We may be the experts, but even we have the occasional kitchen nightmare! Team Easy Food shares the kitchen disasters that almost ruined our Christmas feasts…
Caroline Gray, Editor
“I was making a Christmas dinner for friends a few years back and had spent ages working through the logistics of cooking and serving a full festive roast for 14 people with one small oven at my disposal. The dinnerware was set aside and the cupboard heartily stocked with the non-perishable goods a few weeks in advance. The night before the dinner was my time for picking up fresh herbs, bread rolls, salad leaves and any bits I missed on any of the previous (read: countless) shopping trips. However, in my efforts to guarantee storage space for the growing glut of fresh ingredients, I decided to leave the turkey puchasing to that final shopping trip. Big mistake. Huge. I neglected to consider the fact that the turkey would be frozen and require at least a day of slow-thawing in the fridge before cooking. It didn’t even dawn on me until I was staring it down in the freezer chest at the grocery store; based on my calculations, this 16lb frozen lump was due for the oven in roughly 15 hours. It goes against all the sage (and safe food handling) advice we champion in Easy Food, but a panic thaw was in order. I submerged the wrapped turkey in cold water, changing out the water every 30 minutes until it was completely thawed and safely ready for the oven. It turned out beautifully, and all my guests survived. The lesson here: always factor inactive — or thawing — prep time into the equation! Or, better yet, save the hassle and buy a fresh turkey!
Jocelyn Doyle, Deputy Editor
“We always spend Christmas in my aunt and uncle’s house. My aunt is incredibly well-organised and starts preparing the freezer-friendly parts of the Christmas feast as early as September, delegating other elements to the rest of us. Despite all of her hard work and pre-planning, two disasters spring to mind, neither of which could have been foreseen.
One year, my then-22-year-old cousin came home very late one night, very inebriated and with several similarly merry mates… and proceeded to eat the entire pre-cooked Christmas ham from the fridge. Fortunately, there was still – just! – enough time for us to source a new ham.
A few years later, we woke up on Christmas morning to find that the oven had somehow broken overnight – typical! Luckily, my aunt’s best friend was on holidays and we had a key to her nearby house, so my uncle was dispatched to ‘liberate’ her oven and install it in our kitchen temporarily. The lessons to be learned here are as follows: assume that Murphy’s Law is in operation at all times, and never leave a delicious ham unattended around drunken youths.”
Shannon Peare, Food Stylist
“I love nothing more than the smell of Christmas dinner! Mam is super prepared for Christmas, she always has 90% of the dinner made on Christmas eve. She always has to kick myself and Johnny (our dog) out of the kitchen before we eat all of the ham. After many years, this story has only come to light now…
Often when you buy a turkey, the giblets are left inside in a bag for people to make stock. One Christmas after a very long time cooking, Mam removed the turkey from the oven to realize she had left the bag of giblets inside!
She discretely removed the bag and said nothing. The turkey tasted delicious and thankfully did not taste like plastic. Oh Mam! don’t worry…we still love you! So my top tip is always check your giblets and if you do forget…say nothing and cover the turkey in gravy and they’ll never know.”
Síomha Guiney, Food Stylist
“My most disastrous Christmas kitchen incident doesn’t involve family at all, but is a work related fail. As a chef or cook, it is normal to work a lot around the holiday season. On this particular Christmas Eve, I was offered a few hours’ break in the afternoon, so I agreed and left strict instructions on the reheating of the honey-glazed ham in particular and that I would be back for the serving of dinner.
Upon my return, the first thing I noticed was the smell – burning sugar! I dashed to the oven to find it set to grill, with the previously beautifully glazed ham now resembling something closer to a volcanic rock than something you would eat.
The worst part was the black smoke, and a smell that lingered for at least three days. The ham was absolutely untouchable it was so hot, with sugar just bubbling sugar on the surface. We had to wait for it to cool and then trim off almost every surface, leaving us with about a quarter of the original amount of meat. The lesson is never take a break before an important dinner – or, better still, don’t work at Christmas! Stay in your PJs and eat all the good food. Merry Christmas!”
Pauline Smyth, Food Stylist
“I have a very large family – too many to have for Christmas dinner! – so a few years ago I started to have everyone over for breakfast. That way, I could see everyone and wish them a happy Christmas with hugs and kisses. With all of my family plus a few neighbours, there were always more than 30 people. I would prep all day Christmas Eve and be up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day to have everything ready for breakfast and dinner.
The first year I did the breakfast, I made an amazing variety of food and everyone was impressed. The last person left at about one o’clock; luckily I had help with the clean-up. I was pretty exhausted after all of my hard work, and said to my daughters, Sashy and Naomi, that I would have a short snooze on the sofa to recover. I snoozed and snoozed and snoozed! My daughters woke me at six o’clock, by which time it was dark. I was shocked, as I had no Christmas dinner ready, but thank goodness for my wonderful daughters, who had taken over in the kitchen and made dinner for me and the rest of the gang. A good trick – but a better one is to make a simpler Christmas breakfast and not get so exhausted. Happy Christmas everyone.”