Monday, August 21, 2006

Preparing a Big Feast - Some Stress Reducing Tips

I recently prepared an Indian Feast . I haven't done something so foreign in a long time. Usually the meals I prepare when inviting family and friends over are quite simple so I can enjoy the company. That said there are a couple of times a year (think major holidays) when I cook waaaaay more dishes than are necessary but are part of the tradition.

For this Indian feast, I decided to cook 8 different dishes and had no idea as to how long each dish would take to prepare. I realized this was the perfect opportunity to share some of my stress-reducing tips with you.

At least a week before the big day:
1. Choose the menu – I actually sit down with tons of books and magazines or go on line and print any recipes that catch my attention.

2. Take two sheets of paper– one for the menu and another for the shopping list). On the menu page, I write the book and page number beside each dish. I can't tell you how many times, after looking at a million recipes, I couldn't find the ones I was ready to make and had to go through everything again! Now I just jot down the page & book for every recipe I find interesting and, eventually, cross the ones I don't choose off the list.

On the shopping list I write down every ingredient I will need (don’t worry about whether or not you have the ingredients on hand. That step comes later). I actually keep a running tally of how much of each ingredient if it's more than a cup full. Like yoghurt, as an the 8 dishes I chose for this past meal, at least 5 had yoghurt as a base. I just kept adding the 1/2 cup and 2 cups, etc., so that when I really did go shopping I wasn't guestimating and had exactly what I needed on hand.

3. On the menu page, figure out your schedule (actually write down the day and time to do the cooking/marinating, etc.)– which dishes can be prepared in advance and which ones need to be done at the last minute (the fewer last minute ones, the more relaxed and part of the party you can be). Write that down!

4. On the shopping page, check out your supplies and cross off items you already have. As to the rest, see which items you can buy earlier in the week (like dry goods) and what needs to be purchased closer to the party.

5. Start your cooking according to your menu list schedule.

6. Make sure you have all the appropriate serving dishes, proper cookware, etc. If not, you have time to borrow or buy.

The day before the party:
1. Organize your home – in my house, it means hide what I can and make as much room in my fridge and tiny kitchen as possible.

2. Do as much cooking, shopping as you can.

3. My best “Day Before” tip: Especially if you are making several last minute dishes – chop, measure and organize all the ingredients. For the Indian feast, I actually measured spices and put them in zip lock baggies which I numbered according to the order I would add them to the pan. I then kept all the ingredients for each dish together so I wouldn’t get confused and add the wrong ones in my haste to get things done.

The day of the party:
1. My kitchen is small, so I need my dining room table for doing some of the prep work. (Or at least, getting them out of my way once they are ready to go). I do that in the morning so I can set the table in the afternoon.

2. Set the table, chill the wine/beer, make sure there’s enough ice and choose some music. Have your serving dishes ready. Prepare the “Bar” area with glasses, etc. so you’ll be ready for your guests when they arrive.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have some time to chill before the last minute craziness.

And remember two things once your guests arrive:
1. Everyone will understand if things don’t happen exactly as planned. They’re there because they want to be with you.

2. Now you have helpers!!!

3. Oh – and have some snacks out to temper the hunger in case you run a bit behind schedule!

So take a deep breath and relax!

If you have any stress reducing ideas, share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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