enjoy the Christmas countdown – all my tips, menu and time plan

One week today we’ll all have loose buttons and, hopefully a few nice new toys to read and play with. But between now and then it is all a bit crazy.

This year I’m cooking Christmas dinner for 12 people. It is our first one in our new house and our first one in England after 5 years of living away. I can’t wait but I know that unless I plan ahead I won’t get to enjoy it as much. So, with a week to go I wanted to share my tips for enjoying the run up to the big day. I’ve also added my timing plan and menu for Christmas Day. I hope it helps you have a fab Christmas.

Don’t forget, if you’ve not yet finished buying gifts, you can buy them through my amazon shop – check out my top gifts for cooks and all my most-used tried and tested kitchen kit. Or have a go at making some homemade gifts using some of the recipes I shared here.

one week to go

  1. Get yourself a notebook and make lists of all the meals you’ll be making over the festive period. I started a new book this year and plan to keep it for every Christmas so that I can look back and see who I ate what with. In years to come I’m sure it will bring back memories of our changing family and the food trends I have gently included in our feasts. It will also make future years easier to plan.
  2. Write the page name and book of any new recipe you’re including. Also include what you’ve asked other people to bring, and what you plan to make ahead.
  3. Once you have your menus down, make a list of what you’ll need to buy (by aisle at the shop – being obsessive about this at home will save you stress and time in the busy shops).
  4. Write a rough list of jobs/timing plan for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (or copy the one below)
  5. Clear clutter from the kitchen and create a cool place where food can be stored when the fridge is too full – a shelf in the garage or utility room or even a cool guest bedroom.
  6. Try and get as many jobs done in snatched minutes in the run up to the big day. I love to cook but I don’t want to be in the kitchen all day on Christmas eve and Christmas day while my boys play with their new toys. So, here are the jobs you can easily get done within 10 minute slots. Most often I do these one a day when my boys are having breakfast or when I’m making dinner:
    1. Wrap chiplolatas in pancetta or bacon, wrap them, flat in a single layer, with foil then freeze them. Make more than you think as these beauties always seem to disappear when people come into the kitchen to check on the progress of Christmas dinner and see them on the side. Also they are an essential part of a leftover sandwich.
    2. Make your cranberry sauce. Once it is cook freeze it in a jar (choose a pretty jar and you can serve it in the same jar to cut washing up).
    3. Buy a loaf of sourdough and leave it on the side. The next morning, rip it into chunks and pop it in a bag in the freezer ready for your stuffing and bread sauce. Grab it out of the freezer on Christmas eve and it will be ready for your Christmas day cooking.
    4. Make a batch of mulled wine syrup to keep in the fridge (not advisable to do this at breakfast if you are off to do the school run, smelling of wine, straight after).
    5. If you’re cooking for a big crowd, make a batch of Jamie Oliver’s get-ahead gravy that you can add to on the day itself.

Christmas Eve

For dinner tonight

Ahead of the inevitable meat feast tomorrow I want to make something vegetarian and comforting for Christmas eve night. We’re also likely to be crazy busy and feeling a little frazzled, so something that can be thrown in the oven and will feed adults and children with no fiddling. This year I’m trying a recipe from Nigella’s new bookfor sweet potato mac and cheese, handily the recipe is here but do buy the book as its a belter (you can buy it through my Amazon link here).

To add some greenery, I’ll make a salad. I’m craving a kale salad I had in San Francisco so will do my best to copy it by shredding raw kale, massaging it with my hands (squeezing it until it reduces in volume by a third). Then I’ll dress it with my poshest olive oil, Maldon salt, pepper and the zest and juice of a clementine (this being Christmas I forgo my usual lemon). I know I’ll have some my warm salty spiced nuts leftover from the drinks party we’re having the day before so I’ll scatter those on top along with a little Feta or goats cheese.

While dinner cooks I’ll get ahead with some of my prep:

  1. Peel and boil a mountain of potatoes for my roast potatoes. They can be boiled and drained ahead of time, just drain them and lay them in a single layer on a large metal baking sheet or two. You’re unlikely to have fridge space, and these don’t need to be in the fridge, so leave them somewhere cool like a garage or utility room.
  2. Chop the ends off my sprouts, half any big ones and throw them in a bag, again in a cool room or in the fridge. I’ll roast these tomorrow as part of this recipe.
  3. Get my cranberry sauce, breadcrumbs and sausages wrapped in bacon out of the freezer to defrost.
  4. Prep my carrot and swede (rutabega) mash by peeling and chopping everything and putting it in a pan of water in a cool place. To be honest you could actually cook them, mash them and zap them in the microwave on Christmas day if you think that will help.
  5. Make my stuffings – I do 2 kinds – up to the point where it goes into the oven. I’ve added one recipe at the bottom of this post, the other is here.
  6. Get my serving platters and spoons out, and don’t laugh, putting a Post-it on each one saying what it is for. Much less stressful than diving through cupboards on the day itself.

