Ready! Set! Go!

OK, Home Chefs. It’s the first week of November, and we all know what that means! It means there are only eight weeks left before the curtain comes down on 2019. I would suggest that, culinarily speaking, these next eight weeks are the most important weeks of the year. The holidays are fast approaching, and the Culinary Show is about to begin. Only a few more rehearsals, and before we know it, it will be Showtime!

This sounds a little intimidating, I know – even for the most experienced Home Chef. Just the mere mention of the Holidays is enough to make most of us anxious. So much to do, so little time! So many cookies to bake, and sauces to make. So many menus to plan; so much shopping, so much chopping; slicing and dicing . . . you get the picture.

But remember, the holidays are meant to be fun – for everyone, including the chefs who make everything special! So let’s do our best to keep it that way. Easier said than done? My answer is three simple words: Plan. Prepare. Practice. Sounds simpler than it really is, doesn’t it? Let me give you some idea about just how easy it really can be.

PLAN: Don’t let the holiday season get away from you. Plan ahead. 1). Go ahead, pull out your planner right now and schedule the major holidays when you will be entertaining. 2). Schedule any other dates during the season when you plan to entertain. 3). Decide what sort of entertaining you will be doing on each of those occasions – buffet, brunch, cocktail party, luncheon, intimate dinner party, cookie exchange, etc. – and record those on each date. Congratulations! You now have a plan for your holidays.

PREPARE: You now know when you’re going to entertain, and have a general idea about the type of dishes you’ll be serving. So now it’s time to prepare. Start by surveying your pantry and freezer to determine what supplies you already have.

Ask yourself the following questions: 1). Do I have the pantry basics I’m going to need: enough chicken and beef stock; enough flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder; corn starch, bread crumbs, vanilla, olive oil, tomato paste, and vinegar? Do I have the right seasonings, and are they fresh? 2). Is there anything in my freezer that I can use now to start creating some amazing recipes? Things like puff pastry, phyllo dough, and frozen bread dough; ground meats and sausage (beef, lamb, pork, venison) for meatballs and appetizers; steaks, roasts, and chops you stocked up on when they were on sale; fruits and vegetables, waiting to be turned into something special? Make lists of the basics you have on hand, and what you’re going to need. Let these lists guide you in creating menus for your scheduled events. And start replenishing your pantry and freezer now - this week, before the calendar gets away from you! Order what you need online, and start shopping the specials at your local market. Before you know it, your kitchen will be fully stocked and you’ll be good to go.

PRACTICE: Now start putting your plans and preparations into practice. Start to create some of the sauces you’re planning to serve.

As soon as fresh cranberries arrive at the market, stock up and make enough cranberry sauce to take you through the season. It freezes very well, and is an absolute must for holiday entertaining. And pasta sauces, like our Savory Pumpkin Sauce, are great when made ahead and frozen, making life easier for you. And how about roux! Make several batches of roux now, then freeze in ice cube trays to have available in the weeks ahead. It will make life so much simpler for you if you don’t have to make fresh roux at the last minute.

And while you’re at it, why not make some cookie dough. Roll the dough into balls and freeze on a cookie sheet. Then all you will need to do is pull them from the freezer as needed, bake, and serve! Yes, it can be just that easy!

Go ahead. Get started. You’ll be amazed by how much easier entertaining can be, and you’ll find yourself enjoying the holidays as much as your family and guests do. So let me say this now: Happy Holidays!

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