Christmas is coming again! Busy cooks will prepare turkeys, geese, hams and tofurkeys to serve in vast quantities. We’ll devour all kinds of appetizers, vegetables, fruits, salads, breads and desserts, according to people’s varying traditions.
You can create less stress for yourself over the holiday in small ways. Many of those ways involve the foods you serve. Caution: The “human factor” of stress is always present, especially around Christmas, so one of the best things you can do is keep your sense of humor, even about food!
Our grandparents and great-grandparents spent their working hours in factories or on farms, while we tend to spend ours in offices. Our bodies don’t require the heavy meals they regularly ate. We now consume more than we produce. Be honest here! How much of the food you plan to serve did you plant, harvest, preserve or butcher? We don’t need all the trimmings anymore, especially since they end up around our waists and hips!
Cutting down on your consumption for the holidays is a great place to start your “de-stressing.”
Start ahead of time. If family and friends usually bring food to your dinner, find out what they’re bringing. Make a list. Then add to the list everything you normally serve.
What’s on your list that everyone will miss if you scratch it off? What’s on it that almost no one will miss? You can cross those things off your list. If Aunt Sophronia’s creamed onions that no one eats are on that list, consider asking her to bring something else this year, perhaps a jar of pickled onions. Explain to her and others that you’ve decided to cut down on the amount of food that’s wasted and to make things easier for those who have to watch their diets. That may help avoid hurt feelings.
Remember, you want to reduce the number of things you'll be serving!
Shop for your dinner ingredients as soon as possible. Having everything on hand before Christmas arrives means no one has to make a last minute trip to the store. Don’t forget to include the things you’re not out of yet, but will be by Christmas.
Ask others to bring things like salads, vegetables, relish platters, pasta dishes, rolls, desserts, fruits or cheeses, etc. You could even ask someone to bring paper plates and cups to eliminate both dusting off your good dishes and having so many dishes to clean up afterwards. This will cut down your time in the kitchen and the stress that comes with trying to get everything done at once.
Design your dinner with the following in mind:
- • Instead of traditional appetizers, serve a raw vegetable platter or glass of juice. • You can prepare some things ahead and refrigerate or freeze them, as appropriate. • Think about stuffing your bird with vegetables. Onions, celery and carrots are good basic vegetables to add flavor to your turkey. Loosely stuff both the neck and body cavities. The vegetables are less dense than bread or rice stuffing, so your bird will cook faster. You can also process them in a blender/food chopper to add to your gravy. • Cutting up the vegetables takes far less time than making a traditional dressing/stuffing/filling: more time for you adds up to less stress! • Your bird will also cool off faster if you stuff it with vegetables. It can either be put in the refrigerator sooner, or the meat stripped off the bones for serving later. Boil the bones for soup stock. • Use a packaged stuffing mix: it saves time and work. The most popular (US) brand also comes in a low-salt version for those who should avoid high sodium intake. • If you serve a bird with dressing/stuffing/filling, don’t serve two kinds of potatoes. Turnips, rutabagas or parsnips make good alternatives. You can also serve traditional pasta dishes as potato substitutes. • Serve only 2 or 3 vegetables without cream, butter or cheese sauces. (Fewer calories and easier clean up!) • Choose one dessert to serve after dinner, and add a cheese and fruit platter (prepared by your local supermarket or deli to save you time and lower your stress level). • Choose 2 – 3 desserts for serving later with leftovers. (That’s when you really get to taste them — when you’re not too stuffed to enjoy them!)
Set your table the day before, if possible. Use smaller plates to serve children or seniors (they can always ask for seconds). Whether you serve buffet or family style, plan ahead where the various items will go on the table or buffet. Just remember that, no matter how many things you plan to serve, there will be at least a dozen other things you either forgot, or that someone “just had to bring.”
When Christmas dinner comes, you’ll have time for your guests. No one will leave your table hungry. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve served a lighter and healthier meal while keeping your sanity intact. Well, most of it.
Reducing the number of dishes you serve, encouraging others to bring things and share in the preparations, as well as advance planning will help keep your Christmas dinner less stressful for you and more enjoyable for everyone.
Who knows? The men or kids might even offer to help clean up! (Yes, Virginia, I live in a fantasy world.)
