Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you find yourself lying awake in bed obsessing over appetizers and guest counts? (I know my Stella puppy is. She's been working like a dog!)
Given our proximity to Thanksgiving and other upcoming celebrations, I diagnose you as a very attentive soon-to-be host, and I have just the remedy you need. A well-planned menu and a strategic plan of attack will help relieve your stress, and allow you to enjoy your own hospitality as much as I'm sure your guests will.
If you're planning your meal around an essential ingredient, like a turkey on Thanksgiving, reduce your stress by procuring or reserving that ingredient early. You don't want to be like me. Last Passover, I was running around, trying and failing to find a brisket. I made the same mistake a few holidays prior when I couldn't find a rotisserie chicken, and didn't yet know how to cook my own. PANIC!
You should also have a backup plan for what you will serve in case you can't get your ingredient. No whole turkey? Try for turkey breasts or legs instead. None of those? Opt for a ham or a nice roast.
Now that you've avoided what I consider to be the number-one catastrophe, plan and execute the rest of your menu. Choose items that can be cooked ahead of time and then can be easily reheated or served at room temperature.
For Thanksgiving, this delicious and stomach-warming pumpkin soup is just the ticket. Make it a day or two in advance, and then set it to simmer on the stove once your guests begin arriving. By the time everyone has finished snacking on small appetizers, the soup will be ready to serve. As for appetizers, a selection of charcuterie and cheeses is ideal, because they should be served at room temperature and you don't have to make them yourself. Just arrange them nicely, and complement them with roasted nuts or candied chickpeas, crackers and breads, jams, and other condiments. Offer wine and beer, and most should be pleased.
Aside from the turkey (or back-up ham or roast), which should be cooked on the day of your party, there are plenty of side dishes you can prepare ahead of time. I will be bringing these maple-cayenne Brussels sprouts with candied walnuts to a Thanksgiving party of 20(!) I will roast the sprouts ahead of time, bring them to the party, then toss them with the maple-cayenne mixture and walnuts before reheating them to keep them from getting too soggy. Any form of mashed potato reheats nicely, or you could prepare personal potato gratin stacks and bake them while people slurp down their delicious soup.
Dessert should be easy, stress-free, and prepared ahead of time. A spread of apple pie, pumpkin cookies, fresh fruit, and maybe a little ice cream is sure to leave your guests full and happy.
Perhaps the most important tip of all is to ask for help when you need it. Chances are your wonderful guests will want to be involved, so ask a few trusted individuals to bring along some elements of the meal or for a hand in the kitchen. But don't let them help clean your dishes!
Most important, let loose and enjoy yourself! As much as we all love Thanksgiving food, even the turkey doesn't matter when you're having fun with the friends and family members around your table.
This post is part of BlogHer's Holiday Parties editorial series, made possible by Cracker Barrel.
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