21 Christmas cooking tips to help you tackle the hectic holidays

With just a few days until December 1st and the ‘official’ start of the Christmas mayhem (though let’s be honest, most of us already drank some mulled wine and pulled out our festive decorations), we wanted to share some cooking tips to help you through the hectic holidays.

These 21 tips are perfect for this time of year — when people magically appear at your doorstep, the wine never empties and Tesco runs become a constant necessity:

  1. To pan fry fish (though not tuna), put the fillet in your pan skin side down in cold oil, then turn on the heat to stop the fish from ‘buckling’ as it does when dropped in hot oil.
  2. If you’re cooking for an important event or special person, avoid trying a new recipe and a new ingredient at the same time — less can go wrong!
  3. Cook pasta one minute less than the package instructions say. Cook it the rest of the way in the pan with sauce for the ideal al dente texture.
  4. To avoid garlic overkill, throw a peeled piece into your simmering pasta sauce, potatoes or soup and discard it before serving, instead of mincing it or using garlic powder.
  5. Always keep prosecco chilled in the fridge and a bottle of red on hand for the month of December. They’ll make unannounced visits more enjoyable.
  6. Don’t plan a meal before you shop — plan it around the freshest and best produce, meat and fish available that day to mix up your routine.
  7. When making meatballs or meatloaf, it’s key to know how the mixture tastes before you cook it — throw a bit into the pan and fry it, and then adjust the seasonings and try again until you get the results you want.
  8. Do not put oil in the water when boiling pasta. It keeps the sauce from sticking to the cooked pasta.
  9. As any chef worth their salt will preach: sharpen your chef knife at least once a week!
  10. When roasting a whole chicken, the breast always cooks quicker than the rest of the bird and therefore it tends to dry out. Section the chicken before you start to cook and pull out the breast earlier (or add it 20 minutes into cooking).
  11. Throw a piece of white bread into your brown sugar bag to break up the clumps and keep new ones from forming.
  12. If you have plain flour in the cupboard, whip up some bread or cheese on toast when folks arrive. To do this: use one mug plain flour combined with a teaspoon of olive oil. Slowly add cold water until you’ve formed a soft, smooth dough that leaves the bowl clean. Divide the dough into balls, roll them out and then dry fry them in a non-stick pan for a few minutes until they are browned.
  13. Cooking meat that hasn’t been marinated? Liberal doses of salt and pepper, spread evenly and everywhere is a good alternative.
  14. Warm your mixing bowl with boiling water before creaming sugar and butter in cold weather — it will blend more easily.
  15. If you’re like me, Christmas somehow always seems to equal carbs. Fight the trend by lightly sauteing brussel sprouts and mushrooms, then cover them with stilton and throw them under the grill. Once the cheese is melted, put the mix on top of rocket and balsamic vinegar. Enjoy with a steak and without a carb in sight. Thank me later.
  16. Practice a new dish well in advance. It gives you a reason to stay in on a rainy day, pop the wine and perfect your dish well ahead of the Christmas table.
  17. Prolong the lifespan of greens by wrapping them loosely in a damp paper towel and placing them in a resealable bag. Rocket, for instance, will last about four days longer when stored this way.
  18. Step 1: Collect your favourite ingredients, wine and music. Step 2: Kick everyone out of the house until 7pm and do your thing at your pace, relishing every moment (no pun intended). Convince them it will be an amazing dinner that takes five hours of undisturbed work to make and use the extra time to watch a cheesy Christmas movie without being caught crying into your wine.
  19. Introduce a new dish from a different country every holiday season. My family is Polish, so we do pierogies on Christmas Eve and Easter — the kids love them and new traditions are an interesting, wonderful thing.
  20. Aubergine is a joy for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Choose the heaviest, darkest skinned one you can find. Peel it, slice it, salt it. Remove the salt with running water, dry the aubergine and then shake it in corn starch or flour. Fry it in hot coconut or vegetable oil, turning it until it’s golden brown. Drain the remaining oil and relish in the thanks you’ll receive round the table. You can also combine it with other veggies or lentils for a cheap, delicious treat.
  21. Experiment as you cook. Use a recipe for cooking times and volume guidelines, but use ingredients YOU like. Taste as you go, and then own it and name it shamelessly after yourself if it’s really tasty!

Bonus December tip: Keep a basket with cheap gifts wrapped under the tree (candles, soaps, mugs, watercolour painting set, a spatula), and let anyone who pops over in the month choose and open one. You can spread some holiday spirit for 20 quid!

Also remember to include your postman in the fun as appreciation for the hoards of Amazon Prime deliveries he has to make this month. He’s the real-life Santa Claus.


If you’re looking to avoid the holiday mayhem entirely and apply these cooking tips abroad, a cooking holiday or wine experience could be just the thing.

Whatever your plans, happy holidays and good luck with your preparations for the endless stream of visitors, food and drink to come!

 –  The NotInTheGuideBooksteam, xx