Cook Like a Pro for the Holidays
I love cooking for parties – but it’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how to do it without becoming a stress case. I also picked up a lot of great tips from the wonderful chef instructors I worked with in New York. The key is to be as organized as possible:
Choose the right recipes for entertaining. When searching for holiday recipes, look for dishes that can made ahead of time and easily reheated. Soups, grain and pasta salads, and many appetizers like hummus, bean dips, tzatziki, and tapenade taste better the day after they are made.
Talk to your host/hostess. If you are a guest at someone’s house, always ask your host what you should bring so there aren’t 15 pies for dessert (true story: I made 2 homemade pies – Pecan Pie and Apple Pie and when I arrived there were literally another dozen pies brought by guests). And make sure that your dish transports well and won’t be difficult to reheat if the oven is occupied. Better yet, bring something that can be served at room temperature.
Plan ahead. If you commit to making or bringing a certain dish, make sure you have a great recipe already on hand and the ingredients are easy to find. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had frantic friends emailing me for recipes at the last minute – it’s much more fun to cook when you’ve already taken care of the homework.
Shop and cook on different days. I rarely shop and cook on the same day – the only ingredients I’ll pick up at the last minute are items like fresh herbs, fish, or berries. I like to get all of my shopping out of the way as early as possible. I’ll buy pantry items a week ahead of time and gradually finish the rest of my shopping as my “Cooking Day” approaches. This strategy also means you’ll save money because you will have time to look around for the best prices. During Thanksgiving week, I try to avoid going to the grocery store after Monday.
Keep it simple. Even the most accomplished cooks get frazzled on the holidays. So, whether you’re a gourmet chef or novice cook, pick recipes that you are familiar with and that are easy to prepare. There are plenty of delicious dishes that rely on flavorful fall ingredients rather than complicated cooking techniques. Pick something that you’ll have a good time preparing – your guests will taste your enjoyment.
Find a sous chef. There are days where I really enjoy cooking alone and other times, I prefer company. It’s a great excuse to get together with a friend and be productive at the same time.
And for those of you who have guests who don’t eat poultry, check out Kim O’Donnel’s new cookbook, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook!