How to avoid classic Christmas cooking mistakes

in Food and Drink · 20-12-2019 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

Last-minute shopping, the school holidays and an onslaught of in-laws - Christmas can be stressful at the best of times. Throw in the most daunting culinary challenge of the year, and you could be forgiven for out-grumping the Grinch.

But there's no need to cancel Christmas just yet, and festive food doesn't need to be a trial.

Here are a few standard mistakes made by first-time Christmas cooks, and how to avoid them...

1. 'I drank too much'

Rookie error number one is giving in too early to the lure of a festive glass of fizz (or two). Christmas cooking isn't like dancing or playing pool down the pub - there's no volume of booze that makes you better before making you worse.

If you're determined to partake, consider the increasingly vast variety of 0% drinks. However exhausting your in-laws are, save the sauce until dinner is served.

2. 'I don't know how to make this'

Remember the Friends episode when Monica cooks her first Thanksgiving dinner, and tries (and fails) to cook special versions of everyone's favourite dishes? For the sake of your sanity, do not do this, and avoid fancy recipes you've never tried before.

There's also pressure to cook conventionally Christmassy things, but again, you can just keep it simple. Turkey, roast potatoes and some form of vegetable are hard to avoid, but everything else is details. No one needs roast chestnuts just because Nat King Cole sang about them, and if your guests really want a yule log they can bring one themselves.

3. 'There's just too much to do'

Christmas dinner is the most complex meal of the year, so you must delegate to survive - and to thrive you must delegate well. From the moment the first spud is sliced, the kitchen is your workshop and your relatives are your happy little elves.

Thanksgiving Monica got one thing right - she made Chandler accountable for the cranberry sauce. Everyone responds to responsibility, particularly if the whole table knows who made what. Too many cooks don't have to spoil the broth, so long as they know who's head chef.

4. 'I should have prepared more in advance'

If your cookbook is your bible, your shopping list is your guiding star. Most shops are shut come judgement day, and although food is the main priority, the most common Christmas misses are oddments like tin foil and oil.

There's plenty you can prep in advance. Gravy and stuffing can both survive being frozen, while veg can be chopped and peeled the day before and packed (reasonably airtight) into the fridge. Finally, pre-cooked Christmas puds are so tasty, it's fine to buy off the shelf. Even Marcus Wareing says so!

5. 'I can't fit everything in the oven'

We mean this in the most supportive way possible, but this is purely poor planning.

Carving turkey at the table may be tradition, but there's absolutely no shame in trimming a large bird for the oven. A bad workman blames his tools, but a good Christmas cook adapts to circumstance.

6. 'I ruined the turkey'

Most people can stomach soggy spuds, and inedible sprouts might even pass unnoticed, but a ruined turkey is hard to ignore.

There's a small library of hazards to avoid. Forgetting to remove the giblets. Forgetting to defrost your bird (which means you won't be eating Christmas dinner until Boxing Day).

Under-cooking turkey is actually dangerous though. Check your timings, don't rush, and pierce the thigh before serving - if the juices run clear, you're good to go.

7. 'I can't get the brandy to light'

You're almost there and the lights are dimmed for your dinner's delectable denouement. You pour brandy over your pud and strike a match... nothing.

The brandy needs warming first (a ladle over the hob works well), to give you that purple glow of pride at the end of your first successful feast.


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