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Christmas Dinner - What did I get myself into?

I know Christmas isn't for another couple of months, but I stupidly nominated myself to host christmas dinner. This was one I originally thought that only 8 people were coming, but 8 people quickly turned into 16 people. I love to cook, but never cooked for this many people before. I do need to add that I'm not going to be around the day before, because Christmas Eve is a much bigger holiday for my family to celebrate then Christmas day itself. Can anyone tell me there easy and delicious christmas menu?

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  1. Fine cooking mag did a feature for a thanksgiving issue a few years back that had a menu for 12 that could be done in 4 hours (took me six with no prep the day before) the secret I think was doing the 14 pound turkey with no stuffing (it was done in a seperate pan) so the bird cooked in 2.5 hours.

    The article was also good in that it gave you a planner what to buy at grocery store in advance, shopping lists etc.

    I'll look up the issue date tonight for you.

    Worth getting a back issue or checking their website once you've got that info.

      1. re: lucienne78

        My goodness they have it on their website - with a timetable and everything!
        http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/th...

      2. I can totally relate, as I've done this 2 years in a row now. Christmas week is devoted to spending time doing fun day trips and activities with my husband's kids & Christmas Eve is the big deal for my husband's family. So there's no prep or set up time beforehand. And we never know the actual headcount until Christmas Day. So, here's basically what I've done:

        Wine, Spiced Cider (made ahead, the spices removed, and the cider reheated) and a cheese plate

        Pork Tenderloin stuffed with sauteed mushrooms, garlic, prosciutto & thyme - stuffed a few weeks in advance and frozen, cooks pretty quickly depending on the size.

        Mashed Red & Yukon Gold Potatoes - again, I make them ahead and freeze them, and I keep the skins on to save time. But you could easily make the potatoes that day.

        Sauteed Greens - spinach, chard etc with evoo, garlic S&P.

        Rachel Ray's Chocolate Cups - go together in 10 minutes and sets very quickly and everyone goes nuts over them. The recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

        I have family bring a salad, more apps and more desserts. I try and keep things simple so the focus can be on just hanging out and enjoying the day with those I love.

        1. That pork tenderloin sounds like a great idea. And freezing it sounds even better!!!

          1. Whatever you are going to make, if its a new recipe, practice making it NOW...so you will know what, if any, tweaking you need to do with it...don't experiment on Christmas Day.

            Practice freezing or storing overnight...see how it is the next day. No need to do the entire menu, but on Christmas morning, you don't want to be trying to do something for the first time....

            That is probably the biggest mistake I see being made...You want to make food for friends and family that you know are good, tried and true.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Cathy

              Cathy, that's a valuable point about practicing and testing your recipes. I've done that for the last 2 years and it's really helped eliminate duds, find steps that can be done ahead and feel so much more relaxed on Christmas Day. All this adds up to appearing so much more impressive to my MIL! In fact, I'm just about to start testing recipes for this year.

              1. re: Ruby Louise

                I agree completely. Right now, I am testing approaches for cooking at my elderly parents' house for Christmas. I have a couple of holiday menus down pat, but tried another main (two halves of a turkey roasted over dressing in an old-fashioned rectangular enamelled metal roaster that I picked up in an NH hardware store where I was amazed to find it (these old things have vanished from other shelves in the past decade) -- worked very well).

                The issue with my folks is that my mom no longer cooks in the oven much and has the kitchen very precisely arranged with things she needs on a daily basis, so disrupting her kitchen too much or for too long can be a recipe for strife. Also, I will be cooking with my brother and his partner. So we all have to have our steps whittled down to modular efficiency. This means all recipes are tested and thought through and interlaced so that everything is pre-arranged. (When the four brothers cook together, it's even more interesting; the two sisters are not involved in this, but that's another story).

                Oh, and setting the table and kitchen up is also pre-planned.

