Christmas dinner: Stay calm and sing along to Boney M

Christmas dinner can be a stress free affair
Christmas dinner can be a stress free affair

There is always something a little bit stressful about cooking the Christmas dinner.

No matter how much of a confident cook you may be there is always something a little bit stressful about cooking the Christmas dinner.

Focus on making the main elements well

Focus on making the main elements well

If like me you refuse all assistance in the kitchen apart from the most basic of tasks – and even then find yourself supervising potato peeling – the task of feeding the family will fall on your shoulders.

Despite this there are ways of ensuring that this need not be the nightmare before a Christmas nap that it at first seems. Here are a few of my top tips to make the main event of Christmas indulgence run as smoothly as a Rudolf on a foggy Christmas Eve.

1. Preparation is key- Planning ahead is essential to a successful Christmas lunch. This starts with your shopping list and runs right through to the finishing touches on the day. Assuming you have already purchased all of the ingredients you should plan the day to military precision – even if it will not be executed in that same fashion.

Start off by identifying which pots and pans you will need for each element and when.

A dessert you can make ahead makes life easier

A dessert you can make ahead makes life easier

Next up get those dishes on early that you can leave for a while such as red cabbage, infusing the milk for bread sauce and par boiling the potatoes. Getting these jobs out of the way early on will remove much of the inevitable last minute madness. For everything else just remember your timings and follow the processes you have prepared. It also pays to have someone lined up to do bits of washing up as you go.

2. Keep it simple - Christmas is a special time of year and as such there is the temptation to go overboard with the meal. This is a recipe if not for disaster certainly for some very nervy moments and festive tantrums – boning and filleting mackerel for pâté is not pleasant on Christmas morning trust me. If you have a simple starter this can build confidence and ease you gently into the main event.

For the main you do not have to include every single possible element of a roast you can think of, there is only so much room on a plate and inside a person. Focus on cooking a few key items properly rather than rushing through far too many. We all have different opinions on what should be included on the day and so I will not tell you what you have to cook, but think about each element carefully.

One thing I will say however is make proper gravy – it’s a lot easier that you think and pre-made is not acceptable at any time of year and especially not Christmas.

3. Take your time - Stop, breathe and pour yourself another Buck’s Fizz. You’ve got all day to get this meal out so use that time to your advantage. Enjoy your time in the kitchen, put the radio on and sing along to Boney M.

You have got plenty of prep time so get everything peeled, chopped and ready to cook before starting – this gives the added bonus of feeling like James Martin on Saturday kitchen as you work.

If you are going down the turkey/goose route remember that these are large birds and as such will retain their heat for a long time if covered with foil. Other meats will also benefit from resting time and so your potatoes, parsnips and pigs in blanket can wait until the oven is free. Vegetables are much better slightly al dente and so any greenery can be cooked while you are carving the meat and finishing off the gravy.

At the end of the day no one is going to complain if your meat is slightly lukewarm as they are going to be too busy trying to balance a paper hat on their heads. If you are worried then heat your plates briefly in the oven as this will help the food stay warmer for longer – if you do this warn your guests first.

4. Enjoy it – it is Christmas after all. At the end of the day Christmas is all about having a great time with family, friends or whoever you spend it with. As the cook you have already gained yourself many respect points with your guests as they can focus on drinking and playing games. As a result anything you put in front of them is going to go down well provided it is edible and plentiful. It is unlikely that the Christmas meal will be the best thing you cook that year – it is just a big roast after all – so stop putting so much pressure on yourself.

Best of all remember that once all the consumption is over all you have to do is sit back with a glass of your favourite tipple while everyone else clears up the mess you made.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.