It’s all in the prep!
Get as much done beforehand as possible and plan your menu well. Make sure you don’t overload the festive period by doing too much, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd on the day. Always, always accept help that is offered; if you want to do all the cooking give helpers a specific task like bringing champagne, crackers, cheese etc. Just make sure you specify how much you need.
By the first week of December (or before)
Order any big items like your turkey and make sure you add on all the extras you may need; hams, bacon, sausages etc. If you have space in the fridge then definitely collect everything on 23rd NOT 24th when the world and their dog are out scrabbling around and there is zero festive cheer :).
Make your Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat, if you’re so inclined or order and store it ready for Christmas.
Try and get all your present shopping done and wrapped so you don’t have that to worry about.
Post anything that needs posting :).
If you don’t put up the tree until later in December, at least get out your decorations and check that the lights work!
Start buying in any festive drink you may have your eye on, including soft drinks and mixers. The only thing you then have to do is not drink it before Christmas! The same goes for chocolates and treats.
Get in non-perishable essentials: food wrap, foil, freezer bags etc.
Check out your kitchen implements and make sure you have everything you need for your planned menu – roasting tins, saucepans, serving dishes and platters, jugs, serving spoons, condiments, small dishes for relishes and sauces, glasses, crockery and cutlery 🙂
Lots of Christmas essentials freeze well, so if you want to get ahead, think about making: cranberry sauce, bread sauce, braised red cabbage, carrot and swede mash, sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing balls, gravy, blinis, homemade sausage rolls. All of these can be cooked through, chilled and frozen. I always make some really good chicken and onion gravy around now and freeze it.
It’s nice to take your time to make a really decent version when your not too stressed trying to get everything cooked on time. I get it out on Christmas morning and, if I run out of time, I use it instead of making fresh turkey gravy (just one less thing to worry about) and its always good to have a meat free gravy on offer, even if you don’t need it.
2 weeks before Christmas
Double check everything has been ordered, frozen, decorated, posted………………
Buy any outstanding things that will keep; such as brandy butters, cheeses etc.
Last shop, hopefully! Buy all your vegetables, salad stuff, fresh milk etc.
Keep this day free to collect your meat and prep all your vegetables for the big day. It’s amazing what you can do before hand and that keeps Christmas Eve free to enjoy yourself (or run around town trying to find the last string of fairy lights for the tree because yours gave up the ghost this morning!!).
First, I roast all my potatoes and parsnips:
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Prep everything as usual, par-boil the vegetables and leave to drain until all the moisture has steamed off (this will make it easier to brown them in the oven). Rough up the surface of the potatoes by shaking around in a colander. Pour a little of your preferred oil in a large, flat roasting tray and tip on the potatoes. Slide in the oven and turn them every 15 minutes or so until brown all over. Do the same with the parsnips in a separate tray. Once everything is cooked to perfection, remove and leave on the side to cool. If you have room, slide the cooled trays into the fridge, if not decant into a plastic tub or freezer bag. On the big day wait until the oven is empty and your meat is resting. Slide the trays of potatoes and parsnips back into the hot oven for approximately 10-15 minutes. They will crisp up beautifully and it means no stress trying to get everything to be ready at the same time!
I always use olive oil as it’s a little healthier and I don’t have to worry about my vegetables being vegan friendly.
Next, my vegan main (or interesting side dish):
This year I’m making a sweet potato and onion gratin with cardamom and nigella seeds. I roast off all the vegetables and put into an oval baking dish, sprinkle with herby breadcrumbs and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are crisp and the centre of the dish is hot.
Allow dish to cool and refrigerate.
Prep the meat by making sure that you have the right sized tins, herbs and fruit (such as bay leaves and oranges) to stuff the cavity of any poultry or lay under any large joints of meat.
Prep any green vegetables to be cooked on the day.
Make any canapés, nibbles or starters you are planning, or at least get them done as far as is possible. E.g. blinis can be made, sour cream spiced and smoked salmon shredded ready to be assembled on the day.
Lay the table ready for Christmas day. If you don’t have loads of space then make room in a cupboard or on some shelves and set out piles of crockery, boxes of cutlery, napkins, glasses etc. that you will be using.
Double check your freezer items – bread sauce, cranberry relish, gravy, braised red cabbage, stuffing balls etc. Or do all of these now and pop in the fridge.
Check the drink situation – wines, spirits, mixers, soft drinks, water ice etc.
Make any desserts your planning and double check you have any accompaniments you want: cream, custard, brandy sauce etc.
On the day
Remove everything you need from the freezer and set aside to defrost.
Get the meat in the oven so it is ready at least 30 minutes before your desired serving time.
Lay the table (if not already done) and make sure all the drinks needed are on ice (or outside the back door in the freezing cold:).
Plate-up any nibbles, starters etc.
Decant gravies and sauces into saucepans and dishes, if you are tight on hob space and themos flask is a great way to keep gravy hot for an hour or so.
Enjoy time with your family guests.
Remove the meat from the oven and set it aside to rest, make sure to wrap it in foil and some thick clothes and keep it somewhere warm, this will help it to a stay hot. Put in your gratin or cauliflower cheese or any other dish that needs to be heated up into the hot oven. 20 minutes later, slide in the trays of potatoes, parsnips, stuffing balls etc.
Heat up the braised red cabbage in a saucepan and cook your green vegetables (I restrict these to a maximum of two!).
Make sure someone helps to get everyone to the table, lays out plates etc. and gets the wine flowing.
Then your ready to serve, drink, enjoy and someone else can wash up 🙂