It would be a Christmas dinner unlike any other, and here are some ideas for making it happen.
What if you approached Christmas dinner from a completely different angle this year? Rather than worrying about the extensive guest list, the fancy décor, the complicated menu, and the pricey bottles of wine, imagine moving the entire project outside. You could host an outdoor Christmas dinner party instead.
While an outdoor dinner doesn’t exactly reduce the work load for a host, it would certainly be an unforgettable experience for everyone involved – the kind of Christmas adventure to be remembered for years to come. And it’s fun, different from the usual drill of cooking and cleaning up at home.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I saw the 2014 holiday edition of Bon Appétit, which featured an incredible-looking Christmastime feast on a mountain overlooking Oslo, in Norway. Of course the professional food photos helped to make it look spectacular, but the idea of dining en plein air is what captivated me.
There are some great ideas for making an outdoor Christmas feast happen. A UK-based website called Campsited recently published an article called “Camping Christmas Dinner with Danish White Mulled Wine.” It includes a complete menu, most of which is meant to be cooked on the spot. The menu includes the afore-mentioned mulled wine, date-walnut-cheese-filled phyllo pastries (an antipasto platter in one), parsnip-potato croquettes, one-pot braised chicken with red wine, and pan-fried drop scones with brandy custard. The descriptions are enough to make one’s mouth water.
Another website, Camping Café, offers a menu for “a traditional camping or RVing Christmas.” Even if you’re not officially ‘camping,’ it offers some tasty ideas for outdoor feasting. Its menu features apple, brie, and pistachio salad, twice-baked potato casserole, roasted yams and apples, citrus-brined turkey, and butter-caramelized sweet corn.
Finally, BBC Good Food has a section on camping recipes, many of which could be used easily for Christmas. Hot caramel malted milk, one-pot lamb couscous or chicken pilaf, barbeque baked sweet potatoes, and portable sandwich pies were some of the recipes that caught my eye.
When cooking outdoors in a chilly climate, it’s important to consider a few things beyond the menu.
Ensure you can build a good fire. Not only will it provide warmth and a place to prepare food (once the coals get hot enough), but it also creates a wonderful atmosphere and a focal point for the group.
Bring warm blankets and rugs for the ground or benches where you plan to sit. Warmth is crucial in order to enjoy an outdoor meal. Consider a large canvas tent if it’s really chilly.
Help set the mood by decorating. Fill paper bags with snow or sand, insert candles, and set around the outside of your space. If you have access to electricity, string up some white lights in nearby trees.
Bring along a camp stove for the majority of cooking. Camp fires take a long time to heat up and are not as efficient as a stove. Any braises or recipes that take a while to prepare should be cooked ahead of time and only reheated on site.
Bring reusable dishes and cutlery. Don’t ruin the atmosphere (and the planet) with single-use disposables, please! Schlepping out the dirty dishes can be a group task, and it is a passing inconvenience.
Make sure you’ve got hot beverages to pass around. Now is not the time for chilled cocktails, but rather hot mulled wine and steaming spiced cider.