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Christmas Dinner 101: The Full Guide to Recipes and Preparation

Whether you’re planning a large family dinner or Christmas for two, prep is vital

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By House & Garden | December 4, 2023 | Recipes

Cooking a Christmas dinner needs a lot of planning and prep work, so we've collated all the recipes you need in one handy hub to do the hard work for you.

Christmas is upon us with the promise of all that delicious food we associate with the festive period, and hopefully a few more friends around the table this year. Cooking a Christmas dinner for your guests and loved ones is not to be underestimated; there are lots of elements to consider, so it's important to be organised, have a plan and it'll be smooth sailing in the kitchen come Christmas day. Here below, the key recipes you need for a feast to help you get your planning underway.

Christmas dinner planning

First of all, you need to know how to cook a turkey. It's the main event (unless you're opting for goose, beef or something else suitably delicious) and the recipe upon which you base all your timings for the day. The size of the turkey will dictate the length of time it'll take to prep and cook, but our recipe has a guide for all different weights so fret not. A small turkey takes about 2 hours to cook and can feed four to six guests, while a turkey that caters for 12-16 will need four and a half hours. It's important to factor in an hour before you cook it for the turkey to come up to room temperature, as well as up to an hour once it's cooked for it to rest so that the meat is succulent and juicy. Cooking the turkey breast side down mean the juices run into the white meat and keep it moist, just turn it up the other way for the last 15 minutes so that the skin becomes golden and crisp.

A Christmas dinner for two

If you're having a smaller Christmas for just two of you and can't face weeks of leftover turkey curry and sandwiches, then might we suggest a turkey crown instead? It's smaller, quicker to cook and just as delicious. The general rule is you need to cook it for 30 minutes per kg, plus an hour and 15 minutes. Baste the turkey crown throughout the cooking process to ensure the meat stays juicy, and make sure you rest the crown before you serve it. When the juices run clear, that's when you know it's cooked and can come out of the oven.

A turkey crown is a great alternative to a large turkey if you're having a smaller Christmas for just two of you and can't face weeks of leftover turkey curry and sandwiches. Image via Pexels.

Christmas dinner trimmings

What would Christmas day be without all the trimmings, most important of which is brussel sprouts. Love them, hate them, can only just manage them, it doesn't matter, they deserve a place on every table and our recipe by Thomasina Miers has a tasty twist to convert even the most ardent sprout hater. Her trick is to add smokey pancetta, a shaving of lemon zest and some pecorino for a tangy take that brings not only the brussel sprouts to life, but adds a vibrant note to your whole plate. You don't even boil the sprouts in this recipe, but instead fry them in the bacon fat for extra flavour.

Christmas roast potatoes

Of course, it wouldn't be a roast dinner without the best roast potatoes, so you'll need to factor those into your cooking plans too. Sally Clarke's recipe uses goose fat and bay for perfect potatoes every time and you'll need space in the oven for an hour before serving time to make sure it all comes together at the right time. This does mean that you can put them in while the turkey is resting if you're short on space. Add some roasted vegetables and perhaps one other green to your plate, plus lashings of homemade gravy and that is one tasty plate of food.

Add some roasted vegetables and perhaps one other green to your plate, plus lashings of homemade gravy. Image via Pexels.

Christmas desserts

After the mains, it's onto the desserts and of course, you'll need a mince pie recipe. These can – and should – be made a day or two ahead of time, to allow you space to breathe in the kitchen. They're easy to make, especially if you use pre-made pastry and mincemeat as you simply need to roll, assemble and bake. Our recipe does tell you how to make your own mincemeat and it's quite easy; simply mix all the ingredients together, cover them and leave them overnight to soak, before baking the mixture in the oven for two hours the next day and then using it in the mince pies.

Christmas puddings

On the day, your pre-made Christmas pudding will need to be steamed so account one burner on your hob for that job. It's a simple one, but one to make sure you remember, as well as getting in some brandy for the all-important pudding flambé! The steaming takes three hours so you'll likely want to put it on two hours before you serve the turkey, but you could also do it first thing so it's steamed and ready and you have your hob free. Wrap a coin in tin foil, and stuff it somewhere in the bottom of the pudding – whoever gets it in their piece is said to enjoy a year of wealth and prosperity.

On Christmas day, your pre-made Christmas pudding will need to be steamed. The steaming takes three hours so make sure it’s out at least two hours before you serve Turkey. Image via Pexels.

Christmas cake

The other sweet treat you'll be sure to hanker for is Christmas cake. This needs to be made in October, soaked in copious amounts of booze until a few days before Christmas and then covered in a layer of marzipan and icing on Christmas eve. Follow our Christmas cake recipe for the cake itself, but get creative with the decoration at that final stage.To see you through the holidays and keep children entertained for a short while, consider making some Christmas biscuits or Christmas cookies too – they can be strung up as decorations or hung on the tree!

If you want to serve Christmas Cake in December, you’re going to want to make it in October. Image via Pexels.

Christmas Ham

Lastly, but by absolutely no means least, Christmas ham. This is a Boxing Day essential, especially so that you can enjoy homemade Christmas club sandwiches in the following days, packed with cold cuts of ham and turkey – it's a rite of festive passage. A large leg of ham will need four hours in the oven (plus another half hour for the glaze on the fat at the end), but you could easily make it on Christmas Eve to have cold on Boxing Day, or make it on Boxing Day itself and enjoy it hot for dinner with parsley or cider sauce. You'll roast it in a tin, covered, with water and spices so that it stays moist and gets infused with the lovely flavours of bay leaves and peppercorns. Serve with baked potatoes and a salad, or any of our other Boxing Day recipes.