With the holidays just around the corner, my focus has been on entertaining and looking good while doing it. Job one is the guest list—I love having friends and loved ones around the table during the holidays. Once the guest list is set, the big adventure begins, choosing what to serve, and finally how to look and feel good doing it all. (Nothing is worse than cooking like a fiend, and greeting your guests all frazzled and stressed. I know, I’ve done it a time or two). After thirty years of cooking, I’ve learned a few tricks which I am happy to share with you, because we are, after all, friends and that’s what friends do.
Most Thanksgiving feasts are built around a turkey (or possibly a tofu alternative) and every hostess has her secrets to getting that moist turkey meat with crispy golden skin. Making the perfect turkey is worth a blog post in it self. To brine, or not to brine? Roast, or deep fry? Stuffing in the bird or out? In my book the side dishes and deserts are of equal importance when it comes to preparing an epic Thanksgiving feast.
A while back, I was invited to local Restauranteur and Caterer, Kim Bailey’s kitchen in Tampa for a private cooking class featuring an array of side dishes perfect for the holidays. We sampled 11 side dishes in all, and learned tips and tricks along the way. All the dishes were flavorful, and easy to make—Kim and his assistant made all the dishes in a record three hours.
Both Kim and I agree that when considering a menu, we start eating with our eyes. I love making sure color and texture are considered when choosing sides. Fall’s vegetable bounty is full of color, and by using a variety of cooking techniques one can create interesting textures, all of which combine to make Thanksgiving magic at the table. Check out Kim’s website and recipes here they are divine!
After setting the menu and shopping for ingredients, Kim pre-preps each recipe. Chefs call it Mis en Place; all ingredients are chopped and measured first. It saves time, and helps reduce mistakes when putting recipes together on the fly. So he and his long time assistant Barry chopped and measured ingredients before diving in and assembling the recipes. (This took an hour for the 11 recipes Kim and Barry made for the cooking class.). I do the same, and it really helps save time in the long run.
When selecting side dishes in my home, we offer variety of foods, some all vegetable, some gluten free, keeping in mind our guest’s dietary issues. Nothing is worse than seeing beautiful food you can’t eat.
How to Look Great When You Greet Your Guests:
Ok, it’s time to talk time management. Figuring out what to wear is as important as what to serve, I always say! There have been a number of times I got up early, cooked until I was ready to drop and suddenly, the door bell rings and there on the porch are my guests, all looking amazing. Meanwhile, I looked like something the cat dragged in, and of course that is well below optimal.
I have learned a few tricks to avoid this most horrible of situations.
- I choose my outfit in advance and lay it on the bed so it’s ready to slip on at the last minute.
- I add getting ready time into the day’s schedule. (One of these day’s I will have to share my time blocking system!)
- I pre-prepare as much as possible, or better yet, try to get my friends and family to bring a few things so it’s not all on me. Oh trust me, this is a hard one! But so worth it for your appearance and sanity!
- On that line, I set the table in advance, and lay out the serving wear and utensils with little notes as to what is going in which dish so that if I am lucky enough to have help, they will know what to do.
- Do some beauty prep in advance, such as getting a blow out the day before so you don’t have to worry about your hair; have a massage so you are relaxed and happy before you dig into all that work;
- Choose a simple makeup look; I use quick to apply powder or stick foundation, a long wearing lip color and simple eye look, rather than my full 22 step makeup routine.
And finally, some tips for your sanity:
- If things get messed up, remember, people will take their cues from you. If you make it funny, they will think its funny too. (I always tell my dad’s sparerib story where he got the timing way off. He made it funny and it became a legend–along with several other similar things. He had a knack for putting people at ease.
- Remember to breathe, and maybe even take a little quiet time here and there. When I learned the beauty of preparing things in advance, and having far less to do on the day of the event, I started building in time to just “be” for twenty minutes here or there.
- Get as much help as you can!
- Just have fun.
Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful holiday; remember what really counts, and try a few of Kim’s easy side dishes.
I added this picture of my dad and me, like me, he was an introvert who loved entertaining and his friends, and had some of the most epic fails made funny when he entertained. The stories are still shared among our mutual friends. I just love hearing “Remember the time George…” When it came to entertaining, he did some funny things.
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