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First-timer hosting Christmas dinner - critique my menu?

Hello hounds! This will be my first attempt at hosting Christmas dinner. We will have 22 adults and a handful of kids to feed. I've tried to choose dishes that are classic because there aren't too many adventurous eaters in the group. However, I think the group would be open to new/different dishes as long as the flavors are traditional/simple New England-ish (e.g., no French- Asian fusion, foie gras, or caviar) I'm also trying to choose dishes that can be prepped the day before as much as possible.

So here's my menu so far. Fire away!

-Stuffed mushrooms
-Sausage (salami or summer sausage), mustard, aged cheddar, Parmesan crisps, fancy store bought crackers
-veg n dip
-Spiced bar nuts (gramercy tavern?)
-Caprese sticks (skewered cherry tomato, mozzarella ball, basil)
-Puff pastry pinwheels or cheese straws

Main event:
-CI's grill-roasted prime rib with Horseradish whipped cream
-2x baked potato casserole
-Green beans w pine nuts and lemon
-Slow-roasted tomatoes with rosemary
-from scratch crescent rolls (MIL is bringing these)
-Waldorf salad

-Pecan pie
-Chocolate caramel tart or s'more pie
-Cheesecake (MIL is bringing this)
-carrot cake (SIL is bringing)

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  1. OK, but have checked the price of pine nuts recently? Last time I checked they are way to expensive due to a poor crop in China last year. Some people are substituting chopped walnuts for the 'pignoli.'

    Here's an excerpt from another website...

    While we firmly believe that the pinyon trees are the most environmentally sound choice for pine nut sourcing in the U. S. we are also sensitive to the economic conditions and people simply cannot afford $25 - $30 lb pine nuts. Maybe a few, but not mainstream U.S. The long and short of- the market is forecast for pine nuts is affordable shelled imported pine nuts to reach our shores in November, when the new harvests start arriving at the docks.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ChiliDude

      Thanks for the heads up on the pine nut prices. I may swap them out for some toasted sliced almonds.

      1. re: bdegregory

        Not only are non-Asian pine nuts pricey, but the Asian ones have the risk of "pine mouth" - which you can google.

        1. re: greygarious

          Fair warning. After making LA Times' Zucchini with Mint & Pine Nuts, I developed Pine Mouth for about 2 weeks. Dreadful. I have not touched one since.

      2. re: ChiliDude

        I have to agree to nix the pine nuts. Last time I bought them was at Whole Foods and thankfully I only needed a little. You can get them in bulk there but they were $30/lb. I felt like I was buying gold! I really thought they were over rated in my pasta recipe I used them in.

      3. I think it sounds delicious! Enjoy!

        1. Sounds fantastic. Nice planning with lots of make ahead dishes!

          1. sounds lovely. recently a friend made cheese straws/twists with olives, just a smear of tapenade from a jar on one surface of the pastry before sprinkling the cheese. was a nice tweak of a classic.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gembellina

              Ooh that sounds good and would be easy too!

            2. I think its good, bu since since you asked for critiques I'll just ask this. Where do you live that you're getting tomatoes in the winter for the caprese sticks and the roasted tomatoes?

              12 Replies
              1. re: schoenfelderp

                I agree on the tomatoes being the odd duck even though I'm still getting heirlooms at my Farmers' Market. It's certainly not something that would be traditional in New England at Christmas. What about roasted brussels sprouts on skewers with a balsamic glaze?

                1. re: escondido123

                  Good point about tomatoes. There are certainly no local tomatoes to be found in upstate NY, but the cherry tomatoes at the grocery store are usually OK. For the roasted tomatoes, I was thinking a drizzle of balsamic and a sprinkle of sugar would help rescue the supermarket plum tomatoes. Was looking for some color on the plate-- any ideas for something else that might work better?

                  Others may like Brussels, but have I have the "Brussels sprouts are gross" gene, so they are a no-go.

                  1. re: bdegregory

                    If you really want roasted vegetables, roasted peppers? Or what about making a ratatouille with canned roasted tomatoes?

                    1. re: antimony

                      Roasted peppers aren't in season either, and cost a pretty penny.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        No, but out of season peppers taste better than out of season tomatoes, and they are bright-colored. But it looks like the OP has a plan.

                        1. re: antimony

                          I'm with you antimony. And if she roasts the peppers that certainly has more of a not-summer feeling than the tomatoes--I can't explain why but that's how it feels to me.

                    2. re: bdegregory

                      I think your menu looks delicious. What about carrots instead of the roasted tomatoes for your color? This recipe is good and you can peel and cut up the carrots a day ahead. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                      1. re: GretchenS

                        I was also thinking roasted carrots--maybe in a nice mix of carrot colors if you can find them. I'm also a fan of roasted beets but realize those aren't quite as widely loved as carrots.

