Christmas. It really is the most magical time of year, isn't it? And what could be more enchanting than sweating it out in your kitchen, desperately preparing the all-important turkey dinner for your nearest and dearest. While they cram into your dining room you're probably crying into the gravy that refuses to thicken or cutting the burnt bits off your roast potatoes. Sound familiar?
This year, cut yourself some slack. I've come up with five top tips, to take the stress out of your preparations.
1. Don't over complicate it
Do a few dishes, well. Pick your favourite Christmas dinner components and concentrate your energies on making them to the best of your ability. You don't need to offer your guests 10 different types of vegetables; they'll be more than happy with two or three.
2. Rest your meat!
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recommends that you rest your roasted turkey for up to an hour before serving up - which gives you valuable time to finish off your roast potatoes and other trimmings. I've tried it and can't stress this enough; resting your meat will make the world of difference. A note from Hugh on the subject: "You may well have heard it before. And you may have dismissed it as some slightly cheffy bit of fuss. In fact, it is beyond doubt that resting the roast changes the eating quality of the meat, leaving it tender, juicier and therefore more flavoursome."
3. Preparation, preparation, preparation
Get as much done in advance as you can. It's not fun if you're still peeling carrots when the family arrives on Christmas morning. Why not get the veg prepped the night before? If serving Yorkshire puddings, make and freeze a week ahead. Roasting a turkey? Remove the legs and cook separately, up to three days before. Braise in red wine with onion, garlic and rosemary and you'll have yourself a tasty gravy stock - try out this recipe. Removing the legs will leave you with a lovely crown of turkey, which will be quicker and easier to roast on the day.
4. Overcrowding your oven
If you've ever hosted Christmas, you've probably had a moment of despair where you can't get everything in the oven, no matter how you arrange the various trays and dishes. However, it really is important to not overcrowd the oven because things won't cook as they should. When it comes to roast potatoes, make sure there's plenty of space between them. If you pile them up on top of each other, they'll steam when what you want is for to them fry in the bottom of the roasting tray.
5. The evening meal
When did anyone ever need another meal on Christmas Day? It just doesn't make sense to start laying out a nice spread for tea when you've only finished eating your turkey a couple of hours ago. Step away from those sausage rolls, dips and cheese footballs! If you're worried your guests will get hungry (and that's really unlikely, especially with all the chocolates hanging around) why not purchase some decent cheese from your local cheesemonger and serve it up with some chutney and crackers later on in the evening.
Image: © Gavin Kingcome. Taken from River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking by Steven Lamb, published by Bloomsbury.