Christmas Dinner Troubleshooting

Christmas dinner is widely agreed to be one of the most special meals you ever eat but, with that reputation comes great pressure!  It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and even easier to be juggling so many dishes at once that you have a bit of a kitchen disaster!  But have no fear, my Christmas Dinner Troubleshooting guide is here to help.

Christmas Confessions…

Last week I asked the members of my Facebook group SMART Meals for Busy Cooks to share their Christmas disasters with me so that I could put this Christmas Dinner Troubleshooting guide together for you.  Their confessions were just hilarious!  So here are some of the best responses I got, plus what to do when it all gets a bit much…

“I’ll never forget the year my husband announced he would be cooking Christmas dinner himself FROM SCRATCH and then I found all the M&S cartons and wrappers hidden in the outside bin where he’d just warmed the food up and passed it off as his own.  I never did tell him I knew.”

The Turkey

“I once had a huge group of friends for Christmas dinner in our place in Dubai in the early 80’s. Dubai then was NOT the Dubai of today! We managed to get an enormous turkey – at huge expense. I was about 23 and had never cooked for so many people (about 15, mostly expat British men – away from home and family). I was nervous and worried.  The kitchen was so hot, I had all the windows open, but the heat was intense.  With everything almost ready, veggies warming and turkey resting- I nipped to the loo to repair my melting make up.  I found my husband, everyone already a bit tipsy and raucous, told everyone to get seated and asked him to help me carry stuff out. Entering the kitchen, we were horrified to see a stray cat gnawing away at one end of the huge turkey!!! We looked at each other, eyes wide, screamed at the cat who jumped out the window – and went to see the damage. 

No words were necessary!  With 15 hungry, expectant guests to feed, hours of preparation and a lot of money spent … I put boiling water over the contaminated area (it was a REALLY manky cat!), while my husband carved away around the severely chewed area.  We threw a bit of garnish over to disguise the wound and carried everything in to the table – to huge applause.  My husband and I were now in quite controlled hysterical giggling.  As he stood at the head of the table, about to carve and serve the injured fowl to guests – he announced that it was an old Sussex tradition to pour a glass of brandy on the turkey’s bum (the chewed bit) and set it alight!!!  By now we were giggling hysterically- and our unknowing, tipsy guests were joining in!  The meal was a triumph. Everything was eaten – there wasn’t a scrap left on that turkey! (I don’t think I ate any)!”

Problem: I forgot to defrost the turkey!

That’s no problem!  Just add on an extra 50% of the cooking time if it’s totally frozen or 25% if it’s partially thawed.

Problem: I cooked the turkey perfectly…but with the giblets still inside!

Uh-oh.  Firstly check that there’s no melted plastic inside the bird.  If there is, then it’s fish and chips for you.  But if you got away with it then there’s no reason you can’t still serve the turkey.  And nobody will ever know.

Problem: I dropped the turkey…

Where did you drop it?  On the kitchen floor?  Well, it’s up to you.  While I don’t recommend eating food off the floor, it’s probably safer than if you dropped it in a sink of dirty dish water.

Problem: The turkey doesn’t fit in the oven!

Then butcher it first and cook it in smaller pieces (remember to adjust the cooking time).  Then, slice the remainder and serve it on a big platter already divided up for ‘ease of serving’.

The Potatoes

“For some reason I thought it was a really good idea to invite the in-laws for Christmas after my husband and I had only been married four months.   Let’s just say we’re from very different backgrounds; my mother-in-law is from Surrey and actually has different daytime and evening sets of pearls.  I’m from Manchester.  Enough said.

Anyway, not only was it crazy to invite them but I had never before cooked a Christmas dinner.  I was on top of things right up until the last minute, when my new sister-in-law announced that her mother always prefers mashed potato to roast potatoes with her turkey.  So, after a quick scramble in the drawers, I managed to find, cook and mash a few gnarly-looking potatoes.  But then I got a bit carried away.  I thought it would be nice to add a little nutmeg, milk and black pepper to the potatoes to really “finish” the dish.  But I only drink almond milk, not cows’ milk, so I had to use what was in the fridge.  Anyway, it looked (and tasted) delicious and I sat down to dinner feeling smug that I’d pulled it all off without a hitch.

Halfway through the meal, my mother-in-law started to scratch her arm.  Then her neck.  Soon, she was covered from head to toe in a bright red rash.  You see, it turns out she’s allergic to nuts.  All kinds.  So, instead of spending Christmas afternoon enjoying dinner and watching the Queen’s Speech, we instead spent it in A&E where my mother-in-law was administered a very large dose of antihistamines.

The year after, they declined our invitation to Christmas dinner and went on a cruise instead.”

Problem: My pastry/potatoes are soggy.

You need a hot, dry heat, without overcrowding the food.  If you’ve got a tart with a soggy crust, then try preheating a baking sheet and placing it on that back in the oven so that the heat comes at it from both sides.  Potatoes tend to go soggy when they steam rather than fry/roast, so space them out more in the roasting tin and make sure to get the oil really hot first.  Goose fat is best for a crunchy potato.

The Vegetables

“Our Christmas story is actually a reminder of what Christmas should really be about.  Remember that episode of The Good Life where Margot’s delivery from Harrod’s doesn’t turn up?  Well, a few years ago we had really bad snow the week before Christmas (we live in Scotland) and I had placed an order with a well-known supermarket to arrive on Christmas Eve with all the extras for the Christmas dinner: sprouts, stuffing, parsnips, chestnuts, potatoes – the lot.  But due to the snow, the delivery couldn’t get through and we couldn’t get out to the shops.  We already had our turkey in, and that was all prepped and ready to go, but I had absolutely nothing to serve with it and a house full of people to feed! Cue us going door to door on Christmas Eve begging our neighbours for any spare vegetables they had to make up our festive lunch.

Of course they were all extremely generous and we had a wonderful time.  But I learned two things that day: 1) don’t leave the shop til Christmas Eve and 2) don’t forget what Christmas is really all about – the spirit of giving.”

Problem: The sprouts are overcooked!

Simple: make bubble and squeak and serve it with Christmas lunch.  Alternatively, mash them further with a little cream and black pepper and call them ‘creamed’ sprouts.

Problem: All my veg went cold while I was serving the other food

Simply plunge the boiled veg back into hot water for a minute to reheat.

Eat, Drink and be Merry

My aunt, who was in her 60s and really should have known better, got so drunk on the sherry that we had before the meal that she spent the rest of the day locked in the upstairs bathroom throwing up.  Our meal was served to a soundtrack of hurling and crying….”

Problem: I’ve run out of spare gas rings/hobs

So rather than boiling your root veg, try roasting it instead, thus freeing up room on top.

Problem: I’ve run out of room in the oven

Cook the turkey first, then put it aside to rest while you pop the potatoes and other bits in.  If you wrap it well in foil and then lay a few clean tea towels over it, it should stay warm for ages (a couple of hours in fact).  Plus you’ll be serving it with hot gravy anyway.

Now you’ve conquered your Christmas Dinner Troubleshooting, want to get ahead with your Christmas planning?  Check out my Cook-Ahead Christmas for how you can start right NOW!



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