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First time Christmas dinner

  • 09-09-2014 1:57pm
    Registered Users Posts: 5,243 ✭✭✭

    My husband's family over the last few years have had a family Christmas dinner gathering, usually in Oct or Nov. He is from a large family, who are all now grown up, partnered off and spread all around the country. It's very difficult to get everyone together due to work and other commitments so we have come to look forward to this get together each year.

    The first few years we had the dinner in the home place, rented a house nearby for extra beds. His mum, well used to cooking for large crowds, did the dinner with the rest of us helping out when we were let! Last year it was held where his sister lives as she had a birthday approaching and it killed two birds as the saying goes. We booked dinner in the local hotel where we stayed and saved his sister cooking her own birthday dinner!

    Now it has come to this year and his brothers are all about coming to our town for Christmas dinner in Nov. While it would be brilliant to have them all over to ours, (we've never had all of them in our house all at the one time!), I've never actually cooked a Christmas dinner before, and I have never cooked for so many! There will be 16 adults and 7 kids. I'm used to only cooking for 3 (2 adults and a child), the odd time we would have friends over but max would be 6. For real Christmas in years past, we have gone to my parents.

    I was suggesting to my husband that we have dinner in the local hotel where they will be staying but I'm worried I will look lazy to the rest of them but not wanting to cooking the dinner.

    So first time cooking Christmas dinner and its to seat 23, 20 more than I normally cook for. I need your help!!! Can this be done? All suggestions welcome..

    (PS we need Christmas smilies!)


  • Registered Users Posts: 590 ✭✭✭CarrieAnne

    Firstly - and the most important fact i think... this is family... this is Christmas... so whatever you serve up will be served with love - and will taste beautiful...

    Secondly : planning is the key....
    What do you like to cook yourself (as this will mean your confident to cook the food, if not for the numbers)?

    Thirdly.... ACCEPT offers of help. (as the various sisters and brothers ask... "can we do anything"... say how about ye bring desert - starter - etc...

    Finally... relax and enjoy - they are willing to travel to you... put up your tree early (in my opinion) ... enjoy their company. Pizza and beer or fanta will taste lovely... when shared with friends.

    Than ... not being a cook... but what i do for crowds.
    anything that can be prepared in advance and easy to serve.
    * Soup (tomato and basil, or potato and leak_
    * or * Stuffed peppers served with salad and easy to reheat
    (Please note i make life easier for myself and make veggie starters,
    to suit everyone... but adapt main course as necessary.)

    Turkey.... yum.... look up the many varied threads on here for ideas/
    OR getting away from Christmas ...
    Pasta bake (in disposable trays ... easy reheat and dump trays for clear up)

    (ACCEPT HELP ) - or ice cream and hot brownies

    I can send on recipes if you think of these ideas are of interest.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,350 ✭✭✭washiskin

    Make your menu choice now & keep it simple. Soup is the least time consuming starter I find and can be made the day before to save time, as can the preparing of the veg. Remember too that as Christmas Dinner is usually several things on the plate at once, you don't need to go overboard with LOADS of veg - a little of each for everyone.

    Stuffing is your friend, so do a really good one - I recommend consulting Posy on that as she's the expert. :)

    Stick a couple of chopped carrots & onions (unpeeled) under the turkey - this gives fabulous stock for your gravy.

    Trifle is a godsend at a big do and like much of the above can be done the day before to save time. Just leave the cream & 100s & 1000s until the day itself.

    If you decide that you'd sooner have a stress free day though you can always get a local caterer to do it & deliver it in foil trays to be reheated - that way you get to enjoy the company & still look like it was effortless ;)

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,243 ✭✭✭Sunny Dayz

    Thanks a million for your help. I like making soup so that's not a problem, just to figure out about making enough for everyone. I LOVE desserts and making cheesecake so again that's fine. My mam makes the best stuffing ever so I will have to ask her nicely...

