The Main Menu: How to get your Christmas dinner preparation and entertaining all wrapped up

Jan Main has tips to make your preparation of Christmas dinner and entertaining over the holidays simple and stress free.


Who wants to be in the kitchen on Christmas Day? Most of us want to enjoy this special celebration, stress free relaxing by the tree.

Make the most of the following suggestions, plan what needs to be done in advance and simplify. You too can enjoy the festivities and have Christmas all wrapped up with these guidelines.

For years I catered Christmas events which had to be as perfect as possible. These are suggestions to simplify the events and help make them a stress-free success!

Make a daily plan from first steps to the grand finale:

• Monday – Make grocery list and a “to do” list.
• Tuesday – prepare desserts and baked goods. If possible, arrange on serving platters; cover well, refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve.
• Wednesday – Prepare salad dressings, refrigerate.
• Thursday – If possible, set table; at least prepare and put aside all things that are needed: put out necessary serving plates and serving utensils.
• Friday – Make vegetable casseroles, stuffing and refrigerate. Prepare cranberry sauce and any appetizers. (Keep them simple, you don’t need much!)
• Saturday – Cook turkey, carve and arrange on platter. Refrigerate pan juices; make gravy according to recipe below. Take desserts out of the freezer.
• Sunday (Christmas Day) – Sit back and enjoy! Preheat oven for re-heating. Re-heat food; serve and enjoy!

The Menu

Appetizers: Although people love appetizers, keep them to a minimum. You don’t need many before a rich meal. However, if someone offers to bring an appetizer, take them up on the offer! Salted almonds, some olives and a few crudites are a simple, light nibble.


Defrosting: If you are serving turkey, make sure you allow a minimum of three days to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. If it is a large turkey, allow four days. Allow a minimum of 5 hours per pound to defrost in the refrigerator.

Stuffing: Cook the frozen or fresh turkey unstuffed, with stuffing in a separate casserole. The bird cooks faster this way and you can assemble your stuffing the same day as the vegetable casseroles. The other bonus is the stuffing is easier to digest because it has not absorbed the fat from the bird.

Barbecued Fresh Turkey: Consider using a fresh turkey and cooking it on the barbecue in a disposable pan. You get fantastic results, have the oven free for vegetable casseroles, and you can throw the disposable pan out without washing. Hurrah! Here’s how:

• Pre-heat barbecue to medium-high.
• Arrange a 12-16 lb (5.5-7.25 kg) unstuffed turkey on a trivet in a large, disposable aluminum pan.
• Pour 2-3 cups (500 -750 mL) water in bottom of the pan (this keeps the turkey moist!)
• Drizzle 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil and fresh lemon juice over bird; sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh pepper. Sprinkle with 2 tsp (10 mL) dried thyme. Fill the cavity with the finished lemon pieces and a quartered onion and 3 whole cloves of crushed garlic.
• Cover with heavy duty foil sealing edges.
• Cook 2- 2 ½ hours or until legs wiggle easily (thermometer reaches 185 F (85 C).
• Remove turkey from barbecue and let stand about 15 minutes before carving. Save the pan juices for gravy before discarding the pan!

Prepare Turkey the Day Ahead: There is no rule you have to cook and serve turkey on the same day. To enjoy Christmas Day, do your preparation and cleanup before the big day, including cooking the turkey. Cook and carve the turkey the day before. That way you can arrange slices attractively on an ovenproof platter (or disposable aluminum pan) ready to re-heat the next day.

Once the pan juices have cooled, skim off the fat and make gravy following recipe in this column. Sprinkle sliced turkey with pan juices, cover with foil and refrigerate over-night.

Re-heat on Christmas Day in a 350 F (180 C) oven 30- 40 minutes until heated through. It will be moist, tasty and fragrant! (A Christmas kitchen has to have that wonderful smell!)

Best of all, there is little or no mess to clean on Christmas Day!

Drain and save all pan juices from the turkey; cover and refrigerate. The pan juices serve as the foundation for delicious gravy. Once chilled the fat comes to the surface and can be removed and discarded. Save all your vegetable juices when making your casseroles, to add to the stock for the gravy.

Make Ahead Gravy

People love gravy, especially with mashed potatoes!

Take reserved juices from the cooked bird, cooled with fat discarded. Measure this amount and any vegetable juices with chicken stock to make 6 cups (1 ½ L). The stock and gravy can be made a day ahead to simplify.

6 cups/ 1 1/2 L reserved turkey juices, any vegetable juices and chicken stock
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 each, carrot and celery coarsely sliced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp (2 mL) leaf thyme
3 tbsp (45 mL) cornstarch
3 tbsp (45 mL) cold water
6 cups (1 1/2L) reserved turkey stock (as above)
1/4 cup (50 ml) dry sherry (optional), brandy or red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Stock: In a large saucepan combine 6 cups (1 ½ L) of turkey juice, from vegetable juice and chicken stock. Add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer about 1 hours. Sieve and discard solids to produce 6 cups ( 1 ½ L) stock.

To Prepare the Gravy: In separate measuring cup, whisk together cornstarch and water. Whisk into hot stock and cook whisking frequently to prevent lumps about 5 minutes or until gravy is thickened. Stir in sherry if using. Season with salt and pepper. Taste.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to reheat just before serving. Makes 6 cups (1 ½ L).

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