What is there not to stress about when preparing food for guests during the holidays? We've all been there, so there's no need to explain all the various pressures that come with being the holiday host for family and friends. Fortunately there are ways to reduce the holiday stress that comes from cooking.
I experienced it firsthand this past November when my wife and I hosted our first Thanksgiving for my family. With nine adults, four kids, and our crazy dog, we had lots of appetites to fulfill. Not to mention, we were also out of town for the few days prior to Thanksgiving Day.
I took on most of the food preparation for the crowd, as that is what I am comfortable with. I am only comfortable with it because I know some tips and tricks to be able to serve all the food hot and at the same time.
One of my favorite tricks is staging food. All good cooks know how to stage foods and what types of foods are best for it. Simply put, staging food is stopping the cooking process at a specific time so that the final product can be prepared quickly. I chose our Thanksgiving menu based on this concept, which allowed me to make the most of my time with family while still being able to cook everything.
Most recipes have a point where they can be stopped cold without jeopardizing the final product. Here are some examples:
Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing: After you have cooked your chopped vegetables, browned your sausage, and toasted your bread cubes. You can refrigerate them all together in a bag for a few days. Go ahead and combine your eggs, stock and any other liquids and store it as well. On meal day, combine the two and bake as normal. Nothing is lost flavor or texture wise and the bread cubes aren't getting soggy from sitting in the egg/stock mixture for a couple days. Best of all, you can do this several days in advance which saves time on meal day.
Roasted Turkey: I always prefer to brine (soak in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar) a turkey when I make one. Besides being delicious, I can do all trimming, seasoning, and tying of the turkey a couple days before the meal. On the day of, just pull the turkey out of the brine, dry it off, and roast it. Another staging technique is allowing the turkey to sit after roasting it. After a turkey is cooked, you can let it sit for an hour before serving it. I promise, the turkey will taste better and still be extremely hot to the touch while carving it. Go even longer by covering with foil.
Cranberry sauce: Here is a great example of staging: Make your cranberry sauce recipe all the way through, several days in advance. On the meal day, place it in the serving container, and let it come up to room temperature. This saves you lots of time on the day of the meal. No cooking or reheating it, and best of all, no cleaning.
Morning after breakfast quiche: Sauté all of your vegetables and meats, combine them with your eggs, milk and cheese and store it in the fridge. On the morning of, pour it into your pie shell and bake away.
These are all some simple examples of staging, saving you time and energy when the minutes matter the most. It takes a little planning, but you will find that it is definitely worth it. With a little reading, you will find a point in most recipes that you can stop the cooking process. The less cooking you do on the day of means the more time you get to spend with your guests. They will also be impressed with how casual you look compared to how much food you have prepared.