Who takes on the role of cook at Christmas in your house? It’s a tough gig, especially if you have guests coming over, and even more so if the guest list starts hitting double figures. So much pressure is put upon getting Christmas lunch absolutely spot on, that sometimes the person doing all the cooking is the one person who doesn’t end up enjoying the fruits of all their labour, simply because they’re so exhausted and frazzled by it all.
Cooking for a crowd is never easy, but we’ve put together a few of our top tips to help make the cooking on Christmas day be an experience everyone can enjoy and benefit from.
Know Your Guests
You started off by inviting your own parents to Christmas lunch and before you know it you’ve got your in laws, the neighbours, your brother and his vegan wife and their three fussy ‘will only eat brown food’ kids coming too. It’s got way out of hand, way too quick and now you feel like you’re drowning, but you can hardly turn people away can you, I mean it’s Christmas!
Take a deep breath, sit down and start making a list, it’s all going to be fine but you need to get organised. Firstly, get those numbers finalised as soon as poss. Guests might think they don’t need to commit, hey some might even be hedging their bets and seeing if they get a better offer, but it’s your day you do it your way. Email everybody to make sure they commit by a certain day and in the same email ask them to let you know of any special dietary requirements. The last thing you need on the day is one of them turning up and announcing they’re gluten intolerant and will also no longer eat anything that’s been in the same room as any meat. If you do have a guest with a particularly difficult food intolerance or preference then it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask them to bring their own food and offer to cook it for them. It’s far better to do this, than to make your day more stressful by trying to accommodate everyone and risk getting it wrong.
Cook As Much As You Can In Advance
Plenty of food can be made in advance and then simply reheated on the day. Obviously things like the turkey should be cooked on the day itself, but come on once that’s been put in the oven it pretty much looks after itself! Things like mince pies, Christmas pudding and cake, bread sauce, stuffing etc. can all be made way in advance and then frozen, which will save you so much time. Plus there’s something incredibly festive about spending the evenings in the run up to Christmas pottering about in the kitchen, dancing to Christmas tunes and making yummy cinnamon scented, warming, nostalgic foodie items. Cooking will feel far less like a chore when you’re enjoying doing it in your own time at your own leisure.
Keep It Simple
Of course you want to show off a little, hey everyone needs their moment to shine, but let’s get real here…cooking for a crowd at Christmas is not that moment. Keep dishes simple and stick to recipes you know work and that you’ve made before. People are more than happy to eat the traditional turkey dinner and at the end of the day Christmas dinner really is just a glorified, pimped up roast really isn’t it? If you’ve been tempted by all the festive foodie features in your fave cooking mag and you really can’t bear missing out on the opportunity to have a go at creating something with gold leaf and edible glitter (just me?), just make sure you have a couple of practice runs before the big day. The benefit of this is you’ll know in advance whether it’s going to be easy enough to upscale it for when you’re cooking for a greater number of people, but most importantly you’ll know whether it tastes nice! Oh and one other thing, there is absolutely no shame in buying ready made food or pre-chopped veg, if it saves time then we’re totally down with that and it’s only really cheating if you empty out a beautifully decorated Christmas cake and try to pass it off as your own…actually you know what, we’re totally fine with that too!
Planning Is Everything!
Oh my goodness if there’s one time you need a cooking plan it’s when you’re cooking for a crowd at Christmas, so don’t even think about approaching it without a good solid one in place. You need to be thinking about how many people you’re feeding, what time they’re coming and who get’s on with who – you definitely don’t want arguments on Christmas day! Once you’ve sorted your guests, you then need to plan the food properly. Most online supermarkets open up their Christmas delivery dates way in advance and it’s definitely worth trying to get a slot booked as soon as they are released. You might not yet know every bit of food you’ll need, but most will allow you to add items to the order up until a couple of days before delivery. Getting your shopping list sorted will help tremendously and will save you a great deal of time. Make sure you order enough food, as there’s nothing worse than running out, plus Christmas dinner leftovers are the best aren’t they?
The night before, once you’ve finished playing the role of Santa (what do you mean he’s not real!?!), spend some time setting the table out with mats, cutlery, glasses, crackers etc. and peel all of the vegetables. This will save you so much time on Christmas day and will mean you can enjoy the frenzy of present opening in the morning. Any vegetables you’ve chopped and peeled can be kept in saucepans of water as long as they are covered.
And finally make sure you have a timing schedule to ensure you know exactly what needs to be put in the oven and when. If you’re having turkey, or any other big joint of meat, that’s likely to take the longest so start with that and then list other items counting down to the point at which you would like people to be sat down and eating. Remember to pay close attention to oven temperatures as some may need a higher or lower setting, and it may be that you have to adjust these accordingly. And whilst we’re on the subject of ovens, make sure you have enough space in yours for everything you want to cook and most importantly of all that it will fit the size of turkey you’ve bought!
Don’t Do It Alone
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, so we’re not saying ask your guests to help stir the gravy, but they could certainly help you out in other ways. I mean, yes they’re your guests sure, but why should they be sat around on their backsides, slowly getting tipsy on mulled wine and enjoying the festivities, whilst you’re red faced and stressing in the kitchen stinking of sprouts!
There are plenty of jobs that people can do that will help take the pressure off of the cook. For instance, helping to bring plates of food to the table as you serve them so that food stays hot, or pouring drinks for everyone and making sure the table has a jug of water on it and the wine is open and ready to be poured. And of course there’s the washing up afterwards. Hey you’ve done the cooking so this job’s definitely got somebody else’s name on it. Now it’s time to put your feet up and get stuck into that vino!
Go Easy On The Drink!
A glass of wine whilst you’re cooking is deffo going to help you keep your cool and make you feel as though you’re a part of the celebrations, just make sure you don’t get too carried away or your cooking timings are highly likely to go wrong. It’s always a good idea to designate someone as official bartender for the day, so that you don’t have to worry about anyone’s glass being empty. Or perhaps consider making a punch and leaving it on the side so that guests can help themselves. My top tip is to prepare mulled wine in the slow cooker and leave it on a low heat setting, again placing it on the side for guests to fill up their glasses to their hearts content.
Call In The Professionals
Let’s face it, if you truly want a stress free Christmas day then the best solution is to get someone to do the cooking for you. Noooooo we don’t mean cajoling Aunty Jean into volunteering her culinary skills, or lack of them for that matter (flashbacks to raw turkey and burnt parsnips!), we mean get the professionals in. There are plenty of catering companies out there, such as Flavours Catering, who have Christmas menus that can often be tailor made to your own personal requirements. They’ll arrive at your home, cook the food and some will even serve it to you as well, or if you prefer there may be an option for the food to be delivered already prepped so all you have to do is heat it up. It’s like being at a restaurant in the comfort of your own home and if you work out the cost of hiring caterers versus the money you would have spent on buying your own food and then factoring in the time it would have taken you and the stress it would have caused you, then actually there really isn’t that much in it.
The most important thing you need to remember is that Christmas is a time of goodwill to all men (and women!). Ultimately, the day should be filled with fun, family, friends and plenty of long lasting happy memories and it really is only one day of the year, no different to any other if truth be told. Don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t forget the wine!
What are your top tips for staying calm when cooking for a crowd?
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