It's that time of year again of cocktails & friends, feasts & fun, games & dinners, under-cooked turkeys & panic attacks - The Holidays!
Having a simple dinner party seems easy, until you feel like a one-man failed circus act in your kitchen, scrambling to get it together while all your guests are having fun in the next room. This post is going to help prepare you so you are not slaving away in the kitchen while the party goes on without you. Here are some good steps to plan ahead, make a delicious meal, and keep things easy-going.
First off, what kind of meal are you going to serve?
- Plated Dinner - this requires the most work. Timing is everything and you will need help, depending on how many guests you plan on serving. Plan on spending more time in the kitchen and being the last one to eat.
- Family Style or Buffet Style - easier in that you don't have to spend time plating each person's meal. Everyone grabs their meal from a buffet or from dishes in the center of the table.
- Hors D'oeuvres/Appetizers - most finger foods can be made in advance. Extra food can be waiting in the kitchen to refill when things run low.
One month before...
Find out how many guests you will be having.
Finding out how many guests you will be having is key for shopping and finding out how much food & drink you're going to need. A good rule of thumb: number of guests + 3, is a good way to stay prepared. Even if less people than you expected show up, that's just more leftovers for you anyway.
If you will be holding a plated dinner, this is key - there can sometimes be a 1-2 spot leeway if there are unexpected guests, depending on how formal it is. But for the most part, individual portions are hard to be flexible with. For family style, buffet style and hors d'oeuvres parties, it's a "you snooze you lose" situation and you should just tell guests to arrive on time if they want to eat. "Fashinably late" = hungry.
Two weeks before...
Find out what food is in season in your area - go to the farmer's market, talk to your local farmer, search online. Your farmer's market may be closed for the season, but some of them are open the day before Thanksgiving. You can find out by looking up the market's website or going to your town's community center.
From here you can start planning your menu. Are you going to have the traditional turkey, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows? Or are you going to switch it up with pheasant, bourbon pecan pie, cassoulet, roasted beet salad and mushroom tarts?
One week-3 days before...
Start your prep!
You can freeze or refrigerate a lot of your prep (unless you're living off the grid with no running water or electricity...wait, how are you reading this anyway?). Here are things you can prep ahead of time to freeze or refrigerate:
- pie crust - if you are doing cream pies then you can bake them off and freeze 'em. If you're making fruit pies and such, portion out your dough, wrap them well and freeze or refrigerate
- pie filling - this is not recommended with nut pies like pecan or whole fruit pies, but you can make your pumpkin/squash, cream & citrus pie fillings ahead of time
- brines and rubs - if you're brining your meat you can make the brine now and refrigerate
- cookie dough & frostings
- deviled eggs - 3 days before cook your eggs, peel them and hold them in salt water. Holding in salt water keeps them fresh and hold shape
- cocktail mixers
- charcuterie & cheese - like sausages, pates, bacon, ricotta, mozzarella...
- homemade pumpkin puree
Other things you can make ahead of time:
- pickles & jams
- crostini, crackers, chips, popcorn, snacks - if you have airtight containers to keep them in
- dry ingredients - if you want to get super-duper organized and ready, portion out all your spices and dry ingredients for your recipes. You can put them in small tupperwares or sealable plastic baggies, label them and have them ready to go for faster cooking. Just makes sure to read your recipes thoroughly to make sure you aren't combining things in the wrong order
One day before...
- bake pies
- bake cookies & muffins
- bake bread and dice for stuffing
- brine/rub meat
- potatoes - you can peel them ahead of time and hold them in water in the refrigerator to prevent from turning brown
- deviled eggs - pull your pre-cooked eggs out of the salt water, cut them in half, make the filling and hold in a piping bag. Place the empty egg white halves in a tupperware between wet paper towels. The day of just pipe the filling into the eggs and plate!
- chop vegetables
The day of should be dedicated to meat and veggie dishes. Make sure you do your research to find out exactly how long your meat or poultry needs to cook. The rest of the time should be easy making mashed 'taters, gravy, etc.
Make the kids do the dishes.
I hated this part of holidays as a kid, but now that I'm an adult I get it. We deserve a break! You just spent a whole month preparing for this party, it's time to enjoy it! Or you may get that one friend who insists on doing the dishes, LET THEM. So sit back, untie your apron, sip on your hot buttered rum and enjoy the time talking to your friends and family. Because that is what it's really all about.