Advance guide to Christmas dinner

Reader's Digest Editors

To create the perfect Christmas dinner, timing is everything. Here's your ultimate guide to preparing in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the feast of the year. 

Create your plan for the run-up to Christmas dinner with our guide, then scroll down for all the recipes you'll need for the big day.

 

A few weeks before Christmas Day…

  • Prepare two shopping lists, one for non-perishable items to purchase now, and another for perishable items to purchase a few days before the 25th. 
  • Order a bone-in, spiral-sliced gammon (weighing between seven and nine pounds).
  • Bake Greek olive bread. Let it cool, place it in a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and freeze. 

Read more: How to cook gammon perfectly

 

write a to do list a few weeks before Christmas dinner

 

Two days before…

  • Buy remaining grocery items.
  • For a flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream, make the ice cream and sauce. 

 

Christmas Eve…

  • Set the table. Prepare the glaze for the gammon; cover and chill. 
  • Make the onion-date mixture for onion-date baked brie; process 3/4 cup with dates and vinegar. Refrigerate the blended and unblended onion-date mixtures in two different covered containers. 
  • Bake and assemble the cheese-stuffed, twice-baked potatoes; cover and store in the refrigerator.
  • For the mixed greens with lemon champagne vinaigrette, prepare the dressing, wash and dry the greens and seed the pomegranate. Store in separate containers in the refrigerator. Toast the walnuts; let cool and keep in a covered dish at room temperature.
  • Remove cauliflowerettes from the head for roasted cauliflower; wash and dry. Place in a resealable bag; chill. 

 

baking before Christmas

 

Christmas Day…

  • In the morning, bake the flourless chocolate cake. Cool completely, loosely cover and store at room temperature.
  • Thaw Greek olive bread at room temperature.
  • Roast your apple-glazed gammon. Reheat glaze: baste and continue baking as directed.
  • An hour before guests arrive, prepare white wine sangria and chill. 
  • Just before guests arrive, make onion-date baked brie.
  • Bake squash au gratin alongside the gammon.
  • Remove the gammon and squash from the oven. Increase the temperature to 215°C. Bake the roasted cauliflower and cheese-stuffed, twice-baked potatoes.
  • Prepare lemon-scented broccolini.
  • Assemble and toss your mixed greens with the lemon champagne vinegarette. 
  • For dessert, serve flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream. 

 

Recipe: Squash au gratin

a freshly baked Squash au gratin

This is a fabulous-tasting dish that has an awesome aroma while baking. Tart apples add a fruity flavour. Serves nine.

Ingredients:

  • 5-1/2 cups thinly sliced peeled butternut squash
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 medium tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the squash, salt, pepper, nutmeg and 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Transfer to a greased 11-in. x 7-in. baking dish; pour cream over top.
  2. Cover and bake at 160°C for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, toss apples in remaining oil. Spoon over squash. Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes or until squash is tender.
  3. Sprinkle with cheese; bake 3-5 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted. 

 

Recipe: White wine sangria

Lime, kumquats and two types of oranges infuse this quick and easy cocktail with an unforgettable citrus taste. Makes 18 servings. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 bottles (750 millilitres each) white wine
  • 1-1/2 cups brandy
  • 3/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large navel orange, sliced
  • 1 medium blood orange, sliced
  • 1 medium lime, sliced

Method:

  1. In a large pitcher, combine the wine, brandy and orange liqueur. Stir in the sugar until dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.
  3. Refrigerate for one hour before serving. Serve over ice. 

 

Recipe: Apple-glazed gammon

steaming christmas apple glazed gammon

Each Christmas, I’m asked to prepare this entree. I’m happy to oblige because it’s easy to assemble, bakes for a few hours unattended and is delicious! Serves 15.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bone-in fully cooked spiral-sliced ham (7 to 9 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Dash ground ginger
  • Dash ground cinnamon

Method:

  1. Place ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, at 160°C for two hours.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Cook and stir over medium heat until heated through.
  3. Brush ham with some of the glaze; bake 30-60 minutes longer or until a meat thermometer reads 60°, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.

 

Recipe: Cheese-stuffed twice-baked potatoes

This is the first recipe I made when I initially became interested in cooking. No one can resist the creamy filling inside the crispy potato skins. Makes 16 servings. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 large baking potatoes 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 2-1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives, divided

Method: 

  1. Scrub and pierce potatoes; rub with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 190° for an hour or until tender.
  2. When cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp, leaving thin shells.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add the cheddar cheese, whipping cream, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl, mash the pulp with cheese mixture. Stir in 2 tablespoons chives. Spoon into the potato shells.
  5. Place on baking sheets. Bake, uncovered, at 190° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining chives. 

