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Festive kitchen rules

Between getting your timings right and juggling drinks orders, cooking Christmas dinner can be the most stressful part of the big day. Shane Watson has some tips on what not to say to the chef if you don't want the sprouts thrown at you


Tensions are high during the cooking of Christmas dinner, like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Tensions are high during the cooking of Christmas dinner, like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Tensions are high during the cooking of Christmas dinner, like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

How do we take the tension out of Christmas Day is the question you may be asking yourself about now. Is there something we can do to keep everyone (someone in particular) calm and happy? As a matter of fact, there is, and it simply involves memorising a list of what not to say to the cook. Starting with:

Can I do anything?

Not good. Especially if said in that way that sounds like "just asking because you saw me helping myself to another glass of bubbly". It is a question expecting the answer: "You are kind... no, I'm fine." The right question is: "What can I do?" and the asker should be armed with an apron and a dishcloth.

Shall I chop some carrots?

WHAT? You cannot be serious! Chopping carrots was in the first wave of preparation, seven waves ago! The people who ask "shall I chop some carrots" in an easy, breezy, whatevs way are young people who once cooked a roast chicken for five friends and can't see what all the fuss is about...

Have you got a decent knife?

That is the sodding decent knife. In the heat of the kitchen, any criticism, including of apparatus, is spectacularly goading. You might as well say, "your youngest is a bit slow, isn't he?". Just GET ON WITH IT. Bite the ends off the sprouts!

Is it ok if the whatsits drop round for a drink before lunch?

Fine! In the same way that seven people turning up in the operating theatre during the critical stage of open-heart surgery is fine.

How long has the turkey been in?

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Seriously, who asks that? Because once the question has been asked, you have to do the calculation all over again, hunt down the scrap of paper with the information, double-check the weight, find the person who witnessed the time you put the turkey in, and you lose confidence. It also blows open the floodgates of doubt and suddenly everyone is peering in the oven to see if it's "getting going" or "needs moving up" and questioning whether you factored in the fan setting.

Has anyone got any wrapping paper?

Reasonable question 364 days of the year, but now it will sound a lot like "only had one thing to do, thought I'd get the busiest person to sort it out, at a time convenient to me".

Did you get any tomato juice?

No, because TBH you don't want three 19-year-olds making Bloody Marys at your elbow. Still, being found wanting today is bad.

Do you want a drink?

God yes. But don't ask us because two sips and it'll be "Ooh, turn up the Pogues", and "Aah... is that for me?". And we will certainly forget to top up the water on the Christmas pudding and the roasties will burn.

Are you ok?

Same as "Can I do anything", only with a dollop of patronising. No. Yes. Out of the way!

Do you think we should cover it?

No. Because it says not to cover it on the instructions. Don't make us explain again why you don't cook this turkey with the stuffing inside. Look. Just step away from my turkey.

Why don't we fry them with some chestnuts and pancetta?

So many reasons. Might as well ask if we fancy rustling up a baked Alaska. Insensitive and rude. Take the plain, waterlogged veg or leave it.

And that more or less covers it.

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