Preparing Christmas dinner should be a pleasure, but it can end up being incredibly stressful – especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. So why not give yourself a break and get the fiddly bits sorted out up to a month ahead? Then persuade the rest of the family to lend a hand on the day, and you’ll be able to enjoy Christmas as much as everyone else enjoys the meal you make!
Note: All the dishes below can be frozen for up to a month. When you have prepared any dish, cool it right down before freezing it. Defrost foods thoroughly (ideally in the fridge) and avoid refreezing them again after they have thawed.
Make this when you’ve got the end of an old loaf of bread to use up.
1. Finely chop onion and parsley or sage, and stir these into freshly made breadcrumbs (sliced and whizzed for 10 seconds in a blender) with a knob of softened butter, season to taste.
2. Roll into balls, wrap in foil and freeze uncooked so they’re ready to add to your roast on the day.
RECIPE TWIST: Mix in grated lemon zest if you’re serving the stuffing with chicken, or for a richer stuffing add cooked chestnut or hazelnuts (if suitable) to the bread when blending into crumbs.
Easy mince pies
Kids love joining in with Christmas cooking, so set aside a weekend afternoon for some baking and make these mince pies a few weeks beforehand. Just make sure to keep them supervised at all times.
1. Roll out readymade shortcrust pastry straight from the fridge, to a thickness of half a centimetre.
2. Use a large rimmed glass or cutter to make 12 pastry circles and a different cutter to make 12 smaller ones.
3. Press the bigger circles into the holes in a greased bun tin.
4. Add a dessert spoon full of mincemeat (a jar from the supermarket is a cost-effective cheat), then top each with the smaller pastry ‘lid’.
5. Cut a small slit in the top of each, brush with milk then bake for 15-20 minutes at 200°C, until golden.
6. Cool and freeze. Once defrosted, warm at 190°C (gas mark 5) for 15 minutes.
RECIPE TWIST: find mincemeat too rich? Make a filling by putting half the usual amount of mincement into a bowl and stirring in peeled and chopped pear or apple and a couple of tablespoons of apple juice.
Alternative Christmas pudding
Many modern tastes prefer something lighter for dessert than the usual Christmas pudding after a big lunch, so try this fruit loaf recipe, instead.
1. Make a sponge loaf by mixing 225g caster sugar, butter and flour with four eggs and a tablespoon of milk.
2. According to taste, add sultanas or dried cranberries (try soaking them in brandy if you fancy).
3. Bake at 180°C in a greased loaf tin for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when dipped into the middle of the cake.
4. Let this cool slightly then carefully prise the cracks in its crusty top open just a little. At this point, if making in advance, allow to completely cool, carefully remove from the loaf tin and freeze.
5. On Christmas Day, defrost it thoroughly and allow it to warm through in the oven when the roast comes out, then proceed with the rest of this recipe.
6. Sift 100g icing flour and a tablespoon of ground cinnamon into a saucepan and simmer with the freshly squeeze juice of two large oranges, or a mixture of lemon and orange juice. Gently warm this until the sugar dissolves into a thicker syrup.
7. Slowly pour this over the loaf, allowing some to sink into the cake to make it gorgeously moist.
8. Serve the fruit loaf sliced, warm or cold, with whipped cream.
RECIPE TWIST: if you can find juicy tangerines, use these instead of normal oranges.
Do you have any tricks to make Christmas cooking easier? We’d love to hear your ideas – why not share them in the comments box below?