Don’t panic, it’s only Christmas dinner!

In the immortal words of Slade’s Noddy Holder, ‘it’s Chriiiiiiistmasssss!’. Or is it? When exactly is it really, really Christmas these days? Some supermarkets start putting those oh-so-tempting mince pies out in October, a good two months before the big day. And if your town hasn’t got its festive reindeer lights up in the high street by early November then there’s likely to be a rowdy mob of Yuletide aficionados converging on the council offices with pitchforks and lighted torches. So timing is important (particularly when you’re in charge of cooking the turkey, as we’ll see!)

I like Christmas time. Quite simply, when else do you get the chance to eat and drink so many unhealthy things and get to blame it on the time of year? Ok, Easter is a good time for the chocoholics amongst us, when a surfeit of cocoa-based eggs descend on us like a big avalanche of eggy things. But it’s really nothing in the gluttony stakes compared to Christmas. The latter days of December are a time to loosen that new belt granny bought you and really get in some serious eating. The Christmas dinner alone is enough to make your waistband break into tears of protest and, as we know, there are plenty of things to peel, slice, cook and prepare for the festive table.

The year’s most important roast

Christmas dinner: the don of all roasts. The king of over-the-top winter cooking. And the cause of much worry amongst those landed with the challenge of cooking it. Will there be a big enough turkey left in the shop? If the bird is frozen, will it defrost? Will there be enough Brussel sprouts to go around? Will anyone remember to bring the cranberry sauce in from the kitchen? It’s a stressful time for the Xmas cook, a possible reason for the large intake of cooking sherry that can sometimes occur at this most taxing of times.

But really, it’s all just a matter of good planning and excellent timing – as with most things in life. In fact, making the Christmas dinner could be seen as a good metaphor for many big undertakings, culinary or otherwise.

Decide on your objective. Really think about what you want your centrepiece to be – is turkey going to make a big enough impact? Or would a succulent beef joint or whole goose be a more fitting main course (if budget allows, of course)? We’ll gloss over those Iceland ‘Five bird roasts’ that look a bit like a weird mutant kebab from your local takeaway. No thanks, Mr Andre!

Plan ahead and work out your timings. When does the meat need to go in? Will the pigs-in-blankets take longer to cook than your stuffing balls? Who’s going to get the back-up chairs out of the shed so you can all actually sit down at the table?

Prepare the elements you need. Get your bird/joint ready for the oven, cut your veg, slice your potatoes ready for par-boiling and roasting. Make sure there’s brandy/whisky for to hand for the lighting of the Christmas pud. Have another sherry (it’s Christmas, you deserve it).

Work through your plan. Get all your elements moving towards zero hour – that glorious moment of steam, gravy fumes and the smell of lovingly basted turkey that announces the dishing up of your Christmas feast. When it all comes together, you’ll be very proud of your heaving table of festive nosh.

So, Christmas chefs of Britain, fear not! Your hungry family will get its culinary masterpiece. To quote the late, great Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy, ‘Don’t Panic!’. And for heaven’s sake don’t forget the Christmas crackers! We all know that the highlight of Xmas is an elderly relative in a paper cracker hat shouting abuse at The Queen’s Speech.

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