Christmas cooking can sometimes be a pain in the Rudolph. You have the best intentions all December long of nailing domestic god/goddess-dom, then before you know it, you’ve lost all control - because hey, singing carols with mulled wine and excitable little ones sounds more exciting 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, check), can bring about unforeseen circumstances that have a way of thwarting your 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 and you’ll save yourself some time. 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.
Turkeys are happy at room temperature before cooking.
2. Take your meat out the fridge
…before you think you need it. Think about how tense you’d be if you were kept in the cold and popped straight into a hot oven. Taking your meat out of the fridge an hour to two before you plan to cook it will bring it to room temperature and get your meat cooking more quickly and evenly because there’s less of a contrast in temperature. The meat will also be more relaxed and give you a more tender texture. This is a good tip for when you’re cooking meat at any time of the year and you’ll also free up more space in your fridge which is always precious on Christmas day. Double win.
3. Write a post-it 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 fall out the window. 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…
Delegate the booze prep. Artful ladle-pouring mulled wine is a skill y’know.
4. Get others on the cocktails
Learn the art of 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, and yet when it comes to it, there’s always missing glasses, lost mixers and never 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
One easy way to get Christmas cooking underway with little room for error, is to simply not stuff your turkey. 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 the 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.
Free-range high-welfare Porchetta anyone?
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 cockerel for a bird that’s a little gamer than chicken. Try Beef Wellington (you could make all the elements in advance and leave just the job of cooking it in the oven on the day), or throw pork into the mix with Porchetta. (Obviously if you’re veggie, vegan or generally enjoy a plant-based diet, you’ll have this nailed!)
7. …Or if you do, cook a turkey crown
There’s no legs or wings to worry about, 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, simply make them in advance and pop them in the freezer. Now the making part is done, just gently heat it in a saucepan and keep it on a low heat until you’re ready to serve. With dishes that can be made in advance, such as cauliflower 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.
Wouldn’t say no to a cheeky bottle of Somerset Pomona apple juice cider brandy…
9. Get people to bring things
If you’re cooking Christmas dinner, there’s no shame in asking folks to bring an edible gift or two and a helping hand. 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 they’re in a frenzy of excitement. 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 round 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 on your top bookshelf - will do the trick. Unless you forget where you put that.
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 trick will save you bags of time 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!
The Farmdrop Team x
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