                        1. re: debbiel

                          Yes! Perfect! And I can still get a medley of carrots at the farmers market now. A little honey, thyme, and butter glaze and these will have a much broader appeal than the roasted tomatoes. Thank you!

                      2. re: bdegregory

                        Although harder to find, heirloom carrots can be absolutely beautiful in vibrant red, orange, yellow, and purple. I don't think they would work well on a skewer, but they would add the color for which you are looking.

                        1. re: bdegregory

                          Once summer is over and the memory of real tomatoes is not so sharp, I'm pretty happy with the kumatoes (correct spelling) at Trader Joe's. Not sure they're actual food, but they sure can play it on TV. Roasted, I bet they'd be fine if available in your area.

                      3. re: schoenfelderp

                        For the caprese sticks, I once used sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in oil instead of fresh tomatoes. I didn't use a whole sun-dried tomato per skewer, I think I cut them in 1/2 or 1/3 so they fit on the toothpick better.

                      4. I think your apps are a little on the heavy side, if you don't want people to fill up before the main course. I would either cut out some of the meat and cheese entirely, or use smaller amounts and make the raw veg & dip the obvious intended choice.

                        Unless you are positive that all the children and adults will be able to manage prime rib (I am thinking about people who may have trouble cutting and chewing, not just doneness preferences), I would think about offering a second choice of entree - maybe sauteed chicken breasts/cutlets, Chicken Marbella, or a creamed chicken dish.

                        I think a less-creamy salad than Waldorf would be a better choice since this is a pretty heavy meal. Red leaf lettuce, diced beets, craisins, red onion, blue cheese (or feta), nuts, and a vinaigrette is festive-looking but not heavy.

                        You've got one or two more desserts than you'll need. Unless you want to send folks home with leftover food, you could easily drop one or both pies.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: greygarious

                          "You've got one or two more desserts than you'll need. Unless you want to send folks home with leftover food, you could easily drop one or both pies."
                          Oh my, not sure what you would think of my family. Two years ago we had 2 pies, one cake, and cookies. There were three of us. :) That was of course a bit silly. Six desserts for 22+ people does not sound like too much to me. There's variety enough that hopefully everyone will have something they enjoy. I would count on people having a couple desserts each. And there should always, always be leftovers of holiday desserts.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            I was also wondering if we'd fill everyone up on apps. Our schedule allows about 2 hours with apps prior to dinner. I think I'll take your advice and limit the amount of meat and cheese just to be sure everyone comes hungry for that rib roast!

                            I think everyone can manage the rib (or kiddies can have mom or dad cut it up for them ;-) I know I'll be cutting up my daughters' prime rib ), but I will ask around to be sure. I could probably do a spiral ham as a second protein without too much extra effort.

                            For the salad, do you think if I lighten up the dressing a bit (maybe use a just a smidgen of mayo and thin w lemon juice) it won't be too heavy? Your suggestion sounds delicious though so I could indeed switch it up.

                            And on the desserts- You are right that we'll have leftovers (but not sure if I'll actually have time for the chocolate tart anyway). I have a huge sweet tooth and just enjoy seeing a big spread of desserts.

                            1. re: bdegregory

                              Unless you have folks that can't/won't eat Prime Rib, I don't see the need for a second major meat. I myself prefer a well thought out meal to a buffet.

                            2. re: greygarious

                              I was thinking of some fruit in there somewhere. Like a fruit tray app or else a fruit salad as a dessert which is traditional in my family at Christmas.

                              Its nice to have those healthy options.

                              Thanks for sharing your menu. I'm stealing a couple of your ideas.

                              Edited to say I guess waldorf salad = fruit. Duh.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                i think the menu looks lovely but I am concerned about the kiddos...I have an adventurous eater and I don't find much on your menu that he would eat...

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I agree about the salad. My take on the salad would be the Barefoot Contessa's Cape Cod chopped salad with craisins, apples, and a maple-orange dressing. For the chicken option, you can make pounded chicken cutlets, fry them on both sides and then freeze them and reheat. I disagree about the desserts. For 22 people you need all of that.

                                2. Not a huge fan of the menu, then again I don't cook for other people, I cook for myself. Caprese sticks- tomatoes aren't in season. Same with slow roasted tomatoes. Waldorf salad takes me back to the 80s. Not sure what horseradish whipped cream is, but it doesn't sound very appetizing.

                                  Have you ever grilled a whole prime rib before? If not, I wouldn't make this for the first time for a huge group.

