“There are one or two non-negotiable Christmas traditions in this house. Gravy, made with roasting juices from the bird, is essential – and plenty of it. It will have a splash of marsala or madeira in it too. Apart from Christmas dinner, there should be enough for the Boxing Day bubble and squeak. There’s also an unshakable tradition of a mid-morning slice of marzipan filled stollen with a glass of sherry. A habit that starts on Christmas Eve and ends a couple of days later, when the stollen is all gone.
“To make life easier, I make sure never to attempt a recipe for the first time. This is not the time to experiment. Tried and trusted recipes from reliable sources are essential at such an important time. I know it sounds it bit joyless, but a list of ‘what to do when’ is also a real help. It means you won’t suddenly realise you haven’t put the roast potatoes in when you are carving the turkey. I also recommend having one course made the day before – it takes a great weight off the cook’s shoulders. A coarse country pâté, perhaps, or a lovely clear old-fashioned consommé.
“I avoid cooking for more than a handful of guests but sometimes we find ourselves with a houseful. Experience has taught me to accept help from one kind volunteer only. More than one helper inevitably leads to Christmas chaos. A case of too many elves spoiling the soup. Which reminds me, a big main course soup, perhaps pumpkin with bacon or ham, or a thick lentil and spinach soup is always welcome. As is a great big pie, the filling made the day before. Turkey, chicken or leek and cheese should go down well.”
“For starters, I like to go for something very light and simple – I like a salad of bitter leaves dressed with walnut oil and champagne vinegar. Otherwise, I like to serve canapés, such as caviar on little sourdough and potato pancakes served with crème fraîche.
“I like to brine the turkey beforehand. It seasons it beautifully right through to the bone and helps the meat to remain tender. To make the ultimate roast potatoes, don’t overcrowd the roasting tray and warm whatever fat you are cooking them in first. I like a bright, light gravy so I just deglaze the pan with white wine and a little stock.
“I love Christmas pudding! But if you must have an alternative, make it panettone bread-and-butter pudding.”
“I love being in the kitchen at Christmas, it’s truly one of my favourite times of the year to cook. Whether it’s the traditional turkey with cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts or something a little more extravagant like a beef wellington, it’s the sense of occasion I enjoy so much.
“A tip for a calmer kitchen at Christmas is to keep it simple in the vegetable department; just one or two root veggies will do. Take your carrots and roughly chop them, throw them in with your roast potatoes with a little olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. The time spent in the oven will caramelise the veg, giving them great flavour, as well as saving on oven space and a whole load of washing up!
“I always go mad for a giant Christmas pudding at this time of year – it’s a great dessert if you’re hosting lots of people. To use up any leftovers (there’s always some), I crumble it up and mix into egg whites with a little orange zest and make a Christmas pudding soufflé.
“One last tip, and probably the most important for the day itself, is always have a glass of bubbles in your hand, whether it’s champagne or a lovely English sparkling wine. It is Christmas after all.”
"Brine the turkey overnight then fill with pork with apple and chestnut stuffing, but make sure the stuffing is nice and wet. Slide lots of butter under the skin and cook the bird very slowly. Once brown, cover in foil and leave to rest for an hour. Make your bread sauce with chicken stock and finish with bone marrow and loads of black pepper.
“Use a fluffy potato like Maris Piper or Yukon Gold. To start, peel the potatoes and cut in halves or happy chunks, then boil them in salty water until half cooked; then scrape the sides with a fork to rough them up. Next, roast in goose fat and Maldon sea salt at a high heat, ideally without the turkey, as the turkey will produce steam in the oven.
“I like to make a relatively light gravy to celebrate the juices of the bird, but you can always thicken it with a tablespoon of flour before you add the wine. Save the giblets from the turkey and cover them in chicken stock, a bundle of herbs, a stick of celery, carrots and half a peeled onion and then simmer for an hour or so. Take the turkey out of the pan if you can, pour off all the extra fat then pour in a ladle of stock and stir well. Add a glass or two of white wine and reduce. Finally, pour in a pint or two of stock and reduce by a third, skimming all the time. Season and pour into jugs.
"For me, there is no alternative to Christmas pudding. Buy the St John steamed pudding; it’s fantastic and serve with masses of cold brandy butter. Otherwise, an apple and calvados trifle is always a winner, or panettone bread-and-butter pudding."
“As fridge space is always an issue, think about using the boot of the car for storing the likes of fruit, vegetables and bottled water to free up the much-needed space for more important items such as fish, meat, dairy – and champagne.
“Get as much prepared in advance. Cranberry sauce will sit in the fridge for days – and in fact may even improve in flavour over time. Prep the vegetables the day before and leave them wrapped in the fridge – in my house, I like to cook sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero or other types of cabbage. Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, celeriac, parsnips are best left in water overnight.
