Despite the fact that Christmas Day occurs on the same day every year, it still manages to creep up on many of us unawares. It can quickly turn into a stressful situation - so, paradoxically, sitting down (perhaps with a refreshing drink) and sketching out a brief plan can help you make the best use of the remaining time. Ask yourself these questions and use your answers as a basic plan.
1 What would you like to eat for the main meal? Turkey is popular but not everyone's cup of tea. Other birds such as goose and duck (or even a big chicken) can be equally festive, as can a really good piece of roast beef or pork. Think about what you're confident about cooking - and whether you have room in the oven. Think about what vegetables and other side dishes you want. Don't forget planning for any vegetarians who are coming for dinner. Oh, and don't forget the gravy.
For inspiration, see some great Christmas Day food ideas here.
2 Think about what you want to drink - including wine, beers, spirits and soft drinks - and don't forget the mixers such as tonic water. Bear in mind too that a nice bottle of something can make a great last-minute gift. There are more ideas here on throwing a party here.
3 Who is going to help you? If you're being offered help, take it. Delegate tasks such as decorating, table laying, bar tending, vegetable peeling and clearing up. And find someone to take charge of putting some music on. There more ideas about taking the stress out of Christmas here.
4 Try to prioritise. Think about what really makes Christmas. For some people, it's incomplete without turkey, sprouts, salty snacks, tins of chocolates, crackers and a flaming pudding. Others are quite happy without these. If it's essential, put it at the top of your list. If not, put it further down and don't worry if you don't manage to tick off every item - most people find they can live without cranberry sauce.
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (15 mins to prepare and cook)
Bacon and maple syrup pancakes (or use honey instead of syrup) (20 mins)
French toast (AKA eggy bread) with berries (this is delicious made with panettone or just normal bread with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg) (15 mins)
An oldie but a goodie - easy prawn cocktail (15 mins)
Baked figs with goat cheese (20 mins)
Cured salmon and cucumber spoons (15 mins plus marinading)
Prosciutto and scallop kebabs (25 mins)
Mains and sides
A turkey will take roughly four hours to prepare and cook. A crown (breast but no legs) will cook in less time. But there are plenty of alternatives to turkey which take far less time.
- Aromatic Moroccan stuffed lamb takes about two hours and goes very well with this Persian fragrant rice which can be cooked while the lamb is in the oven.
- Beef Wellington – with bought puff pastry, it takes about 1.5 hours
- Roast duck with clementines (about 2.5 hours)
- Honey and citrus roast salmon (about 1 hour)
Luxurious though they are, many people are too full at the end of Christmas dinner to even look at something rich, and those without a sweet tooth are often happier with some cheese or fruit instead. Mature Cheddar, a ripe Brie and something blue (perhaps Roquefort) with some grapes and oatcakes will please most guests. But if only a pudding will do, try these:
- Last-minute Christmas pudding (can be made in 30 mins but needs to cook for 6 hours - can be done on Christmas Eve)
- Mixed berry Eton mess (takes about 10 mins)
- Cranachan is traditional on Burns' Night, but can fit really well into a Christmas feast too. And it only takes 10 minutes to make. This blackberry and cinnamon version takes 20, but is even more festive.
- Bombe Noël (takes 30 mins plus freezing time)
- Poached pears in cassis (takes about an hour)
- Chocolate profiteroles (take about an hour)
Beers and wines top most people's shopping lists, but don't forget cocktails, fizz and hot drinks too. Prosecco for example turns into something very festive if you put a tablespoon of crushed raspberries into the glass first before topping, slowly, with the fizz - and save a perfect berry to float on the top. Hot chocolate can be made more festive with a pinch of cinnamon or even a tiny pinch of chilli flakes stirred in. Hot cider or apple juice (perhaps with a clove-studded lemon slice, a cinnamon stick or a dash of winter Pimms) can warm up a cold guest and make them feel welcome. Here are some more festive party ideas.
Cocktails and hot drinks:
Quick but delicate cosmopolitan
Spiced berry cocktail
'Pudding' cocktail (no pudding required)
Spiced mulled wine
Warm cider toddy
More tips to save time:
- Ready-made gravy is available in supermarkets and freezes well. Tweak the seasoning before serving. Alternatively, gravy granules just need hot water to serve.
- Roast potatoes can be bought frozen.
- Making your own baked ham is great, but it takes 3-4 hours and fills the kitchen with steam, so consider buying one ready-cooked.
- If you want to scent the house with the smell of Christmas, try these cinnamon buns. They're quick because they use shop-bought croissant dough (look on the supermarket shelves next to the ready-made pastry). Don't feel you have to include the nuts - they're just as Christmassy without.
- If a guest offers to bring something, ask for a panettone. It makes a great breakfast if you toast it (the grill is more practical than trying to cram it into a toaster) or use it to make a festive version of eggy bread (just dip in beaten eggs and fry gently in melted butter). It can also be made into a quick pudding - either in a trifle, or in a bread and butter pudding (make or buy some custard, layer in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven - the finished pudding can be rather sweet so don't add sugar).
Fabulous roast potatoes
How to roast a breast of turkey
Five-minute Christmas fruit cake – perfect with a cup of tea or stilton and glass of port