So, you’re planning to party. It’s a great way to end the year… and a great way to make sure you’ll never throw another party again. Seriously, between the high expectations that holiday parties bring with them and the tendency these days to think you have to one-up everybody, a holiday party can lead to a breakdown.
But if you begin with a plan and reasonable expectations, you just might have the time of your life. In the end it's your right, and I hope you have the time of your life. Rock on with your party checklist.
Yes, as corny as it sounds, having a checklist and a timeline will make your party move smoothly through each phase, from preliminary shopping through prep work, set-up and finally the event, break down, and garbage disposal. The better your plan, the better your chances of success, though you’ll have to remain flexible for, as Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, planning is essential.”
All this planning has one simple reason: so that you have to enjoy your party! Nothing is worse than having a party that you can’t even attend because you are attending to all the details. Cut loose this year and make the party your party. Make sure to make time to enjoy yourself!
The first major element of any party plan that you’ll need to decide is what sort of food you might want to serve. Whether you want to keep it simple with a cheese plate and some strategically placed snacks (in which case you’ll only need to account for bowls, cocktail napkins, trash cans for the cocktail napkins, and a cheese board, cheese knifes, bread, fruit and crackers to go with the cheese) or a full seated dinner, having a plan will make it easier.
As you can see, a plan may include which bowl each snack goes in, or what is for each course for dinner. It should also include a timeline that allows you to not think about what you have to do during the party. A simple check of the timeline may tell you to put the roast in the oven at 7pm, and then the potatoes in at 7:30, with the carrots going in at 8, all to come out at 8:30 for the perfect entrée.
Cook ahead of time
When planning your menu, focus on foods that can be prepared ahead and won’t need a lot of detail work or involved plating at service. The ideal foods are those that can be cooked ahead of time and can be served at room temperature or straight from the fridge. Some suggestions:
Get your prep done early
All this talk about easy-to-serve doesn’t mean you have to serve simple or boring foods. One of my favorite types of dishes to serve at my dinner parties are those that can be prepared earlier and then simply heated for service. These are frequently cooked in the oven, though there are exceptions. Some of my favorite dishes include:
Braised beans, especially cassoulet
Foods that can feed an army
The last place to focus and save time is to prepare large dishes that can feed many people. This is also rather oven-dependent, so you’ll have to have a good plan that helps you allocate cooking space and time in your kitchen. I keep an outline about times and places -- which oven rack, which burner -- to ensure I stay on track. My plan actually goes much further, noting which platter will get used for which dish and I always keep a list of garnishes. You’d be surprised how often one forgets that last little step when in the middle of a great party. Add in a drink or two, and those details tend to fall right through the cracks.
Some dishes that can feed the masses are:
There is no shame in having food delivered for your party. The only shame is getting caught claiming it was yours. So don’t get caught! Dispose of wrappers and all incriminating evidence in a sealed garbage can that you place with the trash outside! Or don’t lie at all. People won’t remember your store-bought casserole if your party rocks, and there’s a better chance of it rocking if you’re free to entertain and lead the festivities.
Enlist the troops
Let your guests lend a helping hand -- they really came because your cooking is so damn good, but they also like you and actually want to see you having a good time at your own party, so when they offer help, accept it. If they don’t, don’t feel bad, they’re probably just having such a great time because you’re such a great host that they forgot to offer. So, if you need or want help, let those freeloaders -- err, I mean your guests -- know!
Postpone the cleanup
Ok, this one is going to seem like a little much to some folks. It’s about the dishes and dirty pots and pans. If you have a garage, why not just pack them up and put them in your, hopefully, cool garage and deal with them the next day? A better trick, if you can, is to lay the plates edge-down in a milk crate and them rinse them with your garden house. It won’t get them clean but they will be rinsed and ready for the dishwasher the next day!
Plan some more
Once you have your menu planned out, and all the steps involved, make sure to think of all the little things that can eat away at your time, turning your party into a great big downer. A music playlist, extra rolls of toilet paper in an obvious place, trash cans placed where trash cans might need to live, all set-up well in advance of the guests' arrival. I like to take care of these details the day before a party.
With your plan in place you’ll be ready to not only enjoy your party, but ensure that all your guests have a rollicking good time. And with all this planning under your belt you’ll have thought of almost everything, and ready to take on everything!
Happy holidays to all the great hosts and guests out there!