As much as everyone loves the holidays and the traditions they bring with them, nothing strikes fear into a host’s heart as much as trying to get hot food on the table and making everything look clean. One place which most people love looking in is the kitchen, and this also happens to be the most messiest place. So make sure to get your kitchen cabinet painting along with a thorough clean up done before your guests get to say anything. Let’s be realistic, your dining room is not the set of a Hallmark channel TV special. You don’t have a cast and crew designing, cooking, and strategically placing everything out for you. So let’s try to find a way to have a peaceful celebration without wishing the guests would all go home before they even arrive.
Start with the guest list. Write the names down of everyone you are inviting. Be sure to include yourself in the count. Did you include boyfriends/girlfriends, new babies, and anyone else who might sneak up on you?
Try to be realistic regarding the space you have at the table to accommodate chairs, dishes, utensil, glasses, etc. for everyone you are inviting.
Create the menu. Take a good look at the guest list and take note of food allergies and preferences. Did your niece come home from college a vegetarian? Is that little nephew gluten-, nut- or dairy-free? If you are not sure, make a phone call to find out rather than assume. It could be the difference between a thoughtful, successful holiday and an epic fail!
Next, take a good look at your kitchen. Planning the menu includes considering stovetop and oven space to prepare appetizers while cooking the main course and all those sides.
I love preparing room temperature appetizers such as antipasto, veggie dips, and cheese platters that I can set the up in the morning, wrap and refrigerate, and just unwrap and set out when guests arrive.
Make a shopping list AND STICK TO IT. I find the biggest mistake home cooks make is overbuying. If you make your shopping list one or two weeks in advance, you will likely still have your rational brains in your head. If you wait until the day before, or go to the store without a list, you will be standing in the aisles throwing stuff in your basket out of fear of not having enough food.
Tip: I write down every ingredient for every recipe. Then I clean out my cabinets and refrigerator. You probably already have three jars of Tabasco sauce, at least one horseradish, and plenty of olives. Check expiration dates. To make the shopping experience easier, break down your list into categories such as produce, dairy, etc. so you can breeze through the supermarket.
I always buy extra dish detergent, dishwashing powder, steel wool pads, toilet paper, paper towels, butter, and milk, to avoid any crisis on the big day.
Let them bring cake. When people ask me what they can bring, I always say dessert. Don’t be shy; be specific so you don’t end up with three pumpkin pies and nothing else. My mother-in-law loves to bring the Jello, and my sister-in-law makes a mean cheesecake…done!
Buffets are your friend. Chafers will not cook food for you, but they will have all your food hot at the same time. You can buy aluminum chafers almost anywhere. Just make sure the water pan fits the rack and the food pans fit in the water pans. Buy them all in the same store or buy them as a complete set. Don’t forget the sternos! The typical 7 ounce gel can burns for about 2 hours.
The aluminum pans also stack well in your refrigerator, so when you have completed a dish, you can cover it and store it pretty easily.
Tip: The chafers work best when you start with hot water in the water pans and the food is at least pre-heated. Allow at least an hour for the food to warm up and don’t be afraid to stir things up to allow the heat to get to all of the food.
Take a moment for yourself. Every once in a while, take a look around and remember why you are doing this. You are creating memories for your family, it doesn’t get better than that. Happy Holidays!
By Evelyn Rogers, owner of A Taste of Honey Caterers, Inc. • tasteofhoney.com