Any hosting tips for a first timer?(46 Posts)
It looks like we are going to be hosting Christmas day dinner for the first time this year. It will be me, dh, dd(6), dd(4), mil, fil and possibly bil.
Any tips for surviving my first go at it? I want it to be lovely but manageable. I'm planning on getting mil to sort out some aspect of the food, maybe dessert and drinks...
Issues we have revolve around space (we have a smallish dining table which we will be just about be able to squeeze around but it is in the kitchen so I'm not sure how logistically this will work) and time (my dh works at our church so it will officially be a work day for him and I imagine we will be there from 10-11:30am).
I'm really looking forward to doing Christmas here for once rather than dragging the dc across the country after church. It all seems a bit overwhelming at the moment though. I see all these lovely ideas for food/drink/decor and I've no idea how I'll manage any of it!
Will your guests be staying over or arriving for dinner? If they're around in the morning I highly recommend a big breakfast. Then you can push dinner time into the afternoon which just gives you lots more time without anyone grumbling about their tummies
Practise roasting a chicken with all the trimmings a few times and Christmas dinner won't intimidate you. A turkey is just a big chicken. Jot down your timings to keep on track. Cook potatoes in oven while turkey rests, sides on the hob and microwave, and the gravy and job done.
Make it easy on yourself by buying in a few sides rather than doing it all from scratch, as this will free up ALOT of time and energy in the afternoon or prep a lot in advance and freeze if you're more of a purist.
Serve a cold starter that can be plated up ahead without requiring cooking space at a crucial time.
Get everything for your table setting out and ready ahead of time.
Also invite Aunt Bessie for lunch - she can provide the roast potatoes and parsnips. Buy prepared meat in foil trays ( we have turkey, chicken and pork) so there's no messy prep. Ask your guests to provide the dessert. Also, M&S do lovely mini tins of chocolates for £2 each as table favours. You just need to get the timing right but a list of times will help.
I prep the veg the day before.
I have a big lidded box outside the bag door where I keep veg cool and drinks chilling.
Use a steamer, less hob space needed.
Make and freeze cauliflower cheese, stuffing, yorkshires, cranberry sauce the weekend before.
Give the job of setting the table to someone else (difficult if you like to be in control, but saves time).
Use a timetable.
Work out what cooking and serving tins, pots, glassware etc you'll need ahead of time.
I always forget to put the pigs in blankets in the oven, but don't worry if anything goes wrong, it's not a test!
If you plan your "trimmings" well then you can have already made them and just get them out of the freezer. I did braised red cabbage (actually better once it's been frozen and then reheated!) roast taties (you can peel, parboil and freeze, then you just need to get them out and roast them. They're crispier this way!) same with the parsnips! then did carrots, sprouts, broccoli and cauli which only takes one steamer to do and just stack them on one after the other according to cooking time. You can make cheese sauce/ bread sauce/ gravy ahead of time in the morning and just reheat as you need it. Always make more gravy than you think you'll need!!
Turkey is just a big chicken! My favourite method is 175C (fan) for 25 mins/500g plus 25 mins. Put some carrots/onions under the bird and some water in the bottom of the roasting dish. Stuff butter under the skin (flavour with herbs if you like) and smother all over the bird. Cover with bacon if you desire. Loose foil and baste regularly. Remove foil for last 30 mins. Check all the time for "doneness" and take out earlier if you think it's done. Rest for at least 30 mins but it will keep hot way longer if needs be! Then whack oven right up and do roasties.
Agree with PP about cold starters! And buy your xmas pud, rum sauce etc. Oh and heat the brandy before you light it in the pan and then pour over. You always need less brandy than you think too- otherwise it burns for ages and catches the pud!
Make a time table and then start the timetable 30 mins before you think you need to. Reduce on the day cooking to a minimum ie cold starters (or none at all) and a dessert you can make either days in advance or freeze. Also farm out as much as you can but again strest that if hey are bring a course it cannot impact on the kitchen. My Sister did this one year and made frigging thai Fishcakes that had to be individually fried. That would have been ok except for she was catering for 14 people!
