Christmas Day Cooking: A User's Guide

19/12/2014 17:55 GMT | Updated 18/02/2015 10:59 GMT

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Image courtesy of Sainsbury's.

For those of you who laugh in the face of Christmas day, shouting 'it's just a big roast, what's all the fuss about?' then go away and be smug in the corner. (I admit I have said the same thing; my apologies is all I can offer).

For anyone who is doing it for the first time, or who feels a slightly sense of dread then read on. Some of this is obvious stuff, but I personally find it very useful to have everything in one place. Here's my plan, for what it's worth:

My festive (but not so extensive that you end up distressed) Christmas day menu

Breakfast:

  • Pannetone, toasted or not.
  • Terry's chocolate orange - 1 segment each so as not to ruin your lunch.
  • Tea/coffee/juice.

I have one included this breakfast suggestion so as to prove that on a day where a lot of the focus is on eating, breakfast doesn't need to be another meal where you push the boat out. Either let people have their usual cereal/toast/yoghurt/fruit or offer some pannetone. I really wouldn't start creating more washing up by offering eggs Benedict or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

Drinks:

  • Prosecco or elderflower fizz to start.
  • Red and white wine.
  • Apple juice for the children.
  • More elderflower fizz or other non boozy drink for drivers/non drinkers.
  • Tap water on the table in big jugs.
  • Tea and coffee.
  • Gin & tonics later in the evening.

I keep it fairly simple with drinks on Christmas Day (CD from now on at risk of RSI) but that's mainly because everyone drives to our house, so they're not exactly going all out on the booze front. Every year we over buy alcohol to be left with a fair few bottles left. Then my husband and I selflessly plough through the remainder between CD and New Year.

Starter:

  • No starter.

I know this is controversial but really, unless you want to, and have the fridge/hob/oven space and inclination, then just don't bother. In years gone past I have done starters, trying to cater to a vegetarian who dislikes mushrooms, blue cheese, goat's cheese and peanuts, an OAP who hates garlic and a gaggle of meat enthusiasts. I am being kind to myself this year. If you must do some canapés instead then choose something easy like mini Yorshire puds with roast beef and horseradish, smoked salmon and potato bites,  spicy prawn sticks, brie and cranberry cups or garlic beany toasts. But only choose one or two at a push.

Main:

Pudding:

Here is where I like to give the illusion of offering lots of choice but really, doing very little. So I offer up Christmas cake (already made, hence no effort), Christmas pudding (already made and sits steaming away in the slow cooker so no hob space taken and no real effort), a mince pie (again, already made) or an alternative that does not include dried fruit. Usually chocolate based. Beware that what tends to happen is that people opt for a bit of everything.

You could also serve Father Christmas' Bakewell tart, Father Christmas' cheesecake, Christmas flapjack, lemon, white choc and raspberry meringue roulade, Malteaser malted mousse or tiramisu profiteroles.

With coffee:

For children you could make cake pops too or some festive rocky road, but I find mine are happy with a 'grown up' truffle.

For the evening buffet:

  • Leftover cold cuts - turkey, a ham if you wish.
  • Salad bits - tomatoes, cucumber, bit of lettuce, maybe a few carrot sticks. Obviously no one will go near this what with cheese, ham and trifle on offer, but it's tradition in out house to offer it up.
  • Cheese and crackers - always some Stilton. We have been known to drive to the dairy at Long Clawson before to buy a huge chunk of the stuff.
  • A pork pie - buy this!
  • Homemade coleslaw - I use the one in my book which is fresh tasting and has a sesame seed crunch, but you could try any other you fancy. I am not a fan of making things for the sake of it, but the difference between homemade and bought coleslaw is HUGE.
  • Vegetable samosas (I have in years gone by made these but this year I am buying them from the Leicester Sweet Centre as they're just so incredibly delicious and moreish).
  • A trifle, either my raspberry and elderflower trifle or my chocolate orange one from my book. Who am I trying to kid, it's always the chocolate orange one.
  • Lots of pickles, chutneys, relishes, interesting bread, salted butter, you know the drill. Don't forget the gherkins and piccalilli.

