Receiving 20 guests for Christmas dinner, advice needed pls

lobotomeOctober 27, 2006

I didn't really think that my post belongs in recipes since I need practical advice as well.

We were volunteered by my neice to do christmas dinner this year which makes sense because we're the only ones in town that has a home big enough to hold 20 guests. Her mom and dad (my sis in law) and her sister and fiance are coming from out of town which makes it kind of special too. My fear is two-fold though.... first is giving an impressive dinner that's easy (my out of town sis in law is a fantastic cook! Let's call her Mo) and then not killing my young neice and nephew (they are very alergic to milk products).

First of all Mo is a great entertainer when we visit. She has always been conscious of timing and just has a knack that I don't have. She cooks up special dishes that are delicious and pulls everything off easily.

Then there's the matter of my niece and her 2 children who live in our town. Her daughter is 7 yrs old and her son is 5. Both of them are extremely allergic to milk products. Their food can touch foods that have milk in them, but can't possibly contain any. We have to check ingredients lists and rule out "whey" and anything that says "lactose". I want to have some yummy foods for these sweet kids, but I'm so afraid of "killing" them!

Then there's the matter of even having time to cook... meaning not being a slave to the stove at Christmas. I'd like to be able to make quite a few dishes ahead of time (I have an extra fridge, and a chest freezer) so I can shorten the prep time of my meal.

We're definitely having the traditional turkey and dressing. My sis in law who also lives in town here will be bringing the pies.

I don't have to make everything lactose free, but since 3 of them are allergic (did I mention that their mom has to be careful too?), I'd like to have things in my menu that they can enjoy and feels special to everyone.

If you've managed to stay awake during this long post, and you know some tricks I can use and yummy make ahead recipes I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks alot

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How about some roasted brussel sprouts with carmelized onions or roasted beets, or a medley of roasted veggies? I've done steamed green beans that I saute at the last minute in a little smart balance and slivered almonds.

I do a sweet potatoe soufle but that gets dairy. I have family that do not eat dairy for different reason, and I know how you feel about doing a menu with something to please everyone. I still put stuff out with dairy since there are guests who will eat it.

I guess stuffing you have to be careful on the type of bread and ingredients therein.

You can do cranberry relish with some chopped apple, orange, walnuts and raisins. This is a do ahead, will last in fridge couple of weeks.

Mashed potatoes are going to be a problem if you use dairy in yours. I use sour cream, but that is still dairy. Perhaps you could put potatoes in with a big tray of roasted veggies. That way you could use sweet and regular potatoes. I love doing this since I have a super small kitchen, work and have little time to get it all together plus no second fridge.

I think you should keep in mind that kids literally eat nothing on holidays. As long as they can get a piece of turkey and veg under their belt, the mom will be happy. You said the mom has issues with dairy as well so she will know what she can and cannot eat.

If you are doing buffet you could make small picture frames identifying each item and indicating whether or not it is dairy free or whatever. It is very difficult to please everyone. Call the mom and ask what they cannot eat. It will work better if you know what is absolutely off limits.

Also, maybe consult a jewish cookbook. Might get some ideas there since many do not eat meat and dairy in the same meal.

My FIl has even brought his own food for different occasions. I am not the least bit offended. It takes the pressure off.

I think you are just going to have to use your imagination and that's a great opportunity to do something that you would not ordinarily do.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 11:24AM
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Oh, this is going to be great! Try not to worry and just enjoy it as much as you can. You can do this without a problem, I promise.

First: forget about competing with Mo. It's going to be great, and she isn't judging you -- she just enjoys doing it up Martha Stewartly and has fun with the timing and arrangements. But that doesn't mean that she or anyone else will be comparing you. My Aunt "Blanche" does everything PERFECTLY -- she even gets under the table and bastes up the tablecloths to make sure they are all even with each other -- and holidays at her house really are fun. But we all have just as good a time when slap-dash Aunt "Stella" puts out sandwich trays at her house. It would be boring if we all entertained the same way, even at holidays. So just make arrangements that please YOU, and I promise, it will be great.

