You’ve done it invited the entire family over for a holiday dinner. Or maybe you’ve really done it and invited your boss and co-workers and their families.
Your house may look festive with holiday decorations already in place, but by comparison your dishes and plates may look plain.
Be sure you have placesettings for everyone. We know from “Sleeping Beauty” what happened when one fairy wasn’t invited because there weren’t enough gold plates to go around. (She showed up anyway and put a curse on the princess.)
And do dish out the food on real dinnerware. Paper plates and napkins and plastic spoons are for summer picnics.
Your table should sparkle. There’s just no cutting corners.
For an extra touch of elegance, invest in a set of gold-plated cutlery (don’t forget matching serving and carving utensils). Or, for a “Christmassy” look, alternate sets of red and green-hefted silverware, or tie a tiny red bow around your regular silverware.
Make sure your dishes and platters complement each other, along with the glassware. Crystal, of course, goes with everything. Or, consider red or green glasses and goblets, with or without gold or poinsettia trim. Use at least two glasses for each setting, one for water and another for wine.
Similarly, the table cloth, runners or placemats, napkins, centerpiece or other decorations (a sprig of holly by each plate?) should compliment the dinnerware.
Red is a traditional Christmas favorite, but use it sparingly. Think “understated.” A green tablecloth with red napkins and green-and-red glasses and red plates on green placemats and a huge centerpiece with pine boughs and little red balls - people will get a headache, not an appetite.
Instead, select a table cloth (or runners or placemats), a few candlesticks (rather than a full centerpiece), white china trimmed with holly or a thin gold edge with a small embroidered motif or edging on white napkins to match the trim on plates and glassware.
Don’t mix gold and silver, or holly-trimmed dishes with poinsettia-trimmed glasses and Christmas tree platters.
And, little children shouldn’t have to cope with fragile crystal and bone china. Provide them with sturdy stoneware (they like the bright solids) and plastic tumblers in shades that won’t offend the table’s decor. In holiday style, keep a roll of Christmas-bordered paper towels handy to mop up minor spills and mishaps.
Of course, the most important part of any dinner is the food. Turkey or ham, longtime holiday favorites with good reason, don’t necessarily have to be the main course. These days, a vegetarian entree or a roast or even a pasta dish can grace a table just as well.
Check with your guests for diet preferences. To be safe, offer at least one dish with no fat or meat and serve all sauces, dressings and toppings on the side. Applesauce suits most every picky palate. Store-bought applesauce should be served very cold; home-made served warm. Top with cinnamon or red-hots.
To plan your dinner, think of a restaurant menu: appetizer, soup or salad, a choice of vegetables with the entree, and a dessert with coffee or hot chocolate.
Don’t forget the rolls or bread and butter - unless your doctor forbids it. Serve the butter at room temperature to save the rolls from being torn apart.
Not only does your table need to be fully set, be sure your kitchen contains all the proper utensils and bakeware.
A week before the dinner, look up every recipe and compile a shopping list from their ingredients. Be meticulous; you don’t want to discover you’re out of cumin or short a few escargots on Christmas Day.
Assuming you have a normal stock of pans, here’s a few additional items you may need: an adjustable roasting rack and a turkey lacer; different sizes of covered casseroles; a vegetable steamer; potato ricer or masher; heat-and-serve bowls; a dough blender, pastry brush and pie-server; turkey platter, a stainless-steel lifter and a carving knife and fork; a gravy separator (for dieters); escargot dishes (useful for making and serving stuffed mushrooms or shrimp).
And one more thing: If you have never served a large group of people before, make each dish in the weeks prior to your dinner. Strange things happen to cooking times when you prepare larger quantities than usual.
Once everyone is seated at the table is not the time to decide you should have called a caterer rather than attempt this by yourself.