8 Tips for Planning Your Holiday Menu
Holiday party. Thanksgiving dinner. New Year’s brunch. Each sounds exciting if someone invites you but maybe a bit intimidating if you’re the host.
If you are hosting the party, don’t panic. Whether the event is your first cocktail party or tenth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner, the secret to serving an unforgettable meal is advance planning.
Here are 8 tips to help you jumpstart the meal planning process.
1. Know your guests
Keep track of how many people plan to attend so you can set your budget. To help you plan the menu, ask guests to let you know it they have food allergies or follow a special diet when they RSVP.
2. Keep it simple
Food is the centerpiece of most holiday events. Whether you’re making three dishes or ten, keep the menu simple. You’ll feel more confident and relaxed about the meal when you include tried and true recipes that work every time or signature dishes that everyone loves. If you’re tempted to serve new recipes, test and taste them ahead of time before adding them to the menu. Complicated or exotic recipes often require more attention than you may be able to give on the day of the party.
3. Use what’s in season
Whenever possible, use ingredients that are in season. These items should be easy to find and in good supply at local markets. Seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish and seafood will be at peak flavor, making each dish taste even better.
4. Save the best for last
Don’t dismiss dessert. It’s the last dish your guests will taste so make it memorable. Use a luscious seasonal fruit in your fabulous cobbler or a gourmet dark chocolate in your decadent homemade brownies.
5. Prepare ahead
Make freezer-friendly recipes like soups, stock, pie dough, bread dough and cookies in advance. Be sure to allow adequate defrosting time in your cooking schedule. You can also assemble and refrigerate dishes like vegetable casseroles a day ahead and cook them the day of the party. Prepping ingredients in advance also saves time. Chop vegetables, wash and dry herbs and salad greens, and make fresh breadcrumbs the day before and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.
6. Stock the pantry
Check your pantry for cooking basics like olive oil, salt, pepper, stock, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes and baking supplies. Add missing or low stock items to your shopping list.
7. Inspect your cooking equipment
Don’t be caught with a 2-quart casserole when your recipe makes three times that amount or warped cookie sheets that have seen better days. Check and test your cooking equipment early to ensure you have the right tools for each cooking task. Make sure knives are razor sharp and pots, pans, baking dishes and appliances are clean and ready to go. If you find that you are missing a key cooking tool, kitchen utensil, or roasting pan be sure to visit CHEFScatalog.com for all those Thanksgiving Essentials.
8. Plan your food shopping trips
Last minute shopping can be hazardous to your menu. During the holidays, markets run out of popular seasonal food items sooner than you think. You can safely buy many items early, taking advantage of the best selection. Here’s a general schedule for your shopping trips.
4-6 weeks to go
• Order fresh turkey, seafood, fish or special cut of meat like leg of lamb or prime rib from your butcher or market
• Order hard-to-find ingredients like exotic spices or specialty cookware and tools you can’t find at local stores.
3 weeks to go
• Buy nonperishable items including canned goods, rice, chicken stock, cinnamon sticks, packaged stuffing, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, dried pasta, tomato paste, crackers, capers, liquor, soft drinks and baking ingredients.
• Buy frozen items like cranberries, vegetables and puff pastry dough.
1 week to go
• Buy perishable items including eggs, heavy cream, butter, milk, cheese, bacon and fresh cranberries.
• Buy hardier vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, yams and hard squash.
1-2 days to go
• Buy salad greens, fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, bread and deli items.
• Pick up fresh turkey, seafood, fish or meat.
Your turn: I know many of you love to entertain, especially during the holidays. What’s your secret to planning a great holiday meal?