As a result of some strange family discussions, I got to be the host for the family christmas dinner this year. This was three weeks before Christmas, and at that time it seemed like I got plenty of time to plan and execute a dinner for 19 family members. We are now three days away from D-day, and time seems to have magically dissapated between then and now. But I will not be overcome by stress or sleep shortage by Saturday! As a good cook I decided on a menu with dishes that can all be prepared in advance, or that only have to be hassled together on the day itself, without any complex cooking techniques. And I opted for traditional dishes that have been in the family cookbook since my Grandma’s time and thus had to be fool proof. With it I also stumbled upon my theme for the day: A vintage christmas party: let’s do it like grandma and mom used to do it! They managed quite easily (or so it looked), so with their recipes it should be a piece of cake! And it would please my mom who insisted on holding on to family traditions, with the new generation becoming the host for the yearly big get together.
But there is more to plan than just a dinner. Where to sit 19 people? Do I have enough chairs, glasses, plates, forks, knifes, sofas for the apero time? And we have to get our fresh christmas spruce in time this year so that it can be decorated in time( we usually only think about it when christmas is just a few day away with just a few trees left at the shop, the ones others did not choose…). Oh and table decorations, and enough toilet paper, and the house should be clean…. My children wanted to go all the way with the vintage theme, proposing we all got traditional christmas sweaters. I vetoed against that idea, I would have enough to think about already so I did not want to fuss over my clothes on that day. But we would choose old vinyl records to listen to and show old 8mm movies my brother had digitalized a few years back.
Two weeks in advance we started putting up the tables and counting the chairs, and if this seems overly early, I am so glad we did, because it was nothing too early! And I used one of my lunch breaks to buy some table decorations, and being quite early, had enough choice left in the shop (hurray)
We bought our christmas tree on time so that it could be decorated a week in advance. And on one of our trips into the centre of the city I decided to overcome my disgust for the masses of christmas shoppers flocking the streets, to buy traditional chocolates and cookies to serve with the coffee. I wanted to serve some specialties from Bruges. I looked up the recipes for the first and main courses and made a list of ingredients I had to buy. I went through my cupboards to see what was still in stock. We made a first trip to the supermarket to buy everything that could be bought in advance (wines, other drinks, sauces, chips, nuts, olives,…) I was lucky since my husband prepared mussles the weekend before, so I could use the stock to already prepare the fish sauce for the gratin.
Then Monday came and with it my calendar for the last week was instantly filled. Meat and fish and bread should be ordered in advance. I should not forget to call my mom for extra chairs. I needed to buy an extra grill for the oven, and six extra oven plates for the first course. I had to call the butcher again because he wasn’t sure my order would get there in time with Belgium being on strike four days before my dinner. And I had to get the house clean….. (sigh, no relaxing this week…)
I made a to-do list of what I should do every day of this last week, to make sure I did not oversee anything by D-day. I gave myself one cleaning task every day of the week, so by the end of the week, the whole house would be presentable. I ordered all my meat, fish and bread on Monday and Tuesday, and bought the grill and plates I missed on Monday. The rest of the ingredients I would buy on Friday together with the pre-ordered meat and I would collect the pre-ordered fish and bread on Saturday (I could ask my husband to pick it up for me). I would set table on Thursday evening, prepare the stew and vegetables, and put the drinks in the fridge on Friday evening. And I would put plates and serving dishes ready for use. I would take the sauce out of the freezer to de-freeze.
Would be left for Saturday morning: Pick up the fish and bread. Shortly poach the fish in the fish stock, cut the little tomatoes, and portion the fish and scallops, cut the parsley, put crackers, chips and olives in bowls, bread the little toasts.
Et voila, ready for the guests, no stress…
(and for those curious for my christmas menu: Cremant de Bourgogne as apero drink with breaded toasts, olives, cheese, crackers and chips, fish gratin with french bread as a first course, stew of rabbit with grean beens in bacon and potato croquettes as a main course, christmas ice-cream cake with whipped cream and fruit as desert, traditional cookies and chocolates from Bruges with coffee or tea)
So here are my “avoid the christmas stress” tips:
-Plan, plan, plan in advance…
– Make lists (ingrediënts lists, shopping lists, task lists …).
– Count the number of guests and check if you can seat them.
– Choose dishes you have experience preparing – christmas is a perfect time for nostalgic family recipes.
– Choose dishes you can prepare in advance like stews, soups, oven dishes that just need to be grilled or reheated, salads that just have to be tossed together. Go for taste over looks, you will score with tasty dishes everyone likes, rather than complex dishes that can fail and might not please all. And if children also like these dishes you avoid cooking seperatly for the little ones.
– Do not make the desert yourself, just buy it at a reputable bakery or shop.
-Check if your oven in large enough to hold the dishes you want to heat or prepare in the oven and that you have enough place on the stove for all your pots. If not, replace one of your warm dishes for a cold one.
– Make a list with all the ingredients you need, and group them according to the shops where to buy them.
– Use the weekend before to already install everything, and buy whatever can be bought in advance.
– Pre-order large amounts of meat, fish, bread, deserts, vegetables, so you do not have to worry one day in advance where to find them.
– Sauces and soups can be made in advance and put in the freezer.
-Stews can or shoud be made one or two days in advance, the taste improves, and the meat softens.
– Avoid a busy workweek just before your party if you possibly can…
-Make a to-do list for the last week before your party, of tasks you shoud do every day of that week.
-Set table the day before, already put serving dishes and plates ready for use, this way, if you still miss something you can always ask one of the guests to help you out and bring it with them.
-Put drinks in the fridge at least one day in advance.
-No stress, no stress, no stress, it is just food, the athmosphere often improves when something goes wrong….