Christmas Dinner 2011

My family had our Christmas celebration Friday night, early this year because my son has to work on Christmas day. There were 9 adults at the table, a toddler in the high chair and an infant nearby in her carrier. Not only did we have a lovely time, but it was probably the least stressful holiday dinner I’ve made in quite some time.

Apart from dessert, there are no photos of the meal. The focus was on family, togetherness and celebration. Sometimes enjoying being with your guests and creating these memories is more important than taking nicely staged photos of the food for blogging.

Today’s post is more about the process of pulling a meal like this together, especially for anyone (my kids included) who might someday be hosting their first big dinner and looking for some guidance on how to pull it all together.

The key, of course, is simplicity, a good game plan and an attitude of going with the flow (there will usually be something that doesn’t go quite as you envision it). Given my schedule, I needed a meal where everything could be prepped in advance, and the main dish could be put in the oven and more or less ignored until it was done. So, my menu was prime rib, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, buns and salad. Dessert would be pumpkin pies, and a tray of other goodies including my Elfin Brownies and cookies being brought by a guest.

I started the day by making the dough for my pie crusts, and then headed out to the market around 9:30. The traffic and crush of shoppers was unbelievable, but everyone I encountered seemed to be in a good mood. There was lots of friendly chit chat around the butcher counter while I was waiting for the roast to be cut. It was a pleasant surprise to head home after a trip that took longer than expected not feeling at all frazzled. Such is the magic of the Christmas spirit.

Once home, I made the pie filling, rolled out the crusts and popped the pies in the oven. Then I peeled and cut the potatoes, setting them aside in a pot of cold water until cooking time. Beans were blanched and rinsed in icy cold water, then stored in a bag in the refrigerator. I cut carrots into batons, and put them in the fridge too. Round about then I realized I’d forgotten to buy salad, but so be it (this was my go-with-the-flow moment). I had neither the time nor the inclination to head back to the store, and I didn’t think anyone would really miss it. (I don’t think they noticed, either!)

Mid-afternoon I had a break from cooking to pick up my guest for the holidays at the train station. Once back home, while she enjoyed a coffee at the kitchen table  and we chatted, I made a rub of garlic, salt and pepper for the roast. It went into the oven, happily massaged with the aromatic mixture, just before 3:30, and that left me with about 2 hours to wrap all the gifts (I know, I know) and get the table set. A benefit of having a charming houseguest  is some extra helping hands to make these last-minute preparations a little easier.

In the last half-hour before everyone was expected to arrive, I made a quick marinade for the carrots  (Thai red chile paste, lime juice, soy sauce and just a bit of honey; very similar to the marinade I make for pork chops). They went into the oven to roast about 45 minutes before serving time (the oven was  at a fairly low 325° for the prime rib).  The potatoes were cooked and mashed with the able help of Brent and set aside to stay hot on the stove around this time as well. Onions were chopped, ready for one of the guests to sauté  with the beans just before dinner went on the table (it’s good to ask for some help in that last stage of preparation where lots has to happen at once!).

Given there were small children at this gathering, I didn’t plan for appetizers or a long pre-dinner period. We needed to serve the meal, exchange gifts and have dessert all before the Little Missies needed to go home for bedtime. It’s good to understand your guests and their needs so you can make the evening comfortable for them.

Once everyone arrived and drinks were dispensed, I took the roast out to rest and made a rich sauce for the beef. Buns went into the oven wrapped in foil to warm. At the last minute, while most of the crowd gathered around the table, one or two guests carried dishes out while I sliced the beef.

And voila, Christmas dinner came together and right on time for the planned 6:30 meal time. Everyone enjoyed the food (my older granddaughter especially liked flinging mashed potatoes onto the floor; bonus points for fun at Nana’s house). We toasted each other with our glasses of bubbly and assorted other beverages, and the banter and laughter around the table simply made me happy.

A Happy Christmas to all.

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