Have you noticed that as soon as Halloween is over, the shops start stacking up their shelves with Christmas stuff? It might seem too early to start preparing for Christmas Day but there’s a lot you can do to make your life easier in the kitchen.
If you are having family over for Christmas dinner this year then don’t panic! Are you the kind of cook who has everything organised like a military mission with lists and time plans stuck to the fridge, executing the most perfect Christmas dinner or is there a kind of organised chaos in your kitchen? If I am honest, I am probably somewhere in the Twilight Zone between the two. I am pretty organised to a point and make loads of homemade stuff beforehand but there’s always something I’ve forgotten and some recipe which doesn’t quite go to plan. Hey ho that’s life!
Whichever type of cook you are, good preparation and organisation will certainly help things go more smoothly and be more enjoyable, knowing that most of the work has been done already. If something does goes pear shaped, then don’t put yourself under any more pressure by beating yourself up. Just pour another glass of wine and move on. If you prep like a Pro and get SUPER organised now for your Christmas menu, then whatever you cook, your family will just love it! If they don’t then it’s their turn next year!
I would start by getting your kitchen “Christmas Ready” in November by giving it a quick clean and declutter. Clear the decks and it will give you space to cook. Remove any kitchen appliances you hardly use and are just clogging up your work top to the utility room or garage. Suddenly your kitchen will look bigger!
Check what is actually stored in your freezer. If you can’t remember the last time when you looked inside or really have no clue what that strange lump with no date label stuffed at the back could be, then may be it’s time to chuck it out. I wouldn’t even risk feeding it to your dog if you have one! If anything needs using up, then now is the time to do just that and create some space in there. You will need room for all your Christmas goodies you might want to make and freeze in advance. If you are buying a frozen turkey this year, you will need probably most of a shelf in the freezer to store it as it certainly wouldn’t fit in the camper fridge!
Check the back of the fridge while you’re on a roll and get rid of anything dodgy growing in forgotten opened cans and jars. If something doesn’t smell right and you can’t remember how long it’s been in there, chuck it out. I do however keep a jar of live sourdough starter in my fridge which is over 2 years old (I can’t remember exactly) and is pretty stinky but this is the exception to the rule.
Give your fridge a good wipe inside with a microfiber cloth and water or use some vinegar to shift grime. Check if your oven needs a clean too. If it’s really gunky then book an oven cleaning service. Otherwise some vinegar and bicarbonate of soda left to soak on the insides for a few hours, then wiped off, will budge stubborn grease.
Things like oven shelves and some hob covers which are removable may be suitable to wash in the dishwasher and makes cleaning effortless. The last thing you want to be doing is cleaning it the night before your family arrive at Christmas as you’ve suddenly found the remains of a dead pizza in it!
Pull out everything in your spice cupboard and chuck out any herbs or spices past their use by date so that your recipes taste as good as they look. Give the cupboard a quick wipe with a microfibre cloth and replace everything in an order which makes sense to you. Restock with any new spices you think you might need.
If your microwave looks like a CSI crime scene after your teenagers have been using it, then pop a bowl of water inside with half a lemon and turn on high for a few minutes. The lemon will make it easier to remove any grime in there and your kitchen will smell lovely too! If the glass plate inside is really bad, then most are dishwasher proof and it will get it really clean.
Vinegar is also great for cleaning anything stainless steel in your kitchen including taps or sinks. Just soak over night and rinse or wipe off the next day.
Right, now you are ready to start preparing some fabulous recipes ahead of the big day! A few weeks before Christmas I start making some of my Christmas recipes to stock up the freezer, but if you don’t have time or are not confident in the kitchen, then save yourself some stress and just buy most of it ready made. If you have your food shopping delivered, then book your Christmas delivery slot early. Otherwise if you like to browse and hunt for bargains, start picking up special offers each time you do your weekly shop.
