Enjoy giving your family the bird this Christmas!

He’s no gourmet cook, but PAUL GEATER gets a real buzz out of preparing Christmas lunch. Today he gives his tips for surviving what is – for many people – the most stressful meal of the year.

I’M no Heston Blumenthal or Jamie Oliver, but I reckon I can rustle up a pretty mean Christmas lunch – it’s something I’ve been doing for more than 20 years and the preparations have become part of the ritual of the day for me.

But there are three golden rules that everyone should follow if you are going to enjoy the meal rather than see it as an ordeal!

1) Don’t regard the meal as an audition for Masterchef – the chances are your family will enjoy it whatever happens (so long as you avoid giving them all food poisoning).

2) Be sure you want to cook it. A Christmas lunch prepared from scratch takes a lot of attention and you won’t be able to stray far from the kitchen for very long on the morning.

3) If you don’t want to cook the meal from scratch, don’t! Even if you’re the family’s host you can serve up prepared turkey joints bought from any of the large supermarkets – and if you spend a reasonable amount of money you can get a very good joint that can just be put in the oven and forgotten about for a few hours.

Remember a turkey and all the trimmings from your local butcher isn’t exactly cheap – and the chances are that you’ll be eating leftovers for days afterwards!

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I don’t cook everything from scratch – for a couple of years I made my own Christmas pudding in October and it was pretty good.

It was not, however THAT much better than the bought ones you can get from any supermarket and some time ago I decided it was not worth the hassle!

I’ve been threatening to use frozen roast potatoes – but I’ve persuaded that those I cook from scratch are more special and last year I took a few tips from Mark David from the Cooking Experience at Hadleigh.

He suggests that you cook the roast potatoes early and reheat them with a hot blast near serving time – it works very well, believe me.

The final blast in the oven (by which time the turkey is out and resting) can take place at the same time that you are roasting your parsnips.

I cook my turkey on its back in an electric fan oven at 160C for about four hours – we always go for a 12lb bird which is stuffed in the crop (never the cavity) with any stuffing left over turned into stuffing balls cooked alongside the chipolatas near lunchtime.

The breast should be covered in a bacon crown and covered with foil.

Remove the foil on the top about an hour before it has finished cooking to crisp up the crown, and remove the crown 30 minutes later (but keep it warm) to give the top of the bird a wonderful brown top.

On Christmas Day an obscure piece of equipment comes into its own. Years ago I was given my mother’s old Hostess trolley from the 1970s. For 364 days a year it is the television stand in the conservatory.

Once a year it is plugged in and returns to its old use – it is invaluable keeping the turkey (wrapped up in foil), chipolatas, and roast vegetables warm while the last food is being prepared.

One final word. Assuming at least some of you will be eating Christmas pudding (we’ve got a Heston orange one this year!) don’t try microwaving it, whatever the instructions say. Steaming might take longer, but it’s worth every minute.

Bon appetit!

Paul Geater’s stuffing:

1lb (500g) sausage meat.

One large onion.

One head of celery.

Half a pound (250g) chopped mixed nuts (packet from the supermarket is fine).

Four rashers of smoked streaky bacon (the fatter the better).

Bread crumbs from four thick slices of white bread.

Two eggs (if you want a ‘solid’ stuffing, one if you want a more crumbly consistency).

Herbs and salt/pepper to taste.

The trick is to chop up the onion, celery and bacon and fry them gently until they are all soft (but not brown). Leave to cool and once cold mix with all the other ingredients.

Stuff the bird on Christmas Eve and prepare the turkey with a bacon crown and cover with foil before putting in the oven at about 8am on Christmas morning.