So, I’m finally doing a post on planning your Christmas meal! And, to be totally honest, this can be about planning any big meal (Hanukkah, New Years Eve, Boxing Day, Thanksgiving…there might just be a change in the menu depending on seasonality or dietary restrictions).
This post has been years in the making. I’ve been thinking about showing people how I plan for a big meal with less stress, but to be honest, I’ve always assumed everyone knew what I knew! Then I started thinking about my closet (stay with me here!). I am horrible at putting together outfits – I’ve been known to stand in my closet for an hour trying to figure out what goes with what! Then I watch people who have a knack for it and I think, “wow, how is it so easy for you to put together an outfit?”. That’s when it hit me…we all have our unique teaching ability so why not share it?
Are ya freaking out a bit? Planning a bit meal? Sound like something you can’t handle? Well, think about your day job…when you have a big project to tackle, what do you do? You break it up into “chunks” and do a little at a time. So if it works in the corporate world, why can it not work for food? It sure can!!
So, if y’all know this stuff already, sorry for the interruption in your day.
If not, here we gooooo…..
More than One Month Away:
Before you go all crazy on me, just wait a second….I’m only trying to save you some coin! Black Friday in the US (and, lately here in Canada too) is a great time to take advantage of any deals…especially if you need to upgrade your pots or need extra table settings for your holiday meal. It’s also when North America really switches over to Christmas mode so the pickings, especially this early, are good! Just keep a mental note of anything that you can use year after year (plus you can also do some Christmas shopping!!).
1st Week of December (or roughly 3 weeks before the big day):
- Do a quick clean of your fridge and freezer (no, you don’t need to take it apart and wash all the drawers separately!) – just a quick wipe down of the shelves in your fridge and toss anything that’s expired. The goal here is to just make room for the stuff you’ll be whipping up over the next few weeks! Just remember to keep it under control over the next month (ie. wipe up spills as they happen!!)
- Loosely plan your menu. This can change as you get closer to the day but your menu could look something like this: A charcuterie board (or pick a cool Christmas app from this post), stacciatella soup (or another simple soup), pasta al forno, roast turkey, stuffing, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes, spinach salad with toasted walnuts, prosciutto, grapes and honey roasted figs (picture below), buche de noel cake, easy creme caramel, Christmas cookies. Again, this may sound like a crazy amount of food (remember, I’m Italian…this is what we do!), so feel free to scale back or change things all together…this is YOUR party!
- If you bought some things on Black Friday, now is the time to just quickly count your plates, check for tablecloths and think about ways to fit your whole crew at the table (you may think you need to buy more folding tables but, you might also get away with a big piece of wood from your local hardware store that will be cheaper and easier to store when not in use). And don’t forget the kids…they need to have fun at the table too!!
- If you want to venture into some homemade gifts (those are my favorite to receive), check out this post for homemade edible gifts and this post for other cute ideas!! Now is the time to start thinking about this – because, trust me, if you think about making homemade gifts on December 20th, it’s just not going to happen!!
- If making gravy at the last minute freaks you out, then seriously think about making the gravy ahead and freezing it. Check out Jamie Oliver’s tried and true gravy here (I’ve made it when I am cooking a bird but need gravy…say, for french fries!!)
2nd Week of December (roughly two weeks before the big day:)
This week is when we start to slowly make the basics that can be frozen or refrigerated until we need them. We are going to make some of these things so we can get some stuff into you freezer and your fridge to make your life easier (and remember, pick a couple of things each week and make it while you’re already in the kitchen, like when you’re cleaning up after dinner):
- Make sure you have a batch of this in your fridge! This chopped garlic and parsley mix is a godsend! A few spoons can start a tomato sauce, can be rubbed under the skin of chicken before roasting, can be spooned over pizza dough before baking, can be added to a soup for a hit of flavour…it’s like a magic elixir!
- Now is the time to make your Pasta al forno. This can be any baked pasta dish (a pasta bake, lasagna, etc) but now is the time to get one into the freezer. Here is the recipe for my easy pasta al forno!
- If you are making soup, now is the time to make a batch of stock . It’s super easy (you just throw everything in a pot and let it simmer) so why not let it simmer away while you make dinner one night? Strain it and freeze it for the big day! Even if you aren’t making soup, it’s always good to have some stock in the freezer for things like gravy!!
- Start your cookie production this week! I know it seems early, but if you check out this post on how to be organized with your holiday baking, you’ll be surprised how easy it can be!!
