When family is descending on your home and it’s up to you to feed them – and do it well – you’ve got a challenge on your hands. Although holiday meals need a little extra effort to make them special, this doesn’t have to mean hours stressing in the kitchen to put a delicious meal on the table for friends and family.
By working smart, the holiday spread can be fabulous without chaining you to the stove for hours on end. This will free you to enjoy more time with the people you love, while still making sure that the meal is memorable. Prep the kitchen for a big holiday meal, working in advance to take the crunch out of the special day. Every task you can complete ahead of time is one less task you will need to do on the holiday.
Your pantry and cupboards will be the backbone of the holiday meal you prepare – make sure they’re up to the job. It’s imperative to go through your pantry to clean out all old and expired items so these items won’t make it into your meals. Throw away old food to get rid of it. While you’re cleaning, if you find any items that you know you won’t use, place these things into a bag to donate to a food pantry. Make a list of all the staples you need in your pantry – flours, soups, seasonings and spices – and buy these items well before the holiday. After shopping, organize your pantry so everything is easy to find and grouped by category – snack foods, baking ingredients, spices, etc.
Once the cooking begins in earnest, you’ll appreciate extra areas to work. Go through your kitchen and remove extra items from countertops, tables and shelves to declutter. Place all these things into temporary storage and plan to get them back out again after the holiday. With a minimalist kitchen, you’ll have the necessary room to prepare and work on the dishes that make up the holiday meal.
You’ll appreciate a spotlessly clean kitchen once you really start working to prepare the dinner – especially if you’ll have friends and family working with you in the kitchen. Several weeks before the holiday, begin operation “deep clean” to get the kitchen ready. Dust and clean the tops of your cabinets, vacuum out cabinet shelves and drawers, empty the refrigerator and scrub it until it sparkles, clean the oven and stovetop, shine up your appliances so they’re pristinely clean, wash all glass and windows in the kitchen until they sparkle, sweep and scrub the floor, including all corners and crevices and clean the baseboards, too.
4.Choose and Bookmark Recipes
Once you plan the meal and you know exactly what you’re serving, it’s time to organize yourself. Either print out each recipe and place them into a binder or bookmark the recipes if they’re already in cookbooks. Read through each recipe so you’re prepared and you know what you’ll be doing. As you read through recipes, make a master shopping list so you know what to buy.
Appliances need to be prepared and ready to go for the holiday dinner. Check each appliance you plan to use – microwave oven, stovetop, oven, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, crockpots, food processer, mixer and blender – to make sure they work and they’re ready for action. As you assess each appliance, give it a good cleaning so it’s ready to use when you need it. If you find an appliance that doesn’t seem up to the job, either get it fixed or replace it before you need to use it.
6.Dinnerware and Silverware
Once you know the guest count for the dinner, make sure you have the dinnerware, silverware and glassware necessary to serve everyone. You’ve got several options here if your guest count surpasses what you own. You can switch to disposable pieces, although this won’t be ideal for a formal dinner. You could purchase the additional pieces you need if your budget allows. Two other alternatives are to rent the extra items or borrow them from family or friends.
7.Cookware and Serving
Take inventory of your cookware and serving pieces to make sure you’re ready for the big day. You’ll need a roaster pan to cook a turkey or large piece of meat. You’ll also need ample pots and pans, casserole dishes, serving dishes and platters. Walk yourself through the entire meal, from preparing it to serving it, making a list of everything you’ll need to accomplish this. Buy or borrow what you don’t have ahead of time so you’re ready to go.
Many menu items can be cooked ahead of time to minimize the time in the kitchen on the actual day of the meal. Desserts like cookies, pies and cakes are simple to prepare and bake ahead of time. Most of these desserts freeze well and thaw nicely for serving when you need them. Casseroles and side dishes can also be prepared ahead of time, although be mindful of dishes that contain raw eggs – like stuffing. Never prepare and then hold dishes that contain raw eggs without baking or cooking them completely or you risk foodborne illness. Prepare appetizers ahead of time and arrange them all beautifully on serving trays so you’ll just have to pull them out of the refrigerator to serve them.
If you have frozen meat you plan to cook on the day of the meal, it’s imperative that you thaw the meat properly to avoid illness. Never thaw meat at room temperature – always thaw meat in the refrigerator for safe thawing. Frozen meat will need 24 hours of thawing for every 5 pounds of weight. This means that a 12 pound turkey will need two and a half days of thawing in the refrigerator to prepare for roasting on the big day.
After you prepare as much of the meal ahead of time, plan what you still need to do on the day of the dinner so you know exactly what to do and when to do it. Work out the time that the meat will need to roast and when you’ll need to put it in the oven for serving at a specific time. Determine what other dishes need to bake or cook as well so everything has a schedule for timely completion.
Although it’s an event that takes planning and effort, a holiday dinner doesn’t have to send you around the bend. Careful planning and working ahead will simplify the meal on the day of the event. The people you invite won’t remember the little things – they’ll remember the overall meal and the special times spent with loved ones. Don’t forget to drop by the Red Beacon website for more tips and advice in cooking your big holiday dinner.