Check your table linens now to see if they need to be cleaned/pressed, and set your tables a day or more ahead of time. It's the most fun part, but it takes a while, and that's when you realize you need to buy candles or polish silver or whatever, and you don't want that to be at the last minute. You can carefully put a bed sheet over everything (minus flowers and candles!) if you do it so far ahead that the dishes might get dusty.

A centerpiece of fruit or vegetables and evergreen sprigs, perhaps surrounding candles or pretty objects that don't take up too much space (maybe a few Xmas ornaments?), is an easy and cheap alternative to flowers that can be done ahead. You can buy a small inexpensive bunch of flowers and poke a few of them in here and there in your arrangement just before the guests arrive. If you have some trailing vines or ivy in your yard, you can cut a few and rinse and dry 3-4 of them and then sort of trail them around the table. It looks good and couldn't be easier.

It's very easy to avoid dairy ingredients -- take it from your friends here who keep kosher, because we can't use anything with any milk products in it when we cook a meat (including turkey) meal. Not only can it be done, we're so used to it that we can tell you it's not even a challenge. Just remember to use oil or chicken fat or margarine for shortening and to grease pans when you cook, and if you want to use recipes that contain milk or cream, use a non-dairy substitute (soy milk or Dairy Rich, e.g.). I usually just choose a recipe that doesn't contain milk in the first place.

If you want to use packaged products, a quick trick you can learn from your kosher-keeping friends to make sure that they don't contain any dairy is to look and see if there is a "hekhsher" on the label -- a little mark sigifying that some authority has declared it kosher. A common one is a U in a circle. You've probably never even noticed, but many products have them, even supermarket brands. Anyway, if it says "pareve" or "parve" next to the hekhsher symbol, that means it contains neither meat nor dairy ingredients, so you don't have to try to decode the ingredients list.

Kosher cooks know about avoiding dairy products, but we don't know much about Christmas dinner menus! That said, here are a few parve recipes that could go well with your turkey dinner -- I have used them for Thanksgiving and Passover. I have made them all and can assure you that they are easy and make-ahead.
Usually the trickiest part of avoiding dairy is dessert. The yummiest ones usually involve milk, butter, and cream, and they just aren't as good with the substitutes (which aren't usually very healthful, anyway). But the dessert my mom always made for the kidz at Thanksgiving is perfect: fun for little kids, pareve, and absolutely make-ahead: 3-color Jello parfaits. I guarantee success with the under-12 (and a lot older) crowd! You can then serve something with dairy to the adults (make it mocha or coconut or whatever these kids don't like), or else buy a parve dessert from a bakery.
Have fun!

Cranberry sauce -- you can make this WAY ahead

1 bag cranberries
1 can pineapple, not drained -- crushed or tidbits -- I like in juice, not syrup, but either one works
a handful or two of broken-up walnuts
a half-cup or so of sugar (depends on syrup/juice)

Mix everything together in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn and to submerge stubborn berries. Add a little water if it looks like it is going to scorch. When berries have mostly popped, taste and add sugar if necessary. Cool and refrigerate indefinitely.


Roasted tzimmes (I hate marshmallows, so I prefer this to the usual yam casseroles. You can change amounts and spices to suit your taste or what you have in your kitchen)

1 lb yams, peeled, 1" dice
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, 1" dice
1 lb. new red potatoes, scrobbed & halved
1 lb. baby carrots (does THAT ever save work!)
3 T olive oil
1/2 t each S & P
1 c orange juice
1/3 c honey
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
1/2 teach allspice, sinnamon, & ginger
1 c pitted prunes
1/2 c dried apricots, halved
1 T snipped fresh chives (or skip it)

Heat oven to 350F. Toss vegetables with oil, salt, and pepper in roasting pan. roast one hour til browned and tender, tossing twice.
Then, in Dutch oven, combine juices, honey, fruits, and spices. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered. Add vegetables and toss gently. Simmer over meduium heat for 2-3 minutes, just until excess liquid cooks off. Transver to serving bowl and sprinkle with chives.

