How to Survive Cooking Christmas Dinner for Family and Friends

How to Survive Cooking Christmas Dinner for Family and Friends 

It was Christmas day 2002.It was in Australia. It was the smallest kitchen I have ever worked in. The temperature in the kitchen was in the mid 40’s and I had just served 80 Christmas lunches. I felt like I should be carried out of the kitchen on a stretcher and on a drip. That day was the last time I professionally prepared Christmas dinner and the beginnings of my experience of the much more arduous job of preparing Christmas dinner for friends and family.

I drove home still in my sweat soaked chef whites ,got out of the car and jumped ,fully clothed, into the swimming pool ,got out and changed ,ready for a relaxing family Christmas dinner prepared for me. To say there was a little tension in the air would be like saying that banoffee pie was a delicate and classic french dessert. In order to satisfy the varying ideas of a family Christmas lunch to an extended family there was a mountain of food. A table groaning under just enough canapés and nibbles to make sure we were all half full before the main event. Two hot starters ,roast turkey and pork for main course, 3 different potato dishes and various roast ,steamed and boiled vegetables and of course a selection of traditional and non-traditional desserts. And the killer blow of a large cheeseboard and various sweets and chocolates. Everyone was tired, hot and stressed but we duly sat down in our shorts and tee shirts surrounded by fans and waded our way through a delicious meal. I also decided that day that there must be a better way everyone involved helping to make and enjoy good food at home on Christmas day without the stress.

There is a myriad of celebrity chef books out there which like to make cooking Christmas dinner something which should be tackled like a siege lasting weeks or even months. There are cooking programs on TV (even on Christmas day) which seem designed to overcomplicate and stress. So here are my top tips for a successful and stress free Christmas day –

  • Speak to your guests about likes and dislikes

  • Plan a simple menu (more is not better)

  • Think about what can easily be prepared in your size of kitchen and perhaps opt for a cold starter or dessert.

  • Ask some guests to make the starter, others to make the dessert, others to bring the cheese etc so that you are only responsible for the main.

  • Get the quantities right (more on that later)

  • Prepare your vegetables on Christmas eve (peel pots etc)

  • Cook your non potato vegetables on Christmas eve (micro or oven warm on Xmas day)

  • Prepare all your sauces on Christmas eve

  • Get your meat out of the fridge first thing on Christmas day and let it come up to room temp

  • Cook meat (tips for the perfect Turkey later), cook potato dishes and reheat what you prepared yesterday

  • Think about planning the day around the meal and perhaps taking breaks away from the table between courses.

  • Make sure all those who took no part in the cooking do all the clearing and washing up

  • Sit back ,relax and bask in the collective glory


If you want to avoid the eating leftovers for days of wasting a lot of food these are my average calculations –

 Meat – 150-200gm per person

Potatoes – Mash – 1 medium potato per person

Roast – 1 ½ medium potato per person

Sprouts – 4-6 per person

Carrots/Parsnips – ½ per person

Cabbage – An average cabbage should serve 6-8

My Perfect Turkey

This was only recently perfected when I got a digital thermometer. It is worth investing in one as they can be used all year round

  • Remove the legs at the thigh joint but cook in the roasting pan with main carcass – this avoids over cooking the outer meat

  • Wash inside and out and pat dry

  • Cook stuffing separately (not inside) – again this avoids over cooking the outer meat

  • Do not season at this stage as salt will just draw out precious moisture

  • Using a spoon gently separate the skin from the flesh and rub a layer of butter between them

  • Cover with foil and start roasting in a hot oven for 20 mins before decreasing heat to around 160 fan or 180 conventional

  • Using your probe thermometer in the thickest part of the breast ,check periodically until it reaches 160c (the outer meat will be 180 or higher by then)

  • Remove the foil and season

  • Return to oven for 5 mins to brown and crisp

  • Remove from the oven ,cover again with foil and a tea towel

  • Rest for at least 20 mins on the top of the stove (it will continue cooking and resting)

  • Use the juices to make gravy during the resting

  • Carve and enjoy