I am hosting a party for 40 possibly hungry ladies on Sunday. Not too sure what possessed me to pick a date so close to my return back home and book-ended by long working days on both sides. But invitations have gone out, arrangements have been made and, in the fog of my jet leg, I had to come up with a menu and a plan – this is one of those occasions when my chef background comes in handy.
There are few skills required in a professional kitchen that can be useful to a home cook. Preparing all the ingredients in advance and arranging them neatly in little bowls (the so-called mise en place) before starting to cook one or two dishes is, frankly, a waste of time. It’s what one sees in all the cooking shows but it is only useful for very elaborate and lengthy dishes, or very many courses, such as in a restaurant or if a battery of cooks are all working on the same menu. Or if you are extremely disorganized and cannot quickly locate what you want in your kitchen.
Knife skills, on the other hand, are useful, cutting down on time and the risk of injury. Knowing how to recycle left overs into a completely different meal saves money. But my favourite is the “prep list”. Not something I would use for a run of the mill family dinner but an absolute must when preparing for a party. It will also eliminate the possibility of forgetting crucial steps or ingredients on the day of, plunging you into a desperate trip to the grocery store in your pjs.
A week or so before your party, sit down at your desk and plan a menu with cookbooks, websites or magazines near you for ideas. Next, based on the dishes you picked, write down a complete shopping list that should include non food items as well, such as paper napkins, flowers and whatever other amenities you need.
Without bothering with fancy charts, type the days you have left to party day and, next or under each one, list the tasks you can break down and accomplish over the course of the week.
Monday – Shop
Tuesday – Prepare stock
Wednesday – Make banana bread and freeze
Etc. You get the idea.
Every menu for a large party should contain dishes that have elements that can be prepared in advance and either stored in the refrigerator or frozen. The day before the party you should not forget to include on your prep list tasks such as “defrost bread” etc.
On D-day, your list should be as detailed as possible, including seemingly mindless tasks such as slice cake or platter crudites – should you have any helpers, you can just hand them the list with the items you want completed. It might sound convoluted if you are used to just putting everything together at the last minute but I promise you will save enough time to relax and have time to take a jog and a bath before your guests arrive.