’ve got enough to do!
Tip 10: DON’T PANIC!!
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember: it’s just dinner!
So that’s it. Enjoy your loved ones, eat too much, watch some trashy telly, put a Santa hat on the dog and have a wonderful day. So I’ll just say merry Christmas, from us lot, to you lot. Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas. Mwah xx
‘And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’
If you’re entertaining over the festive season (or any time!), I’ve teamed up with Flora to provide you with some really easy and delicious party food ideas, plus some simple tips for loving your leftovers!
If you’re baking, check out my rough puff mince pies, or for pie haters, why not make some Christmas cookies or my jaffa Christmas trees or chocolate orange cake? Still haven’t decorated that Christmas cake? Check out my Frozen Christmas cake, complete with Olaf!