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Tips on Preparing Christmas Dinner

wrapped christmas presentsJust the thought of preparing Christmas dinner can make you feel tired and wishing that Christmas was already over. With this in mind we have put together some tips to help make your Christmas dinner a breeze to prepare...

One of the top bits of advice from FM readers was to invite yourself to another member of your family and simply offer to contribute either to the cost of the meal or to supply the starter or the pudding. In this situation you are not totally responsible for preparing the meal and you can rest or leave when you feel tired. That is easier than asking guests at your house to excuse you while you rest or to go home!

If you are staying at home for Christmas and want to prepare your own Christmas dinner then here are some great tips from Alyssa to make it as simple as possible:

I guess I have just learned by experience that Christmas can be done a lot cheaper and with a lot less effort, by purchasing most of the stuff! I like to then jazz it all up a bit with the following simple methods:

  • Instead of buying a whole turkey when you don't want leftovers (and a carcass to deal with), consider buying a turkey breast or one of the popular three bird roasts available in many shops (turkey, chicken and duck) - these also make slicing a lot easier.
  • If you are cooking a turkey, cook it the day before (or have ready earlier on the day of serving), slice and place in an ovenproof dish, and cover with chicken stock (easily made with the Knorr jelly stock and boiling water). Let cool, cover with foil, and keep in fridge. When you wish to serve it, pop it in a low temperature oven, keep the foil on, and gently warm until hot. This way, there is no stressing out about carving – it’s all done. And equally as good, is if the bird is a bit tough, by putting it in the stock, it makes it tender again. You can also add fresh or dried herbs to the stock, which adds more flavour as well to the bird. I love thyme with poultry, and also a sprinkle of garlic powder.
  • Buy tinned/vacuum sealed chestnuts (no roasting/boiling and peeling!) and sauté in butter with chopped pecans - add to cooked Brussels sprouts with a dash of lemon juice, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  • Buy prepared mashed potatoes (not instant) - turn into a bowl and add a couple of tablespons of crème fraîche, salt and pepper, then place in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with cheese and paprika. Pop in the oven for 20 minutes before meal is due (after turkey is out and resting is a perfect time).
  • Buy your favourite stuffing mix and add sautéed chopped chestnuts, pecans, apples, onions (all or just a few), plus some fresh or dried sage, thyme or oregano.
  • Add a sprinkle of cloves and a sprinkle of garlic powder to your favourite gravy mix (or try the fresh ones you can now buy). Try substituting a bit of the boiling water for a splash of wine or sherry (sherry makes it sweet, but good!).

And here is the best hint of all...

My grandmother used to say, 'as long as you fry up some onions, family always think you are cooking a feast because it smells so good', and it is so true! So, I use the ideas above to perk up already made foods. It costs a lot less, tastes just as good as what I would do from scratch, not a huge amount of room taken up in the fridge and there is not a huge amount of leftovers (because, let's face it, at Christmas there is always an abundance of food...and waste).

Other FM readers and forum members have the following bits of advice:

  • Think of Christmas dinner as just a large Sunday dinner, it makes it feel less stressful.
  • Cook the meat and prepare your dessert the evening before.
  • Buy ready prepared vegetables.
  • Ask someone else to peel the potatoes and leave them in water over night.
  • Use instant onion gravy and ready-made Yorkshire puds and pigs in blankets.
  • Save on washing up by using foil roasting tins that you throw away after use.
  • For the evening tea/buffet consider using paper plates, plastic cutlery and plastic cups so that everything can go straight in the bin at the end of the meal, with no washing up in sight!

And if things get too stressful start on the wine about midday!

Recipe idea

If you want to have a go at cooking something a little different for Christmas dinner then June Chivers from the Wakefield and District Fibromyalgia Support Group has a great recipe for gammon.

“My best Christmas tip is to save my Marks and Spencer's vouchers and buy most of the accompaniments for the main meal. I always cook a ham joint as my centre piece and find the effort well worthwhile,” says June.

Ingredients:

  • 2.25kg unsmoked gammon
  • 2 large onions peeled
  • 40 cloves (approx)
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • grated rind of one orange

Method:

  • Place gammon in a large pan and cover with water.
  • Stud each of the onions with 6 cloves and put in pan with carrots, bay leaves and peppercorns.
  • Bring to boil, remove the scum, lower heat and simmer gently.
  • To calculate cooking time allow 25 min per kg plus and extra 20 min.
  • Simmer for half the cooking time.
  • Allow to cool in the liquid for approx 1 hour.
  • Remove the joint and strip away the skin.
  • Make cuts 3 mm deep at 1.25 cm intervals over the fat and stud each diamond shape with a clove.
  • Mix the sugar and orange rind then press into the fat.
  • Put into baking tin, cover with foil and bake for rest of cooking time - removing the foil for the last 20 min.

“I do need help with the lifting in and out of the oven,” explains June. “I use an electric knife to carve it or leave it to someone else. It is delicious and looks good as a centre piece.”

June also makes her own mince using good quality mixed fruit and grated apple covered in brandy and then left for as long as possible turning the jar to let the brandy soak right through. "I usually have a jar saved Christmas to Christmas so it's very potent,” she says. “I then put that into a readymade pastry case and bake before serving with readymade custard.”

So, we hope this gives you some good ideas for making Christmas dinner this year as stress free as possible. Happy Christmas!

By Alyssa Savage and Kathy Longley

 

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