Christmas dinner is usually the largest meal you will cook all year and often involves the most guests, so it can be a stressful time.
This is the last thing you need on what should be the most enjoyable day of the year, but thankfully there are some useful ways to ensure you maintain the Christmas cheer right through to Boxing Day.
The keys are to plan ahead, be organised, get guests to help out – that’s right! - and also keep an emergency glass of sherry aside, just in case things start to get stressful.
MasterChef Live winner Gareth Kyle has some fail-safe advice to ensure that December 25 doesn’t involve any culinary disasters and that all guests will be satisfied after the last spoonful of Christmas pudding has disappeared.
Start with a piece of paper and on one side write a list of the tasks involved including all preparation of your dinner as well as things like setting the table, getting the spare chairs from the garage, serving welcome drinks etc. On the other side at the bottom write the time you want to serve dinner and work backwards from there so you have a schedule for what needs to be done every 15 minutes from the day before right up until dinner is served. Also make sure you leave plenty of time for the turkey (if buying frozen, allow plenty of time to defrost! Oven space could also become limited so you may want to cook it well ahead of time and let it rest before carving.
Clear out the fridge and freezer pre-shopping to make sure there is space for everything and to ensure your ingredients are easier to find. And, of course, don’t forget to sharpen your knives and stock up on non-food items such as tin foil, cling film and sealable food bags.
Keep it simple
Plan your menu carefully. Starters such as soups which are reheated easily or pates and terrines which can be served cold and can be prepared in advance are ideal. For the main dinner, keep it as simple as possible; three types of vegetables is more than enough.
You can also ask your guests to bring desserts or additional drinks. Is Aunt Edith the only person who likes Christmas pudding? Ask her to bring one she likes and save the additional stress. Cheers Edith!
Make sure you have everything you need to do the job right – enough saucepans, a good roasting tray that the turkey fits into, sharp knives, a slotted spoon, tongs and a ladle, as well as sufficient crockery, cutlery and glassware for everyone.
When getting organised and writing a schedule make sure you utilise as much help as possible and share all tasks out – teamwork makes the dream work, as they say!
The day before there is plenty of peeling and preparing to be done and many hands make light work – prepare all the vegetables on Christmas Eve and part roast your potatoes now. They can be finished in a hot oven once you’ve taken the turkey out on Christmas Day – simply par-boil them as usual then roast until pale golden before removing them (and the fat) to cool before covering in foil ready for the next day.
The day before is also a great time to make things like pigs in blankets and stuffing and - if you have time - you can also make the gravy to reheat before dinner.
Make life easier
Lighten the load and use a few shop-bought shortcuts – things like cranberry sauce, bread sauce, desserts, even sausages pre-wrapped in bacon will save you time! It’s still worth making your own gravy though as nothing is quite the same as homemade gravy with real meat juices; this bit really brings the whole dinner together!
Remember to enjoy the day!
It is Christmas, after all. I’d advise keeping food - in the form of nibbles and pre-prepared canapes - and boozy drinks flowing for your guests and yourself while the main event is prepared, and also make sure you have a sous chef or two to help clear up as you go. And don’t forget to keep your sherry topped up as you cook.
Gareth Kyle is a chef based in the North East of England and a former winner of MasterChef Live and the MasterChef Champion of Champions event. He also organises pop-up restaurant events and private dining services to individual clients as well as working on blog and food article writing, cookery classes, and event and food festival management. For more information or to contact Gareth, visit www.garethkyle.co.uk.