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Top tips to take the stress out of Christmas cooking

by Julia Pal

published on 20 December 2013

Cooking at Christmas can seem daunting, so we’ve asked some of our favourite food writers and chefs for their words of wisdom to guarantee stress-free festivities.

Rachel Khoo, author of My Little French Kitchen, kicks off:

Do a trial run with your oven to get a handle of temperatures and cooking times before attempting a big Christmas dinner. Each oven varies slightly, so I recommend doing a test run attempting a Christmas roast. Good excuse to eat more festive fare!

Prepare a Christmas playlist. Throw in a mix of old school carols, some classical music, and a round-up of your favourite tunes. You’ll feel inspired when planning and cooking.

Don’t forget to serve fresh fruit. Whilst a wintry Christmas spent around the fireplace is the perfect excuse to serve deliciously rich and warming dishes – don’t forget to serve some platters of fresh fruit to give your guests’ palates a break.

Meanwhile, food writer and Great British Bake Off: Winter Kitchen author, Lizzie Kamenetzky recommends thinking of your turkey as a giant chicken:

The most important thing is not to panic. Christmas lunch is really just like cooking a big chicken on a Sunday – if you think of it like that it won’t seem so daunting. If you have time to do some cooking the day before, it’s a great idea to give you more time to relax and not slave on the day itself. Veg can be peeled, sprouts and roasties par boiled, bird stuffed, sauces made so that, come the day, you just have to finish things off. The biggest worry is often oven space and timings. Worry not! Cook the bird then allow it to rest for a good hour whilst you cook the spuds and the rest of the sides. The turkey will benefit from a long relaxing time and will stay warm for ages. The other thing is to delegate – people like to feel helpful so don’t shy away from taking them up on the offer of help – you can then enjoy a nice glass of something cold and fizzy without feeling a wave of rising panic. Oh – and definitely delegate the washing up!

The Pressure Cooker Cookbook author Catherine Phipps explains that a pressure cooker can reduce cooking times for lots of key Christmas dishes:

Top Tip: use your pressure cooker! I use mine to help with a lot of the side dishes, and it saves an enormous amount of time and fuel. So…

Stock for the gravy – 20 mins high pressure * Potatoes – par cooked ahead of roasting them (5 minutes, steamed in basket on trivet) * Brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts (2 mins) * Crushed swede and carrots with butter (5 minutes) * Spiced Red Cabbage and Apple casserole (3 mins)

And of course, once all the main course prep is done, I will steam the pudding in the pressure cooker too.

Harry Eastwood (author of A Salad for all Seasons) sums up her advice in a single word: PREPARATION.

I usually just sling the pre-brined, pre-stuffed bird into the oven on the day and the rest of the food is simply a reheating job (except for the roasties that I cook when the bird is resting). I prep all the veg two days before and make sauces then too. The actual cooking (roasting the sausages, making the stuffing, caramelised parsnips etc) I do the day before so that it’s plain sailing on Christmas day.

Meanwhile, delegation’s the thing that makes Christmas tick along nicely for Mary-Anne Boermans, author of Great British Bakes: Forgotten treasures for modern bakers

My top tip for Christmas cooking? Gin. (Just kidding). Delegation. It’s a day for everyone to share, so everyone needs to share in its preparation. My husband has little interest in food, apart from enjoying eating it, but he is a whizz with vacuuming, clearing and laying the table and stacking the dishwasher afterwards. My daughter likes to be in charge of cutlery, mats and crackers.

Tony Singh of The Incredible Spice Men, and TV chef and Mincespiration! author Dean Edwards both know that the real fun begins when all the guests have gone and the leftovers come out. Tony waxes lyrical on leftovers:

Like everyone else, I love Christmas for the obvious reasons; food, presents and family. But honestly, it’s the leftovers I look forward to most! Yep, it’s all the remnants from Christmas lunch that make up our family favourites – like my Turkey Pho or Stilton and sprout pasties. My absolute favourite thing to make is Christmas Pudding Parfait. For this, I throw in any broken bits of Christmas pud, brandy, cream and all the leftover nuts and dried fruit that are kicking about  and mix it all together – now that’s what I like about Christmas.

And Dean rounds off our Christmas tips in style with two very different, but equally intriguing uses for leftover turkey;

I have two ways that I enjoy my leftover turkey at Xmas. The first is that I shred any leftovers then fold through a homemade spicy BBQ sauce, then serve like pulled pork in toasted rolls alongside a red cabbage winter slaw jeweled with pomegranate seeds. The second may sound disgusting but used to make all the time as a kid, I used to shred leftover turkey and bind it in a coronation chicken style mayo then cook in a Breville toasted sandwich maker. Delicious!

Have a happy foodie Christmas, everyone!


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