                                  Stuffed mushrooms, reminds me of a really bad passed app option at a mediocre catered office party.

                                  I don't mean to crap on your menu, as you have put some thought into it, but none of this really says "christmas," and the food just doesn't sound all that appealing to me.

                                  I like the brussels sprouts idea, tossed with some bacon and drizzled with a balsamic reduction would be good.

                                  Green beans also aren't really in season and can be really tough this time of year.

                                  Roast off some winter squash and make some winter squash soup.

                                  A sweet potato gratin is fantastic as well.

                                  If you do roasted carrots, you could always throw on some other root vegetables with them as well including pearl onions and parsnips.

                                  17 Replies
                                  1. re: jameshig

                                    Not sure where you are in upstate NY, but Wegman's usually has haricots verts, and they are pretty good even when the regular green beans (being out of season) are not.

                                    I think waldorf salad would be OK if lightened up--I would maybe substitute dried cranberries for raisins, to be a bit more seasonal, but then of course raisins are quite seasonal too. Another option would be ambrosia (not the gloppy stuff with marshmallows, but good southern ambrosia which is basically citrus and coconut). That might be a bit sharp to go with prime rib, though--I usually would serve it with poultry and pork.

                                    I would never serve beef for a holiday dinner because my in-laws mostly like it well done and I don't. But maybe you are lucky and have family members who aren't afraid of pink.

                                    1. re: Cliocooks

                                      I've been wishing for a Wegmans for years, but alas there is no Wegmans to be found in less than a two hour drive! Boo.

                                      Despite my husband's family's reluctance to try "strange" food, thankfully most are not afraid of pink meat (yay!). But the grill roast method does provide a range of doneness so that the grey meat crowd can get theirs from the ends and the rest of us can enjoy medium rare pinkness. :)

                                    2. re: jameshig

                                      I can appreciate your reaction to the menu, as cooking for this crowd is quite a constraint and I've tried to walk a line between what has been served by my MIL for the last 35 years and what my ideal menu would be. For example, the group expects a "fruit salad" that consists of drained cans of fruit cocktail mixed into sweetened whipped cream. My version of fruit salad (waldorf-ish) would have apples, pears, toasted pecans and dried cherries. Not too "fancy pants" but a step up from canned fruit cocktail. Similarly, they are used to the canned green bean casserole glop, so I was trying to find a green veg to serve that would be somewhat fresh (I can live with those flash frozen beans if the fresh ones are too tough). They are not big leafy salad fans, but I could push the envelope I guess.

                                      So hopefully this little bit of context explains why there aren't too many inventive or avant garde dishes here. Stuffed mushrooms could easily go - any thoughts for an alternative? And I will nix the tomatoes in favor of heirloom carrots (I like your addition of parsnips and some kind of onion). The caprese sticks could go or morph into some melon/prosciutto or something else entirely. My twice baked potato casserole is a real crowd pleaser - and your suggestion of sweet potato gratin sounds great. Do you think I need two potato dishes?

                                      I have grilled a whole prime rib before using a method from Cook's Illustrated and it was really delicious with a hint of smoke from the wood chips. The horseradish whipped cream (also from CI) was surprisingly good with the roast and my guests seemed to also enjoy it.

                                      1. re: bdegregory

                                        I love stuffed mushrooms. And anytime I serve stuffed mushrooms at a party, they are wolfed down. Too bad jameshig has apparently only had mediocre ones. They can be wonderful.

                                        Careful of the parsnips. Some folks have a strong aversion to them. And the horseradish whipped cream sounds very interesting! Care to post the recipe?

                                        1. re: debbiel

                                          So true about parsnips. I forget they are not very popular because I love them so much.

                                          The horseradish cream is embarrassingly simple:

                                          Whisk 1/2 cup heavy cream until thick but not yet holding peaks. Gently fold in 1/2 cup horseradish. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Can be made up to an hour ahead. It really does go nicely with the grill roasted/lightly smoked riib.

                                          1. re: bdegregory

                                            (i assume you mean prepared horseradish?) Oh sounds good, and sounds like it will be so good with the rib. I'm going to have to incorporate it into a meal soon.

                                            1. re: debbiel

                                              Yes, sorry. Prepared horseradish is what I meant.

                                              1. re: debbiel

                                                it is also wonderful with freshly grated horseradish and a bit of sherry vinegar. Much more bite.

                                              2. re: bdegregory

                                                Thanks for posting this: I'm leaning toward rib roast on Sunday, and your horseradish whipped cream sounds like a lovely accompaniment.

                                            2. re: bdegregory

                                              I have eaters like this coming to my house too and you cant get too fancy-pants or they will not enjoy it and you will be guilty of RUINING christmas for everybody. Baby steps.

