So Christmas is just days away and for those not accustomed to catering the big lunch or dinner, I thought I'd give you a few tips to make the day go easier and slightly less stressful.

If you're doing a traditional style meal, that is roast joints with roast vegetables, gravy etc, then the more you can do in advance the easier it will be on the day. But there are a couple of things you can't do until the actual day, so here's my checklist…

  • If you're doing a whole turkey, and you're using a frozen bird, remember it takes 24 hours per 2kg of turkey to thaw in the fridge. I'd advise thawing in the fridge rather than on a bench top, for safety reasons. Poultry and game are notorious harbours of bacteria which can make Boxing Day very unpleasant if you get food poisoning.
  • If you're planning to stuff your turkey, make the stuffing in advance and freeze it straight away, then thaw it out in the fridge at least 24 hours before you'll be stuffing the turkey. For some great stuffing recipes see Basic Stuffing and Variations.
  • Turkeys should never be stuffed one day and cooked the next, especially if the stuffing contains minced meat such as pork or veal. As above, you can make the stuffing in advance, but don't put it into the turkey until the day you'll be cooking the turkey, and ideally within the hour of it going into the oven. NEVER EVER par roast a stuffed turkey one day and finish it off the next. You might be lucky not to get a bug, but I'd rate your chances very low on being safe.
  • For cooking times of your turkey, see the Chicken & Poultry Cooking Times chart.

If you don't like turkeys because you think the meats tough, think about the following alternatives to having moist meat…

  • When roasting, raise the turkey above the base of the roasting pan on a rack and fill the bottom of the pan with water or chicken stock, and white wine, then use the liquid to make your gravy.
  • Roast the turkey till it's almost done, then remove from the oven and break into smaller pieces and place back in the baking tray, adding some wine and chicken stock around the pieces and poach for the remaining cooking time, leaving the crisp skin above the poaching liquid.
  • Turn the turkey upside down to roast it as much of the fat is underneath and this will rip through the bird keeping it moist while roasting.
  • Buy turkey breasts rather than whole bird and stuff the centre, and bard with prosciutto or bacon to keep the meat moist. If you can get hold of a breast with the skin on, cook it with the skin on and if you prefer not to have it too fatty, remove it before serving. The skin will retain more moisture than a skinless breast.

Other Roasts

  • If you're having roast pork, try to buy a rolled pork loin roast or a rolled pork belly. Both these can be unrolled and stuffing placed inside for extra flavour. Whether you're stuffing it or not, again, this should be prepared on the day. You can score the rind beforehand so there's less to do, but don't stuff or oil and salt the pork till just before it's to go in the oven. If you're scoring the rind yourself, incest in a disposable scalpel. You can buy them from pharmacies. They are way sharper than any knife and they'll make the task infinitely easier. Also see the Pork Cooking Times chart for correct cooking times for the size of meat you buy.
  • Most vegetables can be peeled and chopped the day before, but if it's potatoes, make sure you place them in either in acidulated water, or you brush them or dip them in citrus juice. I tend to leave my potatoes till the actual day and I don't bother peeling them. I buy washed red and white potatoes and just give them a quick rinse and cut them into bite sized pieces, then bake them with the skins on. Saves time and they're more nutritious and tastier with the skins on. If you're making my Roast Potato recipe, you can do the par cooking the night before so they're just ready for the oven on the day. Of course, it' s advisable to have desserts all premade, especially steamed Christmas puddings, ideally weeks in advance so that you can feed them more alcohol (if yours is alcoholic) leading up to the main meal. Trifles are always better the second day, and even the third. Anything with meringue however, should be assembled fresh. You can pre-make the meringue cases but don't add the cream or fruit till just before serving. You can whip the cream and have it ready to add and chop the fruit, but combine at the last minute. Instead of just plain whipped cream, try Chantilly Cream instead with meringue, it's just delicious.

On the day, make sure you're table is set early, or do it the night before. All your serving plates are out and washed, plus the serving cutlery. Ideally meez (mise en plas) all your ingredients before you start (i.e. they should be measured, prepared and covered either in the fridge or on a bench), so you can just sail through the preparation and cooking while still enjoying a glass of bubbly and chatting with your guest. The more prepared you are, the more you and your guests will enjoy the day.

Happy Christmas and Happy Cooking!