Christmas cooking can sometimes be a pain in the Rudolph. Here are 10 time saving strategies guaranteed to make your festive season joyous and stress-free ahead of the big day.
You have the best intentions all December long of channeling your inner Nigella, but before you know it, they go out the window – because hey, singing carols with mulled wine and excitable little ones sounds more fun than panicking about whether to-brine-or-not-to-brine the turkey. The unusual circumstances thrust upon us by the festive season – extended family in close proximity for many, many minutes at a time, for example – have an uncanny way of thwarting carefully crafted plans. To get around off-schedule shenanigans, you’ll need a few tricks to keep up your sleeve. Here are 10 habits that’ll save you time in the kitchen and energy for rocking around the Christmas tree.
1. Prep and parboil the day before
For all vegetables you’re planning to boil on Christmas day, parboil them the day before. Parboil green veggies and carrots (if you have time, plunge them into ice cold water to help them keep their colour and crunch). On Christmas day, heat them up in a frying pan, which will also caramelise them a little and add a welcome touch of flavour. Parboiling the day before applies to potatoes for roasting too. After you’ve done your usual pre-roast parboil, drain and throw them around the pan with the lid on to rough-up their edges and leave them to cool in a colander, placing a tea towel over them when cool. When you’re ready to roast, heat up your fat in your roasting tray in the oven as usual, and throw them in with sea salt and sprigs of rosemary.
2. Take meat out of the fridge…
…before you think you need it. Taking meat out of the fridge an hour to two before you plan to cook it will bring it to room temperature. This is important because it means you’ll your meat will cook more quickly, accurately and evenly due to less of a contrast in temperature. The meat will also be more relaxed and give you a more tender texture. A good tip for cooking meat at any time of the year, you’ll also free up more space in your fridge which is always precious on Christmas day. Double win.
3. Write a post-it note for each dish
It’s happened before and it’ll definitely, probably, happen again. This year, don’t forget a single dish. In the craziness of Christmas day, memory of each of the stuffings in your seven stuffing spread, your beautiful bread sauce, or lovingly-made chestnut ice cream you handily whipped up in weeks ago, can fail you. It sounds obvious, but write a post-it note for every single thing you make (and feel proud to grace the dining table). Stick ‘em on your fridge, wall, wherever, and you’ll have a better chance of remembering them, rather than your nephew coming across the smell of charred chestnuts in the oven at 8pm…
4. Get others on the drinks
Learn the art of time saving delegation and you’ll wonder what the fuss is all about at Christmas time. Again, the idea of effortlessly whipping up a cocktail as guests arrive sounds like it’ll take seconds, yet when it comes to it, there’s always missing glasses, lost mixers and not enough ice. Get others to handle all the drinks (including topping up wines, replacing beers and making teas and coffees) so you can focus on the main event.
5. Leave your bird unstuffed
Life is undoubtedly easier without a stuffed bird. Go on. No one will hold it against you. No one will bring it up in a heated moment eight months later and use it as fodder for a “Yes, I may have forgotten your birthday, but at least I stuff my turkey!” kinda dig. By cooking your stuffing separately, not only do you not have to worry about whether the stuffing will go dry as it cooks at a different rate to the turkey, there’s also no pressure to get picture-perfect slices of stuffing layered neatly next to turkey breast. Let’s be honest, it rarely comes out that way and balls of stuffing make it really easy when it comes to serving up.
6. Don’t cook a turkey
Controversial we know, but if the idea of cooking a turkey gets you in a flap, just don’t do it. There are plenty of showstopping alternatives out there that’ll wow your guests without them wondering ‘when’s the turkey coming?’. If you’re still after a bird, try goose for a thoroughly traditional British affair, or old-fashioned cockerel for a bird that’s big enough to be impressive but is gamer than chicken. Try Beef Wellington or Salmon en Croute (you could make all the elements in advance and simply cook it in the oven on the day), or throw pork into the mix with Porchetta.
7. …Or if you do, cook a turkey crown
There’s no legs or wings to worry about with a crown, so you don’t have to panic about extremities cooking faster than the breast. Quicker to cook and easier to carve, it’s ideal if you and your gang tend to tuck into the breast anyway.
8. Become best friends with you freezer
Finishing touches can quickly add up and absorb any spare time you have. Homemade sauces are one of those things that you imagine will take no time at all and yet they end up being a bit of a faff. When it comes to your classic cranberry or bread sauce, an ultimate time saving strategy is to make them in advance and freeze. Just gently heat in a saucepan until you’re ready to serve. With dishes served hot, such as cauliflower or macaroni cheese or stuffing, you can make them up until the point they need cooking and freeze them. All that’s left to do it chuck ‘em in the oven an hour or so before you need them and let the good times roll.
9. Invite people to bring things
If you’re cooking Christmas dinner, there’s no shame in asking folks to bring an edible gift or two. Get mince pies covered by Aunty Jan. Ask your brother to bring crackers. Don’t forget to ask your friend next door to bring that spare chair. Remind your sister to be in entertainer mode and occupy the kids when you’re on turkey-basting duty. In the spirit of generosity that is Christmas, everything will come together nicely with a little pitching in.
10. Have a map of hidden presents
Not strictly food related, but less time spent stressing leaves more time for enjoying cooking. The stealth tucking away of a present on top of a wardrobe might have garnered a mini fist-pump as you got off that stool in late November, but you can just as easily drive yourself crazy rattling around the place on Christmas morning, claiming to be ‘looking for your glasses’. A cryptic back of the envelope drawing that only makes sense to you and has a home that’s guaranteed to be a safe place – try sandwiched in between old travel guides – will do the trick. Unless you forget where you put it.
10a. Wrap your kid’s presents as soon as you get them
Save time by wrapping your kid’s presents as soon as you get them delivered or get them home without them spying them. This time saving trick will save you energy in the run-up to Christmas and avoid the night before wrapping nightmare.
Whatever you’re up to this festive season, we wish you a very merry Christmas!
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Take a peek at our guide on how to have an ethical and green Christmas, the ultimate gift guide for home cooks and our tips for choosing and cooking the perfect turkey. Feeling crafty? and our 5 effortlessly stunning DIY Christmas decoration ideas. And don’t forget the Christmas shop.
This article was originally published on the Farmdrop blog in December 2016 and has been updated.