Mulled wine- everything is better with mulled wine I use the Schwartz sachets
Make your stuffing before and freeze. I just use breadcrumbs, lemon zest dried mixed herbs and real butter.
Bailey's cheesecake is really simple and yummy.
When all fails - don't forget m&s
I get a rolled turkey crown with skin on from the butcher. Cost about 20 pounds to feed 8-10. Lovely and juicy and they gave me a couple of legs for some dark meat. Most importantly takes up a lot less room in the oven!
If cooking a whole turkey, we always cook it on Christmas Eve. Then there's plenty of room in the oven just to bung in any roast veg etc.
Agree entirely with prep ahead on the veggies or buy in pre prepped from Marks.
Make sure you have enough plates, glasses, serving dishes, serving spoons, chairs etc - it's worth getting out what you've got and checking numbers and if necessary doing a quick run to Ikea to stock up on a few more. We have some cheap folding chairs from there that we keep in the garage but are brilliant for bringing out if we are hosting a big family get together.
I'd get a professional oven cleaner in during December so it's nice and sparkly ready, and consider getting in a professional deep clean of the house and get windows cleaned if you don't already.
Things not to run out of - bin bags, ice cubes, batteries, loo roll, GIN!!
Having everyone eating in the kitchen could be tricky - would it be possible to use something like a couple of camping tables pushed together and set up in the living room with chairs round them so the kitchen is free for you to cook/prep in?
Make life easy for yourself - don't over reach. The first one I did, everything was from scratch - exhausting.
Now it's a turkey crown from M&S and I buy most of the sides ready prep'd. I make mash but everything else is in a foil tray. I have my timings written out and alarms on my phone. MUCH easier and less washing up!!
You can boil the potatoes the day before, so all you need to do is roast them.
Unless you want loads of leftovers, don't get a huge Turkey, as it will take forever to cook.
I am assuming you are going to make it for dinner time, rather than lunch?
Ask guests which sides they like. There is no point making sprouts if no one eats them!
Our desserts include something chocolate that the children love, and mince pies. Again no point in having Christmas pudding if no one eats it!
As you are hosting, make your own traditions.
My children love having Christmas at home, rather than travelling everywhere, and that triumphs over any cooking stress for me.
Ask people what they want to eat and don't bother with sprouts or anything they don't want. Potatoes and parsnips can be parboiled the day before.
Make sure people know what time you intend to have main meal, when dessert, when go for walk etc, and have snacks and cheese, fruit etc on hand for anyone peckish.
ILs need to be assigned the job of keeping kids out of the way for 2 hours while you cook, and make sure kids stockings include an item to play with all morning or let them unwrap such a thing. If you want to do unwrapping all together after lunch, do tell your ILs so they don't let the kids open everything without you!
I agree with decent brunch style breakfast at 11 - bacon, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, nice bread/toast.
Organise something very simple for Christmas Eve and cook and freeze it in advance - do this whether you will have any guests or not. You will have lots to do so being able to put a nice homecooked meal that you know all your family will enjoy helps keep your Christmas spirits up.
Firstly, what is the ideal Christmas meal for your group? Does everyone want and/or expect turkey? Are there any veggies or allergies or fussy people (not to roll them all in one exactly, but that may need something different)?
Decide your main meal. A roast, yes? Turkey, yes/no? Beef, lamb, a different bird? I would be inclined to try and stick to only 1 meat, (unless you want something like spiced beef or ham, cooked and eaten as a family meal the day before and having cold slices on 25th alongside turkey).
Stuffing? You can make that ahead of time and freeze (either breadcrumbs or complete stuffing) - and either put some with the bird or have a separate dish for once the bird is out of the oven.
Sides: I presume potatoes, and roasties at that? Do you want all roasties or a pot of mash as well? Or some other type - a gratin could be made in advance for example. But you only NEED 1 type, and only add a second if you think you need loads or some person won't have your main type.
Veg: What veg does everyone like? Are there any "traditions" in the family that "must be observed"? (Hint: no they mustn't, but you might want to include 1 if you are feeling like it).
