Plan and cook ahead for Christmas

Annabel Else
Woman holding glass of wine, smiling, portrait, close-up
Woman holding glass of wine, smiling, portrait, close-up

Even if you're not the sort of person who has bought all the Christmas presents by Halloween and written all the Christmas cards by Bonfire Night, it's still possible to make the festive season more manageable with a little bit of planning. Knowing that you have the best homemade gravy in the world sitting in your freezer means one less thing to worry about on a busy day.

Making sure all your knives are sharp will also make cooking easier and less frustrating. Find out the best way to do it here. Once your knives are sharp, learn how to finely chop an onion or shred vegetables. There are more handy chef's tips here.

In the freezer:
All the items in this list can be made at home (or bought) and kept in the freezer for at least a month. Remember to label carefully as they can end up looking similar when frozen.

Make the gravy and freeze it

Roast potatoes can be par-boiled then frozen. Then on the day, defrost completely and roast in the usual way. This will save you about half an hour but perhaps more importantly, it saves space on the hob, means less steam in the kitchen and cuts down on the washing up a little. it also means you don't spend Christmas morning peeling spuds - which has to be a bonus!

Yorkshire puddings can also be made ahead and frozen. Cook them almost all the way, then cool and freeze. On the day, defrost, and pop them in a hot over for 10-15 minutes just before serving.

Side dishes such as red cabbage can be made ahead and frozen (add a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon to make it more more festive). Reduce the cooking time by five minutes before cooling and freezing otherwise it can get overdone when you reheat. Add a little apple juice or red wine to moisten it a little before reheating.

Cranberry sauce freezes well

Pigs in blankets can be made ahead and frozen.

If you like making your own mince pies, remember that they can be frozen too – just pop them into the freezer at the stage when you'd normally put them into the oven.

If you don't like shop-bought pastry, make your own and freeze.

In the fridge:

Peeled and cooped root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips can be stored overnight in a bowl or bucket of cold water.

Leafy veg such as sprouts, cabbage are better in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Pommes dauphinoise can be made ahead and will keep for two or three days in the fridge, or freeze them.

And finally:
Roast potatoes always take longer than you think, so give yourself at least 20 minutes of wiggle room. If you're running late, cut them in half and place the cut side down in the roasting tin.

You can't have too much loo paper. Buy as much as you think you need, then buy some more. The same often applies to ice cubes, washing-up liquid, batteries and sticky tape.

A new pair of thick oven gloves can make things far safer in the kitchen.

Not sure who has the best mince pies this year?
Consult Good Housekeeping's Tried and Tested Guide to Christmas 2016 food shopping

If you plan to do everything at the last minute, then these tips and recipes might help.

Remember that it doesn't matter if it isn't perfect. As long as everyone gets a few nice things to eat and drink, they'll be happy. Or merry. Or both.

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

Make Christmas easier on yourself:
Quick and easy last-minute Christmas
Take the stress out of Christmas

Need to know the best way to roast a potato? Look no further...