Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Dinner Party Recap & The Things I Have Learned

Our Christmas dinner party last night was a success, and I think and hope everyone had a good time.  Food was eaten, wine was drunk (drank?), and many cookies were left over.  Through recapping the event, I will also provide some lessons I have learned and my way of doing things when a big cooking Event (with a capital E) is on the horizon. 

1.  Make a lot of lists.  I think this might just be a personality thing, but I am big on lists when planning a party or a dinner (or a dinner party).  I make lists of the ingredients I need to buy, how long everything cooks for and at what temperature, what pans I will be using (because your favorite pan can only be used once), and general to-do lists.  I make to-do lists for the days leading up to the event (which usually involve shopping for things or cleaning) and for each specific thing that needs to be done on the day-of.  I cross off items as I go along to make myself feel better and to help me figure out how pressed for time I really am. 

2. Ask for help - specifically your mom.  I'm not sure how it is for you, but my mom is my go-to for questions involving, well, anything.  For instance, for our Christmas dinner party I asked her what to do with too small an oven for the 8 pans of things I needed to cook.  She suggested, and I listened, that I cook the meat first, put the cheesy cauliflower on the top rack, put the brussels sprouts on the bottom rack, and cook the rolls when the chicken was taken out.  Rolls are a little fiesty and wouldn't do well being on the bottom or top and she informed me that the chicken would hold it's temperature no problem.  She was right, of course. 

3. Go to ten grocery stores that week.  Okay, this isn't exactly serious, but I did a lot of grocery shopping for this party.  I definitely recommend knowing the stores around you and what is best at which store.  Or cheapest at which store if that matters to you.  I like to buy the less time sensitive things I need a few days in advance - things that won't spoil like wine, butter, onions, etc.  I always buy my meat on the day-of and I go to the nicest place I know of - Whole Foods.  Their meat usually tastes the best and they have real butchers who can do some of the work for you (like cut up two whole chickens, like they did for our coq au vin) and they have a lot of selection.  Not every store carries short ribs.  I don't think Trader Joe's or Safeway does for that matter.

3. Make things ahead.  This is one of the keys to saving your sanity.  I certainly am not able to make everything the day ahead or the morning ahead - but I like to be able to make some of it ahead of time.  It is almost impossible to make all aspects of a dinner the evening of - especially if it's for more than 4 people.  The creamy and delicious cauliflower gratin I made on Saturday was from a day-ahead episode of Barefoot Contessa.  The recipe itself doesn't mention you can make it ahead, but you can do everything up to the point of baking it in the oven the day ahead and just store the pan in the fridge.  I topped it with breadcrumbs and melted butter on the day of because I was worried the bread crumbs would become soggy.  The Caesar salad was made right before serving, but that's the way life goes. 

4. Make recipes you can make ahead.  And to really drill the point home - put some serious effort into making a menu that has things you can make ahead.  For a previous party I made the zucchini appetizer the day ahead and served it at room temperature.  Last night I served rolls, but I made the dough ahead of time and I placed the rolls in muffin tins the morning of the party.

5. Use your oven, not your stove.  Things on the stove require constant attention (other than cooking pasta).  Cooking meat on the stove is very labor intensive and means you can't really be sitting at the table with everyone else.  That's why I am really big into roasting vegetables for dinner parties - we had brussels sprouts last night - and cooking meat for hours in the oven soaked in wine - like the coq au vin we had last night.  Things in the oven are also more forgiving.  If you leave something in 5 minutes longer in the oven, unless it is rolls, it will usually turn out fine. 

6. Send emails to yourself with recipes.  I continue my list-making obsession by making lists of recipes I'm dying to try.  I have a long email draft that contains recipe after recipe that I'm interested in making.  I consult this list when I am having a party or perhaps just looking to do something different one night for dinner.  This helps me spend less time scouring the internet to find a recipe that interests me the week of the party.  For a specific event, such as Thanksgiving or our Christmas dinner party, I will start putting links in another draft email of all the things I am considering making and then I will widdle it down to the winning recipes.  This helps when I am at the grocery store shopping for the big day and I want to consult the recipes I'll be using.  I have an iPhone and can just go to my draft emails, pull up my dinner party email, and find all 6 recipes I'm using. 

7. Go all out if you're into that.  And I'm into that.  I've come to the realization that I live for these type of things.  Big events that center around food.  All parts of it - the scouring the internet for the best recipes, the shopping for a week, the cooking, the cooking, the cooking, and the eating.  The only hard part is the cleaning up, but luckily John does almost all the work for that item. 

1 comment:

  1. How do I score an invite to one of these things?! The party looks fantastic. The favors and place cards are adorable. You know I'm all about going all out.


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