As the festive season approaches, many students will start to think about one of the most cherished traditions: the Christmas dinner. Whether you’re a first-time cook or looking to refine your skills, this guide will walk you through preparing a memorable Christmas feast that’s sure to impress your flatmates and friends.
Understanding Your Main Course: The Turkey
The star of the show is often the turkey. If you’re using a frozen turkey, the first step is defrosting. This can take longer than you might think – up to several days in the fridge for a large bird. Check the packaging for specific instructions and allow plenty of time.
Once defrosted, cooking times will vary depending on the size of your turkey. A general rule is to cook for 20 minutes per kilogram plus 90 minutes at the end, all at 180°C (fan oven). However, always check the instructions on the turkey’s packaging.
Veggie Prep: Not Just a Side Thought
Vegetables are key to a traditional Christmas dinner. Plan to include favourites like roast potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips. Preparation can be done the day before, saving time and stress on Christmas Day.
Crafting Your Menu: Balance and Choice
Deciding on your menu is a balance between tradition and personal taste. Alongside your turkey and vegetables, consider pigs in blankets, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
Vegetarian or vegan?
There are great meat-free alternatives available that can take centre stage. Here are a few delicious meat free options:
- Nut Roast: A classic vegetarian option, the nut roast is a hearty and flavourful alternative to turkey. Made from a blend of nuts (like walnuts, almonds, and pecans), mixed with vegetables, herbs, and often bound together with breadcrumbs and eggs, it offers a satisfying texture and rich taste. Nut roasts can be customized with different nuts, spices, and additional ingredients like lentils or cheese to suit various tastes.
- Mushroom Wellington: A twist on the traditional beef Wellington, this meat-free version uses mushrooms as the star ingredient. Large, flavourful mushrooms like portobellos are often used, layered with spinach, caramelized onions, and sometimes cheese, all encased in a flaky puff pastry. It’s a show-stopping centrepiece that’s as delicious as it is visually appealing.
- Stuffed Butternut Squash: For a gluten-free and vegan option, stuffed butternut squash is a fantastic choice. The squash is halved and filled with a mixture of ingredients like quinoa, chickpeas, cranberries, nuts, and an array of spices. This dish not only brings a splash of colour to the Christmas table but also offers a balanced mix of protein, fibre, and essential nutrients.
Each of these alternatives can be dressed up with traditional Christmas sides and sauces, making them perfect for a festive vegetarian or vegan feast.
Timing is Everything: Plan Your Schedule
Good timing ensures that everything comes together at the right moment. Write down cooking times for each dish and work backwards from your intended mealtime. This plan will be your roadmap on the day.
Sharing the Load: A Communal Effort
Don’t be shy about asking guests to contribute. Potluck style can take the pressure off and adds variety to your meal. Each guest bringing a dish not only eases your workload but also creates a more communal and festive atmosphere.
Precook to Reduce Pressure
Certain dishes can be made in advance. Gravy, for example, can be prepped early and frozen. Some desserts, like Christmas pudding, even benefit from being made well in advance.
Food Safety: Don’t Invite Bacteria to Dinner
Food safety is paramount. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw and cooked foods separate. Make sure everything is cooked thoroughly, especially the turkey. Leftovers should be cooled quickly and refrigerated (or frozen) within 2 hours.
Cheats and Hacks: Smart Cooking
Utilise cheats and hacks to simplify the process. Pre-made stuffing or ready-peeled vegetables can be lifesavers. Remember, the aim is to enjoy the day, not to stress over culinary perfection. Here are few handy hacks to help ease the load:
Here are some practical hacks to simplify and enhance your Christmas cooking experience:
- Pre-Cook and Reheat: Cook certain dishes like roast vegetables or casseroles a day in advance. On Christmas Day, simply reheat them in the oven. This saves time and oven space.
- Use a Slow Cooker: Utilize a slow cooker for meat or dishes like braised red cabbage or even for keeping gravy warm. It frees up stove and oven space and ensures consistent cooking without much supervision.
- Use a Steamer: Steamed vegetables are quick, easy and a great space saver if room on the hob is limited.
- Frozen Prep Items: Don’t hesitate to use frozen pre-chopped onions, vegetables, or herbs. They save prep time and are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts.
- Instant Gravy: While homemade gravy is great, having instant gravy as a backup can be a lifesaver, especially if your homemade version doesn’t turn out as expected or if you’re short on time.
- Room Temperature Butter Trick: If a recipe calls for room temperature butter and you’ve forgotten to take it out of the fridge, simply grate the cold butter using a cheese grater. It will come to room temperature much quicker.
- Parchment Paper or Tin Foil for Easy Clean-Up: Line your baking trays with tin foil or parchment paper before roasting vegetables or making cookies. It makes clean-up a breeze and prevents food from sticking.
- DIY Pastry Bag: If you need a pastry bag for decorating but don’t have one, snip the corner off a large plastic Ziplock bag and insert your piping nozzle. It works just as well for icing cakes or piping mashed potatoes.
- Microwave for Citrus Juice: To get more juice out of lemons or limes for recipes or drinks, microwave them for 15-20 seconds before juicing. The heat helps release more juice.
- Pre-Made Pie Crusts: If making desserts, using pre-made pie crusts can save a lot of time and hassle, and they often taste just as good as homemade.
- Herb Ice Cubes: If you have herbs that you won’t use up, chop them up, place them in an ice cube tray, cover with olive oil, and freeze. They’re perfect for starting sauces or sautéing veggies.
These hacks are all about making the cooking process more manageable and enjoyable, so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time celebrating with friends and family.
Enjoy Your Feast!
Remember, Christmas dinner is as much about the company and the experience as it is about the food. Plan, prepare, but most importantly, enjoy the time with your friends and the satisfaction of a meal well made.
Ready to take on the challenge of cooking a traditional Christmas dinner? Start planning now, and don’t forget to share your experiences and tips with us on social media using #StudentChristmasFeast. We’d love to see your festive culinary creations!