12 days of Christmas there may be, but for hosts, Christmas day lunch cooks and more or less anyone planning a dinner party over the festive period, it can easily take 12 days to create a real gastronomic treat for guests. With 12 days to go to Christmas day, I’ve drafted some countdown tips to help smooth your way to those special occasion meals.
Invites: draft up your final Christmas guest lists and call or email people. If you’ve time and like to make the invite itself memorable (to set the tone of your occasion), have some fun writing old-fashioned invite cards and mailing them; postal dates permitting. One quirky idea is to photocopy an old musical score of a Christmas carol (checking copyright), stick it on plain white card, and chop into invite card sizes.
Plan your menu in detail, thinking through availability and seasonality of key ingredients (and your proficiency and familiarity with any complicated recipe). Find out if any guests have special dietary needs or kids need alternatives.
Order turkey or other main course joint of meat, if not done so already; or plan your veggie/vegan options. You need to talk to your butcher if you need certain joints shaped up as per your recipe. Check large joints/turkey do fit in your oven (I had a real problem one year on that front!)
Make detailed shopping list dividing it up by course so you can think through the meal in stages rather than having a long list of ingredients juxtaposed at random. It makes it far easier that way to double check you’ve things for each course. And don’t forget extras like flowers, table decorations, candles, crackers, after-dinner mints and so on.
Drinks menu; best to draft this and shop for drinks separately from food and send another responsible adult family member for drinks while you concentrate on the food! Heaving drinks isn’t fun when the trolley is choc-a-bloc with more delicate food items like eggs, cream cartons and chocolates.
Serveware & Linen check. Table linen, plates, wine glasses, champagne flutes, silverware, serving dishes & spoons, place mats and so on – best to ensure you’ve enough sets of each and that any table linen is ready washed and ironed now, well before the eve of the 25th or your party. It’s amazing how last year’s festive table runner got packed away with that stubborn wine stain on. If you’re short of anything, try to call a friend to loan, rather than have to add to expense and buy new.
R.S.V.P.s – these should all be in hand now, but if need be, phone or mail any outstanding replies. Be diplomatic. Work out your guest policy; some guests may have new partners to bring. Make space for an extra place to be added discreetly to the table on the day (without a hoo-ha). It is possible to miscount and miss off someone too and embarrassing to re-set the table as guests hover to be seated!
Wrap presents. If guests are opening them at your place, depending on your relations, you may need to ensure presents are of more or less equal value – or equal sentimental value!
Take a day’s break from the meal planning itself. If you’re really together, just chill out. But most of us will be doing extra jobs such as last-minute Xmas present shopping, getting the house itself sorted ready for folks being home all day, every day for a while, or sticking in washing (not nice to have that piled up before the extras from Xmas kick in). Start planning furniture moving – large parties need extra tables, and chairs need to be identified in other parts of the house.
Chilled desserts and stuffing? These need to be planned now, and perhaps even made now if you’re thinking of an ice cream dessert. Ice cube trays and similar need filling. Fridge and freezer spaces need sorting out so you can find things and put left-overs away easily after the meal. Make a seating plan for the dinner as in the confusion of guests arriving all at once at the table, you won’t want the distraction of who sits where with whom.
The evening before: do as much mundane prepping as possible – like stuffing and marinading meats, and chopping of any veg that won’t perish or go brown overnight (submerge root veg in water). Make final desserts or puddings, par-steam Xmas pud for instance to reheat on the day. Lay the table for Christmas lunch and arrange drinks in readiness as tomorrow morning every second counts. Set the coffee machine and Viennoiserie ready for that early cuppa; you’ll need to ease yourself into Xmas/party day with something heartwarming and fortifying. We’ll be serving up a recipe for those tasty pastries before Xmas day, so check back soon. End the day with a deserved cup of mulled wine or your preferred festive tiple/nightcap. Lay out party clothes ready to do a quick change from the joggers you’ll be yanking on in a hurry first thing!
No lie in, but if you’re well prepped, today, although busy will run smoothly! We’ll be posting a near minute-by-minute article on how to plan the meal to a ‘T’ nearer the 25th.
All images © Liz Ayling 2012