I usually plan the meal two weeks in advance. There are a couple of ways to organize the dinner. First you will need to decide how many people you are inviting. Over the years I have served from three people to twenty. The same scheduling has gone into each event regardless of the numbers. Once you determine who will be invited then you need to consider your finances. Some years I have not been able to afford the entire meal so I have held what I call a ‘cooperative cooking’ dinner. That means I will delagate different dishes to be made by my guests. I’ll get into that later. For the time being I will describe how I make the dinner by myself. If I can do it so can you.
I am a person who writes lists, so I take a piece of paper and write down what I will serve. I leave a gap under each heading so that there is room to go back and then note what recipe I will use, ingredients, how much to buy, and what utensils I will need to prepare the dish. Traditionally I have made turkey, ham, lamb, and roast of beef. There is usually stuffing, gravy, biscuits or rolls, potatoes, turnip, squash, cranberry sauce, green beans, salad, a pickle tray, two dessert options, coffee, tea, and wine or punch. If I have invited a vegetarian I will consider their needs and make a special dish for them. In the early years of my hosting I made everything from scratch but things have come a long way since then and if there is a short cut in preparation I take it. I do not hesitate to buy cubed turnip and squash, frozen pie crusts, gravy mixes, canned cranberry sauce etc. I tend to lean towards organics but the decision is yours regarding that.
The following is a brief example from my list based on serving ten people. I used a traditional roast turkey recipe.
Aluminum foil large size
Knife for carving
The type of turkey you buy is up to you. I have used fresh, frozen, pre-stuffed, pre-cooked, organic, grain fed. The main consideration is food safety and handling. A great resource for turkey advice can be found at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/kitchen-cuisine/turkey-dinde-eng.php . I have also tried different methods of roasting. There are lots of recipe ideas online. Last Christmas I brined the bird and it was so tender and succulent I’ll do that again this year.
If this is your first attempt at preparing a meal for a group then keep it simple. I have learned many things through misjudgment and error and one of them was trying to figure things out on my own. Cookbooks and online recipes can provide a wealth of information but so can the butcher at your local shop or grocery store. Preparing a holiday meal is not the time to try a new recipe or casserole unless you are a seasoned cook. Fresh vegetables are flavourful on their own and taste just fine if prepared as simply as possible.
Over the years I have learned a few tricks along the way in how to grocery shop for a large gathering. I buy everything at one major grocery store that I am the most familiar with. For me it saves time and added stress. However, my husband likes to go to our Farmers Market to buy local vegetables. If that is the case I make sure he has a list of what I need.
I write out a grocery list based on the aisles of the store. I have often asked the service desk for a floor plan in order to familiarize myself with where things are. It saves time and energy to decide in advance what I need and where to find it. Grocery stores at holiday time are a nightmare. Most stores have the following aisles: produce/ vegetables, produce/ fruit, baker’s oven, deli & seafood, a bulk section, meat counter fresh and frozen, various aisles that are product specific i.e. cereals etc. If you have a list and stick to it you will stay within your budget. I also use the list in the same manner if I buy my groceries online. Something else to keep in mind when shopping is how much space you have at home to put things away i.e. your freezer size, storage space in the fridge, cupboards etc. This plan works for me and I hope it works for you.
To be continued …