                Cleaning up is old-hat; that's just a continuation of 55 years of family habits. I was the family dishwasher from the age of 10-18. We have asbestos hands in our family (my mom wants hot water to be scalding). To this day (I am 45), I've never owned a dishwasher. Anyway, my father likes to wash the dishes as his contribution to the feast. It's very sweet in its elaborate way.

                The first Christmas we did this, a few years ago, my mother was pleasantly stunned at how we pulled this off without a hitch. Actually, amazed. We earned her trust so that we were able to do it again. And that made my dad very happy.

                Actually, the brothers look foward to this. It's much more gratifying than the gift exchange. Food is love, after all, isn't it? At least to chowhound families.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Karl S, thank you very much for sharing your family story with us. Thanksgiving is, afterall, a family holiday and your tale of thoughtful generosity is exactly what true giving is all about. "A person gives nothing until they give of themselves" is a homily I remember from childhood and your Thanksgiving celebration if full of the thankful giving part of this delicious holiday. Your mother and father must be proud and happy with their brood.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    In a slightly more slapdash way, my brother and sisters and I do these big meals as well for the holidays, and it is the very best - every one is a gift to be treasured and remembered for the time ahead when our parents are gone and the kids are grown. Food is love, indeed. Thank you for sharing your story...

              2. I made short ribs and vegetarian lasagna for 12 a week ago. The two main dishes were cooked a week (ribs) and a day (lasagna) in advance. I made 2 soups - butternut squash and bean & bacon, also finished a few days before. Dessert was apple pie (baked and frozen) and sticky toffee pudding made the previous day.

                On the day everyone was coming, I roasted a mix of root vegetables. Everything was reheated and tasted pretty good. It helps a lot if you have a big oven.

                1. Because we have had too many traditional meals by the time Christmas Day rolls around we always do appetizer type food and wine.It is a nice change after all those heavy meals~

                  1. Order up a ham from Honey Baked and call it a day!

                    1. It is not so much the food, as the logistics for a large group.

                      I made Thanksgiving for my mom and myself for years. When I got it down, I figured that the same food could serve a number of people, so I threw a dinner party for 12. It was setting the table and that type of thing that killed me.

                      Set the table before you leave, set up as much as possible. Prep things ahead of time like chopping onions, celary, bread (like for stuffing). On Christmas all you should be doing is assembling and throwing in the oven. Buy a couple of hot plates so you have extra warming/cooking burners.

                      Whatever you cook, consider how much oven space you have. IMO, opinion, for the most part, most things can be made or prepped ahead of time. Ziplock/Rubbermaid is your friend. Decide on what you would like to serve and then work backwards and figure out how to do as much as possible a few days before. Olives, for example, can be in covered dishes a few days without killing them. Get it all ready ahead of time. Obviously you don't want to be serving souffles.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rworange

                        I agree it's the logistics that are the hardest. If you only have one oven (like I do), you have to get the timing right for everything, from appetizers which have to come out right before people come to the roast and side dishes. And then there's refrigerator space. For a couple of days, I can't buy any groceries for our day to day food.

                      2. We did Christmas Eve for 20 last year and I wanted something that didn't take long day of. We made osso buco two days before and let it warm in the oven while we opened presents. It gets better after a day or two anyway.

                        We served it with a quick saute green veggie (can't remember what) and some risotto milanese (cook it part-way a day before, cool on a sheet pan, then add hot stock to finish before serving). Dessert was amaretto creme brulee, also made the day before. We carmelized the sugar while coffee was brewing.

                        The whole meal was a huge hit!

                        Good luck!!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Christina D

                          Wow, quick saute green veggie and risotto Milanese for 20...remind me of my line cook days with 16 burners.

                        2. I don't cook for crowds, but Mom always made it easy on herself by doing a boiled ham and serving it cold, making potato salad, stuffed eggs, three-bean salad, green salad, and lemon pies, all of which she could make ahead. She always had my aunt bring parkerhouse rolls and a mince pie from the local bakery. Everyone wanted to help set the table and bring out the food 'cause we were all hungry. Don't forget the pickles, olives, pepperoncioni, etc. And fresh sweet butter, room temp.

