Christmas dinner: the meal many of us look forward to most all year, but also the one that requires the most preparation, and the one that is most likely to cause a large-scale fallout. Forget Leave or Remain, Labour or Conservative, Strictly or X Factor – the question that’s most likely to create friction in many households is whether the potatoes should be roasted in goose fat or duck fat.
Us Brits take our Christmas dinners seriously, preceding the event with weeks of cheese, pate and chocolate-eating to prepare our stomachs. We read every review we can find on where to buy the best brandy butter and Christmas pudding (because god forbid Margaret next door has a superior one), and we search high and low for the biggest turkey imaginable so we can spend that blurry time between Christmas and New Year eating turkey curry morning, noon and night.
But have you thought how you can maximise the amount of time you have to sample all of that smoked cheddar and fancy pate, stockpile curry powder for all those turkey-based concoctions and just generally spend time with loved ones eating, drinking and being merry?
There are several ways you can get ahead with your Christmas dinner prep so that you can do exactly this. It might still be November, but we’re firmly of the mindset that it’s never too early for some festive food prep to ensure the big day goes without a hitch.
Stir-up Sunday: Make your Christmas pudding
This year, Stir-up Sunday falls on Sunday November 26th. It’s the last Sunday before the start of Advent and is traditionally the day when people make their Christmas puddings to be eaten almost a month later on December 25th.
Christmas pudding is a bit like cheese, wine and Helen Mirren – it only gets better with age. Making it in advance means there’s plenty of time to keep adding an extra dash of brandy to the mix to make it super-rich in taste and more likely to set alight impressively on the big day itself. Check out the Food Geek Blog’s Christmas pudding recipe for exact ingredient quantities, timings and storage instructions.
Some people like to make their Christmas cake even further ahead of time, again to give the fruit time to absorb the alcohol to create a beautifully rich taste. If you haven’t made yours yet, Stir-up Sunday is the perfect time to get cracking. Kitchen Sanctuary has a classic recipe for you to follow.
Get creative with canapes
We all know that the run-up to Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but this is not because the freezers in your local supermarket are suddenly full to the brim of all kinds of festive-themed skewers and pastries.
Okay, this might be one of the reasons, but when you weigh up the cost of the ingredients in these ready-made snacks, you’ll see that you’re paying over the odds for what is essentially a tiny bit of pastry and a flake of salmon – you can definitely do better than that.
Despite what the nativity might tell you, ready-rolled pastry is your saviour here. You can use it to make tarts and rolls (spring, sausage etc), but think about what fillings you’re using if you’re making them weeks ahead of your festive entertaining – no one wants a soggy bottom.
Thick fillings like cream cheese and salmon or ricotta and spinach to make a sort of vegetarian ‘sausage roll’ would work well, while spicing up the classic sausage roll with chorizo will add some much-needed heat to your canapes on a cold winter’s night.
Freezing prawns and chunks of chicken in simple marinades made from a little olive oil, herbs and spices and defrosting them in time to thread onto skewers and bake for a short time will also give you some simple but scrummy canapes to hand around to guests.
Potatoes and pigs in blankets: Freezer friends
If your freezer’s full of oven chips and turkey pieces shaped like smiley faces, we instruct you to eat these as soon as possible – it’s an order, dig in now! You need as much freezer space as you can find if you don’t want to spend hours stuck in the kitchen on Christmas Day.
All of your vegetables for Christmas dinner, from the opinion-dividing sprouts and cauliflower to the much-loved potatoes, can be par-boiled ahead of time and frozen until December 24th, when they’ll need defrosting before continuing their cooking on the hob or in the oven.
You can put pigs in blankets in there too – trust us, it’s much cheaper to buy bacon and sausages separately than it is to buy them ready-made. Put the pig in the blanket and place it in the freezer until a few hours before you’re ready for it – simple.
You can even freeze your gravy
Yes, really. Now, we know frozen gravy doesn’t sound like the most appetising of foods, but this will just be your usual gravy recipe, frozen, and then defrosted, so there’s absolutely nothing to be frightened of.
Of course, if you want to use your Christmas turkey juices in your gravy, you’ll have to make it on the big day itself, but if you’re cheating and using stock cubes (a shortcut we definitely recommend!), you can freeze gravy for up to four months. Make a huge batch and have Christmas gravy on your midweek cottage pie on a cold evening in March for a treat. Or turn it into gravy ice cubes if you really can’t get enough of it – who are we to judge?
Christmas dinner prep doesn’t have to be a military operation. With some careful forward-planning, it can be a breeze and you’ll be able to spend December 25th watching The Snowman while working your way through a tin of Quality Street instead of being chained to the oven before Santa has even finished delivering his presents.