Worry-free parties begin with a culinary ‘game plan’
If you’re like most people, you have already started thinking about what dishes to serve at your holiday meals. For me, this time of year is all about the food – especially the side dishes.
In August, I find myself day dreaming about the savory concoctions that might be worthy of an elegant holiday feast. You may serve a traditional menu, one that has been repeated from year to year, or maybe you scan the pages of cooking magazines for new and different ideas every season.
Depending on who will be joining us at our dinner table, I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. If my Dad will be here, sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows are an absolute must – far from elegant but his idea of culinary heaven. If my brother and his family are joining us, he will make the most amazing Sichuan string beans with pork – not very traditional but out of this world delicious. A well thought out menu is important for a cohesive meal, but a menu game plan is what will allow you to enjoy your guests and all the time you spent in the kitchen.
Culinary Game Plan 101: The first step is to create a master-shopping list. I start by studying all the recipes I plan to cook, making notes about which recipes require duplicate ingredients like butter, cream and diced onions, and which recipes can be made in advance and held. I create a shopping list, categorized by the items required for each recipe, the produce, dairy, dry goods, spices, etc. The next step is to create a prep list for the menu. Working backwards from the big day, assign yourself tasks to accomplish, like dicing the onions or clarifying the butter needed for every recipe. Prepare items that can be done in advance and safely held until needed. Your prep list is the plan that gets you from bags of groceries to a fully completed feast in manageable increments.
The French have a term for the next step. Mise en place, which loosely translates to “everything in its place”, is what will save you from the last minute panic trip back to the store for the forgotten white pepper or shallots. Before you start breaking out the pots and pans, assign a sheet tray or even a paper grocery store bag for each recipe.
Gather and separate the ingredients for each dish, you can even go so far as collecting the specific tools or equipment needed. This step will make you aware of any item you might have missed before the stores are mobbed with other harried shoppers. When the time comes to start cooking, having everything you need right at your fingertips will allow you to move efficiently through each recipe in a calm and organized manner.
It might already be too late, you may have planned your holiday table back when there were still leaves on the trees; but, if there is still room on your table, give these recipes a try.
Cheddar Scallion Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
¾ cup half and half
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, shredded cheese and scallions. Using a pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles course crumbs. Add the half and half and mix with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are just incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a floured work surface and knead lightly until the dough just comes together. It is important not to knead the dough more than necessary because overworked dough will become tough once it is baked.
Roll out the dough about ¾ inch thick. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough and set them on the rimmed baking sheet. If you do not have a biscuit cutter, you can always substitute a small glass dipped in flour or you can cut square biscuits by hand.
Bake until the biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm.