In her last BBC Two programme, How to be a Better Cook, Lorraine Pascale helped out kitchen novices and beginner cooks. Here, she shares her top 10 tips to make your Christmas lunch go as smoothly as possible...
1. Think practically
Before you plan your menu, consider the size of your oven and the size and amount of tins, pans and hob space you need. A large turkey is a big thing to cook, and if you don’t normally cook for a large number of people, your largest roasting tray may not be big enough, but a new very large roasting tray may not fit in your oven.
2. Run a dress rehearsal
The best dishes are those that you’ve cooked before, so whenever you make a roast dinner in the weeks running up to Christmas, think about the dishes you might like to try on the day and cook smaller versions to give you a chance to get used to cooking them.
3. Get organised
You can never be too prepared when it comes to a big meal like this. Make sure you have your menu planned fully and read through all the recipes you are using thoroughly, rereading any instructions that aren’t clear. Write a list of all the ingredients you are going to need, then cross off the ones you already have. Write a prep list of all the jobs you are going to need to do to make the meal. Ticking them off the list as you do them will give you great satisfaction. Prepare a timeplan for the day with your roasting times and temperatures already calculated, so all the information is in one place and you don’t have to keep on flicking through cookbooks or returning to your computer screen.
4. Get ahead
Do as much as you can as far in advance as you can. The meal will be a lot easier broken down as little jobs over several days than a whirlwind of cooking on Christmas morning while you are also trying to enjoy yourself. Work out what you can make and freeze ahead and you’ll have a few of the elements to your meal already completed. If cooking for vegetarians, choose a dish that can be completely made ahead.
5. Stress-free sauce
When making a large roast dinner, the stress point tends to be making last-minute gravy. To rid yourself of this, make a gravy ahead and freeze it – no-one will be any the wiser and the gravy is likely to be tastier if made with care and patience, rather than whilst trying to do three other things at the same time.
6. Don't do too much
Fewer dishes cooked with care and love will always win over lots of dishes cooked badly. Don’t overstretch yourself. A roast with three interesting vegetable sides can make a perfect plateful.
7. Cook the food you like
Don’t feel pressurised into cooking with new ingredients you’ve never tried and may not like just because it’s Christmas, the big day is not the time to have your meal ruined by finding out you hate chestnuts! Choose ingredients and flavour combinations you already like and choose recipes you like the sound of and can visualise eating, rather than traditional recipes you feel you should be cooking. This is particularly true with dessert, and the traditional offerings are no longer the favourites so choose something you like.
Many hands make lighter work, so use all the help you can get. Get kids involved with some of the preparation and they’ll get a sense of pride over the meal and are more likely to try vegetables they’ve prepared themselves. As well as jobs, don’t be shy to ask any guests to bring dishes to lighten the load – Christmas puddings and cakes travel and keep well, so get someone else to make them.
9. Be flexible with your mealtime
Don’t feel you have to race to get things done on time – accidents happen in the kitchen when you’re in a hurry. Think about making the main meal time later than is traditional and serving or getting someone else to make a late morning brunch earlier in the day to keep everyone going. Eating later in the day buys you more time to cook happily at your own pace, rather than feeling like you’re pushed for time.
10. Cheat eats
Don’t feel that everything has to be homemade. Running up to Christmas, the media is full of the best supermarket buys. Buy in anything you’re not confident making or anything that is going to lighten the load. Buying the classic condiments and sauces will mean you can give the main offering your undivided attention.
For hundreds of Christmas recipes and lots of festive cooking advice, visit our extensive festive hub.
Lorraine Pascale's latest book, How to Be a Better Cook, is available now (£25, Harper Collins).