    The two things that are scaring me:

    1. The large volume of people to feed. 23 in total when I am used to cooking for just three!

    2. Cooking turkey and ham. I have never cooked either of them before (apart from the little bake in tray portions, just enough for us three). I don't know how long they take to cook. I don't know what size I need.

    Also, timing everything for the dinner so it is all ready together, eg meat, veg, roasties.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,350 ✭✭✭washiskin

    20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes over is how I gauge the Turkey & Ham.

    A 16 pound turkey is pretty big but you could go for 2 smaller and have them boned & rolled.

    If you're glazing the Ham, Personally, I would let it cool for a while & then put it in the oven for 25 minutes with the glaze on.

    I find a root veg soup like Squash with bacon or Potato & Leek are great Christmas soups and if you do make too much they freeze.

    Here is a little help on timing from Delia, via the Guardian:

  • Registered Users Posts: 14,192 ✭✭✭✭leahyl

    washiskin wrote: »
    20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes over is how I gauge the Turkey & Ham.

    A 16 pound turkey is pretty big but you could go for 2 smaller and have them boned & rolled.

    If you're glazing the Ham, Personally, I would let it cool for a while & then put it in the oven for 25 minutes with the glaze on.

    I find a root veg soup like Squash with bacon or Potato & Leek are great Christmas soups and if you do make too much they freeze.

    Here is a little help on timing from Delia, via the Guardian:

    That's actually a very handy article from Delia, Washiskin! I have printed it off in case I ever need to cook a turkey in the future :D

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  • Registered Users Posts: 12,644 ✭✭✭✭lazygal

    I've done Christmas dinner a few times.

    My advice is prepare everything that can be prepared ahead of time and frozen at the start of December. Do a soup for starter, it can be frozen. Don't do loads of vegetables, with the turkey, ham and spuds two sides of vegetables are plenty. If someone asks what they can bring, be really specific - like 'I'd appreciate an apple tart for dessert' or 'Please bring some smoked salmon and crackers'.

    I'd have cocktail sausages done for when they arrive and a cheese board for after dinner - handier for people to nibble at than trying to organize a dessert that won't be eaten as everyone is so full. Open a tin of roses for those with a sweet tooth.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,166 ✭✭✭carolinespring

    Keep it simple. I have done food for large numbers and once you have all prepped it is just as easy as cooking for 3.

    Started. Soup. Neven Maguire's leek, potato and smoked bacon soup is great. I make it and freeze it well ahead. Just serve with some nice bread.


    Smoked salmon and brown bread.

    Mains. Turkey, I get the boneless turkey breast from M&S, I do Nigella's ham in coke, can be cooked the day before and glazed and reheated. Stuffing, make and freeze in advance, keep the veg simple... sprouts and carrots
    Creamed potatoes and roast one (I do them in goose fat)
    Cranberry and port sauce can be made a week ahead or just buy a jar.

    Dessert. Christmas pudding with custard/barady sauce or a nice store bought chocolate cake with a really nice ice cream. A cheese board always goes down well with those who don't have a sweet tooth.

  • Registered Users Posts: 17,398 ✭✭✭✭r3nu4l

    In the past, as a guest at a dinner someone else was cooking for over 20 guests, I've cooked part of the meal in my own home (vegetables and potatoes) and someone else also cooked veg and sausage meat stuffing in their home. Others brought desserts and someone else cooked what I can only describe as a vat of soup and brought that to the meal :) That meant that the host could focus on the meats and nibbles.

    If the family members live within an hour or two of you then they could cook at home and drive up with the food. It can all be reheated in a microwave or on the hob on arrival :)

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,756 ✭✭✭Jude13

    As others have said try and do as much as you can before the day. I had the 12 for my first Christmas dinner years ago. I was working Christmas eve and Christmas morning so it had to be well planned out.

