Alex, TV chef and author, shares his tips on a stress-free Christmas in the kitchen.

Alex Mackay is the talented chef, formerly director of Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons cookery school and Le Baou D'Infer cookery school in Provence. With regular appearances on television, Alex is also the Merchant Gourmet Cook,  and his latest cookbook, Everybody Everyday, will be published in May 2012. Alex also runs occasional cookery workshops at Norwich City Football Club with Delia Smith.

Here Alex gives advice on a stress free Christmas in the kitchen.

ALEX'S CHRISTMAS TIPS

1. If you would like a year off from Christmas pudding, and you’re game for something totally different, why not bring a little sunshine to your Christmas table. Make some fat pavlovas a few days beforehand, roast some bananas with brown sugar and rum, and serve them smothered with thick cream, ice cream and a colourful selection of tropical fruit. You can use mango, papaya and pineapple and the one you really can’t do without; passion fruit. Try Alex's recipe for tropical Christmas pavlova.

2. Don’t get yourself in a panic and run out of space on your cooker by trying to cook all of your vegetables at once. Cook them completely in advance, and chill them in iced water all so that you just need to warm them through, either in the microwave or on top of the stove. If you try to include one dish that can be finished well in advance like a gratin of potatoes or courgettes or pumpkin, this’ll make it even easier.

3. Don’t despair if everyone in your family likes breast meat and you’re always out of breast but have lots of leftover leg. Buy a couple of turkey crowns instead of a whole bird. The crowns will also cook more quickly than a whole turkey. Just stuff plenty of herb or garlic butter under the skin and you’ll have plenty of juicy white meat to go round.  You also won’t be using up legs for days after the event.

4. If you find that your turkey always ends up a little dry, just remove the wishbone before you go to cook it. Make plenty of herb butter and stuff it into the pocket of flesh that this will leave.  Then once your bird is cooked turn it upside down on an angle so that the legs and parsons nose are up in the air. This way all of the juices will run through the breast making it juicier and flavoursome. Just keep it in as warm place while you do this and your meat will be tender and moist. Even better, buy a Kelly Bronze Turkey and cook it upside down.

5. If you have relative on a wheat free diet, go for some roasted fruit at dessert time.  Pears are wonderful at this time of year and you can buy some ready peeled chestnuts to go with them. Just roast the two for about 20 minutes with plenty of butter and sugar and serve them with whipped cream, ice cream and a big glass of rum. Or if they can’t have sugar, roast the fruit with fruit juice boiled down to a glaze.

6. If you love chestnuts for Christmas but are always burning your hands and breaking them up just save yourself some time and take the easy option. You can now buy chestnuts in little vacuum pack bags so you have all the hard work done for you. You can then concentrate on your stuffings and desserts rather then your blistered hands.

7. If you love sprouts but they give you terrible gas you can try cooking them with plenty of caraway in the water then toss them with a few more caraway seeds when you coat them in butter. I was taught this by a nutritionist that assures me that this is why the two are often used together. I hope this is a recipe for a more comfortable Christmas lunch.

8. Everyone loves crispy roast parsnips and potatoes at Christmas time. If you have a problem with them being burnt on the outside by the time they're cooked through you need to boil them for a while first. Just cut you parsnips and spuds and simmer them for 10-15 minutes until they are soft but not totally cooked through. Dry them very well and roast as usual, you can do this the day before and store them uncovered so that they dry and their outsides will roast better.

9. If you can’t face all of the relatives on Christmas day why not try an intimate dinner a deux, a prelude to a kiss, Valentines Day on the 25th type of thing. So, get plenty of Champagne well chilled, some oysters and lobsters, plenty of chocolate and just enjoy each other.

December 2011