With Thanksgiving approaching and all of the other holidays coming quickly behind it, lots of folks have huge anxiety about entertaining. Some may let fear stop them from hosting a big food event. That just can’t happen – anyone can do this. Here’s a guide to pulling it together and pulling it off for the holidays:
The Head Game
I know – your in-laws are super picky eaters, your Uncle Fred is a bit of an ass, and your sibling practically channels Martha Stewart – and they all want to come to your house for the holidays! Having the confidence to cook for others grows with time and experience. Go into it with a sense of humor and remember what it’s all about – food and fun (oh, and fire).
Nobody is going to be as critical of the food you make as you are, so give yourself a break. And if someone is, you don’t want those kind of friends anyway. As for Uncle Fred, you’ll find a way to deal with him :}
Perfect is for Martha, and she probably has a staff of about 400 and a prison tattoo. There is no reason you need to try and compete with her. Relax, enjoy the ride and your company.
Not everything has to match; you don’t have to have the perfect house. Shabby chic is in right now, with mixing dishes up to make a pretty table. Or, if you’re just starting out, consider plain white dishes. They’re very versatile and make food look delicious.
Less is more – guests won’t be roaming the entire house, so focus on the dining table, the entryway, the bathroom, and the living room. Make sure it’s clean, and a bouquet or two of grocery store flowers gives a big punch for not a lot of cha-ching.
Get Your Mise En Place
You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to be organized. Think through the meal, what you want to make and what you can ask others to provide. Lists are your friend. When a guest asks “What can I bring?” don’t be a hero – take them up on their offer!
If you’ve not made Thanksgiving dinner before, consider starting with a pre-holiday meal, say the weekend before, with a few friends as a warm up. Your friends will appreciate the effort (and the food) and it’s a great chance to try out some new recipes.
Ask about food allergies and preferences early on. Having Celiacs, I can’t tell you how much easier having a pro-active host makes my life. If you need to accommodate some serious dietary issues, have them share a favorite recipe or bring a dish that they can have.
Clean out the fridge early so you have room to store everything for the big day. I know it’s boring, but do go through your recipes ingredient by ingredient a few days before to make sure you have what you need and sufficient quantities – you’ll save yourself unnecessary stress.
Do as much pre-cooking as you can – cook the potatoes, chop the veggies, assemble the relish trays, etc… Set the table ahead of time so you won’t be digging for the water glasses at the last minute.
At least at our house, the meat is the star (oh, and gravy too). If you can get a properly cooked hunk-o-meat on the table and hopefully nail the gravy, nobody is going to bitch about the cranberries. Go with good but simple sides that can take some reheating. Stuffing is better if you let it sit uncooked in the fridge overnight and casseroles don’t care when they get cooked. Line a cooler with some beach towels and use it to stash dishes that are finished cooking and just need to stay warm.
Make your guests feel welcome and useful, and keep them out of your hair until the food hits the table. Put somebody in charge of greeting folks at the door and putting coats away. Provide noshies and beverages that encourage guests to help themselves as they arrive, so you can focus on last minute prep.
As the host, do have a special few words to say at the beginning of the meal, and encourage your guests to share a thought. It’s good for everyone to take a minute of (painful?) reflection before digging into 5000 calories.
Guests enjoy being able to contribute their specialties, and it’s a great conversation starter. For example, asking the guest who brought an amazing salmon dip “So, you say you caught this salmon yourself?!?” led to amazing stories about Alaska trips like I’ve always dreamt of doing!
And, I’ve met no one that will turn down a care package of Thanksgiving leftovers on their way out the door. That is, if there are any.
When it’s all over, congratulate yourself on a fun experience and go take a nap. The dishes can wait!