For many of us, Christmas dinner is the gastronomic highlight of the year. But for the ones in charge of cooking the annual festive feast, the reality can be a little less appetising. Hosting a three-course meal for a horde of hungry friends and relatives can be a stressful ordeal, especially if you only have limited space in your kitchen.
Whether this is the first time you’ve prepared a Christmas dinner, or you’re just looking to make things a bit easier for yourself this year, we’ve complied our top tips for preparing a stress-free feast, including expert advice on how to use your oven efficiently. Just read on to learn how to host your easiest ever festive banquet.
Stock up on ready-made dishes
In an ideal world, we’d have all the time in the world to make all three courses of our Christmas feast from scratch. But given how busy we’re likely to be on the big day, it’s prudent to stock up on some ready-made supermarket starters, desserts and sides. For instance, shop-bought stuffing and Yorkshire puddings are brilliant time-saving alternatives that taste virtually the same as homemade versions.
Where you can, opt for menu items that can be served cold. This way, all you have to do on Christmas day is take them out of the fridge and plate them up. Try serving a smoked salmon terrine as a starter, and a yule log or chocolate mousse for dessert. If you want to add a festive touch, serve with a sprinkle of edible glitter or a festive icing sugar decoration. Chances are, your guests will never even realise they aren’t homemade.
…And prep the rest in advance
While your turkey or joint of choice should be going into the oven early on Christmas morning, almost every other component of your festive banquet can be prepped ahead of time. Below, you’ll find a handy timeline to help you figure out which menu items you can prep in advance.
- A week before Christmas: Prep your potatoes now, and pop them in the freezer until the big day. This easy freeze-ahead recipe from Delicious Magazine will show you how to make crispy roasties using goose or duck fat. The same method can be used to cook your parsnips, too. You can also make your gravy now, and freeze it in a container until you’re ready to use it.
- Two days before: If you’re making your pigs in blankets from scratch, then wrap the sausages in bacon, arrange on a baking tray, cover and place in the fridge. This way, when you’re ready to cook them, you can put the tray straight into the oven.
- Christmas Eve: Vegetables like broccoli, carrots and sprouts can be washed, peeled and chopped up to a day in advance. Once the veg is ready, put it in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
Prepping what you can in advance will also cut down the number of dirty dishes, meaning less washing-up to deal with on Christmas day.
Enlist relatives to act as Santa’s little helpers
Cooking the festive dinner is a huge endeavour, so lessen the burden by delegating other tasks to friends and family. This way, you’ll have more time to spend on the cooking.
Ask one of your relatives to set the table and carry to the plates from the kitchen to the dinner table, and put someone else in charge of serving the drinks. Get little ones involved by asking them to create some place cards, and give them the responsibility of putting crackers on the table. And remember — the chef should never have to do the washing up!
Create a cooking plan for your oven
When cooking a large dinner, it can be tricky to fit everything in the oven, especially if you have a small cooker and lots of guests. Katie Georgeson, Brand Manager at kitchen appliance manufacturer Stoves, recommends taking a few simple steps to help maximise your oven’s efficiency.
“Even if you’re working with limited oven space, there are steps you can take to make sure you get everything cooked in plenty of time. First of all, consider whether there are any food items you can cook without using the oven: for instance, most veg can be steamed or boiled on the stove top rather than roasted. This will save precious space inside the oven, and help you to get everything ready to be served at the same time.
“Next, work out which menu items can be cooked at the same temperature. Group these together and cook all at once. Certain items with similar cooking times and temperatures — like roast potatoes and parsnips — can even be cooked on one large baking tray to save shelf space.
“Finally, I’d recommend only opening the oven when it’s absolutely necessary. Keeping the door closed will keep the internal temperature of the oven consistent, meaning your food will cook much more quickly, so resist the temptation to keep checking on your food as it cooks. This will stop your Yorkshire puddings from sinking, too.”
Play games and serve nibbles to keep your guests happy
It’s always a good idea to build a little extra time into your schedule in case things don’t quite go to plan. Try not to set an exact time for when your dinner will be served: instead, give an approximate meal time to allow yourself some wiggle room. Remember when planning your Christmas dinner schedule that you’ll need to allow more time if you’re cooking multiple items in the oven at once, as this will slow the cooking process.
If things are taking a little longer than anticipated and you need to buy some extra time, make sure your guests are entertained and give them something light to snack on. If you need an extra half hour in the kitchen, Christmas crackers and parlour games will keep your guests busy while they wait: try a game from this family-friendly selection at Marks & Spencer. A glass of champagne (or two) and a few light nibbles — like cheese straws, salted nuts, or mince pies — should keep your guests merry until dinner is served.
The key to a smooth, stress-free Christmas dinner is thoughtful preparation. These tips should help you spend less time in front of the oven, and more time celebrating and making memories with family and friends.