If the thought of co-ordinating the Christmas meal fills you with dread, don’t despair – you are certainly not alone. Even competent cooks can find Christmas Day a culinary challenge. What to eat, how much to serve, how to organise and manage the different dishes so everything is ready on time – these are just some of the challenges that confront the Christmas Day host.
But a little forward planning and preparation will leave you free and relaxed to enjoy the fun of Christmas Day, rather than allowing yourself to become hot and bothered in the kitchen.
Despite our warm climate, many Australians still continue with the tradition of serving a hot meal of whole roast turkey, roast potatoes and vegetables, followed by Christmas pudding. However, equally popular now is a predominantly cold meal that moves away from traditional Christmas flavours.
Traditional Christmas Feast
One of biggest challenges people face with a traditional Christmas dinner is having everything ready on time and ensuring that the turkey is cooked properly. See our “top turkey tips” post to ensure your bird is cooked to perfection. Here are a few other helpful hints:
- To ensure the roast potatoes are crispy, cut them into 5cm pieces, parboil then drain and return to the saucepan. Place on the lid and give them a good shaking to rough up the edges (this can be done ahead of time). Heat the frying medium (duck fat produces excellent results) in a roasting pan in the oven before adding the potatoes.
- If you have enough oven space, baked vegetables are a good choice as they can be prepared in advance and only need to be put in the oven when ready to cook. If doing boiled or steamed vegetables, choose those that require minimal last minute cooking, such as asparagus.
- Another option for a vegetable accompaniment is a cauliflower or broccoli gratin. This can be prepared in advance and only needs to be put in the oven to cook (alternatively it can be cooked in advance and re-heated in the microwave).
- Make your Christmas pudding ahead of time – they really do get better with age. All you will need to do on the day is to steam it for 2 hours, and serve with either custard or brandy butter.
- To flame your Christmas pudding, warm the brandy in a metal ladle over a gas flame or a lit candle, ignite it and pour the flaming brandy over the pudding. Don’t forget to turn the lights out for your grand entrance!
Contemporary Christmas Feast
As an alternative to the traditional Christmas feast, many Australians prefer the flexibility and creativity of a contemporary menu that incorporates cold dishes that can be prepared ahead of time.
A cold seafood entrée gets the meal off to a celebratory start, and refreshing Asian flavours are a lovely way to wake up the palate. If you’re having a hot main course, choose something that requires minimal last minute effort, like a rack of lamb or a fillet of beef. Serve special salads rather than hot vegetables, and for the sweet finale a trifle or a festive frozen dessert goes down a treat.
Here is an example of a delicious three-course contemporary Christmas dinner menu that we prepare in the life’s a feast Christmas Cooking Class:
Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad
Herb-Crusted Fillet of Beef with Aioli
Garlic & Rosemary Roast Potatoes
Christmas Salad of Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes
Festive Tropical Trifle
Whether you are serving a traditional or a contemporary meal, I highly recommend making a running sheet of everything that needs to be done once your guests arrive, including times. This way you will know exactly what needs to be done and when, and everything will run smoothly. It is also a useful reminder if you have enjoyed a couple of glasses of champagne!
On a finishing note, try to be a gracious host and enjoy yourself, even if things don’t go exactly according to plan. The attitude of the host dictates the atmosphere of the occasion. Entertaining should be an enjoyable and stress-free experience, and a relaxed host is the key to the best party!