Christmas survival guide
Anyone who’s ever cooked a Christmas dinner knows that it doesn’t start on the morning of the 25th. It starts much before that, from ordering the meat to cleaning the oven. And the more that can be done ahead of time, the more chance you’ll get to the end of the day without turning into a basket case. One word will save you from the Christmas from hell, and that’s prep.
What you can do now
For me, before the big day, it’s vital to make notes and create a cooking schedule. It does seem a tad OTT, but it helps me cook the Christmas lunch with military precision. (And without it, I guarantee there’d be tears before the Queen’s speech – and they don’t have to be mine!)
I also make sure I’ve got everything I need in the house, like checking I have enough seats, napkins, plates, cutlery, those sorts of things (a mistake that’s only made once when you spend the whole meal sitting on a footstool). And, I check I’ve got enough tin foil, cling film, bin bags and sturdy foil trays.
Goodness, I’ve not even mentioned food yet!
A fridge clear out is a must. All those old jars of half-eaten condiments are taking up valuable fridge real estate, so pop them in the cupboard. You need room for prepared vegetables and then for the leftovers.
Now you can get down to business. Things like gravy, starters, dessert, bread sauce, cranberry sauce (although I think life is too short to make homemade cranberry sauce) can all be made days before. Your red cabbage will actually improve if cooked a couple of days before. I also make a big pot of soup too – it’s always good for people coming in from the cold, and it’s an easy starter. I’m not ashamed to say I buy desert – it may seem lazy but I’d rather put all my eggs into the main course basket. And, I make sure there are plenty of lovely cheeses in the fridge for a cheese board later on (although it does astonish me that we ever fit it in).
Ah, Christmas Eve. The day when all the kids are thinking about that perfect present and grown ups across the country are worrying about the mammoth task they have to achieve the following day, all whilst elbow deep in wrapping paper and sellotape. Which is why the more prep you do today, the easier it’ll be to relax, happy in the knowledge that there are few hiccups that can arise tomorrow.
Today, you can start by prepping your veg. The carrots and parsnips can be peeled and popped in a pan of water and the sprouts can be trimmed and popped in water too. A lot of people say you can peel and cut your potatoes and place them in water but I don’t, I think they become waterlogged.
Then, wrap your pigs in blankets, whack in a foil tray, cover and put in the fridge. A top tip (from my mother) is that she always buys twice as many chipolatas as she thinks she’ll need – people just can’t get enough of these babies. And, they’re ideal for sandwiches later on and for Boxing Day brekkie.
A Christmas Eve tradition of mine is that I always cook Nigella’s coca cola ham. It is the tastiest ham I’ve ever had hands down, however mad it sounds to submerge a ham in a 2 litre bottle of coke. It’s so good in fact, that it has the potential to overshadow the turkey (unless, like me, you’ve decided to stuff the turkey this year and are making the tastiest rib of Scotch Beef instead).
Another good tip if your fridge is bursting at the seams with food prep and there’s nowhere for the champers and white wine, then you can put the booze outside – it is December after all. Get the table set and all Christmassy and now, off to bed – it’s a big day tomorrow.
Dun dun dun. When the day has arrived, am I worried? Not a jot. Not with my trusty cooking schedule by my side. As soon as I get up in the morning, before I put the kettle on or marvel at my presents, I get that oven on. It’ll take a while to heat up. And I take all my meats out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
Then I have a coffee and open some presents.
After I’ve got over the disappointment of the wrong perfume gift (it has been 3 years in a row and this year will be no exception), I get the meat in the oven. I cook this amazing roast beef according to these timings. And, of course, I’ve always got the handy “Perfect Steaks and Roasts” app, which you can get for free on iTunes and Google Play.
Get Radio 2 on, I’m sure Mickey Bubble will be singing something Christmassy. Some might pour a Bucks Fizz, and I’m no exception. It’ll help you peel and chop your potatoes and get them in the water with a bit more festive cheer.
About 40 minutes before the finishing time of your roast, the pigs in blankets just need popped in the oven. The potatoes, once par boiled, shoogle them around to create more rough edges, then pop in a foil tray with hot goose fat and place in the oven for 45ish minutes. And get the carrot and parsnips in a roasting tin and in the oven too. Once I’ve taken the meat out of the oven to rest, I get the sprouts on the hob and reheat my gravy till piping hot, not forgetting to use any pan juices from the meat.
While the meat’s resting, I reheat the soup for the starter. I’ve usually managed to bung in some ready to cook bread rolls at some point for the soup, but if you manage to bake your own, then I take my antlers off to you.
And now it’s pretty much a matter of waiting till it’s all done. Everything might not be perfect – your sprouts might have needed a minute or two less, but come on, don’t be too hard on yourself. Pull a cracker, tell a joke, and top up your wine – it’s Christmas. (And phew, it’s over for another year.)