 

Recipe: Mixed greens with lemon champagne vinaigrette

fresh bowl of mixed greens with lemon champagne vinaigrette

Every forkful of this spectacular salad has a crunch from walnuts, a burst of flavour from pomegranate seeds and a smooth finish from its easy vinaigrette. Makes 10 servings. 

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups torn leaf lettuce
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 cups fresh arugula
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped

Method:

  1. In a salad bowl, combine the leaf lettuce, spinach and arugula. Sprinkle with walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
  2. In a small food processor, combine the remaining ingredients. Cover and process until blended. Transfer to a small pitcher or bowl; serve with salad.

 

Recipe: Greek olive bread

The dough for this delicious bread is great to work with, making it easy to knead in the olives and feta cheese. The subtle taste would complement any entree. Makes 16 slices. 

Ingredients:

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water 
1 cup warm 2 per cent milk
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup greek olives

Method: 

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, four tablespoons oil, sugar, salt and 1-1/2 cups flour. Beat on medium speed for three minutes. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.
  3. Punch down dough. Sprinkle with cheese and olives; fold and knead lightly until combined. Shape into an 8-in. round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with remaining oil. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.
  4. With a sharp knife, make four shallow slashes across top of loaf. Bake at 190° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to wire rack to cool.

 

Recipe: Roasted cauliflower

charred roast cauliflower in a tin

Roasting is a unique way to prepare cauliflower. Seasoned with a wonderful blend of herbs, this side is simple enough for weeknight dinners. Makes four servings. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh cauliflowerets
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients; toss to coat. Transfer to an ungreased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
  2. Bake at 215° for 15-20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese. 

 

Recipe: Flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream

chocolate cake topped with a scoop of peanut butter ice cream

This luscious dessert features a chocolatey cake, peanut butter ice cream and a smooth coffee-flavoured sauce. Every element can conveniently be made in advance. Serves 12. 

Ingredients:

  • For the ice cream
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For the sauce:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons coffee liqueur
  • Chopped chocolate

Method:

  1. In a large heavy saucepan, heat milk and sugar until bubbles form around sides of the pan. Whisk a small amount of hot mixture into egg yolks. Return all to the pan, whisking constantly.
  2. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture is thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Quickly transfer to a bowl; stir in peanut butter until blended. Place in ice water and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in cream and vanilla. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  3. Fill cylinder of ice cream freezer two-thirds full; freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  4. For the cake, let eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a small heavy saucepan, melt chocolate and butter over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat; whisk in egg yolks.
  5. In a large bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar on high until stiff glossy peaks form and the sugar is dissolved. Fold into the chocolate mixture.
  6. Transfer to a greased and floured 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 160° for 20-25 minutes or until set. Cool completely. Cut into 12 pieces.
  7. For sauce, in a small bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar. In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream and espresso powder until bubbles form around the sides of pan. Whisk a small amount into yolk mixture. Return all to pan, whisking constantly. Cook until thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in liqueur. Refrigerate until serving.
  8. Serve cake with ice cream and sauce. Garnish servings with chopped chocolate.

 

Recipe: Lemon-scented broccolini

Even the most finicky eaters will eagerly enjoy this vegetable seasoned with lemon pepper, lemon peel and lemon juice. If you prefer, use broccoli instead. Serves 12. 

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/2 pounds broccolini or broccoli spears
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add broccolini; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and immediately place broccolini in ice water. Drain and pat dry.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon pepper, lemon peel and salt. Add broccolini; cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until tender.

 

Recipe: Onion-date baked brie

Many baked Brie recipes call for a fruity topping, but my family favours this savoury version. I even use the onion-date mixture at the table as a relish. Serves eight. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, divided
  • 6 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped
  • 1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese
  • Assorted crackers or French bread baguette slices

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, saute onions in oil until tender. Add the garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in wine and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is almost evaporated. Cool slightly.
  2. Place the dates, 3/4 cup onion mixture and remaining vinegar in a food processor; cover and process until finely chopped.
  3. Place Brie on a baking sheet. Spoon date mixture over Brie; top with remaining onion mixture.
  4. Bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. Serve with crackers or baguette slices. 

 

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