I’m a big lover of a feast. A table laden with delicious food and a meal that spans hours. What I’m not interested in is running yourself ragged to achieve it.
If you’re facing cooking for a crowd and are feeling the panic rise, I promise you that you can create a wonderful spread without going crazy. This is how:
Get Prepped Ahead of Time
Absolutely everything that you can do before the big day should be done. Spread the extras over a few days and you won’t be chained to the kitchen stove. Here are a few things which take the pressure off:
- Jamie Oliver’s Get Ahead Gravy – this is a super easy make and incredibly delicious. It’s a bit much to tackle while you’re making a big meal which is exactly why you should do it in advance and freeze it ready for Christmas.
- Par-boil your potatoes – giving your potatoes a light boil and a shake in the colander before roasting gives you the fluffiest centres with crispy skins. Even better, if you let them dry out they will be on another level of goodness. Par-boil the potatoes, sit them in a colander covered by a tea towel to steam & cool and then transfer them to the fridge. Leave them uncovered and the dry fridge air will work its magic.
- Make a dessert that will happily sit in the oven over night before a last minute flourish when you’re ready to serve. My Chocolate Pavlova is suitably ruinous whilst being a doddle to make.
- If you have the time the night before peeling and chopping the veg takes another arduous task off your shoulders on the big day.
- In the morning when you put the roast on the stuffing can be assembled and set aside for cooking later on.
Make a Timeline
This has always been the secret to cracking big meals for me. While it may seem a little over the top but having an idea of what needs to be done and when can keep you calm when it feels like an impossible task.
- Work backwards from serving (and add a 20 minute margin – something always takes longer than necessary).
- Figure out how long the meat needs to roast for by using the simple 25 minutes / kilogram method which I explain in detail in my roast goose recipe.
- If you’re roasting meat, give it a good long rest. Not only will this let the meat relax and get super juicy but free up the oven for potatoes, stuffing and Yorkshires (depending on what you’re cooking).
Choose Simple Dishes
I just can’t be doing with hours spent on a range of fancy dishes. Perhaps one but if everything has you caught up in complicated directions you won’t have time to breathe let alone kick back with the bubbly and enjoy the moment.
I like to add in nice side dishes or condiments to enhance the meal. My Cranberry and Rhubarb Sauce recipe is a lovely sharp note in a rich dinner. The benefit of this is that I can make them weeks in advance and simply open on the day.
If you’re doing more than one meal make sure round two is a breeze with a groaning cheeseboard and some well chosen biscuits.
Above all make sure every other meal is easy to prepare. I like to make spicy butternut squash soup the day before, it’s sweet, spicy, warming and you won’t break a sweat over it.
This one is short and sweet – don’t let all of the cooking rest on your shoulders. Share it out and get everyone involved in the prep even if you do the main attraction yourself. There are no medals for breaking yourself over a pile of sprouts so please insist that hands are leant.
Relax the Schedule
Unless you’re feeding very young children everyone can cope with lunch time moving a little. The bonus of a late lunch is that you can get away with the one afternoon meal.
If you have lots of time for games, chats and walks everyone is going to enjoy the day more. The feast may be important but we all know it’s the war breaking out over Trivial Pursuit that everyone’s looking forward to.