Things like roasted root veg could go into the oven when turkey comes out and while roast potatoes are finishing off.
Brussels sprouts can be steamed or boiled, and tossed with bacon in a pan if you like.
Cauliflower can be steamed/boiled, and cheese sauce poured over, serve as it is or brown under the grill if you like, it doesn't need to go in the oven.
A plain dish of frozen peas or plain boiled carrots could be useful if there are fussy people, and also easy to boil/steam at the last minute on stove top.
Do you WANT pigs in blankets? Buy them in.
Gravy - needed! LOTS. If you are used to cooking roasts, making stocks etc, fire ahead with that ahead of time (even weeks ahead and freeze the stock), I often use the water from boiling carrots for gravy making for an extra bit of flavor too, and a glug of wine (I know not everyone likes wine in gravy). If you are not used to it, the packet versions, with the added juices from your roast, do very well.
Other sauces? Bread sauce? Cranberry? Mint? Whatever else you have as traditional or normal with your choice? Either whatever you normally do or buy it in, or else practice in advance and prepare in advance if you can at all if you insist on making it yourself (you really don't need to!).
Starter: None at all (if oven space, a tray of "nibbles" like M&S party food, to eat while enjoying pre-dinner drinks can manage any pangs while waiting for people to get home from Church duties or finish admiring the presents etc).
A big pot of soup, made in advance so it only needs reheating on the day.
Cold platter - smoked salmon on brown bread/melon and parma ham/prawn cocktail etc. (One, not all!).
This is an ideal course to offer out to MIL.
Cheese? If you are a cheese family, just pick maybe 3/4, some nice biscuits and fresh grapes. Don't go overboard.
This could be ideal to offer out to FIL or BIL - no cooking involved! (And they may buy nice port to accompany!).
Something different or something for those who don't eat/like pudding? A bowl of jelly for the DCs or icecream?
A bowl of fruit salad?
A cake of some sort? Cheesecake maybe?
Steamed puddings other than fruit ones - syrup or treacle etc?
Sticky toffee pudding could go in the oven while you eat main course and be prepped in advance.
Something that can either be prepped totally in advance or just needs heating/cooking on the day, no prep work.
This is an ideal course to offer out to MIL.
Tea and coffee?
Mince pies or chocolates? Or a tin of biscuits or some cookies you made 2 days ago?
Will you need snacky things for later in the evening (sausage rolls or whatever) or will you eat later in the day (and maybe need more crisps and dips or party food before the main meal)?
Will you want it?
If you do - what type, how much, different things for different courses or 1 bottle/type for the whole thing, red and white or just 1, do you want bubbles before eating, or port with cheese, desert wine with pudding, or a baileys after eating, does MIL like a dry sherry or a sweet sherry, does FIL like a G&T, does BIL only drink beer, what soft drinks and/or mixers/sparkling water will you need for everyone/DCs/drivers....These are questions to consider, not expectations you should have.
What do you already have in the cupboard of those things you decide you do need?
Of what you need, is there any that it would be a good idea to ask MIL/FIL/BIL to bring?
Now that you've decided the menu, what do you want to make yourself and what would you prefer to ask others to do or buy in already prepared?
Also, look at the dishes needed. Will you plate up everything at the kitchen counter or put dishes on the table (that covers meat, potatoes, and veg aspects - each needs its own decision).
How many serving dishes will you then need, and do you need 2 smaller dishes of some things for each end of the table or 1 larger one? You may want 2 spuds, but only 1 cauliflower cheese for example.
Gravy boats - if you only have 1 and want more, ordinary jugs are fine once heatproof.
Regular plates, cutlery, glasses.
Salt and peppers.
Jugs for water.
And decorative elements - tablecloth, napkins, placemats, name cards, candles......do you have these already, do you want nice paper ones, do you even need them (placecards are vital for some, I've never used them!).
Have a sit down and think about what time you want to all eat at.