    Christmas Eve I made chessy mash to reheat the next day and peel and prepped the veg and salads. I also cooked the ham. I had a brand new bin full of cold water to use to keep the veg. I had cold cuts, egg mayo and salmon for starter all prepped the night before. It was actually quite nice. Most of the people staying with us were in the living room watching movies and my kitchen looks into the living room so it was grand. The only issue was that I had to get a neighbor to lend me some room in their fridge for the starters as I had no room in mine.
    The next day before work (early am) I got up and put a turkey on the BBQ smoker (I don't live in Ireland!) and the OH (old one) didn't trust my BBQ skills so she put another in the oven. I was only in work a couple of hours. The smoke turkey was great and the oven turkey was a disaster. We were lucky we had two and a huge ham.

    Just make loads of lists!!

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,243 ✭✭✭Sunny Dayz

    Thanks all for your replies.

    Was visiting my brother in law and his wife at the weekend and we got to chatting about the family Christmas dinner. They said they think it would be better all round to have the dinner in the local hotel where they will be staying. They said they don't know how my mother in law did the dinner for us all every year up to last year. And that they couldn't expect me to do it all or to be stuck in the kitchen with all of them over. (They have a newborn so maybe staying in the hotel suits them better)

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  • Registered Users Posts: 27,989 ✭✭✭✭HeidiHeidi

    There are six in our family, plus two parents, an elderly aunt, and a clatter of grandkids - we've had 23 for Christmas dinner in my sister's house a few times ranging in age from 90's to about 3!

    Mostly we divvied it up - two do starters (soup, pate & melba toast, smoked salmon and lovely brown bread, that sort of thing), two do dessert (really good fruit salad, trifle), the two boys who are NOT cooks were in charge of booze (supplying and serving), mother did the ham in her house and brought it down, the hostess then had the turkey and veg left to do. Nobody is killed with the work on the day or beforehand, and it all worked a treat.

    If you are going to do it at home, you will need the help IMO!!! But it is definitely do-able.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,292 ✭✭✭Cunning Stunt

    Wow I didnt realise so many people do starters with their Christmas dinner! In our house we always just get stuck straight into the turkey and ham!

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,787 ✭✭✭Calibos

    Wow I didnt realise so many people do starters with their Christmas dinner! In our house we always just get stuck straight into the turkey and ham!

    Same here. Love our turkey ham stuffing and veg and mash so much that a starter would just be taking up space in the digestive system better used for the main course and dessert. :D

    I'll also never understand the crowd that say, "Roast lamb this year, we're sick of Turkey."

    It's one day a year!!

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,756 ✭✭✭Jude13

    Calibos wrote: »
    Same here. Love our turkey ham stuffing and veg and mash so much that a starter would just be taking up space in the digestive system better used for the main course and dessert. :D

    I'll also never understand the crowd that say, "Roast lamb this year, we're sick of Turkey."

    It's one day a year!!

    I think they are heathens!! (I'm kidding) I cannot imagine a Christmas without Turkey however I have been lucky that every few years we got a turkey nicely cooked as the Christmas dinner moves between a three house on rotation each year. The other two years you would need gallons of gravy just to wash down the saw-dust turkey. So if someone has had that every year I guess I can understand a little.

    Lets be honest its all about the stuffing and ham anyway (lights the fuse and runs away)

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,350 ✭✭✭washiskin

    :eek::eek: I think Jude just dissed Turkey! *lobs a bucket of baubles*

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 397 ✭✭FactCheck

    I saw this earlier and I was going to reply but then I forgot, and now I see you're going with the hotel anyway - good plan, I'm sure it will be so much more relaxing! If you wanted to host people but not do the whole dinner, if the hotel is local, perhaps you could have everybody back to yours for coffee and dessert?

    If anybody else is still interested in cooking for a multitude, I actually have some helpful links?

    Every year, I cook for our friendship group of ~20 odd adults and, these days, about half a dozen small children. It is pretty challenging (although IMO there is a big leap from <6 to 8+, and it gets relatively less difficult after that). But it's totally doable!

