The lead-up to Christmas can be daunting, especially if you have been tasked with making Christmas lunch or dinner.
We caught up with leading food editor and best-selling cookbook author Donna Hay on preparing a Christmas feast and her tips and tricks for a stress-free Christmas.
How did your family celebrate Christmas while you were growing up?
I grew up near the beach, so my early Christmases were super summery and Australian, just what you would imagine.
I always loved being part of the preparation… for as long as I can remember I’ve had a hand in making lunch and baking festive treats.
In the weeks leading up to the big day, my little cousins, sisters and I used to pile into my grandmother’s kitchen and help her make her famous Christmas pudding.
She’d let us do some measuring, stir the ingredients, flour the cloth or shape the mixture.
To our absolute delight, she’d produce a silver coin to be hidden in the centre.
I can’t help but smile at how much excitement it brought us.
Of course, whoever found the coin on Christmas Day was to make a secret wish for the year ahead.
I loved the way my grandmother baked with such care and attention – I still make her pudding every year.
What is your ideal Christmas dinner today?
I’m a classics girl at heart, so needless to say I’ll almost always have my glossy glazed ham and signature turkey on the table, though I am more experimental with sides and salads.
Sometimes I grill seafood and make a big share-plate – crab, calamari, prawns, even lobster – we’re so lucky with our fresh produce here.
Also, it may surprise you, but I do actually love it when my guests bring a plate of something at Christmas.
It’s fun experiencing other families’ food traditions, and everyone has a special memory or story.
Do you have a Christmas recipe everyone always asks for?
At the moment it’s my poached turkey breast recipe – it’s my little secret for the most tender meat, and it’s super low-fuss (read: way easier than roasting a whole bird).
I brown it in a heavy-based pan, add stock and aromatics, cover it and let it simmer gently on the stovetop… all while my glazed ham, a loin of pork or trays of vegetables are roasting in the oven below.
I will also say here that my friends take full advantage of the fruit mince pies that come out of my kitchen at this time of year (you know who you are).
Do you have something special planned for Christmas this year?
This year’s been a big one for me, so I’m hoping to make these holidays as simple as possible.
Christmas at my house tends to manifest in a long lunch – I love the relaxed pace of it.
I try to keep the morning pretty calm, my boys and I usually head down to the ocean for a swim before everyone arrives.
Later on, it’s leisurely canapés and some presents while I’m getting things ready in the kitchen… cue a Christmas cocktail.
There’s fun, laughter and, let’s be honest, a little craziness.
When we do sit down, lunch is normally fresh and easy – lots of passing and sharing, just the way I think feasting should be.
How early do you start planning Christmas dinner?
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m somewhat of a Christmas tragic, so yes, I am thinking lots about it in the month or two before.
That doesn’t mean heaps of work though – I just check a few things off my list each week in the lead-up, which takes the stress out of it for me.
If you’re hosting, I think it’s good to plan your menu early.
Try to choose a mix of dishes – include some you can prepare at least partly in advance, and some you can simply add the final flourish to on the day.
Lots of my recipes (particularly desserts) can be made ahead and even frozen for this reason.
I like using free-range turkey and ham, so I will call my favourite suppliers early for those things.
Don’t get me wrong, every year there is a small amount of chaos at the pointy end (it just comes with the territory), but where I can plan, and make things ahead, I do.
What are your tips and tricks for planning Christmas dinner?
Once I know what I’ll be cooking, I take stock of my pantry staples and make a list against my menu.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are best left until the days before, but I’ll order everything I can online in advance and have it delivered – particularly big bulky items like sparkling water, mixers and other drinks.
Closer to the 25th, clean out your fridge to create space for large dishes and ingredients – it may seem obvious but trust me, it makes life so much easier.
Food is important, but I also believe if the feeling in your home is warm and magical, the day will be a success.
I try to make decorating my house a bit fun.
I admit I’m quite partial to a theme, so I choose one and stick to it for my tree, table and wrapping – it actually speeds up all that decision-making process for me.
A few weeks out I’ll coerce my boys into helping me bake sweet edible gifts for my neighbours and friends.
We pop them in little boxes, which also means I have something on-hand if an unexpected friend pops in with a present.
It may sound virtuous but for me, baking at home beats the stress of shopping… and giving something handmade brings a different kind of joy.
What certain something do you add to your Christmas dinner to make it special?
I love to bring a showstopper dessert to the table after lunch.
Little kids (and big kids) get such a thrill, and when else do you get the excuse to be so festive?
It doesn’t have to be daunting... pile a pavlova high with nothing but glossy cherries or make one of my impressive trifles – you can prep the jelly and cake layers in advance – easy.
This year I’m thinking about bombe Alaska.
I make the ice-cream centre weeks out and keep it in the freezer.
After lunch, I whisk the meringue, spread it over the cake and brown the pillowy peaks with a little kitchen blowtorch.
It’s the perfect end to a very special feast.
If you’d like a little more help with preparing your own Christmas feast head to donnahay.com.au for recipes.