Nana's stuffing - possibly my favorite food ever

2 C corn flakes
c uncooked oatmeal
½ c flour (more to taste)
up to 1 t sugar
salt & pepper
1-2 eggs, beaten
1 large onion, grated
up to 2/3 cup oil
add chicken bouillon as needed (1/2-1 cup)

Mix all together and place in a small greased baking dish (like a square Corningware). Bake at 350F uncovered 50 minutes. Liquid will show after baking but will absorb. Cut in squares when cooled a bit. Can be frozen after baking.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 11:43AM
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Oh what thoughtful replies! Thank you very much for giving me more confidence both of you.

I can't believe that I'm already starting to look forward to this dinner now.

Can you believe that in the 25 years I've been married, and with 5 kids, I've never had proper serving dishes nor casserole dishes? I usually only used my stainless steel casserole dish for anything, and then used bowls to put things onto the table. I'm going to have fun getting some more formal/proper serving ware.

I will continue to appreciate any more suggestions and recipes.

I'm definitely going to do the vegetable meddley that was suggested in both your posts. That's a great idea, and colourful too :)

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 12:02PM
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I would prepare a regular Thanksgiving type meal for the guests that don't have any restrictions.

For the 2 kids (and mom) with major allergies, I would do totally separate dishes for them that I know they can/will eat. I would either ask the mother of the allergic kids for specific recipes or I may just see if she just wants to bring dishes for them. I wouldn't bother trying to make too many of your other dishes friendly for them. You're just going to be dissappointed if you go to the trouble of making sure dishes don't have dairy and then they don't even try them. Plus, I have a feeling most kids aren't going to head towards the cranberry sauce or brussel sprouts anyway. Although maybe throwing a potato or two in the oven so they could enjoy some plain baked potatoes may not hurt.

Even though I know you would try to be very cautious with the food, I would be a little leary of missing something or even using the wrong spoon, etc. For example, be very careful of breads, and even if a food says it's 'non dairy' does not necessarily mean the product does not contain casein or caseinates. If they have very serious or life threatening allergies, I would bet the mother is very use to bringing separate dishes for them. Is that an option?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 12:48PM
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gellchom's suggestion of keeping it kosher as a way to avoid dairy is great!! I'll just interject the suggestion that if you're looking for more side dish ideas, go to the library and pick up a couple of cookbooks on Jewish cooking -- they will have a ton of good recipes.

Also, you CAN make a chocolate non-dairy dessert, they do sell Kosher parve chocolate - look in the kosher foods section of your grocery store if there is one.

Personally, I would probably not make any dairy dishes at all, it's just easier to keep it simple and make things everyone can eat. Then you don't have to say to anyone, sorry, you can't have any of these lucious looking mashed potatoes (or whatever), there's milk in it. They probably hear that all the time so it would be nice to make sure they don't have to hear in on Christmas.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 3:32PM
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In addition to all the excellent suggestions above, I'd like to add that no matter how much cooking and preparation you do in advance, you are going to need help on the day you serve dinner to twenty people. Don't be afraid to ask in advance for assistance from "Mo" and anyone else you think could help. You will have a much more relaxing dinner and things will go more smoothly if you have more than two hands working that day.

Cheers, from

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 7:01PM
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My only things to add are go ahead and do a good cleaning of the house close to Thanksgiving. I usually clean out the fridge. Clean out the cupboards of anything old. Clean the freezer. I get my guest bathrooms in order. I clean baseboards. I even paint trim work if I need to. I am ready so that when the holidays come I can decorate and cook in an orderly environment.

For the day of cooking have a detailed order of items to be cooked or reheated. I do a timeline. That way I don't have to worry about anything. I even will go as far as setting the buffet with my dishes and tagging them with the correct serving spoons, forks etc.,

That way there is no scrambling around.