    So the first thing is that, as you noticed, there's a weird lack of help on the internet when you search for "cooking Christmas dinner for lots of people". What's up with that? There's a Pinterest for literally everything but not this?!

    Well there's an explanation, and it's that most of those links are generated by Americans, and Americans don't have a tradition of having an enormous turkey dinner on Xmas day (they often have beef or ham). They DO have a tradition of having an enormous, dozens-of-people-welcome turkey dinner though - but they have it a month earlier at Thanksgiving!

    So that's my first tip. Stop googling Christmas dinner, and start googling Thanksgiving dinners. Boom, there are thousands of people just like you facing into cooking for two dozen people for the very first time.

    So you're going to want a spreadsheet. Here is an awesome article explaining how to construct it (I used to have a link to an even more basic one, but it's gone dead - I've been doing this for over ten years!)

    The first thing you need to work out is how many ovens/hobs/microwaves you have to use. Then how many pots and pans. Then how many serving bowls. Sketch out the dishes you'd like to cook, and assign what will cook in what. You will probably be short some pots - that's ok, that's really easy to solve, you'll need to tell some of your guests to bring along an extra saucepan/serving bowl/sets of cutlery.

    [There is an added benefit to this in that those implements will need to be washed up and returned before everybody goes home so you will have some helpers with the washing up, mwahahahaha!]

    Don't be too ambitious for your first time. This year I cooked an enormous turkey, a ham, four sauces, three kinds of potatoes and five vegetables. I have been doing this for over ten years (and before that I was sous-chef to my mother!). I did not start out doing that many, I built up to it very gradually. Be realistic! One meat, one potatoes, two or three veg is FINE for your first year.

    Now figure out how long all this takes to cook and bang it into your spreadsheet.

    Some tips on specific dishes: I cook Nigella's turkey in brine. Always. It tastes amazing and it drastically reduces the cooking time which makes it easier on your spreadsheet. I take it out and cover it in tin foil and tea towels. You can leave it to rest like that for up to two hours, it won't go cold.

    The most important thing to get hot is the gravy. All other sins can be forgiven if the meal is covered in piping hot yummy gravy. Jamie Oliver does this amazing gravy that can be prepared and frozen in advance. It's incredible.

    I'm going to disagree with everyone who has gone before on starters. The last twenty minutes of cooking is vital and you are going to be incredibly busy. I just don't think it's practical or enjoyable to drop everything and sit down to eat a starter. I make things like pate, dips, cheese twists, smoked salmon etc ahead (or you could just lay out good old crisps!) and people can snack on that from when they arrive. The other advantage to this is that it will keep people going if your timings overrun and you eat later than planned (happens a lot!!).

    Good books to help: the absolute classic is Nigella's Christmas. IIRC, it contains a oven-time-planner-spreadsheet dealy to help you. I also have Nigella's 'Feast' which is brilliant because it contains her best Christmas recipes but also tons of other party/celebration food recipes, if you feel it's a bit wasteful to buy a book just dedicated to Christmas! My mother swears by Darina Allen's Christmas book. Mary Berry had one out last year, I cooked some of the recipes that were printed in the paper, it seemed good. This year the Great British Bake Off will be publishing a Christmas book - obviously can't tell if it will be any good, but I have two of their previous books and they are very good and very easy to follow. If books aren't your thing, Jamie Oliver has done several Christmas cooking series and a lot of episodes seem to be available on YouTube. They're great.

    Other general tips: make everything at least once beforehand. Don't experiment on the day. Pinterest is the worst for this. I thought Grinch lemonade would be cute! It looked so cute in the pictures! How could lemonade go wrong?! And then I served up green puke to twenty people :eek:

    Be bossy. If someone comes in asking to help, either send them on their way or give them something specific to do "peel those spuds". If you have two sous-chefs, you will be flying.

