Top tips: cooking Christmas dinner for a large family
Friday, 5th December 2014, Lucy Mccoy
You've located the spare trestle table and five mis-matched chairs, you feel as though you bought out Sainsbury's and you can't see your kitchen worktops for all the seasonal paraphernalia that covers them. You're cooking Christmas dinner for a large family and it's a little stressful, to say the least.
If this is the situation you find yourself faced with this year, don't panic. We've got plenty of top tips to make the whole process just that bit easier.
Prepare your menu and plan
Preparation is key and if you can get your menu sorted out before hitting the supermarkets, then you will feel far more in control. It should also help you make a more accurate shopping list so you won't need to pop out again and again. If you're catering for large numbers, it's likely that Christmas dinner isn't the only meal you need to think about, so plan meals right across the period in which you are playing host - from breakfast on Christmas Eve right through to New Year if need be.
Getting things on paper has an extremely calming effect, even if that list rolls on and on.
Once you have your menu, you can start planning - include every step from when you need to make certain dishes to a schedule of the actual day with cooking times. If you need inspiration, many of the top celebrity chefs, like Delia Smith, have published example Christmas dinner timetables on the internet which could help you.
Make sure you have the right equipment
Hang on - before you buy that massive turkey, are you sure it is going to fit in your oven? Do you have enough space in the freezer for all that food you plan to make in advance? Have you got enough serving bowls or will people be spooning carrots out of a saucepan at the table? Equipment can easily be overlooked in the panic to shop for and prepare the food itself, but failing to have enough roasting pans or running out of room in the fridge can frazzle even the most usually unflappable nerves.
Check your equipment and if you don't have enough, borrow. Ask guests to bring extra crockery and see if any friends or neighbours who aren't doing Christmas dinner themselves might let you put things in their freezers. Why not consider some time-saving/stress-preventing gadgets, too? For example, the enduring Hostess trolley and its table top variations might seem kitsch, but they'll prove life-savers when you need somewhere to keep the food hot while dad carves the turkey.
Ask for help!
Yes, there's something about preparing Christmas dinner that instils an often irrational sense of pride in a chef. This feeling that the whole meal must be prepared solo; that to ask for help is somehow a demonstration of incapability - especially if one of the guests is the mother-in-law, right? Rubbish. You don't have to do this on your own. In fact, preparing Christmas dinner can be used as a time to bond and create 'new' traditions with the family.
Of course, you don't want people hanging about and getting in the way, so make sure you assign the right people the right jobs and ban everyone else from the kitchen. Having some trusted helpers means you can get on better, while the rest of the guests can be entertained in the lounge or perhaps taken out for a walk. Don't be too proud to ask for help.
Have lots of bowls of the same dish
A great tip, as provided by someone who regularly has Christmas dinner with 25 others, is to make sure that you serve several bowls full of each food. This avoids the inevitable scramble and messy passing round of the only gravy boat. Ensure that each 'section' of the table has their own supply of the goods - including the kid's end.
This also ensures that the food won't run out by the time it gets to Uncle Bob at the other end - meaning you won't need to keep getting up to replenish the stocks.
Keep the kitchen tidy
To feed lots of people, you'll need lots of room in the kitchen not only for preparation but also to place dishes - so make sure the kitchen is as clutter-free as possible before you start. Remove any unnecessary gadgets and other decorate items that you don't need on the day - put them temporarily in the garage, your bedroom, anywhere that keeps them out of your way and your worktops clear. Having less clutter about will minimise stress, too.
Cooking Christmas dinner for large numbers isn't easy, but following some of the tips above should help minimise the associated anxieties. Bon appetit!