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MasterChef star Sarah Rankin reveals her Christmas hacks

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It's one meal, enjoy it.
It's one meal, enjoy it.

The easiest way to hack Christmas is of course to throw out the rule book. Eat the things you like, don’t bother with those you don’t.

You can also get ahead by employing a little advance planning to ensure your day doesn’t consist of you slaving in the kitchen while everyone else plays Pictionary and eats a box of After Eights each.

Do as much as you can in the lead up. If you have a freezer, clear it out a few weeks before. This is a job well worth doing a couple of times a year. The chances are there will be one or two completely unidentifiable items in there, as well as a few that poor wrapping have left open to the elements, rendering them no longer safe to eat. Once you have a bit of space, you can fill it with prepped veg, or your favourite supermarket’s frozen party range. Whatever works for you. But if you like to lay on a home-cooked spread, set aside a quiet Sunday to do some prep, and wake on Christmas Day with little to do but wash down a chocolate orange with a Mimosa before 9am.

You can peel, par-boil and freeze your tatties ready to be roasted from frozen on the day. Simply peel and cut your Maris Piper, King Edwards or other floury potatoes, making sure they are all uniform in size. Place in cold, well-salted water and bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes and drain. Leave to dry. Mix 100ml of oil with 2 tbsp of panko breadcrumbs and a little salt and pour that over the potatoes.

Put on a lid, and shake a little to coat them all, this will also rough up the edges for delicious crunch. Freeze in single layers in foil trays, then once frozen solid, transfer to freezer bags. On the big day, simply preheat your oven to 220 degrees, pour 100ml of heated vegetable oil over the frozen potatoes and roast.

You can do exactly the same with your carrots and parsnips, pouring over a mix of warmed local honey, grain mustard and a teaspoon of cumin powder before freezing, and drizzling with more of that, and a little vegetable oil when you are ready to roast them.

Stuffing balls too lend themselves brilliantly to prepping and freezing, and can again be cooked from frozen, as long as the sausagemeat you’re using hasn’t been previously frozen. I tend to use my local butcher’s chipolatas as the base, but use whatever sausage you like. Something well-seasoned will do a good bit of the work for you. This will serve four generously:

  • One dozen quality sausages or 400g sausagemeat
  • ½ pouch of ready to eat chestnuts, chopped roughly
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 1 bramley apple, finely diced
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • Butter or oil for frying

Fry the onion until softened and add the herbs and chestnuts. Remove the sausages from the their skins (if using) and add to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cranberries and apple and the cooled onion and chestnut mixture. You can either press into a foil container or roll into balls before freezing.

These are just a few time-savers that’ll help take the pressure off in the run up. You can also buy the whole lot from the supermarket and spend your time on the couch. No judgement here.

It’s one day, one dinner. Keep that in mind as you lose sleep about quantities of gravy three weeks before the big day. It does not need to be the best meal you have ever eaten, it needs to be tasty, sure. But anything made with love already is. Christmas lunch, like all meals, is all about the people you’re sharing it with, so focus on them, not on delivering the most Insta-worthy spread. And don’t skimp on the chocolate oranges. Or the Mimosas.

Sarah Rankin is a MasterChef finalist, food writer, cookbook author, private dining chef, food event host and demonstrator and lover of all things local. Check out her content @sarahrankincooks

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