Ah, the holidays — that annual opportunity to visit with friends and family from far and wide.
It’s a wonderful time, but nothing is more fraught with peril than the “cooking of the holiday meal.” (Well, except for trying to find the perfect present for that family member who is never pleased, but that’s a different column.)
Make the holiday meal a rousing success this year by planning ahead, just like chefs in the big restaurants do. Here are 10 tips to making your holidays dinner a bit less stressful.
1) Make a master list
No good chef begins large dinner plans without the aid of a master list. Find out how many people will be attending, and if there are special diet requirements. Decide what the menu will be, and assign dishes for others to prepare, if this is to be a family participation event.
2) Bake early
Bake breads, bars and cookies ahead of time. Prepare them as usual, but don’t add the icing. Once cooled, wrap them tightly and place in the freezer. You can make these about a month ahead.
3) Buy during sales
Buy canned goods, frozen foods and pantry staples along with beverages and alcohol as the sales of the season begin. Or plan a group trip to a warehouse store and everyone can save some extra holiday moola.
4) Take inventory of your tableware
If you’re going to the trouble to prepare a splendid meal, then take the time to set an impressive table. Coordinate your dishes, glasses and serving platters. Make sure you have enough plates, serving dishes, utensils, water and wine glasses to get you through the meal. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of pre-holiday sales, so go ahead and buy those candles and extra trimmings while the price is right.
5) Purchase the meat
Thanks to that master list, you know just what kind of meat to buy and how much you’ll need. Again, take advantage of pre-holiday sales to score your ham or turkey at extra savings, but remember to begin thawing it at least a day ahead.
6) Hit the grocery
Pick up all the fresh ingredients that you’ll use about five days before the dinner. Also, any last minute fruit or veggie additions can be purchased now.
7) Chop – Chop
Set aside some time a day or two before to chop the veggies, onions, celery, herbs, nuts – anything that requires extra prep time. Peel the potatoes in advance so that you can slice, dice or mash them as the ham or turkey is cooking the day of.
8) Start cooking the day before
This gives you time to get the side dishes, pies, rolls and anything else ready to just heat up the next day. Pull out those crockpots so that veggies and sides can be kept warm without using the stovetop or oven. Remember to slide the pies in the oven after you’ve taken out the meat. Turn it off and let the pies warm for a “fresh-baked” dessert.
9) Open the wine
Pop open the red wines and let the wine breathe before serving. Check the bottle – depending on the wine, some will need longer than others. Remember to let the bird set about half an hour in its own juices before serving. This is the perfect time for guests, and the cook, to enjoy a pre-meal glass of wine and get ready for the “big event.”
10) Serve it up
Coordinate your assistants and let the serving begin. Don’t panic over any last-minute disasters. This is ultimately about sharing a meal with the ones you love. When the day is remembered, it won’t be for the ruined dressing or the burnt pudding, it will be for the warmth and laughter of sharing a meal with those you love.
Joy Neighbors, from eastern Illinois, knows the wine industry well. She writes a weekly wine blog, has judged national wine competitions, and speaks nationally and internationally. Follow her blog at http://joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com.