The first time I was in charge of making a holiday meal, I had no business doing it.
I was 21 (mayyybe 22), and I was dating my (now) husband. We used to go to his grandparents’ house for long lunches on the weekends, and we were scheduled to do the same thing on Christmas Eve, only we’d have 2 more guests – my husband’s aunt and uncle.
I had already started to take over in the kitchen at Memaw and Pappaw’s house. With each passing Sunday it was more likely that I would pan-fry chicken breasts than that Pappaw would deep-fry oysters in a countertop fryer. But holiday dinner for 6? I was still struggling to make a starch, a vegetable, and a protein before 1:00. And some of those things came in packets.
So of course I decided on 5 dishes I had never made before. There was a seasoned ham (the kind that you have to cook, not just heat – it’s raw when you start), a sweet potato and russet gratin, mushroom and green bean casserole with homemade crispy fried onions, stuffing and gravy, and some kind of bread pudding.
And to complicate matters further, I was working that day. I was the only server on at the drafthouse where I (and what felt like all of our friends) worked. I opened, so I estimated I’d be off by 2:00 at the latest. When 3:57 ticked by and the manager still hadn’t set me free, I had to call Ted and walk him through stabbing cloves into the ham and rubbing it with glaze. When I got there, it was a mad rush to cook everything, and I remember pulling the gratin out of the oven countless times to check for doneness and melting the jumbo cereal boxes Pappaw had stored in the lower oven since they were too tall for the pantry shelves.
Even now, thinking about that pressure gives me hives, and I love to cook! If you are staring down a family dinner for Thanksgiving (or even Christmas), and it fills you with terror, I just solved all your problems. –>
I have this idea that I hope you call can give me some feedback on. I want to create menus that you can use (either for a dinner party, a holiday meal, or just a Friday night in with the kids). It would be nice if we could all afford live-in chefs, but we can’t. And besides, if I had enough money to pay a live-in chef, I’d probably spend the money on an apartment in Italy instead.
Anyway, the point of these menus is to take all the stress out of cooking. Think about it. What do you worry about when you have to cook for a crowd? For me, the list looks something like this:
- When am I going to go shopping?
- What if none of these recipes work?
- How do I know what to cook first?
- What if the sauce never thickens?
- What if someone is wildly allergic to [insert ingredient here]?
- I’m going to miss my bed time.
- Who the hell is going to do the dishes?
I took a stab at creating a menu guide that solves all of these things! I mean, it doesn’t tell you who should do the dishes, but I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to work that out once you save HOURS by following this guide: How to Throw a Mediterranean Dinner Party Without Losing Your Cool. The guide DOES, however:
- Give you a schedule for the days leading up to the event AND the day of. It even tells you when to take a shower.
- Provide you with a shopping checklist, arranged by supermarket aisle/section.
- Tell you what kitchen and dining equipment you need to make this happen.
- Show you how to make recipes gluten-free or vegan.
- Tell you what to do if a (kitchen) crisis DOES happen.
- Give you tips for using up leftovers (ha, as if there will be any).
- Take all the stress out of throwing a holiday party for your family.
My very first step-by-step menu is all about relaxing, so almost everything on the menu can be made ahead or served at room temperature, and none of the ingredients are wildly expensive or obscure. Plus, you’ll use up almost all of what you buy, so you won’t end up with a wilting head of parsley in your crisper two weeks later.
Here’s the menu:
- Kalamata Tapenade and Seasoned Ricotta with Crusty Bread
- Prosciutto and Melon
- Italian White Bean Salad with Capers and Lemon
- Garlicky Sautéed Spinach
- Baked Cod with Walnut Red Pepper Relish
- Fruit & Balsamic
Simple, to the point, but reallllly impressive when the in-laws come over expecting your run-of-the-mill mashed potatoes.
You can purchase the guide as an ebookhere, or click the cover image in the sidebar. →
Anyway, I’d love to hear all of your thoughts.
Would a menu guide like this make your life easier?
What scares you the most about cooking at home or cooking for a group?
What stops you from cooking?
Do you want to cook more?
What kind of menu are you dying to make, but the details are stopping you from doing it?