Cooking a Christmas dinner – a beginner’s guide

Cooking a Christmas dinner – a beginner’s guide

Christmas is just around the corner, the countdown has well and truly begun – and if you’re cooking the dinner this year for family and loved ones, no doubt you’re fairly well organised and looking forward to a happy day - with good food and good company. You’ll have already decided on the menu, and who’s coming on the day, know who doesn’t like what foods, and who prefers what tipple, etc: so you’ll have a fair idea of how the day will go, and who to hide the sherry from…a busy, tiring day , but nothing to cause undue stress and anxiety.
However, if on the other hand this is the first time you’re playing host, then, perhaps you should start worrying just a little around now – if you are someone who’s culinary and organisational skills range lies somewhere between very limited to near zero, and haven’t got around to giving it much thought yet.
Cooking Christmas dinner for a number of people for the first time is a daunting task, one that requires planning and organisation – and that applies to experienced cooks too. For busy novices who don’t have much time on their hands it is a particular challenge. But it’s too late now; you have to man, or, woman, up!
Keep calm; don’t strive for perfection – that’s guaranteed failure before you start
Always keep in mind; even if you are a Michelin star chef, you will never cook a Christmas dinner like your;

  1. Mother
  2. Mother-in-law
  3. Gran used to make

Having accepted that fact, there’s nothing to stop you cooking a great meal and having a memorable day – keep in mind it’s not a competition, we all have our own style and way of doing things – extra crispy to forgetting to switch the oven on – but there are several ‘make or break’ factors in cooking a tasty Christmas dinner, in fact any meal, and that is the quality of the food you use.
This is a once a year affair, a special occasion: you want to get things right. Whether you choose free range poultry, tender British beef, salmon or even venison, make sure you buy quality.
Planning, preparation, knowing your limitations and things you’ll need
Planning and preparation helps to avoid stress and anxiety – get this bit right and things will run smoother on the day, pay no attention and chances are you’ll regret it. Limitations, well, we are going to think positive here – a can do approach, but if you have only a two ring cooker, no oven, just a microwave…you’re overstretching yourself; you may have to rethink your menu.
So keep in mind your actual limitations; you’re going to be cooking a turkey, or meat of some type (vegans look away now) together with several vegetables…a bit like juggling loads of balls in the air at once. If you’re a newby, make that with a blindfold…no, only kidding.
So first things first, make a list: start with the food and start off on the right foot – always buy quality, and that goes for vegetables as well as meat products – cut corners here and you risk spoiling the meal. Competent, experienced cooks can get away with things, we mere mortals (aka normal cooks) cannot – but quality shows through, tastes better, even when cooked slightly less than perfect.
Pigs in blankets
And here’s where you can put your own mark on things perhaps, be a bit different…ever tried organic meat and vegetables? Organic foods contains more antioxidant compounds and are linked to better health, with lower levels of toxic metals, pesticides and other nasties – and millions swear the taste seems somehow better…just a thought.
Keep calm - it’ll soon be over
Christmas day, when you’re cooking the dinner, is a long and tiring day; wonderful and fulfilling, yes; when you can sit down after everyone has gone home, the dishes are done, and you can reflect on how the day went; from rising that morning, until reaching this point in time, can be…well, challenging, so…keep reminding yourself it's only one day.
Look at your proposed menu on Christmas Eve – vegetable wise – can anything be prepared before retiring for the night, giving you a head start the following morning. Otherwise, this will be one of your first jobs on the big day.
To business, and cooking the Christmas dinner
To business then - the main focus of the day, Christmas dinner. If you’ve got young children, then chances are you’ve been up since first light, and time is marching on. Once the shredded wrapping papers are cleared away, and you finally got dressed - putting the turkey in the oven is generally the first job to do as this takes the longest time to cook, and is the star turn of the meal; you want this cooked right, and everything else is timed around this…and that’s it, serve when cooked; perfect….well, perhaps not quite as easy and straightforward as that, but not exactly rocket science.
Depending on the size of the turkey or joint of meat, it may need to go in the oven at the crack of dawn so check the timing the night before.
There’s a lot to be said for planning. Make notes of the cooking times of the quantities of food you’re cooking, essential to bring everything together at the same time, or thereabouts – the oven will keep food warm till you’re ready to dish up if you’re a few minutes either way.
Many followers of the late, great, Keith Floyd typically take a small sip of grape juice just occasionally when cooking, for inspiration and to awaken the taste buds for the culinary delights to come…well, in theory at least, but the novice cook risks developing a devil may care attitude and become overconfident - start ‘experimenting’ with spices, become muddled and add too little or too much salt, or mix up mustard powder with the corn flour - end up spoiling things completely.
Many novice cooks under pressure find music therapeutic – sets the mood for the day, is festive and calming…but if you’re a Keith Floyd and a Pink Floyd fan, there’s no guarantee how the meal will turn out, and you’re on your own. At nowhere in this piece will you find the word ‘panic’ used; that is intentional – cooking a Christmas dinner isn’t half as difficult as you might imagine, and at no time should cause panic…its Christmas! Everything will be fine.

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