Tips for cooking for a crowd at Christmas

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A white Christmas in the mountains is a dream for many families, and Christmas dinner with all the trimmings is an essential component of this special holiday. Kat Judge, head chef, food blogger and mother of two, dishes up this festive feast for over 60 guests each year, between her three luxury ski lodges in the French Alps. Here she offers her top tips for a fuss free Christmas lunch that will wow the family.

1) Make and freeze ahead

Christmas will be easier if you start early by freezing a few things ahead, such as stuffing, gravy stock and bread sauce. Just remember to thaw them out in good time before cooking. This includes the turkey, which will need 10-12 hours per kilo in the fridge, or two hours per kilo at room temperature – but the fridge is best.

2) Go cold on the starter

Alternating courses between hot and cold is a good method for keeping things simple when cooking for a crowd. Fish is the classic choice for light and tasty Christmas appetisers. Smoked mackerel pate served with melba toast, prawn cocktail in a tall glass or smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese roll can all be whipped together in no time.

3) Prep veg like a pro

Peel, chop and parboil potatoes the day before, cool and transfer to the fridge ready for roasting the next day. Parsnips and carrots can also be prepared and refrigerated. Par-boil the sprouts, drain and cool, before transferring to the fridge. You can also fry your bacon and combine with pre-cooked, peeled chestnuts ready to assemble with your sprouts in a dish and roast together on Christmas day.

4) Go easy on the sides

You don’t need to make too many dishes or anything over complicated; pigs in blankets, stuffing, roast potatoes and a couple of vegetable options are the basic essentials to accompany your turkey for this festive feast.  More than that and your guests’ plates will be overloaded and their tummies over full.

5) Don’t panic if it won’t all fit in the oven

It can be a tough squeeze to fit everything in the oven with a giant turkey. If cooking for a large number, you’ll have a fairly big bird that will need to rest before you can carve and serve it. Wrap it well in tin foil and let it rest for an hour, have your parboiled potatoes and vegetables ready to go straight in the oven to roast after it, and your oven space disaster is averted.

6) Make sure the gravy is hot

It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people serve medium warm gravy. Serve it hot and it will warm up the whole plate, which is a life saver if your side dishes have had chance to cool down a bit in the last few minutes as your guests get seated.

7) Carve away from the table

In Christmas films they always show the turkey being carved at the table, but the reality is it’s a messy job that most of us lack skills in, and is, therefore, best done out of sight. Instead, show your beautifully cooked turkey to your guests and then swiftly return it to the kitchen for carving. If your carving skills aren’t up to scratch, get some help; there’s bound to be someone in your party who likes to show off their skills with a carving knife.

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8) Make a feature out of a classic cheeseboard

A beautiful cheese platter is a great way to finish off your meal or there’s the option of serving it later in the evening as an informal supper.  Keep it classic, which means simple with just four good quality cheeses: a soft, blue, hard and something a bit interesting like a local or goat’s cheese will do the trick. Serve with dried dates, a few walnuts, fresh grapes, chutney and crackers.

9) Write a plan

There’s far too much to remember in the run up to Christmas to be able to keep it all in your head. Write a plan starting weeks not days in advance, include your early food preparations and shopping trips.  Most importantly plan out your food timings for Christmas lunch or use a pre-made planner like this one, which you can print out and pin up in your kitchen (or, depending on how proud you are, hide somewhere the in-laws won’t see it).

10) Accept a little help

It’s not just Santa who deserves a few dedicated helpers at Christmas, accept help from the relatives and make sure you delegate the table laying, plate clearing and wine pouring.  There’s also no shame in buying a few of the Christmas ready-made essentials, like cranberry sauce and Christmas pudding.

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AliKats Mountain Holidays – Winners of ‘Best Food in Morzine’ at the Source awards 2015, AliKats Mountain Holidays specialise in ski holidays with unbeatable home-cooked food.  Kat spends 90% of her waking life thinking about food and records her thoughts and recipes on her blog The Need to Feed.

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