I agree ask for help. AND do not be afraid to buy something premade from someone. Like pies or breads. My local caterer just sent out a reminder that they will deliver side dishes premade two days ahead of Christmas if we want. They are such good cooks I would do it if I had to.

Have fun. You are the hostess and you set the pace.

OH also make sure you have enough china, glassware, etc.,.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2006 at 1:49PM
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If you don't have enough dishes, here is a trick I have used. Say you have 12 place settings of china and 20 guests. Go buy some inexpensive plain glass plates, bowls, etc. You can get them for very little cost (and the nicer ones at Crate & Barrel aren't much more). Mix them in with the china: e.g., one place setting might have a china dinner plate and a glass salad plate. A full place setting of the cheap glass dishes feels kind of dreary, but if you mix them with the china, it doesn't. Not much more expensive than plastic or paper (cheaper, really, if you use them over the years), and MUCH nicer.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2006 at 6:12PM
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Just thought I'd add my two cents...

How about doing baked potatoes instead of the mashed and have "the works" for them to add to their liking (marjarine/butter, bacon bits, sour cream, green onions, cheddar cheese), then those that can tolerate the dairy can still have it.

Also, can't go wrong with the jello jigglers for the kids. They love to use their hands to eat them and you can use small Christmas cookie cutters to make the shapes if you want to get fancy.

I loved the idea someone had of doing a fruit salad. We have a family trick that you use Lemonade concentrate (leave out to defrost) and just spoon/pour part of it over the fruit as a little extra juice and it gives it a wonderfully sweet tang and keeps your apples and bananas from turning brown.

Have fun and enjoy yourself and don't be afraid to put others to work in the kitchen! :)

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 12:27AM
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The glass plates idea is a good one. We do something similar (depending on how many people and how many kids) if we bring out the second table for the kids and their table is set with the less expensive plates and flatware.

Cheers, from

p.s. I think a dairy-free dinner is the way to go.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 11:38AM
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I think the trick is to do as much ahead of time as possible, stick with fairly simple recipes and have one or two Martha-y touches.

And as others have mentioned - decor is a good place for the Martha touches, since you can do that way ahead of time.

Mashed potatoes are a great option since they fill up a big bowl on the table, most people eat them and they are a snap to make. Why not use vegetable stock and a bit of roasted garlic instead of dairy products? (I know that chicken stock is the generic substitute for butter with dieters, but I think that vegetable stock has a bit more flavor)

I'd serve a simple veggie that can be steamed or blanched at the last minute - broccoli, asparagus, green beans - whatever your family likes. Add a bit of lemon or margarine or olive oil to keep the dairy out. (another big bowl on the table with minimal effort)

Fruit salad was a great idea. A green salad would be good too. You should be safe with almost any oil-based dressing. Throw in some star fruit or pluots or something to make it seem fancy shmancy.

Breads and rolls were my favorites as a kid - and certainly what I see being snatched up at the kid's table at our family gatherings. Bread doesn't need to contain dairy - you could ask what kind of bread the kids normally eat or call your local bakery. Since they are more likely to use real ingredients rather than chemicals, they'll be able to tell you what's safe. Or if wanted to be kind of Martha, you could make your own bread - not a big deal if you have a bread maker or make the dough the day before and slow the rise in your fridge until the day of the party.

You've got pies coming. If you want another dessert, there is a great recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that the kiddos would like in The Garden of Vegan. Vegan or kosher recipes are good ways to keep the dairy out.

A veggie tray or hummus and pita bread or some spiced nuts are super easy things for guests to nibble on until dinner is ready.

I think we forget how delicious things can be with simpler flavors or just a few ingredients. If you fill your menu with stuff like that, you will have more time for one or two knock your socks off details and more time to spend with your guests.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 2:07PM
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I have 3 family members who are also allergic. When I have a large dinner with them, I use RED serving bowls to indicate that the dish contains dairy. I found some of these bowls a few years ago after being asked several times, if this dish was OK for me. This system works fine now. Everyone who cares knows not to eat the stuff in the red bowl

    Bookmark   November 2, 2006 at 12:07PM
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