How to avoid a Christmas kitchen nightmare

Catering for a crowd is stressful at the best of times. Add the pressure of Christmas and potentially tense family politics and it might just be a recipe for your very own Hell's Kitchen Christmas special.

That's why we asked a professional to share her best tricks to keep your cool on the big day. Turns out there are loads of things you can do to make life a little easier. Here are our favourites.

Write a timetable

Avoid getting into a festive frenzy by writing a timetable to help manage your time. For example: when to put the turkey in the oven, when to put the pudding on to boil, when to do the veg. If you’re ticking off chores on a list, you’re less inclined to get overwhelmed. 

Prep your veggies the day before

Food expert and stylist Gabrielle Wheatley says, “Veggies can be started the day before – peel them and cover in cold water and put in the fridge overnight, you then simply drain them and toss them in olive oil, some rosemary and season.” If you want to go one step further, says Gabrielle, “cut your veggies into 4cm pieces and parboil them for 2 minutes the day before, cool them and toss them in olive oil and herbs and store in a zip lock bag.”

Make your cake early

“You can make a Christmas cake up to three months ahead,” says Gabrielle. “The cake will mature in taste over time. To store wrap the cooled cake in 2 layers of greaseproof paper and then wrapped in 2 layers of foil and then place in an airtight container. It can also be frozen for up to a year.”

Ditch the whole bird

There are some great easy cuts of turkey available now to cut down on the cooking time needed. A turkey roll is a great option, it stays moist and can cook in just over an hour. “You can buy frozen or fresh and you can still add your own touch to it by basting it in a mixture of orange juice, thyme and orange zest a few times while it is cooking,” says Gabrielle.

Make friends with your freezer

“You can also make your gravy ahead of time and freeze it,” Gabrielle says. “You just need to defrost it on Christmas Day, add some of your meat juices and reheat before serving.”

Pre-peel your Prawns

“If you want to get ahead of the food preparation game you can peel your prawns the day before, but you need to store them correctly and consume within 24 hours,” advises Gabrielle. Peel your prawns and place them in a well-sealed container, make an ice brine which is 1/3 ice and 2/3 salt water made by dissolving 40gm salt in 1 litre of water, place your container in the brine and pop into the coolest part of your fridge.

Get seafood delivered

Instead of queuing for hours at the fish market, you can save time by ordering them online. Try Manetta's in Sydney, Melbourne and NSW Central Coast. In Brisbane try Seafood Home Delivery and West Coast Seafood in Perth.

Ditch the oven

You can always break tradition with some salads which will go beautifully with your roast ham and turkey. Instead of roast potatoes -- make a potato salad with steamed or boiled potatoes, add finely diced red onion, finely diced gherkin, and some dill mixed into a good quality mayonnaise. “Or for an Australian twist add some crunchy bacon and some hard-boiled eggs peeled and halved,” says Gabrielle.

Cheat on the Christmas pudding

If you want a Christmas pudding without the fuss, you can buy a store-bought pudding, then the night before pour 1/3 of a cup of brandy of sherry over the pudding, poking it with a fork so it soaks in,” says Gabrielle. “Wrap it up again until you are ready to cook the next day and add a few more spoonfuls of brandy to your custard or cream before serving.” They’ll never know you didn’t make it from scratch!

Don’t do a dinner at all…

If the thought of catering for the family at a sit-down feast is too much – don’t do it. Make it a picnic, have a buffet, head to a hotel. You can even get everyone to bring a plate. Make it stress-free and have a Merry(er) Christmas!


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