This holiday season my husband and I have already hosted Thanksgiving and are now looking forward to hosting family Christmas at our house, along with a holiday party thrown into the mix. Our family is a small group consisting of my family, the in-laws, our three kids, and two crazy standard poodles; the holiday party will be a somewhat small group. Nonetheless, I have been doing the necessary scrambling around along with the rest of the crazed hosts out there, trying to plan menus, get the house cleaned, shopping done, carpets cleaned, etc. etc. Here are a few “discoveries” I have made along the way, which I guess would qualify loosely as tips. Anyway, this is what works for me; maybe they will help you as well:
1) Shine your kitchen sink. Before starting any holiday cooking or entertaining, I make sure the kitchen is spotless. Put away anything that goes in another room or that has been sitting on the countertops that shouldn’t be there (i.e. that stack of papers). For motivation and inspiration in organizing your home, check out www.flylady.com. If you are looking for a great stainless steel cleaner for your appliances, the absolute best product is Signature Multi-purpose Cleaning Solution and Polish. No streaking, no endless rubbing, it can’t be beat.
2) Take inventory. Make sure the cupboards and fridge are stocked with holiday baking basics such as sugar, flour, sea salt, olive oil, powdered sugar, along with spices such as thyme, sage, ginger, and cloves. Load the fridge with unsalted butter, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. I also like to purchase a few frozen hors d’eouvres that can be heated in a pinch (Trader Joes has some really good ones) as well as a make ahead meal or two for when time is running tight. Last but not least, don’t forget the booze — stock up on wines that will pair well with what you are serving. If you are planning a cocktail party, serving a special drink can be fun. Start thinking about this and stock up on the ingredients.
3) Think Ahead. Making a few things ahead of a big holiday gathering can make a huge difference in how enjoyable it is for you, the host. This year I prepared turkey stock, pumpkin soup, pie crusts and even mixed up the ingredients for bread and stored it in a plastic tub before Thanksgiving. The same technique will work for Hanukkah, Christmas & New Year’s gatherings.
4) Get Organized. Make a list of what to do and when to do it. Spread out the work over a couple of weeks and try to do a little bit each day. On the day of your event, get helpers to do specific tasks by putting each recipe on its own tray along with ingredients, knives, bowls, measuring cups & spoons. Kind of a rustic version of a mise en place, French for “everything in place”, as in set up.
5) Delegate. If you are cooking, plan your meals and then make a list and delegate the shopping to your spouse or an older teen. The same goes for easy recipes and clean up duty. This year my delegating is to my favorite grocery delivery service, Peapod. It was raining when the delivery person showed up and I was thankful it was him unloading groceries and not me. Don’t forget to tip!
6) Get Inspired. Take a cooking class with a friend to get new ideas or different perspectives on holiday classics. You will undoubtedly learn some great new tricks of the trade and menu ideas. This year I took a class at Chez Madelaine Cooking School in Hinsdale and learned how great Bluette utility gloves are for turning a hot turkey (to brown all the sides evenly). Who knew?! Some other Chicagoland cooking schools are Flavour in Forest Park and The Chopping Block at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. See class schedules online.
7) Sometimes Simple is Better. This year I am foregoing cut flowers and instead purchased small planted pots that will last for a week or longer – no cutting, no watering, no arranging. Think about using gold paint & glitter to embellish some twigs or pinecones that can be arranged artfully on your dining table. The kids can join in. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. This is good advice all around. Enjoy!
Susan Klimala, CKD
Designer / Owner, The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn
Wife and Mother of three