Holiday Entertaining Made Easy

Holiday tableAre you planning a Holiday gathering for a bunch of family and friends and feeling overwhelmed? Here’s where the adage “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail” couldn’t be more appropriate. Being a person who absolutely adores planning large gatherings that include a house full of guests, I’m going to share with you my tips for being the “host/ess with the most-est”, being able to prepare a plethora of delicious vegan food items for your crowd while still being able to enjoy every moment with your guests and not feeling exhausted afterwards. I also use this process for every culinary demo that I’ve done and continue to do. It’s failsafe, I promise.

First Things First…

So, the first thing that I do is create my menu. I am called the “Spreadsheet Queen” by those who know me, hence, this is where I begin. I create columns (Starters, Entrées, Desserts, Beverages; or in this case of an upcoming holiday brunch – Sweet, Savory, Beverages). Using my upcoming event as a specific guide, I’ve also added sub-lists to each column. For example, my “Sweet” column includes a list of what I’ll be serving during the brunch and a second column for what will be my gifts for the guests to take home with them. For both the “Savory” and “Beverage” columns, my two sub-lists are “Hot” and “Cold”.

I then start filling in the blank cells with ideas that I’d like to serve in each column. My first go-round is uncensored, meaning that what comes to mind gets written down. Once I’ve exhausted my thoughts, I then look at my list, which is typically far longer than is reasonable and possible. Paring it down, thinking about food selection pairings, I tweak the menu to what is doable while providing a lovely selection of options for everyone I’ve invited.

I have a ½” binder that I use to keep everything in order and in one place so I won’t misplace anything. The menu becomes my first page. Next step is to get out all of the recipes I will need, print them out, and add them to the binder behind the menu page.

Make Your List, and Check it Twice…

Going through all the recipes, I use another spreadsheet to create my shopping list. Of course, it has its own set of columns so that I can organize the shopping trip by sections with only a glance at my shopping list. The columns I create are Produce, Sweet Pantry, Savory Pantry, Refrigerated, and Frozen. Once my list is complete without censoring whether or not I have the ingredient in my home, I check to see what ingredients I already have in my typically well-stocked pantry and refrigerator, crossing out the items I do not need to purchase. So as not to wait until the last moment and to spread out the expense, I purchase the ingredients that will be fine long after the date of the event and cross those items out. When my spreadsheet begins to look like a crossed-out mess, which makes it easy to miss something, I usually will then update the spreadsheet to only what has still to be purchased.

Consider Your Dishes…

This next step is of critical importance if you don’t want to fret on the day of your event. There’s nothing worse than having prepared all this wonderful and beautiful food and then struggle while your guests are waiting to indulge with what serving platters/bowls/utensils you’ll need to accommodate all of your delicious food items. I literally, at least two weeks in advance, take a look at all my serving pieces and decide which ones will be used for every food item. Trust me, I’ve learned to do this from experience. I’ve hosted parties where, at the last minute, I’ve put an item onto a platter and then realized I needed that one more for something else, so into the cabinet I went looking for another serving platter/bowl to put the first item in, resulting in my having to then wash that platter that will be better served using it for another item. Time wasted, frustration ensued because I didn’t necessarily have the ‘perfect’ serving items for something, or ran out of serving pieces. Yikes! Therefore, next to each menu item on my spreadsheet, I write in the pre-selected serving vessel as well as the serving utensil that will be used. Viola! A huge amount of stress removed for having planned this step out.

The “To-Do” Calendar…

Since I could not possibly do all the mise-en-place and prepare all the items on the day of the event, I create a calendar of “Things To Do” for the week or two leading up to the event. This becomes my second page in my binder, flanked by the menu page and all the recipes. Many items can be prepped and parked for baking/cooking the day of the event. Some items, like cookies – for example, can be made a week in advance and stored in an airtight container. Some items, like my Aunt Dot’s fruit cake recipe that I veganified, must be made a month in advance to allow time to baste them with brandy (mine are already baked and in their ‘basting’ stage). As I complete a task, it gets crossed off the list.

Since I typically slide out all my living room furniture to set up tables for eating and serving, doing this the day before is extremely helpful. Included in this task is also not only setting the table but also bringing out all the serving bowls/platters/utensils with sticky notes on each to remind me what that duo of platter/bowls and serving utensil is meant for.

The “Day Of” Calendar…

My calendar for the day of the event is more detailed. Having this schedule stationed on my recipe board in the kitchen provides significant organizing to ensure that I get everything done and ready for the event without feeling overwhelmed to get it all done. Creating a timeline in 15-minute intervals on another spreadsheet (oh, I think I failed to mention that I keep all my spreadsheets for the event in one workbook so they are together and at my ready reference), I then write in every step for all the items needing my attention. Every step gets entered into its time slot to ensure that everything is ready at the same time. Since this is a multi-tasking process, having this timeline is vital to pulling off the food so that the hot foods are hot, and the cold foods are cool when served. And I remain cool, calm, and collected.

This may sound like quite a bit of work; but trust me, it truly simplifies your efforts. You will be grateful that you took the time in advance to do this planning. For me, I actually have come to enjoy the planning process just as much as I do the cooking. When your guests arrive, you will be relaxed and free to enjoy the entire event with them. And you will have a lovely table that is welcoming with all the delicious food you have prepared so lovingly for them.

Wishing each of you and yours a Very Happy and Harmless Vegan Holiday Season!

*An important aspect of sharing original recipes is to give proper credit to the author(s) of the recipe(s).  I hope that you enjoy using these recipes and making them your own; but please do so with that integrity in mind. With much gratitude. - Linda

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