Work backwards from there when things need to be ready (e.g. starting at 1 means soup reheated by 12.55 to serve, but expect to serve main at 1.20 so turn off oven at 1 but leave spuds, veg in then; veg needs to go in oven at 12.45, maybe you are taking out part-baked bread rolls then to cool, which go in 10 minutes before that, turkey comes out at latest 12.45 but can come out 12.20 or even earlier - wrap in tin foil and pop a clean bath towel folded over onto it to keep it warm and allow to rest......)
Decide in those musings how much of each thing you want, to ensure you have sufficient for everyone's likely appetites, and any leftovers you want, but not enough leftovers to feed the 500 and have to waste.
Also think about when you want people to come - will they sleep in your house (before and/or after) or just visit on the day? Do you want them to come in time for Church or not until at least you are home later?
Also, apart from Church, are there any other things you really want to do (as a family, an extended family, or just yourself) given the opportunity to be at home - a long walk, particular visits locally, something special that the Church might do, or even a gap between the main meal and desert?
And would you prefer to work alone in the kitchen with ILs entertaining DCs, or have some working with you/keeping you company? Do they have particular talents in any areas to harness? Who will do washup duty later - as cook, you should have a chance to relax at that stage.
Make your lists.
You'll have one for timings and master planning of the meal.
You'll have one for what dishes (veg, spuds etc) will go in what dishes (crockery). And check that you have enough roasting tins/pots etc for preparing the meal - might you need to borrow some or buy some tin foil roasting trays or additional real roasting trays.
You'll have a master shopping list, with quantities. Remember non-food things like loo roll, bin bags, washup liquid/dishwasher tablets, matches etc.
You'll have another master list with general timings for the day, and also the days beforehand on household jobs to accomplish (cleaning, meal prep, making sure you schedule time with the DCs and DH and some peace for yourself and fun events or community events you really want to get to locally, not fill every moment with work).
Identify what beds may be needed and that you have enough spare sheets/towels etc. What juggling may you need to do for this - does DCsmallest need to give up their bed for BIL and have an airbed and sleeping bag, or do you have enough guest beds etc? Have you a bundle of clean tea-towels and cleaning cloths handy for willing helpers to find?
The house does not need to be gleaming. Try and get decluttered and reasonably clean by the week before so it's only needing a quick swish of the bathroom and rub of the mop/hoover during Christmas week to maintain it. Have your clean sheets/towels ready in a pile to just grab when you need them, make up the beds in advance if you can. I also try to, even if there's only a few things, run the dishwasher before big meals like this (so after Christmas breakfast) and also put in the powder again when I empty it, so that it can easily be restacked as the table is cleared and set running again if it doesn't interfere with the next course. And while I am working on cooking the meal, I have a sink full of hot soapy water to wash as I go along if it suits (somethings do, others don't, but a slight lull can see a big dent in the tidying needed later, or a helper in for a quick chat can easily do a bit too, especially if there are gloves/apron to protect nice clothes), or even just soak pots that need it rather than mashed potato or cheese sauce drying on and being harder to get off later.
People can sit on garden chairs, a long bench with cushions on the top for one side and put the extra chairs from there along the other side, you could get a few folding chairs (buy them, borrow from neighbours or parish, etc). You can extend a table with a second table at the end, or using a large single sheet of plywood over the top - you won't even notice with the cloth and dishes on it. If there is a height difference, use books or magazines under the legs of the shorter table (we have an extended family numbering over 20 so this is a regular- National Geographic magazines replaced Shakespearean plays when 1 DAunt realized and had a conniption!!).
I have always tended to prep the veg and potatoes the day before big meals. Peeling and chopping, marinating if needed, preparing flavoured butters, making stock or gravy or sauces, all that sort of thing. Most veg keep fine when chopped in cold water, and so do potatoes - I just leave them in covered pots on the cooker top. Brussels sprouts I leave in a Tupperware tub with no water. Frozen veg, I just take out when there is space on the cooker and let them defrost in their pot at that stage (although they cook straight from the freezer just fine).
Ahead of time, the things I tend to do are making breadcrumbs, occasionally even the complete stuffing, and freezing that, making a fair amount of ice cubes and popping them out into a tub in the freeze, making and freezing stock if I have bones, flavoured butters also freeze well etc.
