"Smile, breathe and go slowly" — Tich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the weight of planning a holiday gathering? Are you wondering how you'll get it all done in time and do it well without sacrificing your sanity in the time allotted? It's ironic that with all the time-saving devices we have at our fingertips today, we still find ourselves caught in the headlong rush Thanksgiving and Christmas bring. We asked executive chef Caroline Arend of Caroline's Fine Foods for some creative recommendations and tips to ease your way.
Whether you're planning a large event or a modest one, the most important tip to remember is to organize your tasks well in advance and to flesh out the details. Start with a broad outline. Caroline suggests that the key is to make lists and keep a calendar of tasks throughout. Think through the following, carefully:
- How many people am I hosting?
- What is my budget? (note: food prices, turkeys in particular, are at a record high this year. So, it's important to factor these costs in)
- What sort of menu would I like to serve and will I need to consider any special dietary restrictions for any of my guests? (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, egg/shellfish/soy or other allergens)
When you have decided on how many guests you'll be serving, what you'd like to make and the approximate cost, ask yourself:
- How much of my menu am I willing to cook myself? Is there anything I can order from a reputable caterer, prepared foods store or bakery?
- Is there anything I'd like to serve that I'm uncertain I can execute myself? If so, can I outsource it?
- What are my non-food needs? (Drinks, flowers, linens, serving vessels, glassware, seating, etc.)
The great news is that you can stagger your tasks, completing them a few at a time in a way that dovetails with your busy schedule. The simplest are your "non-food" needs. Soft drinks, bottled water, beer and wine are all shelf stable and can be purchased weeks beforehand. If you're planning to set your table with linens, these can be ironed and set whenever you like. Make sure that you have proper seating for your guests so that there's no last minute chaos. Caroline suggests that you designate your serving vessels and utensils ahead of time. You can even label them. It's a good idea to order floral arrangements or tablescapes well in advance to avoid empty shelves. Glass, plate and silverware can all be washed and set before the day.
Once you know what you're making yourself and what you'd like to outsource, you'll want to place your orders and schedule your delivery or pick-up times. If you have a few particular specialties that you enjoy cooking yourself, outsourcing some of the more work-intensive apps, sides and desserts is a sure way to take the heat off. Conversely, you might want to focus on your sides and desserts and leave the main to your favorite caterer. This time-honored method lets you focus on what you love to cook and releases you from the press of less inspiring prep work.
Food Prep Tips
Salad dressings, gravies and sauces can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. You can assemble and refrigerate a lasagna up to 2 days beforehand so that it's ready to be fired. Poultry can be rubbed or marinated 24-48 hours in advance. Pork, lamb or beef are best when marinated or rubbed overnight (about 12 hours.) Fish should be marinated a maximum of 15 mins or less if the marinade is acid-based (i.e. citrus, vinegar or wine.) Fish flesh is delicate and will break down or "cook" if you over-marinate. You can make and keep your brine in the fridge 2 to 3 days in advance and add your meat or poultry 24 hours before serving. Salads can be made a day in advance as long as you store your dressing and croutons separately. Even your condiments can be dished and refrigerated ahead of time.
Stress-free options from Caroline's
You deserve to enjoy the holiday and we're here to help! The following are some of our most popular Holiday options:View Holiday Menu
With a little forethought and proper planning, even a big event like a holiday dinner can be broken up into manageable tasks and completed a little bit at a time, instead of trying to get everything done on the day of your event. Combining your own food preparation with dishes from a caterer like Caroline's Fine Food is a great way to cut down on the amount of work you'll need to do, freeing up your day to mingle with guests and enjoy your event!