Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sample Holiday Menu for a Family Gathering

Planning and cooking Christmas Dinner is a memorable and gratifying way to share the love with your family. Here is my sample menu, with links to the recipes that I followed.

I mentioned in my last post that my husband and I were honored to host Christmas Day at our house this past year. Like most writers, I am an introspective person-- so although the holidays are behind us, I like to reflect back on how things went and what I learned from hosting 18 people (14 adults!) for a holiday gathering in our home. It was a Christmas miracle! The day went very well, and my guests seemed to really enjoy the holiday menu that I had prepared.

The key to the day's success (aside from being a Christmas miracle!) is that I spent a lot of time planning and preparing. I once mentioned that I had a former music teacher who was fond of saying, "You're only nervous if you're unprepared," and it's true-- careful planning and preparation really are the key. In a future post, I plan to provide a detailed schedule and timeline of the to-do list that helped make this holiday dinner a success.


Hot Cheese Bread
(recipe from Betty Crocker)

French Onion Soup
(easy slow-cooker recipe!) 

(can also be made in a slow-cooker, but I used the stove)

(a little challenging, because of the delicateness of the prosciutto, but delicious and quick to make)

Cheese and Crackers
(I served Vermont Cheddar, Herbed Bleu Cheese, and--my favorite-- Gouda(!) with Triscuits and Ritz crackers)

Assorted Crudites
(a fancy way of saying assorted raw veggies with dip. I used a store-made onion dip)

Appetizers are a great way to welcome and refresh guests as they arrive at different times, without the formality or complications of starting with dinner. I knew most of my guests were coming from out of town, so they'd be hungry, but I also knew that everyone would want time to socialize and catch up before sitting down for the main course. I wanted a variety of appetizers, from the classics (cheese and crackers! meatballs!) to something new for my guests (asparagus!), and I enjoyed the variety of meat, veggie, and bread options. The appetizers are nice, easy treats to serve as guests help themselves to a drink and relaxation.


Eggplant Lasagna
(a hearty option for vegetarians or those wanting an alternative to the main. I breaded and pan-fried my eggplant, like one would to make eggplant Parmesan, and just layered it in to my favorite lasagna recipe, which I followed without using meat)

Garden Salad
(very easy to throw together as a healthy side)

(I had never made this before, but I wanted to try it-- it was OK, though the leftovers became an even more delicious spinach dip with tortillas) 

Mashed Potatoes
(my specialty-- I could make these in my sleep! Just peel and boil potatoes, drain, then add butter, salt, pepper, and milk before mashing)
Red Wine Prime Rib with Honey and Thyme

The prime rib was the most challenging item on the menu. I had never cooked prime rib or any roast of this size before for so many people, but I talked to the butcher at my local grocery store and he helped me select a good (but--be warned--expensive) cut of meat that I could serve. He also provided some direction in how much I needed and how long/what temperature this roast needed to cook.

The butcher recommended about a half pound of meat per person, so we bought an eight-pound prime rib knowing that we would have plenty of leftovers. The recommended cook time was 35 minutes per pound at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I used this knowledge to help me modify this pot roast recipe.


Classic Yellow Cake
(straight from the box!)

Pumpkin Pie
(using the Libby's canned pumpkin recipe, of course. I made my crust from scratch, but I see nothing wrong with a store-bought crust.)

Fruit Salad
(easy to make and customize to your preference! I used pineapple, apples, raspberries, and bananas with a dash of lemon juice and Grand Mariner)

Assorted Cookies
(make your favorites, and/or invite a guest to bring some if they'd like)

Coffee and Tea
(be sure to have decaffeinated options available-- my husband and I never drink decaf, but we keep a container of Taster's Choice instant decaf coffee in our cupboard for when his mother visits)

My menu may seem a bit ambitious, but it was very possible. All that is needed is some focused planning and confidence! Although there were a few new recipes that I hadn't made before, most of what was on my menu were things that I already knew how to make confidently. Also, the preparation for several of the items can be delegated. Making salads, cutting up vegetables, or setting out trays of crackers are all simple things that can be assigned to other "helpers." Additionally, most of these items can be made ahead of time, so there is no need to rush through the day.

In my next post, I break down the to-do list that helped me to stay on track as the hostess! Check it out here.

The top photo is of my mother's table for Thanksgiving dinner in Nov. 2015. In all of the excitement and preparation for the day, I didn't have a chance to photograph very many of my own Christmas gathering! I did snap a photo of my prime rib as I was browning it (left), and of course I had to include a picture of Fargo as he celebrated Christmas in his own way (right).

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