                                              1. re: bdegregory

                                                I assumed that this menu was reflecting the tastes of your guests. Everything on there makes sense to me with the exception of the out of season tomatoes.

                                              2. re: jameshig

                                                @ Jameshig If a Roast Beef doesn't sound like a traditional Christmas or Holiday dinner, perhaps you should take a look at the NY Public Library online. They have a fantastic collection of Christmas/New Years menus from the early 1900's. It is on practically every hotel restaurant menu. Oysters too. Fascinating to see what people were serving/eating back then. And they are all beautifully illustrated also.

                                                Don't let the foodie snobs bother you bdegregory! Your dinner sounds wonderful and people love stuffed mushrooms, that's why they are served everywhere.

                                                1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                  Mushrooms are awesome! Stuffed ..... breaded ....... marinated!

                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                    I didn't say that the roast beef was not christmasy- it is very traditional- it was everything else.

                                                    I WOULD NOT do 2 potato dishes, choose one and go with it. If yours is a hit, then use it.

                                                    My best advice to you is don't cater to your guests- take into consideration food allergies and issues, but cook what YOU want to serve and what YOU can be proud of.

                                                    If everyone else likes canned fruit waldorf salad, tell them to make it on their own time and have it themselves.

                                                    Yeah, I'm harsh like that because I don't compromise on food.

                                                    Good luck

                                                    1. re: jameshig

                                                      I'm guessing the roast beef comment was in response to your writing of the menu "none of this really says 'christmas.'"

                                                      Waldorf salad and canned fruit? Really? Never heard of Waldorf salad being made with canned fruit.

                                                    2. re: jameshig

                                                      I second the fact that Prime Rib says American Christmas for many, many people--who also love horseradish cream. Brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic has certainly become hackneyed at this point and it's important to remember the OP is cooking for other people. PS Stuffed mushrooms done right can be great, it all depends on the cook.

                                                    3. Hi bedgregory. I took a look at your menu and am thinking that it's missing most foods that are associated with Christmas. I'm in Canada and we celebrate Thanksgiving a month and a half earlier so by Christmas we're ready for another Turkey dinner. Anyhow, with that being said ........ I think I would definitely scrap the Salami and Cheeses. Both are very heavy and you'll end up with guests who are too stuffed to enjoy your roast. A nice alternative would be "mini" sausage rolls, quiches and other mouth watering tidbits.

                                                      We're of Eastern European decent and always have pierogi and cabbage rolls on the table. There is always plenty of leftovers. As for dessert, I don't think you need that many. I'd even make jello to have with whipped cream for the kiddies. After a heavy meal, something light is always good. :)

                                                      I agree with the carrots and parsnips. Both are great veggies but you might want to roast them separately as some people don't like parsnips. Will you be having yorkshire pudding with the roast? Gravy for the roast and twice baked potato casserole?

                                                      1. There's something about the dessert selection that is bugging me. Perhaps just too much dessert, and none of them particularly Christmas-y (to me)? I gather your in-laws have their preffered items to bring, and maybe those are traditional for them. And I understand wanting pie, but I don't think you need two somewhat similar pies. I would do a fruit pie either in place of one of these or on its own. Any holes can be filled with your cookie selection - something chocolate, something nut and something very Christmas - whatever that means to you :)
                                                        edit to add, I guess I also think cheesecake and tiramisu are kind of similar. But... it is definitely a holiday of excess. Enjoy!

                                                        1. The comments on whether or not this is a Christmas-y menu are interesting. It seems there is much more variation in the family Christmas meal than Thanksgiving. We haven't had a turkey for Christmas for years and years. Usually it's some special beef or pork main. Prime rib most definitely seems Christmas-y to me.

                                                          Desserts: For Thanksgiving in my family it is always, always, always pumpkin pie and/or pumpkin roll, apple pie, and probably something else. For Christmas, we're a bit all over the map but the most common desserts for Christmas are: cheesecake (usually something fancy my husband does), pecan pie, and layered carrot cake. We also often have something made with orange curd (my mom does a wonderful layered cake with orange curd and coconut). And there are always cookies and usually fudge. Plus egg nog and/or tom & jerrys. So what may look like a non-Christmas dessert menu to some looked like home to me.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: debbiel

                                                            I agree with you Debbie1, Christmas menus vary so much and for those who do turkey there are prime rib and then ham and then we're doing duck for two this year. The salami and cheese was too heavy, but sausage rolls and quiches would be better. We all eat what we do at holidays for all sorts of reasons and maybe this is the time not to ask others to critique the menu, because it is so personal.