The weekend before Christmas

  • Clean the fridge - there is nothing but nothing that makes one feel prepared for war, sorry, Christmas day catering, like a clean fridge. If you can't be bothered then delegate this to another adult. Shelves out, little tray thingies in the door out and a warm soapy wash down in the sink. Dry with a tea towel and suddenly everything feels a bit more ready.
  • Either buy a bag of ice or if this seems like a terrible waste of money (just me?) then start making a couple of trays of ice a day. Set a reminder on your phone for 9pm or whenever you might feel most in an ice making mood. If you have some lemons and limes knocking about, slice them and freeze them in wedges too. Add directly to drinks on CD for instant citrus iciness without the inevitable dilution ice delivers.
  • Make a list of the food you are serving on the day and write a related shopping list, grouping it in the sections it appears in the supermarket ready for the 7am dash on Christmas eve. Of course you may be more organised than this and have booked a delivery slot. In which case I simply salute you and wonder why you are reading this.
  • Make a Christmas pudding, cake and/or a batch of mince pies if you still haven't. My recipes do NOT require maturing. If this is too much add them to the shopping list to buy instead. Or ask any guest to bring one or some of them. Most people like to palm off their mince pies on others, having made ridiculous quantities for 'unexpected visitors' who never turn up.
  • Check you have enough tables (I am not kidding, it's very easy to forget people actually need a place to put their plate, especially when the numbers can be so many more than usual), chairs, plates, bowls, cutlery, napkins, glasses and serving dishes. I write on little bits of paper what is going in each serving dish. My brain barely works these days, so addled is it with Lego making and paper chain creation.
  • Crackers! I know they're a bit crap but you do need some, especially if there are kids around the table, so add to the list. Or you could task older children with making some. Better go hunt for some old loo roll centres.
  • Check the hand soap, washing up liquid, foil, batteries, bin liners, clingfilm and loo roll situation. If audit proves low then add to list. Very easy to forget essential items when focusing on pork pies and booze.
  • Write a little menu. Ask a small child to write it if you have one or can borrow one. Children's writing is so cute and seems to induce extra Christmas cheer. Plus people like to know what they're having so they can adjust their roast potato consumption depending on whether the puddings do it for them or not.
  • Check the TV listings. If there's anything you really must not miss then record it otherwise you may become the nightmare twitchy host/ess wishing everyone would JUST GO HOME so you can watch Eastenders in peace and find out who killed Lucy.
  • Write some name place tags (can be on scrap paper or could do personalised baubles, you know how busy you are) and a table plan. Think about who likes who, which children might need most supervision. It might be amusing to put a 3 year old next to Great Auntie who can't hear but it could well finish her off. And A & E is very busy on CD with drunk people. Give them a break.
  • Make the ice-cream if you're going for the homemade option. It's an easy win in my opinion and takes little effort.
  • Buy or locate some empty plastic take away containers for freezing or giving away excess leftovers on the big day. This can be most helpful if you have a fridge mountain or are off to visit relatives for a few days and don't want good food to go to waste.
  • Work out now what you are eating on Christmas eve. You could make my sausage, sage and squash lasagne, freeze it and bake from frozen, or you could serve party nibbles, or anything else you fancy. A takeaway might be nice?
  • Consider plate warming for CD. You could use the oven if you are lucky enough to have a huge range thingy. Or the dishwasher short cycle, or the microwave... But do think about it as in my experience most over 40's have an issue with cold plates.
  • Beg, steal or borrow some festive tunes. When alone in the kitchen on the big day, these really do cheer the soul.

23rd December

Today is action stations. You need focus, you need a good breakfast inside you and you need to remember that getting organised today makes everything else run smoothly.

Christmas eve

  • Last minute food shop - I channel my inner mad woman and get there as the shops are opening, like a competitive version of supermarket sweep.
  • Lay the table with name tags, crackers, salt, pepper, cranberry sauce etc.
  • Prep the potatoes and pop in a pan of water, prep the parsnips and carrots as per the recipe.
  • Prep the sprout dish for making on CD - chop bacon, chestnuts, prep the sprouts and cover in water.
  • Make the brandy butter and chill.
  • Make the stuffing for the turkey and chill.
  • Make the trifle.
  • Write a timing plan, working backwards from when you want to eat. Don't forget time to rest the meat. I know writing timing plans is boring but it will stop you serving dinner at 10pm whilst crying.
  • Put out a carrot of three, a mince pie and a little snifter of brandy for the big man.

Other things that are important not to forget

  • Have spare milk and bread in the freezer.
  • Have some baked beans and other simple, not very challenging food like pasta and pesto in the cupboard. Sometimes after a lot of Stilton, ham and cranberry sauce you need something to take you back to when times were less festive. Simpler times.
  • Give a small, energetic child the job of rubbish collecting when opening presents. They seem to love this. I personally hate bending over to pick up minuscule pieces of sellotape.
  • Agree before CD who is responsible for washing up. There's nothing worse than feeling like the only person doing all the cooking, drinks, cleaning up, washing up etc. It can make one feel positively unfestive.

Happy Christmas! I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Holly blogs at Recipes from a Normal Mum

Her first book is out now, also called Recipes from a Normal Mum