                          1. A crown roast of pork is a very festive and easy dish. All you do is rub it with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs, let sit overnight then roast. Just check the temp so you don't overcook and it is done. Look up any old crown roast for times and temps.

                            That used to be my default holiday dinner from a Gourmet magazine so old that the recipes are unfortunately not on Epicurious. It always was super impressive and easy. I can tell you about it, though. The crown was filled with:

                            Wild rice stuffing: saute onions and fennel or celery and add to wild rice along with cooked sweet italian sausage that was minced finely in the food processor. I think some dried fruit and or pine nuts would be nice. This can be made a couple days ahead and reheated for 1/2 hour in a 350F oven. Scoop into the center of the roast to serve.

                            Apple - Mustard sauce for pork: google around for one that looks simple and good. Easy to make ahead or day of.

                            You can blanch broccoli ahead of time and just sautee in butter right before serving. Squeeze lemon over (maybe the pine nuts should go here.)

                            Potatoes aren't needed, but if you want mashed potatoes or pureed sweet potatoes (that would be really good), you can make them earlier in the day (make a bit on the moister side) and reheat in a 350 oven for 1/2 hour.

                            Start with a salad of mixed lettuces, sliced pear, toasted nuts and blue cheese in a balsalmic viniagrette.

                            Ask two people to bring desserts.

                            1. Just wanted to wish you the best of luck.

                              1. Thank you all so much for the great tips and ideas. I'm really liking the crown roast of pork idea. I'm definitely going to be doing test runs - my friends are going to love me, since I'll be cooking them different meals to figure out what I'm going to go with.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: lucienne78

                                  I have to second the crown roast idea. It is sooo easy to make and looks very impressive. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

                                2. Our family christmas dinner is a snap, especially compared to our other holiday meals.

                                  A ham is a great choice for Christmas for exactly this reason. My family loves honey baked and although we've swapped it out for fancy hams, "authentic hams" and fresh hams we eventually got the point. People like honey baked.

                                  I like it served with a vegetable soup (wild mushroom or butternut) or a light herb salad to start and then a "fancy starch" that is warm and creamy or crunchy. Sometimes it is au gratin potatoes, latkes (frozen in advance), or pierogies stuffed with potatoes and cheese (my family's single "ethnic heritage" recipe). We add two vegetables that rotate (one plain and one loaded with chestnuts) and mom's hot scratch baked parker rolls. The meal pairs really with crisp Austrian whites.

                                  I follow with at least three desserts usually a fruit pie I made in the summer (apricot, sour cherry, peach) for my dad, something chocolate-y and rich for my sister, and something techincally challenging for me to enjoy baking.

                                  18? 20? people come over and there is maybe an 1 1/2 of solid cooking the day of...

                                  Christmas Eve my husband and I cook just for ourselves and that is usually something that takes a pleasant five or six hours..

                                  1. I'll second the Honey Baked ham, especially since with 16 people you will probably be serving buffet style? With that many people, I would also roast a turkey breast and slice that as well (brine it, roast it a day or two ahead, and slice on the day. You can then lay the slices on a sheet pan, sprinkle with a little chicken broth, wrap in foil and heat in a low oven) Depending how formal you want to be, you could have little dinner rolls or baby croissants and some good mustards and cranberry sauce so people could make little sandwiches if they wanted to.

                                    All the make-ahead side dishes suggested here sound wonderful - I like sauteed greens very much since they are so quick and don't take oven space, and I would add scalloped potatoes or a potato gratin - it's easy to prep early in the day.

                                    Another thing I make which is always a big hit is barley cooked in chicken broth, with sauteed mushrooms, sliced scallions (add the white part early with the mushrooms but stir in the green tops just before serving), dried cranberries and toasted pecans. Very easy to do on a busy day, and it looks festive and tastes good.