Christmas Day

My children will no doubt be up at 6am so we will have time for a decent breakfast and will then probably wait until dinner before we eat again (aside from the inevitable bits of chocolate that we snaffle in between). We usually eat at around 4pm so my timings are based on that.

Breakfast is usually buttery scrambled eggs and toast, a few clementines and huge wedges of toasted pannetone with marmalade. Nothing that will make too much mess or require too much time.

Our Christmas menu:

Something cold, dry and sparkling to start. Either straight up Champagne, Cremant or Cava or a cocktail.

We don’t have a starter, I will just leave out a tray with some smoked salmon, oatcakes, lemon wedges, salty butter and cornichons for those who want to soften their appetite before the main event.

The main feast:

We’ll have my Mum’s Christmas pudding after. Those of us who don’t like Christmas pud will have this chocolate and ginger pannetone ice cream bombe. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without my Aunty Joyce’s sherry trifle so she’ll bring that.

Our other guests are bringing a cheese board for us to pick at in the evening.

Timings:

These timings are based on me having checked off the above list of prep on Christmas Eve.

Mid morning

  • I’ll get our meat out of the fridge – we usually have pork shoulder and turkey to keep everyone happy. Because I don’t know what meat you’re having, work out your cooking time then work backwards from the time I say to take it out of the oven. Add the time you need to start cooking it to the plan below. Your meat will cook faster if it as room temperature so always get it out of the fridge an hour before cooking.
  • I’ll put my spices and onion in my milk to infuse for my bread sauce. Later in the morning I’ll add the bread chunks I made last week and defrosted last night. I’ll set the bread sauce aside and warm it up just before serving.

2pm

  • Get my half made stuffing out of the fridge
  • Set the table

2.20pm

  • Put the sausages wrapped in bacon in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are crispy.

2.45pm

  • Take the sausages out, cover them with foil and set aside to serve warm later.
  • Put the tray(s) of roast potatoes in the oven
  • Put the stuffing in the oven

3.30pm

  • Take the meat out of the oven to rest. Lift it out of its cooking pan, put it onto a large platter and wrap it with foil. Leave for 30 minutes.
  • Once the meat has been removed, drain any excess fat from the roasting pan, then whisk some flour into the pan juices before adding the pre-prepped gravy, or homemade chicken stock. Whisk until the flour has thickened the sauce, add a splash of wine to freshen it up, then pour into a smaller saucepan to keep warm.
  • Turn the oven temperature up and allow the roast potatoes to get their final crisping.
  • Put the brussel sprouts in the oven to roast
  • Reheat the mashed potatoes in the microwave then cover them with foil to keep warm.

3.45pm

  • Put plates and serving bowls and platters into a warming drawer or oven, or stack them and microwave them to warm them.
  • Re-heat the bread sauce in the microwave or in a pan.

4pm

  • Carve the meat, cover it with foil and set aside on the warmed platter.
  • Pour boiling water into a gravy jug so that it will keep the gravy hot for as long as possible – hot gravy is the saviour of food that is cooling fast.
  • Finish the gravy by adding the meat juices and a splash of wine then use a silicone spatula to scrape every last drop into the empty but warm gravy jug.
  • Give the mashed potatoes and carrot and swede mash a final zap in the microwave if needed. Delegate this job!
  • Tip the brussels onto a platter. Drizzle them with a little red wine vinegar, maple syrup, orange zest and a final sprinkle of salt.
  • Shake the roast potatoes into a warm serving bowl and take them to the table along with the plates and meat. Get people to start serving themselves while you get your helpers to take the rest of the veg to the table.
  • Let battle commence!

Here’s the recipe for Florence Knight’s barley and date stuffing – I’m going to add some chopped sage along with the bay leaves.

Barley and date stuffing

I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the run up to the big day. Just email me or message me on Facebook or Instagram. Be sure to follow me on there to see what I’m up to and tag anything you post #ystcook so I see it!