Between now and Christmas I will also be posting some easy Christmas recipe ideas so even if you don’t normally cook much from scratch, you might feel inspired to try one or two of these out to wow your guests! I will shortly be posting a simple recipe idea for an impressive starter using Scottish Smoked Salmon and King Prawns. Have a practice run with this or any other new recipes you want to try before Christmas and you can effortlessly throw it all together on Christmas day. You can at least feel smug while you sip your Baileys that something on your dinner table was homemade this year.
Also check out my Rhubarb Chutney recipe previously posted and on this link https://wp.me/p9b35z-bf.
You can make this now and it will be matured and ready to eat by Christmas. It’s great with cold meats on a buffet table or to give out as gifts to friends. It’s not difficult, just some chopping, heating and stirring. Put some great Christmas music on while you are cooking and if you dance at the same time, you can celebrate that your fit bit count will be higher than your neighbour’s that day, even if they normally walk 5 miles before breakfast!
No matter how much you love cooking, it is still a lot of work to prepare absolutely everything from scratch yourself, so cut some corners and cheat where you can. I usually buy the stuffing ready made, frozen sprouts, frozen roast potatoes (so easy!) and the gravy ready made, but make most of the rest. If I have time I will make my own pudding, otherwise there is no shame in buying a good one and feeding it more brandy for a few weeks! Everyone will be drunk by the time you get to the pudding stage anyway!
Prepare as much as you can in advance to freeze. I try to make my mince pies and braised red cabbage a few weeks before as both freeze very well. If I have time I will make my own cranberry sauce and keep in jars in the fridge, otherwise just buy it.
If you like to make your own Christmas cake then this can be done several weeks before and fed brandy……that’s if you have any left. I made 3 Christmas cakes one year but managed to drink most of the cooking brandy myself before it got anywhere near the cakes! Decorate if you have time or don’t bother and tell your all guests you thought it would be healthier and lower in sugar without all that icing!
I traditionally cook a ham on Christmas Eve in my Pressure cooker then finish off by roasting in the oven with a glaze. This gives loads of cold meat along with any leftover turkey for an easy cold buffet on boxing day. I just pile it all on the table with some pickles and salad, leaving everyone to help themselves. If that still seems too much work then just buy one, unwrap it and tell everyone you cooked it yourself. I won’t tell!
If any of your guests want to bring anything on Christmas Day then say “Ooh YES please that would be so lovely. Can you do the starter/pudding/cake or whatever?”. People love to help so let them. One more thing off your list on the fridge!
If you are buying a frozen turkey then allow plenty of time for it to defrost in the fridge or somewhere cold and away from pets in case the labrador decides he’s having his Christmas dinner early! Also, don’t wash your turkey as this can spread bugs around your kitchen. No one wants to be ill at Christmas!
On Christmas day delegate as much as you can ….. unless you are a control freak, in which case you will probably just have a meltdown and have to delegate in the end anyway. So why not save yourself the stress. Guests can help with laying the table, preparing the veg, carving the turkey, stirring the gravy or plating up. Delegate someone else to organize everyone’s drinks and that’s another job you don’t need to worry about.
I’m probably the worst person for accepting help in the kitchen. I’m like a territorial T Rex when I’m cooking and my husband knows it but even I accept that I can’t do the whole thing without some help.
You could either get someone to help plate up once everything is cooked or use heated trays and put the food out in serving dishes for guests to help themselves. Do whichever works for you.
I usually put my Christmas pudding to reheat for several hours beforehand in the slow cooker in my utility room. I just put some water in the slow cooker base to come an inch or two up the outside of the pudding basin, which is nicely sealed with a greaseproof paper and foil lid. It can sit there undisturbed until we are ready to eat it and it will be just perfectly done whenever we want it. I reheat shop bought brandy sauce in the microwave. So easy!
Once the dinner has been cooked, eaten and everyone has marvelled at your awesome Domestic Goddess skills, then let someone else do all the washing up. You’ve been working hard for weeks in the kitchen and need to put your feet up. Tell everyone that the kitchen is officially closed and everything from then on is self service. Normal service will be resumed in January! Happy New Year!