One trick I learned was, as we only ever tend to want 1 or 2 slices of a lemon or lime, to slice the rest and freeze it, and then use them straight from the freezer for G&T or plain jugs of water. So I tend to make sure I have plenty before big gatherings.
It's only a roast. Despite the length of my post. The important thing is to plan ahead, and then enjoy. And pace yourself - don't expect to do EVERYTHING, rather, see what you really want to do yourself and what you are happy to outsource (within the family or to buy) so that you can all have a nice day.
I hadn't realized my post was so long! Sorry.
But I thought of 2 more things.
If the guests are staying more than the day, part of your planning should include all the meals they will be there for. Put at least 1 in the freezer in advance (curry, lasagna, stew etc main meal, and something like soup or sausage rolls/quiche as a lunch/tea meal too) to make it easier. And see about any meals you may want to eat out or that ILs might like to prepare for or with you?
I also agree about a good breakfast. As you do have Church, and I presume your DH is there earlier, look at things that you could have set up for early morning. Can you set a timer on the oven to either cook a fry in the oven ready for when you get up, or even to have the oven hot at that stage? Or have everything set up for a decent meal that everyone would enjoy - scrambled eggs, large bowl of fruit salad and some freshly made croissants (jus rol tubes are great, or M&S do nice frozen pain au chocolat to bake at home), or scones from the freezer to warm through? Tea and coffee pots left out beside a filled kettle with the teabags/leaves and coffee ready to go into them (the caddies on the counter rather than their normal cupboard spot). Cutlery and crockery stacked on the counter. So that whoever is up first or can leave the DCs first can go in and easily get going on that regardless of how used to the/your kitchen they are.
What a fantastic thread - thanks for asking the question OP
Agree with parboiling and freezing potatoes ahead of schedule for roasties. Sprinkle with fine polenta or just plain flour before dropping from frozen into very hot oil or duck fat - makes very crispy, fluffy roasties with minimal fuss on the day.
If you have a slow cooker, make a stock in it overnight from the turkey giblets - with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and a few peppercorns added. Put the whole thing on low for about 10 hours then strain and use the stock to mix with the roasting juices and a bit of flour to thicken once the bird comes out of the oven.
Mash can be made ahead and microwaved.
Make sure your starter and pudding can be assembled from cold, out of a box or made ahead and frozen as necessary.
Double check the size of your oven - how many baking trays can you fit in together? This will dictate what trimmings you have and how many to cook.
Don't try to do anything complicated or cheffy if it's not your usual style. Don't experiment with a new recipe. Make things as easy as possible and try to minimise the time you spend rushing around the kitchen, both for your own sanity and so that your family and guests can celebrate the day with you.
Give family members jobs to help you and ensure they know the plan. Nothing beyond their capabilities nor unrealistic (e.g. kids might seem keep to help on the approach to christmas but on the day will not be parted from their new toys). One task might be to keep MiL/granny entertained and away from the kitchen (of maybe that's just my family?)
I think the most important thing is that you don't get stressed and enjoy it. Give everyone little jobs to do- you don't need to do everything yourself. Can you get the children to be in charge of crackers and decorations- they can make decorations throughout December like paper chains, sparkly snowflakes, place cards for the table etc etc (I used to get very excited about having such an important job when I was little).
I tend to make as much in advance and freeze things to make life easier on the day and so that I actually get to enjoy some of it. I make tons of mince pies that go in the freezer and bake from frozen then serve warm dusted with icing sugar and a glass of mulled wine. I also make stuffing, braised red cabbage, gravy etc in advance and freeze. Veg and pigs in blankets get prepped the evening before in front of a nice christmas film or with some lovely christmas carols on (King's College choir or Michael Buble usually do the trick).
Can you improvise with the tables and put in the living room maybe. I've had to use patio furniture in the past along with the dining table- once it's had a clean and put a cheap tablecover on it (from supermarkets for about £4) and along with a few sparkles and decorations it looks fine and no one really cares.