    Make YOUR favourite things! Not someone else's! You're the one going to all this trouble. Remember the episode of Friends where Monica tries to make three or four different kinds of potatoes on Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving again!)? Don't be Monica! Make what you like!

    Good things to ask people to bring: wine, Christmas crackers, dessert.

    Obtaining the turkey: if you are cooking on actual Christmas day, this is easy, you order it as normal. If you are cooking much earlier, it becomes very challenging. If it's earlier than the 10th Dec-ish, I wouldn't count on the supermarket having lots of enormous fresh turkeys for you to choose. You have two choices - either order specially from your butchers (you will need lots of notice) or visit your local ginormous Tescos. In late November last year, they had (very basic, non-fancy) frozen birds in all sizes. I am usually very snobby about my turkey quality :pac:, but I had no choice and once the bird was defrosted and spent 15+ hours in Nigella's brine, you genuinely couldn't tell the difference.

    Cheating: Shouldn't be called cheating as there's nothing wrong with taking shortcuts if you prefer! I love to cook (obviously) but if I didn't, I would go for pre-prepared stuff from Marks and Spencer. They do xmas ranges which are lovely, high-quality. Very expensive but IMO if there's any time to splurge on fantastic food, it's Christmas. I would particularly consider this if I were cooking on Xmas Day itself. As I mentioned above, I do my massive feast for friends in early December. It's great to have a little Xmas day with them. But on ACTUAL Christmas Day?! I would want to spend as much time as possible with my actual children, not my spreadsheet and my oven! If I were cooking for 20 people on Christmas Day, there would be a LOT more M&S foil trays involved.

    My favourite recipes again:
    Stuffing (God I would eat this three meals a day 365 days a year)
    Roast potatoes

    Hmm I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I know you've decided not to go for it this year but I figured with three months to go, somebody else will be planning a big spread, so hopefully this will help someone! Ask away if you need advice!

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,707 ✭✭✭degsie

    Longest post ever? :)

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 397 ✭✭FactCheck


    It took almost as long to write as it would take to cook, and that's saying something!!

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,818 ✭✭✭fussyonion

    If I may just give you one little tip about your turkey.
    Too often I, like many others, have suffered the perils of a dry bird.

    Oh what disappointment for us all when that happens.
    But for the past two years I have served up MOIST turkey (yes, it really does exist) with FLAVOUR.
    And it was so simple to do.

    Place half a block of butter in a bowl, add some fresh parsley, thyme, black pepper, salt and crushed garlic.
    Mix well. This is your seasoning butter.

    Line a large roasting tin with tin foil, wrapping the edges around the edge of the tin so it's nicely secure.
    Throw in some chopped carrots, celery, onions and peeled cloves of garlic.
    Also throw in some fresh parsley and thyme.

    -Now place your turkey on top of these vegetables.
    -Loosen the skin at the neck of the bird and insert some of the butter inside. It's a bit fiddly but persevere with it, it's worth it.

    -Rub the butter all over the inside of the breast.

    -Rub the rest of the butter on the outside of the bird--all over.

    -Lay streaky rashers over the breast.

    -Insert some slivers of onion, slices of lemon and two peeled garlic cloves into the cavity of the bird.

    -Now just place a sheet of foil over the whole thing, sealing by crimping the foil around the edges of the tray so the whole thing's covered.


    -Voila, moist turkey.

    Works every time.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 203 ✭✭Delphinium

    Do you have the space and facilities to cook safely for so many? Food storage and proper cooking or reheating are crucial.

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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 397 ✭✭FactCheck

    Update in case anyone is planning a feast for friends before the big day itself - Tesco now has a small selection of frozen turkeys in various sizes in stock. They've been there since last week at least.
    Delphinium wrote: »
    Do you have the space and facilities to cook safely for so many? Food storage and proper cooking or reheating are crucial.

    This is SUCH an important point as well. Not least because on December 25 you can often count on outside the back door being cold enough to keep some things overnight, but that's by no means a given if you're cooking in November!!