                                    Dessert can be plates with fudge, fancy cookies, slices of fruitcake or nut breads, truffles, etc. which you can buy instead of make, or can make ahead of time.

                                    1. I hate Thanksgiving dinner with every fiber of my being, but love Christmas dinner because it's so much easier and the meal itself is so much better.

                                      Our traditional Christmas dinner is elegant and easy. Beef tenderloin grilled. Scalloped potatoes, green salad (usually Caesar), oyster stew and crusty bread.

                                      Dessert is usually the Bacardi Rum Cake (easy and can be made days ahead of time) and a pie of some sort.

                                      1. I do this every year, so I sympathize. But don't worry, along with all the very good tips above, here's a few of my own.

                                        Think of roastiong pheasants. You can get them online from D'Artagnan in New Jersey, they are easy and quick to cook, and they are small, so one bird feeds two people. Stuff them with your favorite bread stuffing, wrap them in bacon, and away you go.

                                        While you are roasting birds, think of only roast vegetables - potatoes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. All are great roasted. For starters, serve soup. You can make it a couple of days in advance. The usual stuff for dessert.

                                        You'll be able to pull this off in the time that you have, and you will serve a very special, wintery, Christmas meal.

                                        - Sean

                                        1. I agree with previous posts that cooking for a large group is most logistics...oven space, large pots and equipment and cleaning up. Another thing is that cooking large amount of food always takes longer than one anticpates. My general advice is to keep things simple...roasting big pieces of meat/poultry rather than many small pieces..turkey, prime rib, pork roasts, leg/shoulder of pork, leg of lamb (not stuffing 10 pork tenderloins or roasting 8 pheasants). Large pieces meat/turkey look impressive and have less tendenecy to overcook and hold better without getting cold. Have a big salad or room temperature vegetables as a side (mixed blanched, roasted or grilled vegetables dressed in the last minute with a little olive oil, lemon juice/vinegar and herbs. Make a simple bread stuffing couple days ahead of time in small roasting pans and bake after the roast comes out of the oven. Or bake some yams or roast some small potatoes early in the day and rewarm. I would make couple of desserts that can be frozen...cheesecake, ice cream cake, frozen lemon souffle.
                                          During service, make sure someone else is doing the carving, etc. Serve everything family style...never try to do individual plates.

                                          1. Christmas dinner in my family needs to be delicious- but we also need to fit it in after a big 7 fishes feast on Christmas Eve, and lots of company on Christmas Day. For the last few years, I have been making a prime rib roast. I serve it with twice baked potatoes, vegatables and popovers. Easy meal. I take the roast out in the am, let it sit on the counter to come to room temp ( or thereabouts), bake the potatoes in the am, too. Stuff them and cook later. The prime rib is simple to cook, and even more delicious to eat. I am able to get a great dinner on the table, and still enjoy the day. Good luck.

                                            1. last year made braised lamb shanks which were great because i just let them stew away for about two hours with some root veggies, garlic, red wine and stock while i worked on other stuff and by dinner time they were tender and the meat just fell off the bone but they still seemed a little more festive than say, a pot roast. served them over a quick polenta- very tasty. also think you can do the shanks a day ahead and just reheat on the stove.

                                              also made this chicken liver pate as a appetizer (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                                              )made it two days ahead and it was delicious and very well received. makes a great addition to a plate of cheese cracker and cornichon!

                                              for dessert i did whole peeled pears poached in red wine, sugar and spices which i served with vanilla ice cream. keeping the pears whole made for a nice presentation. i also made these a day ahead and served at room temp but you could easily reheat them in the micro without effecting their texture.

                                              good luck!

                                              1. I am glad someone else is in my situation. I have just recently moved house and have offered to cook christmas dinner for the first time ever. I think my total count for the day is around 14 adults and 6 children. I am really panicking now, as everyone coming are good cooks. I want a traditional Irish Dinner, Turkey, and the works. I was looking at the article at the start and it looks like it will be a good help. Any other ideas would be good.