- Order your turkey! If you use a fresh turkey, just get this detail out of the way – it’s literally one phone call!! And if you use a frozen turkey, keep your eye out for deals over the next few weeks (you can even ask your local grocer when they think the best deal will be had for holiday turkeys!)…just make sure not to leave it until the last minute! I’ve posted my recipe for my bacon weave turkey in another post (you can find it here) along with a bunch of helpful tips on cooking the perfect bird so you don’t have to stress here either (hint: it’s easier than you think!). If you have a smaller family, you can also just stuff some turkey scallopine with stuffing, roll it and cook it that way!!
3rd Week of December (roughly one week before the big day:)
- Make your stuffing and freeze it! Stuffing always tastes better the next day because the flavours get to meld together. So, why not make it and tuck it away in the freezer? Cooked or uncooked (I prefer to freeze it uncooked), it’s such a treasure to have for your big day. If you don’t have a good stuffing recipe, you can check out the recipe I created for the people over at Queen Street Bakery here (and, although it uses gluten free bread, you can always use regular bread).
- I believe that if you start a meal with amazing bread, you can elevate a mediocre meal to something amazing because it tells your guests you made the extra effort to bake your own bread. And, I know what you’re thinking…bake my own bread? Are you nuts? But these no knead black olive bread rolls are to die for and they can be made ahead and frozen for the big day. You won’t believe how easy they are!
- Now it’s time to think about dessert! Your big meal is a week away and you can make your cake…oh yes you can!! This buche de noel can be made totally ahead, wrapped up and frozen…just defrost it the day before and you’re golden! If you want to give it a shot, the recipe is posted right here!
3 days before the big day:
- Make this easy to make creme caramel! The recipe (click here to get the details) literally takes 10 minutes to throw together and stays fresh for days in the fridge! Un-mold and blow your guests away!
- Make your shopping list…you’ll be doing the actual shopping tomorrow!!
- Make your mashed potatoes and keep in the refrigerator (you can find the recipe for make ahead mashed potatoes here!)
2 days before the big day:
- Pick up turkey and figure out where you will keep it (if it’s frozen, decide where it will defrost!)
- Do your big shopping. Aside from your regular groceries you will need for the meal, remember things like lemons for drinks, soda water, and ice! And if you have time, wash all of your veg when you get home!
- Make a trip to the liquor store to make sure you have all of your alcohol.
- If you want to splurge, pick up fresh flowers (and a small bunch for your bathroom! Such a nice touch!!)
- Think about your play list. I know this is extra but it is so nice to have awesome festive music playing softly in the background!! Spotify is the way to go!!
Day before the big day:
- Set table/plan logistics of night. It might seem redundant, but when you have a list, it’s also easier to delegate (when guests come in, they always want to help…tell them to check the list!!)
- Defrost the cake and stuffing…
- Put out your serving platters and put small pieces of paper with the dish’s name in the bowls so you know what goes in where.
- Organize where your drinks will be (a small table or a corner of your kitchen)…this will be where your Christmas cocktail will be served (easier than having an open bar...check this one out!!
Morning of the big day:
- Prep and begin cooking the turkey.
- Take the pasta al forno and olive buns out of the freezer.
- Run the dishwasher so you know you will have a place for all the dirty dishes!
- Take a shower and lay your “party clothes out…there’s nothing worse than having your guests arrive and you look like a troll!
- If you need to uncork wine to let it breathe, do that now!
- Get your coffee urns ready (if you use them) and make sure your tea pots are clean.
- Get your charcuterie board ready (or whatever appetizers you are serving…keep this simple…you don’t want to be cooking anything here – or worrying about taking up more oven space).
Noon of the big day:
- Roast your carrots and tent them with foil.
- Roast your figs for your salad.
- Bake the stuffing and keep warm.
- Bake the pasta (should take roughly an hour).
- Heat your stock and make the soup (keep warm on the stove).
- Reheat the mashed potatoes.
- Put out the charcuterie and assign someone to whip together cocktails for people as they arrive.
- Go get changed and comb your hair!
- Put together the salad and dress it just before serving.
- Put the buns in the oven to warm them up.
- If you are short on oven space, make use of things like slow cookers and toaster ovens to keep things warm!!!
- Serve your meal…and enlist help of anyone who is willing to give it…
- Make sure you sit and enjoy the meal yourself because nothing makes guests feel bad than watching someone run around the kitchen while everyone else is having fun!
- Once dinner is done, stack your plates (if nobody wants to clean with you, don’t do it on your own during the party) and prep your dessert!
- Serve dessert, coffee/tea and maybe an after dinner drink.
- Make sure you go around the table and ask everyone to tell you what they are thankful for…I’m sure many of them will be thankful for YOU!
See, you did it.
I’m not going to lie…it can be a tiring process.
But you will feel so accomplished…even if you are just making half of this!!
Please let me know how YOUR holiday meal goes.
I’m sure you’ll have tips to share with me!!