Christmas. A time to eat, drink and be merry, but that last bit can be tricky when you’re in charge of the kitchen. Take the pressure off with these top tips
Why you decided it would be a good idea to offer to cook Christmas dinner for umpteen people is beyond you. But it’s your festive reality in 2018. You’ve briefly toyed with hiding under a pile of tinsel with a bottle of sherry and hoping no one would turn up, but we don’t think that’s going to happen.
So, instead, why not take the turkey by the giblets and use our foolproof cheats to get you through the whole ordeal?
1. Plan a filling – and easy – breakfast
Bacon sarnies, a giant omelette, boiled eggs and soldiers are all solid contenders. If you’re eating turkey at 1pm, serve around 9am, but if it’s later, go for a ‘brunch time’ of 10.30 to 11am. That way, there’ll be no rumbling tummies to add to the pressure.
No one wants to be taken out by a precariously balanced brie or trip on runaway sprouts. So BEFORE you embark on your big Christmas shop, clean out the fridge-freezer so it’s then easy to organise and get to all the festive food inside.
Throw away anything way past its use-by date, and make more room by relocating any jams, chutneys or sauces that don’t really need to be stored in there to a cool, dark cupboard.
3. Free up space on your hob
Cook your veggies in an electric steamer with multiple baskets, and you won’t just save space – there’s no need to worry about pots boiling over, either, as you just fill the base with the appropriate amount of water and then wait for the buzz when the timer runs down.
We like to put hardier vegetables (such as carrots) in the bottom basket and more delicate ones (leafy kale or leeks) towards the top.
4. Have a boozy treat ready for guests
Mulling wine or cider is super-easy, and a great distraction for your visitors if dinner is running late! Plus, if you do it in a slow cooker, it won’t take up valuable hob space and stays warm for the duration – CrockPot’s Saute Traditional slow cooker, for example, can keep festive brew toasty all day.
For a delicious mulled wine, add a bottle of red wine, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a few star anise, five cloves, a sliced orange and lemon and either 100g brown sugar or four tablespoons of honey and simmer it on LOW for a couple of hours, before switching it to the keep-warm setting.
5. Use your loaf… maker!
You’ll be amazed at what you can make in a bread maker. Here are just a few of the things it can do to save the day over the festive season:
Make cranberry sauce
If it has a jam making setting, you can rustle up a sauce to serve with your turkey. Try a mix of 800g of cranberries, 75g of castor sugar and 75ml of orange juice.
Bake gluten-free bread
Cater for a wheat-intolerant visitor with this handy mode. You could either use a gluten-free packet mix or create your own.
Whizz up a last-minute mulled wine fruit cake
If there’s not enough Christmas cake to go round, pad out your dessert trolley with this easy bake. Put 350g of mixed dried fruit, 50g chopped dates, 50g chopped walnut, 100g dried cranberries, 75g of butter and 300ml of mulled wine into a bowl and pop it in the microwave on full blast for 3-4 minutes. Remove the kneading blade from the bread maker, line the pan with parchment and add the mixture. Finally, select Bake Only and enter 1 hour 15mins on the timer. Leave it to stand for 5 to 10 minutes before taking it out of the tin…
Create the dough for a turkey-topped pizza
Most bread makers have a pizza dough setting. Then it’s just a case of adding your toppings and baking at 220°C. We love Cheddar cheese with turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing balls.
6. Have a simple recipe up your sleeve
This one comes from our mate Dan Doherty, head chef at Duck & Waffle: ‘Find an easy cake recipe that requires a few ingredients to be mixed together and then just put in your oven. You can rustle it up quickly if extra guests arrive and everyone will be impressed.’
And if that still sounds like too much work, just keep a box of Betty Crocker’s finest in the cupboard!
7. Don’t overcook the turkey
‘A turkey will continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes after you have brought it out of the oven, so cook it until it is just done and no more,’ advises chef Nick Nairn. ‘I also don’t cover my turkey, as the condensation from the foil drips back into the bird and you won’t get a crispy skin.
‘My tip to check that the turkey is cooked is to use a Thermapen digital thermometer – pop it into the thickest part of the breast and waggle it around to get the lowest reading. When it reads 75°c, the turkey should be perfectly cooked.’
8. Do as much as you can before Christmas Day
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A bit obvious, maybe, but good preparation will go a long way. We like to serve a homemade soup as a starter as we can make it in advance – it’s one of those dishes that always tastes better reheated the next day.
Gravy, stuffing and Yorkshire puds can all be made days before and frozen – just remember to defrost them! Jamie Oliver is a big fan of prepping veg the night before, too. He suggests that you parboil and tray-up your vegetables, cover with tin foil and keep in batches in the fridge until it’s time to roast them.
Another tip for delicious roasties? Jamie suggests that, two-thirds of the way through roasting, squash them with a masher or fish slice. This increases the surface area and maximises crispy bits. Yum!