Don’t get stressed this Christmas, get organised!
I usually get a bit fed up at this time of year with endless ‘how to avoid dry turkey’ articles in the media and all the ramblings about the stress of making the perfect Christmas dinner. There’s no need to get stressed, just get organised! Tell yourself it’s only a posh roast dinner after all and you’ll be fine. You may be making it for more people than usual but the rules of the game are still the same; prep ahead, write your timings down and above all – have fun!
So, my ‘less-stress’ tips…
- The most important thing to do first is to decide on your menu and then stick to it – everything else you do stems from that. There is nothing wrong with having exactly the same menu every year by the way. The great thing about Christmas is that it celebrates tradition; the tradition of the season and that of your own family. So, if you always have turkey and a particular set of trimmings and love it, have it. It’s nice to draw inspiration from the celeb chefs and foodie mags but not so it spoils your day by feeling pressurised into recreating a Michelin starred restaurant experience. You don’t have to have turkey either. We usually have goose. Last Christmas Day, we were invited out for a change and our niece Sam made us a Beef Wellington that I still have pleasant dreams about.
- Write everything down. Your menu, your guest list, your shopping list, your jobs to do in the run up to and on the day and the running order of your cooking schedule. A few years ago, I set up a standard Word document of my Christmas ‘to do’ lists – all I have to do now is re-save it, change the dates and alter a few small details each year. It makes life very much easier. If I’m using recipes from several different sources, especially if these are ‘once a year’ specialities that I can’t remember how to do off by heart, I mark the book and the page it’s on so I don’t have to spend ages rummaging about for it on the day.
- Teamwork! You don’t have to do everything yourself. If you can’t trust another member of your family to carry out the more tricky aspects of your menu, get them to peel the veg, set the table or serve drinks. If you have guests and they offer to bring a course, take them up on it. If they make something that you really love (mince pies, a chutney – anything really) don’t be afraid to ask them to bring it. If they aren’t very good at cooking, get them to bring cheese or something that is unlikely to be a culinary or reliability disaster.
- Think beyond the food organisation associated with mass Christmas catering. For example, do you have a big enough roasting tin for your turkey? (I once had to drive back to Pigeon Cottage HQ in my pyjamas early one Christmas morning in a mercy dash to pick up my largest roasting tin as the friends we were staying with had grossly underestimated the enormity of the turkey they’d bought). Do you have enough decent cutlery and crockery for the 15 people you’ve invited? Enough chairs? If not, don’t be afraid to borrow things from family and friends, especially if they are your guests – it’s not as if they’ll be needing them! I got invited to parties for years on the strength of loaning out my extra large coffee pot – well I think that’s what they were referring to anyway : ). Always remember to buy more kitchen roll, cooking foil and cling film than you think you will need. Disposable foil trays are brilliant – cheaper than new roasting dishes and they save on the washing up.
- Spread the load. If you write your food shopping list in advance, you can pick up the seasonal ingredients that sell out fast like chestnuts and fresh cranberries ahead of time. Have a good rummage in your store cupboard to see what you’re running out of and prevent double buying. I found 4 tins of black treacle in my cupboard last week. What was I thinking? If your local Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s etc. will deliver, log your Xmas order in ahead of time. You can then feel very smug about not getting crushed in the red mist of madness that descends in the stores a few days before Xmas. All good butchers offer a pre-order service. You get what you want without it selling out and you (or whoever you delegate this job to!) can get in and out of the shop much faster.
- Clear some food storage space now. For a few days over Christmas, you will need every last available bit of space to store the feast. It’s no good kidding yourself that you can make ahead things like stuffings, blanched veg, sauces, desserts and pastries etc. if your freezer is already stuffed to the gills, so start to run down what’s in there now. It can make for some entertaining meals in the run up to Christmas anyway. Ice lolly casserole anyone? If you have a garage, it’s usually cold enough in there to store vegetables and food that you would normally refrigerate. I defrosted my turkey and then stored it overnight in my car boot once. Our nephew and niece made a temporary extra ‘fridge’ by their back door last year out of one those cold frame stands used for propagating plants and seedlings. Pretty nifty thinking!
Well, that’s all for this post folks. “What, no Friday recipe?” I hear you say. Of course…..here are some you might find useful from the archive that you may have missed and I’ll be posting a few more festive faves over the next couple of weeks. Have a good week!
- Stuffings worthy of your Christmas dinner – suitable for roast turkey, chicken, goose or pork
- Roasted carrots and beets – great with venison or roast beef
- Roasted parsnip and chestnut purée – perfect sidedish with turkey, chicken or goose
- Lebkuchen cookies – make to give as a gift or with Christmas coffee
- Chocolate and Mandarin Torte – delicious Christmas or Boxing Day dessert
- Chocolate mousse cake – delicious Christmas or Boxing Day dessert
- Roasted plum sorbet – a light alternative to Christmas pudding, perfect before the cheese course