I love planning a holiday meal. As new food magazine issues emerge on the shelves, I start collecting them – and scouring them – using page flags and sticky notes to mark interesting recipes.
I’m lucky that my family is laid back when it comes to holiday meals. They usually leave the menu up to me, and I love the responsibility – it lets me get a little creative!
A decision on the protein comes first – turkey, ham, duck, Cornish game hen, seafood? From there I plan the sides carefully… and yes, I write it all down on one big list. (Normally I make a list of possible sides and then mark them off based on relevance to the protein.) Once I’ve narrowed down my sides and desserts (the two hardest categories to whittle down), I make a shopping list. I go through the ingredients in each recipe and check it with items I have on hand. If I need something, it goes on the shopping list – with amounts needed jotted out to the side. So, if for example, I need butter for the green beans, butter for the mashed potatoes and butter for the dessert – I might have a side note of 1/2 cup + 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons… Before heading to the store, I do the math so I buy the right amount of each ingredient.
**My Holiday Grocery Shopping Trick – Buying in bulk (especially when everyone else is) can be a waiting game. Instead, plan out your shopping list early and conquer it by making more frequent, quick stops during the week leading up to the holiday. Plan to buy 10 items or less so you can go through the Express Lane – it’s a breeze and you’ll have all you need in no time, without having to wait 30-45 minutes in a long register line! **
Another clever idea for your holiday (and everyday) entertaining is to keep a Cooking Journal. I got this one years ago at Anthropologie, but any journal or notebook will do. In my food journal, I keep track of menus for holidays and other special get-togethers. It’s kind of like in the movie High Fidelity when John Cusack’s character reorganized his record collection in chronological order. If I remember that we loved the potatoes from last Easter but our favorite turkey was from Christmas 3 years ago, I can mix and match to create a better menu for the next holiday. It’s a good way to keep beloved recipes close at hand (if they’re well received I jot down the recipe in the book) – and I love to look back on what went over well and what didn’t.
Here’s a peek inside my cooking journal. I make notes of the event, date of the meal, who was in attendance and where the dinner was for future reference. I also include a rating out to the side of experimental dishes – stars if we loved the dish and X’s if we hated it… keeps us from repeating culinary mistakes. In this journal, I also experiment on recipes I’ve had and want to duplicate or recipes I’ve thrown together and liked. It’s where I keep track of my culinary adventures (and misadventures too).
I would recommend a cooking journal to any aspiring foodie… in fact, if you know a foodie who doesn’t have one, it might be a great Christmas gift idea.
It’s back to Thanksgiving dinner plans for me. Happy Thursday!