I thought I'd share some of my tips for making life easier. The best piece of advice, of course, is PLAN AHEAD. Something we'd all love to do, but somehow life gets in the way. I've divided my stress reducing tips into two categories - the BIG party and the IMPROMPTU get-together.
The two biggest tips I can give, regardless of type...CHOOSE SIMPLE RECIPES and MAKE LISTS:
- lists for guests (with phone numbers, in case there are changes/questions like allergies, etc),
- lists of party supplies - from plates to party hats,
- menu options,
- ingredients/shopping list,
- and, schedule, which really doesn't need to be complicated or so detailed as to require a stop watch - just a rough guide for which things need to/can be done in sequence. For instance, some dishes require last minute preparation (keep those to a minimum, unless part of the event is having others help out in the kitchen...I love doing that. Everyone really gets in the groove in a kitchen, even the non-cooks congregate to chat). Other things can be done well in advance, like finding all your party supplies and baking/freezing some of the dishes to be defrosted the day of the party.
For the Big Party1. Invite your guests early - remember that they might end up accepting another invitation when they'd much rather spend the time with you. Don't forget to ask if they have any food allergies or preferences. If you know someone is vegetarian, for example, you can add some vegetarian main so they're not just eating veggie sides. After all, you want them to feel welcome, too.
2. Once you've done the inviting, it's time to plan the menu. Decide if it will be a sit down or buffet affair.
3. Plan the menu. I like to change things up when I entertain...some tried and true that everyone loves, along with interesting new dishes. If you want to add something you've never tried before, make sure you do a test run early. Nothing like a flop to really stress you out!
I like to put on some old movie and bring a bazillion cookbooks to look through, finding recipes that go with my theme and make a note of any/all that sound promising - along with page numbers and title of book. I can't tell you how many times the menu changes in the choosing stage and then when you think you've got it all together, you forgot exactly where the recipes come from. Been there, done that...more time than I care to count.
4. Check to make sure you have all the serving dishes, tableware - dishes, cutlery, glasses, tablecloths, etc. If you don't have enough, that doesn't mean you have to go shopping...although that is fun. You can ask friends and family for loaners - from extra chairs to anything else missing from your list.
5. The biggie...the Schedule...sounds awesome, but doesn't have to be. I like to make a simple grid to start.
Then I look at the menu, and starting backwards from serving time...I jot down what needs to be done when. Still staring at this like a deer in the headlights? No worries. I'll share one I did for this year's Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) dinner.
You'll be looking cool and relaxed...honest!
Now for some stress reducing tips for those impromptu gatherings.
This past Thanksgiving, our friends unexpectedly got back from out West the day before the big day and, since we didn't have any plans either, we decided to do a simple, joint dinner. Rick made the turkey (already stuffed when he bought it frozen and popped it into the oven still frozen in the early AM), Colleen made the gravy, I made the mashed potatoes and sides and they bought a pumpkin pie for dessert. My Honey (in the middle) bought the wine. All in all a very easy, perfectly stress-free event.
But my biggest tip for those last minute, drop by evenings...have stuff on hand! Right, you're thinking...stuff like what????!
pasta (because nothing cooks up quicker as a main course - check out the easy as pie pastas for simple and quick choices)
crackers - great for cheese & wine
tostitos (I like multigrain) perfect for dips
jars/tins of : salsas, chickpeas & tahina (which whip up into a hummus in minutes), sun dried tomatoes in oil (perfect for bruschettas, pastas, pizza)
broth: chicken &/or vegetable
eggs (nothing easier than an omelet or scramble after a late night out or before an early start)
cheeses...whatever you like...my choices: soft goat cheese - great with crackers and make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, too;
a round of brie and any other favorite cheeses to go with crackers or sliced in a sandwich or salad salad greens
oil cured olives (great chopped on bruschettas, pizza, salads, pastas...)
pita (perfect for toasting and making pita chips, to scoop up dips, as a pita pocket sandwich)
cookie dough...instant heaven, just thaw, slice and bake
dumplings - to steam in some broth, or fried in oil
shrimp - I always have a bag full - thaw & peel in less than 5 minutes, great in a quick stir fry, with pasta, in a scramble, salad...list is endless
if you have room, pick up your favorite ready made appetizers, every large grocery store has their own brands.
Add to the list any of your favorite things...even if that just includes chips, pop & beer.
Most important of all....take a deep breath and relax...it's just a party and everyone there is there to be with you, not critique the menu!
Happy Holidays all. If you have a great stress-reducing tip, please share in the comments.