Christmas dinner in under an hour

I love Christmas dinner--sitting around the table over a lavish meal, drinking Champagne, reading the lame jokes in the Christmas crackers. What I'm not so crazy about is trying to fit in the prep for the meal along with decorating, shopping, baking cookies, going to parties, and everything else that comes with the season.

There are ways to cope, though, without driving yourself crazy or appearing Scroogelike. My goal is to keep the prep to one hour (or less, if possible), so I can enjoy the party, too. Here are a few suggestions:

Time-saving tips:

1. Choose dishes that can be done ahead--if not the whole thing, than at least a good part of it. You want to avoid any last-minute fussing: A glazed ham is perfect, particularly if you're feeding a crowd. A roast with a simple pan sauce works, too. As for sides, you'd be surprised how many things can be made ahead and reheated, including mashed potatoes. Do-ahead directions are usually included at the end of a recipe.

This Bourbon Glazed Ham menu makes enough for 12 (with leftovers).

2. Skip the first course. A plated salad or soup is great if you're trying to impress someone, but it's so much easier to put out appetizers that people can nibble on with a glass of something good while dinner cooks. A selection of nuts, cheeses, and pates will get everyone into the holiday mood.

Check out our Instant Appetizers Slideshow.

3. Make a big bowl of punch. Besides being incredibly festive, punch has a lot of other things going for it: It can usually be made in advance, it has a great retro Mad Men quality, and guests can help themselves, so you're not stuck filling and refilling glasses.

Learn how to keep a bowl of punch icy cold without watering it down.

4. Outsource dessert.
What would Christmas be without a gorgeous, over-the-top cake, tart, or trifle? You could make something spectacular yourself, or you could take the easy way out and have someone else do the heavy lifting--like your local bakery or a friend who loves making elaborate desserts and will be delighted to oblige.

Need inspiration? Browse our slideshow of 31 top Holiday Desserts.

5. Rent as much as you can.
Plates, cutlery, wineglasses, table linens--even the tables themselves--can be rented from party supply stores. Many places simply require you to give everything a quick rinse (no washing) before returning them.

Find ideas for decorating your table with our list of 50 tableware steals under $50.

Dinner menu for 8

Crab and Celery Remoulade
Treviso, Walnut, and Gruyère Salad
New York Strip Roast with Madeira Pan Sauce
Roasted Carrot, Parsnip, and Potato Coins
Super-Quick Mocha Yule Log
Meringue Mushrooms

59-Minute Countdown

An hour of prep spread out over the course of two hours leaves time to set the table and visit with guests.

  1. Two hours before dinnertime, season the roast and let it stand at room temperature. Assemble the yule log.
  2. While the roast is marinating, make the appetizer, prep the salad, and prep and cook the vegetables.
  3. Right before guests arrive, brown the meat and put it in the oven.
  4. Sit down and enjoy your guests, a glass of bubbly, and the appetizer.
  5. Take the meat out of the oven. While the meat is resting, put the vegetables in the oven to rewarm, then make the sauce for the roast.

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