The centre of every party seems to be the kitchen. Friends end up crowded around counters and islands while frantic hosts smile while wiping the sweat off their brow as they make sure the tops of their crème brulees don’t burn (they are after all using that expensive little kitchen torch for the first time).
Then by some miracle all the food is ready at the same time. The host, with a look of relief and surprise, gathers the guests around the table and everyone sits down.
But much to their horror the pork is dry, the dressing on the salad has separated and the potatoes are dry. The guests are looking at each other awkwardly, looking for some kind of guidance. “Is it really that bad?” “Maybe if I add more sauce?” “No, no that was the wrong move.” And then all the fake grins and over enthusiastic “Mmmms” start.
“There’s lots more. Would you like second?” the host asks.
“Oh no, I’m full, I had a late lunch.”
Nearly full plates return to the kitchen and the meal you slaved over is scraped into the garbage.
Where did it all go so wrong? That perfectly planned and very glamourous party fell apart so quickly.
This scenario is one I know well. For years (and I’m sure there will be more incidents) I was the over ambitious party host eager to wow my friends with my culinary skills and my grace in moments of stress and panic. Normally I would pour one too many glasses of red wine to ease the stress, forgetting about the stuffed turkey breast roasting in the oven.
With the holidays upon us, hosting dinners and parties is something on many of our agendas. My sister and I are planning my mom’s 60th birthday and I have decided to cook dinner for the family on Christmas Eve. But to avoid the stress and anxiety that comes with holiday parties, I’ve got some basic tips to share that I will be using as I cook and host this winter.
The first tip applies to just about everything: the rock sold KISS philosophy aka Keep It Simple Stupid.
The biggest mistake I’ve made as a host is to fill my menu with over complicated recipes and things I’ve never made before. Sure your guests will be impressed if you churned the butter for the homemade crusts of your mini-quiches, but if you’re too busy fighting with your spouse because you’re running late to notice your guests enjoying the party you planned, then who cares?
Consider a basic homemade hummus with a twist. Substitute white cannellini beans for chick peas; add in a bulb of roasted garlic and some sage leaves. Serve it with sliced baguette and your guests will be wowed.
The second tip to consider is you don’t have to make everything.
Put down the sausage casings and rennet. Your guests won’t be able to tell the difference between you making your own brie and buying it from the store.
Visit the Kootenay Co-op and Railway Meats and pick up some nice smoked meats, cheeses and olives and assemble a charcuterie and cheese platter. Serve it up with some fancy crackers (which you bought) and bread (which you also bought).
If you are feeling brave, consider some baked brie. This requires three ingredients and an oven. Buy some frozen puffed pastry, a wheel of brie, and some fig jam. Thaw the puffed pastry and roll it out. Place your cheese on the pastry and trim the dough so that there is enough to wrap the cheese completely. Before you seal it up, top the cheese with the jam and then wrap the cheese and pinching it to seal it. Before you slide it in a 350º oven, brush it with some melted butter. Bake until the pastry is golden brown. Serve it with some more of those fancy crackers.
Tip number three is think one pot meals. Instead of coming up with an elaborate meal with a bunch of high maintenance pieces, go for comfort food served family style.
Consider dusting off that slow cooker, buying a pork shoulder and letting that cook all day. Instead of having a pretentious plated meal, let your guests make their own tacos. Provide the toppings and let them assemble. It’s more fun and it lets you enjoy your party and your guests.
My last tip for you to consider is to reinvent the potluck. Now, I’m not talking the type of potluck where you end up with five Caesar salads, two litres of root beer and a store bought black forest cake. I’m talking hosting a crepe party for New Year’s Day brunch. You make the crepes and everyone else is responsible for a topping. Or if you’re having everyone over for dinner, take the same idea and apply it to a pizza party: you make the crusts, and everyone brings a topping, assemble bake and enjoy.
Food really is about bringing people together and sharing with the people you love. When we think of the holidays we think of stress — much like Christmas Vacation where the turkey bursts open — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Switch the focus from impressing and wowing to what really matters during the holidays: spending time with friends and family.