Our top tips for planning and cooking a wonderful festive feast with a minimum of fuss.
The festive season can be a stressful time for even the most accomplished cook. It’s no easy task putting a fabulous meal on the table, and nobody wants to spend this special time slaving alone in the kitchen. The secret to success lies in detailed planning and advance preparation. Whether you’re planning a Christmas Eve dinner or a lunch on Christmas Day, our handy guidelines will allow you to spend more time where you belong – sitting at the table and enjoying the food and festivities!
We suggest you print this article and stick it on the fridge so you can tick items off your list as you go.
UP TO 2 WEEKS AHEAD
- This is the time to plan your Christmas menu. Choose your snacks or starters, main course, side dishes and desserts, and list them on a piece of paper. For recipe inspiration, take a look at our easy Christmas recipes and our collection of tempting snacks and sides. We also recommend that at least two of your salads are ones that can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead and that keep well in the fridge (see below).
- It is advisable to choose a chilled dessert and a cold starter such as a dip or paté (see below), because both can be prepared well in advance, freeing you up to concentrate on the hot items on the menu.
- If you’re expecting a crowd, ask friends and relatives to contribute a dish to the meal, so you’re not saddled with a huge workload and an enormous bill.
- Make a detailed shopping list, dividing it into perishables and non-perishables. Don’t forget to include all the other items you’ll need for your festive table, such as candles, napkins, flowers, and so on.
UP TO ONE WEEK AHEAD
- Buy all the non-perishable items on your shopping list, such as tinned, dry and frozen foods. There is often a ‘rush’ on popular Christmas ingredients, so it’s best to stock up well ahead of time.
- Buy your frozen turkey and/or a gammon. Remember to check that the turkey will fit into your oven. Place the turkey straight into the freezer, and keep the gammon in its original packaging in the fridge.
UP TO THREE DAYS AHEAD
- Buy all the drinks you need for your gathering. Don’t forget soft drinks for the kids, plus plenty of ice, and a few lemons.
- Do a ‘stock take’ of your glasses, cutlery, crockery and chairs, and arrange to borrow any missing items from friends or family.
- Stock up on festive treats such as mince pies, biscuits and chocolates before the shelves empty in the Christmas rush!
UP TO TWO DAYS AHEAD
- Buy all the fresh fruit and vegetables you need, plus any fresh meat you’ll be preparing, such as braai meats.
- Make your cold desserts and keep them tightly covered in the fridge or freezer. Ice creams and cool layered desserts such as cheesecake, trifle and jelly are excellent choices for a festive meal because they keep well in the fridge.
- Defrost your turkey. For food-safety reasons, it's very important to thaw your turkey in the fridge, over a period of many hours. Here’s how to do this:
- Put the frozen turkey, straight from the freezer, onto a tray, which will collect the juices. Do not remove the plastic wrapping.
- Now place the bird on the middle shelf of your fridge to defrost. Make sure that the fridge temperature is set between 4 and 7 degrees celsius.
- Allow 24 hours' defrosting time for each 2 kg of turkey. In other words, if your turkey weighs 4 kg, it must defrost in the fridge for 48 hours. If it weighs 3 kg, it should defrost for 36 hours, and so on. If you’re in any doubt, refer to the thawing instructions on the packaging.
24 HOURS AHEAD
- This is the time when most of your intensive food preparation should take place, so that all you need do in the few hours leading up to the feast is to take care of essential last-minute tasks.
- Clean out your fridge to make room for all the food and drinks. Refrigerate any drinks now so they have time to cool properly.
- If you’ve bought an uncooked gammon, now’s the time to boil it. Please refer to our detailed instructions about how to prepare your gammon. Once your gammon is ready, allow it to cool completely, still submerged in its cooking liquid. Then strain off the liquid (keep this for stocks!), wrap the roast tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to glaze it (see below).
- Prepare your cold starters and snacks, such as dips, spreads, patés and mousses.
- Make any cakes or baked goodies you're serving for dessert.
12 HOURS AHEAD
- Make any salads that will keep well in the fridge, such as potato salad, bean salad, pasta salad and coleslaw.
- If you’re making roast potatoes, peel and parboil them now, drain well, allow to cool completely, and keep them in the fridge, lightly covered with a clean tea towel, until you’re ready to roast them. This will allow them to dry out slightly so they crisp up beautifully in the oven.
- Prepare, peel and trim any other ‘hard’ vegetables you’re going to be cooking, such as Brussels sprouts, carrots, butternut and gem squash. Store in lidded boxes in the fridge.
- Make the stuffing for your turkey, and keep in the fridge. Here are some delicious stuffing recipes.
- Lay the table and make sure you’ve got all the bowls, cutlery, crockery and glasses you need. Remember to lay out platters and serving dishes.
- Draw up a list of tasks that other members of the family can help with (such as clearing plates, pouring drinks or decorating the table) and make sure everyone understands what their responsibilities are.
6 HOURS AHEAD
- It’s time to glaze your gammon! Our full instructions for glazing a gammon will help you accomplish this pleasurable task with ease.
- Prepare any salad dressings or cold sauces.
- Finish assembling any cold starters.
2-4 HOURS AHEAD
- If you’re roasting a turkey, pre-heat your oven now. Remember that for best results, a turkey should ‘rest’ for a period of time after it comes out of the oven, so be sure to factor this time in. See below for more information about roasting and resting a turkey.
- Take the turkey out of the fridge, remove the giblets and stuff it. Now return it to the fridge until the oven is fully heated.
- Put your turkey in to roast 2-4 hours ahead of time. When you do this will depend on the size of the turkey. Everything you need to know about roasting a turkey, including our recommended cooking and resting times, you’ll find in this article.
- While the turkey is roasting, prepare any last-minute salads, such as a green leafy salad or cucumber salad. Cover them tightly with clingfilm.
ABOUT AN HOUR AHEAD
- You’re almost ready to go, and there are just a few last-minute tasks before your feast goes to the table.
- Place your cold starters or snacks on the table so your guests can ‘graze’ before the main course arrives.
- When your turkey is cooked through, remove it from the oven, cover lightly with tin foil and allow to rest.
- Drizzle your roast potatoes with oil and place in a very hot oven.
- Use the turkey pan juices to make a gravy from scratch, or make up one of our convenient KNORR gravies, and keep it warm in a gravy boat covered with foil.
- Your last task, 15 minutes before you serve, is to cook your pre-trimmed vegetables. It’s a good idea to ask a friend or relative to take charge of the veggies so that you can concentrate on last-minute tasks such as carving the turkey, dressing the salads, and carrying your feast triumphantly to the table!