Christmas dinner: What would you eat?

Turkey crown and trimmings Cooking a turkey can be a scary prospect for some

Time-saving ideas can take the fuss out of festive food, without compromising on taste.

A complete festive feast is now available in a self-heating can - no microwave or kettle required.

It follows on the heels of "Christmas boil-in-a-bag", microwaveable Christmas ready meals, and other frozen or reconstituted meat joints.

When it comes to food, convenience is often king, but surely dinner in a can is a step too far?

Christmas dinner has a bad reputation for effort expenditure and there's no doubt it can be a hard slog.

But forget frenetic hours spent slaving over a hot stove, there are lots of shortcuts to make Christmas cooking less of a chore without resorting to unpalatable shortcuts.

Make-ahead wonders

Brownies

Treat chocolate fans with Christmas brownies

Make sage and onion stuffing the day before

Save time with a simple Chestnut soup

Ten minutes to a sophisticated scallop starter

Making as much as you can in the run up to Christmas will save time and stress.

Laura Santtini, author of Flash Cooking, a guide to cooking fabulous food quickly, says: "I'm a big believer in not creating too much work for yourself on Christmas Day.

"I get my closest friends or family to come a bit earlier and help me. The stuffing I make a day before and put in the bird on the morning."

However, with a bit of time and know-how Christmas cooking can be an enjoyable experience.

The trick for most people is to achieve a balance of cost, time and tradition. Marks and Spencer says it will sell six million packs of party food this festive season.

Its best seller is predicted to be sausages wrapped in bacon.

Every supermarket from Waitrose to Lidl sells a wide range of prepared Christmas food, as they know many people want to pass off prepared food as their own.

Products aim to fake the look, and taste of home-cooked food.

Marks and Spencer now makes mince pies with slightly uneven, thin lids that allow the mincemeat to ooze out during heating - normally a giveaway sign of a homemade pie.

Nigella knows best:

Nigella Lawson

Steal festive shortcuts from Nigella's Christmas Kitchen on Sunday at 16:30 GMT on BBC Two

The variety of pre-prepared Christmas food is vast, but you undoubtedly pay for convenience.

Help things along by choosing a starter that does not require the use of an oven (which is likely to be full to bursting with turkey and trimmings), and desserts that can be refrigerated ready to serve or quickly warmed up.

"It's really important to make sure the priority is to make the day enjoyable," says Laura.

"For me, it's about knowing what you can manage and making a plan," she advises.

It's not the kind of information to warm your cockles on a frosty December day, but a little bit of organisation goes a long way.

Write a plan, including a rough schedule and a thorough shopping list. Scrap anything in the plan that fills you with trepidation - or get someone more confident to do it for you.

Tips and tricks can really help, says David Kelman, executive head chef at Cheltenham's Ellenborough Park hotel.

"Use maris piper potatoes, and sprinkle them with a little salt before microwaving to start their cooking prior to roasting.

'No feed' fruit cakes

Christmas mini muffins

Making a traditional Christmas cake or pudding requires "feeding" it alcohol for weeks. No time? Try:

Bake Christmas mini muffins

Try a chocolate fruit cake

Mix up a last-minute Christmas pud

Enjoy sticky toffee Christmas pudding

"The salt will penetrate the floury potato to give a great flavour and crunchy texture."

He advises saving time on Christmas Day by preparing and blanching all vegetables on Christmas Eve.

He recommends utilising a slow cooker too.

"Before you go to bed, put the turkey legs and a stock mix in the slow cooker to cook overnight so your gravy is nearly ready in the morning," he says.

Laura Santtini produces a savoury paste (known as umami paste) that she uses as a gravy base, so making it is easier on the day.

Inexperienced cooks will benefit from using their time to concentrate on a few home-made showstoppers, and making compromises elsewhere.

Over-catering is another common mistake.

Leftovers are a Christmas tradition but the more food you cook, the harder it will be.

"That extra pound of potatoes is all extra work that you often find yourself reluctantly scraping into a bin," warns Laura.

For most people in the UK, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without a roast turkey.

Turkey without the tears

Roast turkey
  • Check your turkey fits in the oven as soon as you get it home... not on Christmas morning
  • A meat thermometer will help ensure your turkey is cooked to perfection
  • Good quality aluminium foil is well worth the extra expense
  • A timer is no end of help when juggling lots of different dishes

Test more turkey tips from BBC Food

It's one of the harder elements to perfect so, understandably, turkey crowns have become very popular. They are less intimidating, simpler and faster to cook and leave more room in your oven for the trimmings.

Last Christmas, 10m units of turkey were sold, with two out of three whole birds being sold frozen.

Frozen turkeys are a good option if you have a generous freezer and a tight budget, but remember that it takes a long time for large birds to defrost.

Buying frozen ingredients saves time without breaking the bank.

"Your best friend at this time of year is your freezer," says Nigella Lawson.

Frozen food may not have a sophisticated image, but if such a famously festive bon viveur is taking advantage, then there's really no reason for anyone else to shy away.

Peeled and ready-cooked chestnuts are perfect for scattering among Brussels sprouts or making luxurious soups.

Frozen Yorkshire pudding batters (as opposed to the fully cooked and frozen versions) take up minimal room in your freezer and give good, reliable results.

Frozen vegetables are an obvious choice and a big hit with many food stylists, particularly Brussels sprouts, but also parsnips, especially if you like to roast them.

It may be obvious, but buy your groceries online or pick up any store cupboard ingredients in advance to avoid a frenzied Christmas trolley dash.

If you've never made a Christmas dinner before then get into practice by cooking a few roast dinners in the run up.

After all, a Christmas dinner is really nothing more than a Sunday roast with a few extra trimmings.

Finally - and most importantly - get someone else to do the washing up. It's only fair.

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