Other articles in this series:
Christmas Decorations with Less Stress Christmas Gifts with Less Stress Christmas Baking with Less Stress
The best stress-free Christmas recipes
Goose or turkey? Traditional or alternative? Start your planning now with this selection of dishes from the Duchy Originals cookbook for the juiciest roasts, toothsome puds, and the best nibbles, tipples, sauces and soups
The best Christmas roast turkey
Roast Kelly Bronze turkey with trimmings
If you're thinking of buying a free-range Kelly Bronze turkey (either order from your butcher or go to www.kelly-turkeys.com), then you should know they require a shorter cooking time than the usual 20 minutes per pound. There are three reasons for this. First, it has become fashionable to cook the stuffing separately from the bird or in the neck cavity only, as suggested below. This allows hot air to circulate in the main cavity, which reduces the cooking time and consequently produces more succulent meat. Second, as Paul Kelly suggests, the 'old' formula probably reflected the then common practice of buying the Christmas turkey frozen. Finally, the KellyBronze is mature when it is sold, and consequently has a better marbling of fat than the average turkey. Fat heats more quickly than protein, so the bird cooks more quickly. Nobody knows the Kelly Bronze better than Paul's mother Mollie, so we have followed her advice.Roasting times at oven-ready weight at 180C/gas 4
4kg 2 hours
5kg 2 hours 15 minutes
6Kg 2 hours 30 minutes
7kg 2 hours 45 minutes
8Kg 2 hours 55 minutes
9kg 3 hours 10 minutes
10kg 3 hours 25 minutes
11kg 3 hours 40 minutes
Remove the bird from the fridge and wash it, then let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours before cooking. Before you put the turkey in the oven, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and insert a large peeled onion in the body cavity for extra flavour. Place the bird in a roasting tin with its breast down. This will allow the fat deposits in its back to percolate the breast meat during cooking.
Roast the turkey at 180C for the time indicated in the table. We recommend that you refrain from covering the bird with tin foil, as this tends to steam the meat rather than roast it. You will also get crispier skin in the absence of a foil barrier.
Thirty minutes before the end of its cooking time, turn the turkey over (beware of hot fat) to brown the breast. The bird is cooked when the juices run clear when you pierce the inside of the thigh with a skewer. If they run pink, return the turkey to the oven and repeat the skewer test every 15 minutes until the desired result is achieved.
Leave the bird to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Serve with the stuffing, bread sauce and cranberry sauce recipes further on.
The best Christmas vegetables
Potatoes and parsnips
Peel the potatoes and cut them into appropriately sized chunks. Parboil the vegetables for ten minutes, then drain them through the gap between your pan and its lid and give the pan a good shake. This will give the potatoes and parsnips nice fluffy surfaces. Place them on a non-stick tray, baste generously with olive oil or goose fat and sprinkle with sea salt. If you like garlic, add a few big cloves or even an entire head. You might also want to throw in some sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme. They will emerge thoroughly crispy.
Place the tray of vegetables in the oven in which your turkey is roasting at 180C/gas 4 about 40 minutes before the end of its cooking time. When you remove the bird, turn the potatoes and parsnips over, give them a good basting and increase the heat to 200C/gas 6-220C/gas 7. Leave the vegetables to continue roasting for 30 minutes while the turkey rests.
The above method works equally well for the other root vegetables - carrots, parsnips, swede, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, you name it.
Ham and organic potatoes baked with cheddar cheese
This dish is easy to make, and enormously satisfying on a cold day.
You will need a well-greased oven dish with dimensions of approximately 18 x 25 x 6cm .
1kg medium potatoes, cut into slices about 1cm thick
300g cheddar cheese, grated
200ml creme fraiche or sour cream
a small bunch of spring onions, chopped
a handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
140g Duchy Selections ham,
freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and while it is warming up, boil the potato slices in a saucepan for 12-15 minutes. Mix the cheddar cheese, creme fraiche, spring onions, flat leaf parsley, a little salt and pepper and most of the ham (leaving a bit aside for the topping) in a large bowl.
Line the bottom of your baking dish with a single layer of sliced potatoes. Spoon about half the cheese mix on top, then add another layer of potatoes, and finally the rest of the mix. Sprinkle with the rest of the ham and a generous dusting of grated nutmeg. Bake for 20 minutes until the dish is brown and crispy on top.
'Tis the season to have a complete nervous breakdown, but it really doesn't have to be that way.There are two things you can do this year to make Christmas a little more festive, and a little less frenzied:
- Be one of those super-organised people that sets out the menu in October, bakes in November and is ready with a full roast dinner and all the trimmings on December 25.
- Or, be like a normal person and cheat a little.
Sounds impossible? It's not, just keep in mind these four tips:
Forget traditionA lamb leg on the barbecue is a lot easier to prepare than a roast turkey, an ice-cream cake simpler than a Christmas pudding and peanut butter biscuits take just 15 minutes, as opposed to shortbread. Forget tradition and cook a feast your guests will want to eat in the middle of an Australian summer. The added benefit is you get to keep your cool too.
Add your own touch to ready-bought ingredientsThere's a reason shops sell Christmas puddings and ready-made hams - so you can buy them at the last minute and then add your own touch. For example, buy individual Christmas puddings, but make a wickedly indulgent boozy custard, or grab a good-quality cooked ham, and choose an easy glaze recipe to make it special. Hide all the packaging and no one will know the difference. We even have a Christmas last-minute cheats recipe collection with lots of helpful shortcuts.
Rally the troopsDelegate, delegate, delegate! There's no shame in asking family and friends to help prepare a Christmas dinner. Decide on the menu, find out who is good at making what and divide up the work. Easy.
Make-aheadChoose dishes you can prepare well ahead of time and can either be served cold or just popped in the oven. Anything that needs cooking at the last minute or is overly fiddly should be forgotten.
The Secret Is In The Planning