10 tips for stress-free Christmas cooking
India's first MasterChef, Pankaj Bhadouria tells us how she manages to stay stress free AND toss up those yummy X'mas delicacies.
So it's Christmas time! But hold it, its Christmas for you as well, isn't it? Christmas is a time of celebration and spending lots of quality time with family and friends.
So, if you are the cook in the house and not careful, you might find yourself spending more time in the kitchen than celebrating.
Agreed, time spent in the kitchen preparing food for family and friends is one of the great pleasures but often by the time the fun and frolic begins, you are too worn out to enjoy it. To avoid that what you need to do is plan ahead and work smart.
Pankaj Bhadouria is India's first MasterChef. For her recipes, you can visit pankajbhadouria.com
Image: Xmas is around the corner and you need not stress out in the kitchen
Photographs: Ianus/Creative Commons
Start now if you can
Anytime you decide or plan to do something is a good to begin. And there is no better time than now. To begin with, count the number of days you have at hand.
Make a list of all that needs to be done in the kitchen (this includes cleaning the refrigerator and the oven as well!).
Write it down because once written down it is out of your head leaving your head clear for other bright ideas to come in!
Image: Start early to avoid last-minute stress
How many days do you plan to entertain or cook special meals for your family -- mark them out and then draw up menus for all the meals well in advance, including all drinks, breakfasts and snacks.
Starting this task early gives you time to look at new ideas, search out recipes and change your mind or amend if circumstances or guest numbers change.
Image: Decide on your menu well in advance so you're all set to host a grand party. Here, Laura Bush and White House Chef Cris Comerford, center, explain the holiday reception menu to the press in the State Dining Room
Photographs: Shealah Craighead/White House
Line up all the recipes you need in the order you need them (or at least make a note of where they are).
Once you have all the recipes you want, read the recipes, then read them again. There's nothing worse than realising on Christmas Eve you are missing an important ingredient, pan, or worse, you don't know how to do it.
Choose or check recipes to see if some of the dishes can be made in advance and frozen or how long they will keep once cooked so they can be prepared one or two days in advance.
Maybe the final popping in the oven or the frying could be done on the last day while the pre-prep could be done days ahead and frozen!
Image: Stumbled upon a great chocolate recipe? Great, take it down and line it up
Photographs: Jeannie/Creative Commons
The shopping list
Shopping is one of the biggest jobs at Christmas (and one of my most favorite as well!), so to simplify the task make a master-shopping list of everything you will need, including any new cooking equipment.
Divide the list into perishable and non-perishable goods including wines and spirits.
Buy all non-perishable goods, wines and spirits well in advance as many supermarkets and shops stock them as early as October.
Order any specialist goods (perishable and non-perishable) well in advance and check if they deliver. In fact try to get as many items delivered as you can. This not only saves time but also a lot of trouble.
Perishable goods don't need to be bought on Christmas Eve. Buy them a day or two before and store them in the refrigerator or a cool, frost-free place.
Image: Draw up your shopping list.
Photographs: Richard Parsons/Creative Commons
Remember, you are not God!
You can't possibly do everything on your own so don't take on more than you can.
Pull back and be realistic in balancing what is required in the kitchen and everywhere else (gift-wrapping, housework, kids and family).
Anyway, Christmas is all about togetherness, so include the family in what you do and make it a fun activity!
If you still want to be a Domestic Goddess that's fine but if you can delegate a few jobs - peeling the potatoes, polishing the silver, whatever - it will help ease the pressure.
Surprisingly many people do like to help and share the fun in the kitchen so don't be afraid to ask. No one wants a frazzled cook at the Christmas table.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Image: Don't stress yourself over something going wrong in the kitchen
Practice makes one perfect
Christmas cooking and all it involves is not a time to start experimenting with new techniques.
If you have never made bread, now is not the time to start (I'd rather buy it from the market!) but if there is something you really want to cook and haven't ever tried, maybe you could do it now.
Better see how it turns out and not make a fool of yourself on the final day.
Image: Xmas isn't the time to experiment with a dish you've not tried before. Stick to what you know best. Here, Pankaj Bhadouria tosses up a mean salad
Buy (and use) Post-It Notes
My refrigerator door is always littered with yellow Post it notes when I am on a cooking marathon. What time the cake went in, when it needs to come out... what time I need to put the pudding on to steam ... I jot it down and stick it on the door.
Remember to take them down when completed or there'll be even more chaos!
Image: Use Post-Its. No really please do
Photographs: Pavel Krok/Creative Commons
Time spent making a time plan for Christmas Eve and Christmas day is time well spent. Not only does it help in organising the cooking, it also organises the mind and it is astonishing how many forgotten jobs turn up when writing a time plan.
This Christmas time plan lays out the most important jobs and can be adjusted to fit with your menu.
Don't forget -- build time for you into the time plan as well.
Image: Make a proper time plan
Photographs: Pavel Sevela
A few jobs often overlooked
Here is a list of few jobs that are often forgotten and will make Christmas cooking easier.
- Sharpen knives including the carving knife well in advance. Makes all the chopping, peeling and carving so much easier.
- Clean out the freezer well before Christmas -- you can't do this job early enough. Sort the freezer out and make space for Christmas food to be stored together in one place. Rummaging through an overstocked, messy freezer, trying to find food can become irritating.
- A week before Christmas give the refrigerator a good sort through and clean and make space for Christmas food - time for all the old jars and leftovers to hit the trash can.
- Time for a deep clean of the oven. Leaving this job until after Christmas will be ten times messier with all that turkey fat.
Image: Trust that yummy-looking turkey to leave a mess in the oven.
Photographs: M Rehemtulla/Creative Commons
Two will do
That rule actually works! So two vegetarian starters, two non vegetarian starters, two salads, two main courses, two side dishes, two accompaniments, two desserts (OK, we will double the quantity there!), the punch, the drinks -- did you realise that there are already 16 dishes plus the drinks on your table!
Add to that the Christmas cake and the cheese board and the fresh fruits and the cold meats (if you want to put them there) and your table is already full!
So go ahead and plan the best menu possible and surprise them this Christmas. Don't forget to ask for help when you need it.
Believe me most people will be happy to help in whatever way they can. But most importantly, remember it's your Christmas too! So enjoy it with your family, not alone in the kitchen!
Image: Two dishes each of starters, main course, salads etc will you with no place on the table. So don't go overboard
Photographs: Malene Thyssen/Creative Commons