And have sufficient snacks and drinks to keep everyone going as christmas dinner is bound to be served slightly late (if my experience is anything to go by) and children don't like waiting when they're hungry
My suggestions are...
Write a plan - so everything you are cooking, listed out, work out what needs to go on the oven and when. Tick everything off as you do it, for motivation.
Tinfoil trays for all trimmings to be cooked. The added bonus of these is that you can generally fit more of them in the oven than a mish-mash of dishes.
Prep everything you possibly can the night before - so get your chipolatas, pigs in blankets decanted into the foil trays and into the fridge. Make your mash and bread sauce and into the fridge with them. Peel all veg. Lay the table, get all your pots pans, utensils, whatever, out and ready. Get all your ingredients out and to hand. Your kitchen will start off like a bomb site but hopefully will get progressively cleaner as you go.
Big black bin bag in the corner for you to chuck wrappers, waste etc into as you go.
Frozen roasties. Fancy goose fat ones, not everyday ones!
Alternatively, order in the whole thing from M&S. I don't think it works out hugely more expensive and the increased cost vs the reduced prep time for you is not to be sniffed at.
Great thread. Biddypop, you sound amazing.
I would just add that it helps to go into it as a joint undertaking with DH. I'm the main cook in our house but DH is our roast specialist, and he only learned as an adult. I do the gravy, DD's on yorkies. DH cooks the main meal so he plans the timetable, and he buys crackers and does the main christmas food shop. My contribution is planning the rest of the meals, compiling shopping list, preparing other meals etc. For us the cooperation and shared load takes pressure off us both.
We are no paradigm of equality - I organise most of the present buying etc - but the day itself is pretty well shared I think. This year will be a good chance for you to both muck in and take ownership for it. If it's you who writes all the lists, does all the shopping and cooking this year, it's likely to fall to you in future years too as you'll be the "expert". If DH can't do much on the day because of his work commitments, he can do other stuff beforehand, be in charge of pudding etc. And it is just a roast at the end of the day.
Keep it simple. A turkey, a few sides, gravy and a pud. Unless your guests are athletes in training then they really won't be eating that much. My son and nephew barely touched their dinner last year as they were too distracted. This year I'm trying not to go overboard as I don't want a ton of leftovers.
To those of you saying use foil trays, may i ask do they not burn the veg?
My top tip is delias apple pork and chestnut stuffing. Really easy and SO FRIGGIN DELICIOUS.
Write out ypur timings, and set timings.
My mum has an oven you can program to come on at a certain time, so if she is hosting she will prep the turkey the night before, leave it in the oven overnight so then the oven comes on and she doesnt have to do anything.
Yy to keeping food and drinks in the garden.
Check before the big day that your turkey fits in the roasting dish.
Planning and lists is the only way to make sure you eat a nice meal at the right time IMHO.
I've got Delia's Xmas book and live by it! It's full of ideas as to what you can make and freeze/keep ahead of time. (Stuffing, sausage rolls, cranberry sauce, gravy - there's more!)
Think carefully about what you want to cook and how it's all going to fit in the oven/on the hob.
Then write yourself a comprehensive timetable to see you right though from dressing the bird to serving up. (I have a 4 page guide I use as a template every year )
Make sure you wrap the DCs presents well in advance so Xmas eve you have time prep all the veg for he next day.
My best tip is to DO THE GRAVY IN ADVANCE.
I hate Jamie Oliver, but this is one tip I'm forever grateful for. So a week or two in advance you roast up a tray of chicken legs, root veg, garlic and onion . After a couple of hours you mush everything up and strain all the liquid and goodness back into the roasting pan, scrape off the crusty bits with some stock and wine, then thicken. You have the time to get it as smooth as you like and you can make plenty.
You are then saved the horrendous job of making gravy AFTER everything else is ready, and there is no 'lump pressure'. You can even heat it in the microwave if you have run out of room on your hob.
Seriously, do this!!
I'm place marking so I can keep it for next year when we finally have our very own house and I can finally host my wonderful DM who has made Christmas magical for us all for decades. She can watch her DGDs frolic and sip sherry by the fire. Hurrah!
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