Nine magic Christmas hacks

Tips and tricks that can make the festive season easier

Updated: 
Feasting backed turkey on holiday table ready to eat

1 Don't stuff the turkey
Filling a big piece of meat with more meat can slow down cooking. You risk drying out the breast meat while you try to get the heat into the middle to make sure it's properly cooked. Cook your stuffing separately (in balls in you like) in a small roasting tray. Put an onion and a lemon (halve them if it's a small bird) or some herby butter inside the bird instead. You want to leave some space so that the heat can penetrate into the middle.

2 Flame the Christmas pudding with vodka not brandy
Brandy can be hard to light and the flame can dance around a lot and not be very visible. Vodka (use a couple of tablespoonsful) is easier to light and seems to give a more visible flame. It doesn't leave a taint of any kind. As ever, turn off nearby lights and stand well back - especially if you have long hair.

3 Bacon is your friend
Great with eggs or pancakes for breakfast, it's also brilliant for keeping the turkey moist. Lay strips of fatty streaky bacon over the breast and baste over the top of them. Chop any over-frazzled bits into the gravy to deepen the savoury flavour. Bacon is also handy for pigs in blankets (make plenty in advance and freeze in case of unexpected guests). Chopped bacon can also be one of the best ways of making sprouts more palatable to those who harbour suspicions of them

4 Remember what's important
Your guests are here to see you, not the table-setting. So make sure they have a drink and a snack within five minutes of arriving, delegate some of the kitchen tasks if you can, and sit down to spend some time with them.

5 Crack walnuts without a nut cracker
Just put two, side by side, in the palm of your hand. Close your fingers and squeeze slowly. They should crack each other along the seams.

6 Warm plates in the dishwasher
Oven space can be hard to find just before serving. Instead, put plates and side plates on for a hot rinse in time for them to be nicely warm just before you want to serve. And if you're serving champagne or other bubbles, leave your glasses somewhere cold (or lay them in the bottom of the fridge) to cool before you need them.

7 You'll always run out of something or lose something
Maybe it's the sticky tape, scissors, loo roll, clean tea towels or matches to light the pudding. It's probably the same thing every year. Make an emergency box (perhaps an old shoe box or similar) and put in all the essentials. Perhaps add a new pair of thick oven gloves. Don't let anyone raid it.

8 Let the turkey rest
Cook it early, and let it sit untouched somewhere warm for up to two hours while you do the vegetables and gravy. It will stay warm for at least two hours if you cover it with plenty of foil (shiny side down) and a couple of clean tea towels. Even an actual towel on top helps - you need to insulate to keep the heat in. Carve it, then serve it with piping hot gravy. Some people swear by leaving the bird upside down while it's resting to keep the breast meat juicy.

9 Figure out a hangover treatment in advance
Don't wait until it happens. It's quite likely that a guest or family member will be in need of one at some point in the season. A Japanese study a few years ago found that Sprite (or just ordinary fizzy sugary lemonade) is one of the best things to drink the morning after the night before. Make sure you have a supply of whatever you know works for you and yours.

Happy Christmas!

More turkey know-how:
Defrosting times
Turkey cooking times
More food safety advice and tips
Prepare and stuff the turkey
The very best gravy to make on the day
Perfect roast potatoes
Twelve ways to cook Brussels sprouts

More festive food ideas:
Christmas menus: Festive food for everyone
Christmas cooking for one or two
What can you do with a supermarket lobster?
Festive cocktails, hot drinks and party food
How to have a Scandinavian-style Christmas
What to do with a supermarket lobster

Make Christmas easier on yourself:
How to decode a whisky label
Take the stress out of Christmas
Christmas baking and dessert recipes