“Making lists is key to Christmas dinner success, especially for getting the timing right for each dish. Take ten minutes in peace to plan your menu, the workload it involves, and each element of the various stages to get it on to the table. In this way you will find a natural ‘pace’ to the tasks, and it will give confidence to even the most timid of cooks.”
“Creating an ambience that reflects the vibe of you and your guests is a small but essential element of hosting. Dot a few lit candles around, as this will instantly create warmth. My tip is to use different glass bottles and jars as candle holders – this will not only make the table fun, but it’s a great way to be sustainable and give a new life to your empty gin bottles (I like Caorunn). Light a fire if it’s chilly and your guests will feel cosy as soon as they walk through the door.
“Add hops or apples to the table as centrepieces. The key for this hack is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on displays to make a statement – you can ask your local greengrocer for any leftover produce that’s imperfect. I’ve got some gorgeous oyster shells that I’ll be adding tealights to for some cosy lighting, and I love nothing more than a forage around a local charity shop for some inexpensive napkins or tablecloths to add to my collection.
“Simply decorating your table with little jars or vases of seasonal flowers can have a stylish impact. My biggest hack for decorating at low cost is using dahlias, cosmos and shop-bought herb pots on pretty saucers or small plates. Finding reusable decorations will make you feel like you haven’t gone to too much trouble and makes next year’s hosting that much simpler.
“Think about the glassware you will be using and make sure it is clean and shiny. Don’t worry about matching glasses – it’s more fun to have different sizes. Most importantly, it is essential to fill the glasses just before guests arrive, so the drinks are ready to serve as soon as they walk in.”
“We are now well and truly in the throng of all things Christmas, and I just adore this time of the year – though it can be daunting as everywhere you look is a reminder of the big day coming up and what you will ‘need’ to make it all the more fabulous and sparkly. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas fare and will always cook a turkey, a big glazed ham and all the trimmings, followed by trifle with lashings of sherry and a delicious plum pudding or something sweet with mincemeat.
“If you're the one in charge of the big meal and you’re feeding a crowd, it's important to have a few clever tricks up your sleeve. The first thing I suggest to those who are doing the cooking is to write an order of work. Sitting down a few days before Christmas and writing out in which order everything should be prepared and cooked, and for how long, and at which temperature is my number one tip. It's an incredibly helpful reference guide to keep next to you all the time while you're cooking, especially if you'll be partaking in a celebratory glass or two of festive fizz!
“Don't forget that all the food that can be prepared in advance will be worth its weight in gold, frankincense and myrrh on the big day – think soup, stuffing, red cabbage, bread sauce and cranberry sauce. I never soak my vegetables in water before cooking – just simply cover them with a few layers of wet kitchen paper for a few hours and they’ll keep perfectly.
“The timing of the bird, if you’re cooking one, is all-important. Weigh the turkey, goose or whatever your meat of choice is (including the stuffing) and calculate the cooking time. Allow an extra half an hour for the meat to rest somewhere warm after it’s cooked – that’s your all-important time to make the gravy while the meat gets more succulent and juicy.”
“When it comes to the spuds, there’s only one type that works for me, and that is crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – just like my granny used to make her roast potatoes. Peel and boil them for a few minutes before roasting them to get the outside crunch. Use the best fat that you can, such as duck or goose fat or beef dripping. Last, but definitely not least, make sure to have warm plates and very hot gravy.”
"When it comes to roast potatoes, I follow the British rules. Blanch the potatoes, then cool completely and chill or even freeze. Get some duck fat really hot in a big oven tray and add the chilled potatoes along with garlic, rosemary and thyme. Roast on high temperature for about 40 minutes, remove from the oven, pour off any excess oil, and season with salt. Leave them to cool again. Before you’re ready to serve, pop them back in the oven on a slightly lower temperature and cook until piping hot, golden and crispy. The chilling and recooking processes keep them perfectly moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It also means you can do all bar the last step well ahead of time, so you can stay organised on the big day.
“One of the highlights of Christmas dinner for me is always the carrots. I cook them with the turkey at the start, so they absorb lots of those gorgeous juices from the meat, then I add toasted caraway seeds, a good spoon of honey so they get lovely and caramelised, finishing with a big scattering of flat leaf parsley. Honestly, I know you may think they're just carrots, however they're some of the best carrots you'll eat – so delicious.
"For us Italians, pudding has to be panettone. One of my favourite ways to serve it is to slice and lightly toast it in the oven, then serve with vanilla ice-cream and your choice of sauce – perhaps chocolate and Grand Marnier, an English brandy sauce, or a crème anglaise with marsala."