August 20, 2012 | Best of the Food Web
I’m doing a cooking lesson today – well actually, a consultation about cooking and entertaining – for a client who wants to know how to pull off parties and make it look simple. I’ve created a bunch of collateral for her – plans for everything from a simple dinner party to a tapas party for 50 to Thanksgiving dinner – including my simple list of 10 things to live by to make cooking and entertaining easier. I thought I’d share this with all of you hoping that some of you out there find this helpful!
Schedule – map out the work to be done in detail and write it down. Back up from your event to include shopping (food & Wine), prepping, cooking, set up, and final touches. For the day of the event, back up from the time you want to serve food to figure out when each dish needs to be removed from the refrigerator, put in the oven, grilled, or whatever.
Prep – do anything and everything you can ahead of time. If a recipe doesn’t lend itself to being fully made ahead of time, do the portion that you can – prep the raw ingredients, cook to a certain point, etc. The more that’s done ahead of the event, the less work at the event.
Limiting what needs last minute finishing – serving an egg casserole will be much easier for a brunch than making individual omelets for everyone. Choose dishes that can be largely made ahead. And choose dishes that won’t collapse or be ruined if they need to hold ten minutes or more – sometimes it takes that long just to get everyone to the table or buffet.
Temperature – most food doesn’t need to be served smoking hot, and in fact, food that is too hot shocks our mouths and we don’t taste it as well. A large roast that rests before serving warm is delicious and gives you flexibility on your timing. The more items that can be served cold, room temperature, or just barely warm, the easier your service will be.
Par-cook – sear steaks on the grill to get grill marks, then finish them in the oven just before serving to desired internal temp. Cook the ingredients for a composed salad and put the dressing on just before serving.
Reheat or finish in the oven – the oven is your best friend for finishing dishes because it doesn’t require active involvement from you, just a good timer to know when things are done – and a meat thermometer for meats.
Make a variety of food in case a guest doesn’t eat a certain food – if you have enough options, you won’t even need to worry about a vegetarian as they’ll fill up on the sides. If you have a few vegetarians or vegans, plan 1-2 dishes that work well for them.
Ensure you have enough dishware and flatware for the whole meal so you don’t have to wash between courses.
Pick a format that works for you and the event – buffet, coursed service, or family style – and figure out your timing ahead of time. Make sure you ask guests to arrive early enough (30-60 minutes prior to a dinner, say) so that you aren’t waiting on a late arrival.
Plan for very little to be done on the day of the event – the best way to enjoy yourself at the party and not be overwhelmed is to have little to nothing to do the day of the event itself. Shop 3 days prior, cook 2-1 days prior, set the table, get flowers, chill wine, etc. all the day before, and you just have to pull it off on the day of the event. Consider getting a manicure or massage instead of running around crazed!