Tips for a Fuss-Free Christmas Feast

Already stressing about what to serve up for the family on Christmas Day? Cooking Expert, Tom Rutledge, provides you with his top tips to help you keep your inner grinch at bay and create a fuss-free feast.

It's said that one of the first signs of Spring is Christmas. Shops don their glittery garb, jingles appear on the telly, and chatter about JC's pending birthday escalates.
By that reckoning, this post is something of a late offering. Inevitably there will be some keen beans, for whom the below will be moot as they'll already be elbow deep in their Crisco Hampers, and busily jarring chutneys for obscure friends and relations. For the rest of you, however, I thought I'd put together a few thoughts designed to emphasise just how easy it can be to throw together a Christmas Feast so you can rest easy on your laurels, wreaths, and beach towels and maybe even find room for a little extra silliness in this season we know and love. 
If you've drawn the long straw and your gaf is the designated venue for the annual family jamboree then you've got much more to look forward to than to fear. I can't speak for the quality of Christmas cracker humour of the conduct of "that" uncle. But here are a few tips on the food front that, if followed, ought to keep your inner grinch at bay. 
Plan ahead
This is the first step. Spend a little time coming up with a menu and a plan of attack that can be pre-prepared, delegated, and/or outsourced. I've always been a fan of many little dishes for a lunch party and this should be no different except that there will be many many not so little dishes festooned down the middle of the table or on an adjacent smorgasbord. And if you take this approach, you ought to be able to achieve the rest. 
Divide and conquer
You've got a stack of relos and other hangers on descending on you for the bunfight; get them to bring something along. A well planned menu will be easy to divvy up. One bit of advice - don't delegate the ham. You run the risk of a cousin turning up with a plate of sliced meat thus depriving you of what is easily the World's best leftover. If you don't have a hambone to gnaw on for Boxing Day and beyond then Christmas may as well have been cancelled as far as I'm concerned. And, as we're on the subject, when you're buying a ham - be sure to request the left leg. Something to do with muscle tonality, predominant right-footedness, and the scratching habits of pigs. Apparently the idle left peg has better fat/flavour than the active right one. You heard it here first. 
Assemble don't cook 
There's no point being tethered to the stove while your guests are emptying stockings and glasses of Pimms with equal vigour. Delegation and planning are part of this. The other part is pre-preparing whatever is possible. There is so much that can be done, from the glazing of the ham to the marinading of the prawns on Christmas Eve or earlier. If you've got something on your menu that is quite hands on the day, it might be worth reconsidering... 
Question tradition 
Just because you've always done it doesn't mean you always should. If it's at your pad, put your own stamp on it. Maybe that means sacking the turkey for seafood or swapping pudding for panettone. It's probably a good idea to canvas opinion before unilaterally defining a new order but you get the gist. 
Place Orders 
As nice as it would be to opportunistically waft about the local shops a couple of days before Christmas you may not be able to lay your hands on everything you need. If you're after a turkey or a particular type of ham then bags one from your butcher. Ditto a salmon from you fishmonger or a big haul of croissants from your baker. It'd be a pity to miss out when all you had to do was ring ahead a week or two earlier. 
There are outfits out there that seek to make life even easier than this list! You can buy things in all stages of preparedness or even in kits that take much of the legwork out of the planning and shopping. In a shamelessly gratuitous plug I can recommend you to as we offer one such kit!
Merry Chrimbo!

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