5 SIMPLE TIPS FOR EASIER HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING December 17 2017
(Updated from December 2015)
The holidays will soon be in full swing and, while I love to cook, I prefer not to be tied to the kitchen when time with family and friends is so precious.
Our little kitchen does the trick, but it's not set up well for entertaining. Whether you have the most efficient set-up or not, having ready-made food on hand for meals during the holidays just makes life easy. I have a few tricks up my sleeve to prepare for that ultimate holiday meal.
1. Start now!
My freezer and I? We're besties. When I'm gearing up for the full-meal-deal turkey dinner, I make as many sides as I can – including dessert – way ahead of time and stash them in the freezer. Doing this not only saves time on the big day, but cuts down on clean up during crunch time. Allow the frozen dishes to thaw in the fridge overnight, then while the turkey rests, raise the oven temp to 400ºF, cover with foil and reheat in a flash.
These are my go-to's for the big day.
Make-Ahead Gravy: Yes... make the gravy. Seriously, this is life-changing. Follow the instructions for Jamie Oliver's get-ahead gravy, and you'll have amazing gravy without all the fussy business standing at the stove, stirring and tasting, trying to get the gravy just right. Of course, if you like the suspense, please - be my guest. I'll cross my fingers for you... I'll be able to because I won't be stirring gravy ;) I always add the dripping from our turkey to the gravy and, if needed, add homemade chicken stock to adjust the consistancy.
Up Your Potato Game: The key to successfully freeze and reheat mashed potatoes without making them dry is adding plenty of moisture and flavour. Add (warm) milk or cream, salted butter and plenty of roasted garlic to the hot potatoes before mashing them smooth. If you'd rather lighten things up; cook the potatoes in a pot with a high-quality chicken stock until tender (I use 2-3 cups stock for 3 kgs of Yukon Golds). The stock adds amazing flavour, and there's no need to drain – bonus points for skipping a step! Transfer the mash to a freezer/oven-safe baking dish and put a few small dollops of salted butter on top before freezing. Pro Tip: Sending your just-cooked potatoes through a ricer or a food mill is by far the easiest way to achieve the perfect, creamy mash.
Dressing vs Stuffing: Instead of stuffing, I put a combo of aromatics like apples, fresh herbs, lemon and onion inside the turkey. It cuts down on prep time AND shortens cooking time for the turkey. This Fennel Sausage and Apple Dressing is always a hit and is easily made gluten-free by replacing conventional bread with cornbread.
2. Set your table the night before.
Or the morning of – just don't wait too long. If you're having a less formal gathering, setting out all the dishes and arranging the space where the food will be set up is helpful. Finding out if you are short on wine glasses or forks is not the end of the world, but by knowing in advance, you'll have time to sort it out.
A simple way to decorate the table is with inexpensive greenery combined with edibles like fresh herbs or seasonal fruit. Putting a few pomegranates, pears or oranges on the table mixed with varied heights of unscented candles and fresh sprigs of cedar will look amazing, and you can eat most of it afterwards.
3. Have an easy breakfast and lunch planned.
You may have your eyes on the prize of that amazing dinner, but you still have to eat the day of. This can be cumbersome when you have a house full and extra people to feed leading up to the big day.
Set up a self-serve breakfast bar with homemade [or purchased] granola, berries and yogurt. The granola can be made or purchased weeks in advance, stored in the freezer then set out in the morning for a no fuss breakfast.
Baked eggs are hearty, delicious, and in my opinion, the best way to serve a crowd. Cover the bottom of a large skillet or individual cups of a muffin tin with a rich tomato-based sauce. Warm the sauce gently, then crack as many eggs as needed on top of the sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Bake in a moderate preheated oven just until the eggs are set and breakfast is on the table before everyone has finished their first coffee. Serve with buttered toast, fresh fruit, hot sauce and more coffee, of course.
4. Keep the appies simple.
Fancy bites are a nice touch, but unless I'm buying premade or asking someone to contribute, I've learned to keep things very simple.
A kid-friendly crudité plate with cubes of cheese keeps our littles happy, and a simple charcuterie or cheese board is always well-received. Be sure to combine briney olives and pickles, with one or two high-quality cheeses, an assortment of cured meats, and baguette slices or artisanal crackers. Add a little fruit for sweetness and colour, then one or two spreads like onion jam, or grainy mustard. For something a little more refined but equally easy, rub toasted slices of baguette with a clove of raw garlic, then top with a rustic tomato sauce, burrata cheese and freshly cracked pepper.
Serving a creamy, blended soup as an appetizer in small glasses or tea cups is unexpected and very easy. I love the combination of a rich, earthy mushroom soup served with garlic-rubbed crostini. Serving soup this way is great for informal gatherings too - it makes sipping possible without the need for a spoon or even a seat at the table.
5. Take the helping hand.
If someone offers to bring food, help peel carrots, make the salad or – hallelujah – clean up, take it. End of story. You can sip coffee, tea (or more likely, wine) and chat while the table is cleared, dishes are rinsed and leftovers stashed. It's nice to treat your loves with an all-out evening and amazing meal, but remember, they came to be with you.
So... let's raise a glass to family, friends, sharing good food and spending quality time with our people.