With Christmas only a few days away, many of you will be hosting a large number of family and friends this weekend. I’m sharing some last minutes tips on how best to prepare for the large crowd that you’ll be entertaining.
The first step is to plan your menu(s) ahead. It’s not to late to consider each and every meal that you’ll be hosting. Write the menus down on paper, allowing you to see at-a-glance how well each item goes together, if it is a balanced and colorful menu, and giving you an overview of how much time you’ll need for the preparation. Start with the arrival date of your first guests. Consider the type of meal or snack you’ll serve when you guests first arrive. Then, plan your holiday feast, and any breakfasts or lunches for those guests who are staying longer than the main meal. Think seasonal items when creating your menu, which you’ll find most readily available and less expensive at this time of year. Consider items that can be cooked ahead, stored or reheated easily to make your hosting job go smoothly.
Next, gather together all of the recipes and make a detailed shopping list. Be certain to check your pantry and refrigerator for items you already have on hand. When I am shopping for a large quantity of groceries, I take the time to put my grocery list in order separating out the produce, meats, canned goods, dairy, bakery, etc. This makes the grocery shopping process go much quicker once I enter the store.
If you have guests bringing dishes, suggest a specific recipe or two (or at the very least, be specific about the item such as a “green bean side dish”) in order to ensure that your entire menu will complement well with the potluck items.
Consider the seating arrangements and whether or not you have enough tables, chairs, tablecloths, napkins, candles, china, glassware and cutlery. If not, consider borrowing items from a friend or relative? Make arrangements for a family member to help out by picking up and finding a storage space in your garage for these items a few days in advance until you need them.
Decide where to stack the dirty dishes before the party starts. Try to keep the mess in one area of your kitchen. If the party is formal, you may wish to hire extra help for serving and/or washing the dishes. For less formal parties, ask students and older children, or even your guests, to pitch in with specific instructions on what they need to do. Make certain you have plenty of trash bags and dish towels for cleaning up after the meals.
Arrange to have your home cleaned in advance of the celebration. This eases your mind and allows you to focus on the meal preparation and your hosting duties.
Purchase your alcoholic beverages in advance, getting advice from the retail store liquor expert or sommelier on what best suits the type of menu you are serving. Ensure that you have plenty of extra ice and refrigerator space, or coolers for chilling beverages in advance.
Cooking in quantity does not necessarily mean quadrupling your recipes. Review the recipes carefully, and if necessary, cook in smaller batches and freeze or set aside in advance. A general rule is keep your recipe quantities for preparation of servings at no more than 12, and repeat the cooking process if you need larger quantities. Most casserole dishes or saucepans will work best at these amounts.
Ensure that you have enough oven space, or stove top burners. If not, consider using your neighbor’s kitchen, or borrowing a portable convection oven, electric oven, or incorporate your grill for a portion of the meal.
Set up a specific area for the bar, keeping glassware and bottles well out of reach of scampering children and pets. Incorporate wine and beer openers, straws or stirrers, ice containers, and garnishes (lemons, limes, etc.) if using.
Consider parking and if your street has enough space for the guests you are expecting. As a courtesy to your neighbors, you may want to give them notice that there will be extra traffic on your street during your festivities.
Allow plenty of extra time for reheating and cooking the meals. Have a written plan in advance of what serving dishes and serving utensils you will use. Set these aside so that when the food is ready, your dishes and utensils will be close at hand.
Most importantly, give yourself permission to relax an hour before the party so that you will enjoy the celebration as much as your guests will!