The holidays are just around the corner, and that often means feeding more hungry mouths than normal. I love hosting friends and family for a big feast, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. I've found, however, that a bit of advanced prep along with a good dose of realism (as in, I'm not going attempt to bake 4 pies by myself from scratch) can help relieve the stress of entertaining.
So grab a cup of tea and a notebook, and let's get planning!
1. Be realistic about your oven space. Do you actually have an oven large enough for that 24 pound turkey? (One year, I came dangerously close to not being able to fit the turkey in the oven.) Or do you need a plan B, like arranging to borrow a neighbor's oven? Does every recipe you chose require you to bake it soon before serving? Maybe instead of having a number of baked recipes, choose a couple that can be made ahead and warmed or cooked on the stovetop.
A quick side note: If you are headed to someone else's home and bringing food, don't assume the host will have oven space! If you do need to warm a dish, try to use a crock-pot, warming tray or chafing dish. Otherwise, be sure to talk to the host in advance.
2. Borrow if you can. There are certain kitchen supplies that are great to have for the holidays, but not really used (at least in my house) the rest of the year. My sister-in-law has a roasting pan that I've been able to borrow a few times, as we're often together for Thanksgiving, and both of us don't need to roast a turkey. I've also usually been able to track down chafing dishes, warming trays, extra folding chairs and even extra tables for the years we've had a really full house. I usually pull out my serving platters a few days in advance and mark them with a sticky note that says what will go in them. That way I know what I need to borrow, and I'm not scrambling at the last minute.
3. Choose a couple make-ahead recipes. Being able to make recipes ahead of time makes life soooo much easier the day-of. I usually make the mashed potatoes a day ahead and simply reheat. I assemble the dressing/stuffing the day before, and then bake it the next day while the turkey is resting. I make things like cranberry sauce several days in advance, and I do any chopping or other prep work a day or two ahead of time if I can.
4. Or buy a few items. This is where I have learned to not bite off more than I can chew. I used to be obsessive over the fact that everything had to be homemade. I love cooking, but I would end up doing too much and stressing over the meal rather than enjoying it. I've learned to let go of a few things. Pies, for example. While I enjoy baking, I'm not attached to the idea of making pies myself, so I'm perfectly happy having those be store-bought. (If you're local, order from one of my favorite dessert spots, The Sugar Path!)
I also try to do a few appetizers that are "no cook". I've found I really enjoy selecting items for a cheese and charcuterie platter. It's fun to pick out new varieties I've never tried, and it doesn't require any cooking! Crostini is also a great, simple appetizer. You can get delicious store-bought toppings, like varieties of bruschetta and tapenade.
5. Don't forget that you'll probably want something to eat earlier in the day! Set out that cheese platter, crackers, veggie tray and other easy appetizers early so that in the busyness of the day, you've got something to munch on. I also like to have quick breakfast food on hand, like muffins or bagels, so that you don't have to worry about cooking one more thing.
6. Plan for leftovers. This is one of the best parts of the holiday meal! Make sure you have what you need (foil, containers, zip-top bags, etc.) to properly store your leftovers. If you're sharing the goods, have to-go boxes guests can take home without having to worry about returning them to you.
What else would you add to this list? I'd love to hear your entertaining tips!