Did you miss part one of our Celebrate with the Blues series? Check it out here!
For menu items I am not providing recipes for, but you want to prepare and not purchase, I recommend the Epicurious, Martha Stewart or Fine Cooking websites. Do choose recipes for simplicity and ALWAYS check out the reviews. Don’t bother with any recipe that less than 80% of people “would make again”. If 3 out of 4 reviewers said it was better when they doubled the spices or cooked at lower heat, I would take their advice.
Roast Turkey (14-16 lbs) (Gravy Optional) – I use a hybrid of my Grandma Durocher’s method and Martha Stewart’s Turkey 101. Really all you need to do is wash the bird, salt the interior and cover the skin with some sort of fat (I prefer softened butter) and add some sort of liquid (I use white wine and turkey broth made from the neck & gizzards) by basting or add to drippings later if you want gravy. Turkey breasts do not have enough fat to make good gravy, so I make mushroom gravy if I am not roasting a whole bird. Epicurious has a great roasting chart and general Turkey Info page. I usually start with a high oven temp (450 degrees) for first 30 minutes, then lower oven to 350 degrees for remainder of cooking. This makes for a shorter cooking time and nice crispy, brown skin without drying the bird out too much. Always plan to pull the turkey out 1 1/2 hrs to 2hours before serving. That way you will have ample time if it needs longer to cook and still be able to let it rest before carving.
Baked Ham (8-10 lb bone-in half ham) – Here I claim a fair amount of ignorance. For convenience sake, I just grab the spiral sliced, pre-cooked, warm n’ serve half hams that are plentiful at holiday time. They usually are wrapped in gold or red foil and come with a handy glaze packet. I just follow the directions on the packaging – although sometime I make the glaze with orange juice and bourbon instead of water. I am positive there are more flavorful, wholesome hams available from farms and butcher shops, and I don’t know a thing about them.
Dee’s Homemade Mac & Cheese Of the hundreds of dishes I have made over the years, none gets more love than this simple casserole. It is universally appreciated by the old, the young, the rich, the poor and the toothless of all ages. I think anywhere in America, you will be a hero for making great homemade macaroni and cheese. I dress it up at holiday by serving it with turkey and ham – but it is equally well received on Memorial Day served with hamburgers and hot dogs.
Mixed Green Salad with Grandmere’s Vinaigrette - I just buy the organic, pre-mixed salad greens in a box. For a crowd of 25, I get two 16 oz boxes from Costco. I will toss one box to get the buffet started and add more as the evening goes on as needed. Bottled salad dressings are one of my pet peeves, I think they are all awful and a big waste of money. This vinaigrette keeps well in the fridge for a week or so. If the olive oil starts to solidify, just bring to room temperature before serving.
Baked Sweet Potatoes - 14-16 large potatoes for 25. Just scrub and bake in 375 oven for 1 hour. Cut in half to serve. You can also bake half white potatoes and half sweet potatoes and place them in the same serving bowl. I serve them plain, with butter next to them. This is a great meal base option for vegans and a healthy starch for anyone avoiding refined carbs or needing a gluten free option. They are also very useful leftovers, just peel, slice thickly and sauté in butter for breakfast, yum.
Sweet Potato Casserole – one 9 x 12 casserole. There are many great recipe variations on the sweet potato casserole. They are all great if your folks like sweets and you don’t have health nuts or vegans in your crowd. Preparing the casserole will take an extra hour of your time and more baking space in the oven than the whole potatoes, which can be baked on the side or lower rack while you are baking the ham or the mac & cheese. However, it is an American holiday classic and will be appreciated by many.
Steamed Broccoli or Asparagus – 2-3 big bunches. I just trim, wash, and steam until crisp tender. I don’t put any sauce or butter. Folks can add it if they want, but plain they fit into any dietary regimen and leftovers can be tossed cold with vinaigrette tomorrow.
Collard Greens - 3 large bunches or 4 bags of pre-washed. Collard, mustard, and turnip greens, or a combination thereof take a bit more handling but are considered essential by many Southerners to any real meal. Fill the sink with water and rinse your greens 3 times. Then, trim away the tough stems and roughly chop greens. Place in a large pot with and 1″ of water and simmer for 45 minutes (or 4 hours if you are Old School). If you are Old School, you will also need to “season” your greens by streaming with a ham hock, fat back or at least a smoked turkey wing and you will also not give a fig about the vegans, they could probably use some meat on their bones anyway.
Cranberry Sauce – Like the vinaigrette, the cranberry sauce is another opportunity for you to bask in culinary glory for a mere five minutes of effort. Just buy a bag of fresh cranberries and follow the directions on the package, which is basically to boil them with water and sugar for 5 minutes. However, I recommend spicing it up with 1/2 tsp of allspice and a shot of Grand Marnier or Cointreau. These are very expensive liqueurs, so buy an airplane bottle or make do with the leftover Triple Sec from you last margarita bash.
French Bread or Yeast Rolls (purchased) – enough for 1-2 rolls or slices per person, more if you want to make sandwiches at midnight for the late night crowd. You can get baguette sliced at the deli – but that must be purchased the day of the party or it will be terribly stale. Pretty decent warm and serve yeast rolls can be found in the freezer section. These are usually better than the ones in the bread aisle, since they are not so loaded with preservatives.
French Bread, Cornbread or Biscuits (homemade) – Fresh, hot homemade bread will distinguish anyone as kitchen royalty. They may not worship you to the same degree for cornbread, but they will still love you for it. I will post recipes for these in the next week or two.
Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie (purchased) – Folks will forgive you for purchasing these, and you can redeem your culinary crown by whipping fresh cream to put on top (also 5 minute chore, but must be done during the party or it gets mushy).
Pecan Pie or Chocolate Cake (purchased) – same here. You can go to fancy bakery and get something fabulous, but it will bust your $200 budget for sure.
Homemade Desserts – Here again, if you don’t have favorite recipes from family or your best cookbooks, I would refer you to search the RELIABLE websites out there. I get a great deal of joy from placing home baked pies on the dessert table – but you will need to make them ahead of time.
Order of Operations
“It’s just a matter of time”, Brook Benton knew what he was singing about. The difference between being able to enjoy your party and being a stressed out nut, is time and planning. Give yourself twice as much time as you think you need for every task so unexpected delays (phone calls, friends stopping by, etc) won’t throw you off.
1. Invite folks ahead of time, 4-6 weeks is really best if you want most of them to attend. Do try and invite people you actually like and not just those you feel you must invite. Mix it up if you can. Many people will ask, “What can I bring?” If your best friend is a fabulous baker that enjoys doing it for fun, I think it is fine to ask him if he would make the pumpkin pie. But, by far, the safest response is to just tell them to bring a smile. If you are not expect anything, you won’t be chomping on your nails and holding people off from the buffet when the cheese and crackers are running two hours late and you can be pleasantly surprised by the nice bottle of Cabernet or the pretty pound cake that turns up on the buffet.
2. If you are a relatively inexperienced cook or have never made dinner for more than 6 people before but have now expanded the guest list to 25 – go with the One Day Buffet. You can bask in the culinary glory of homemade pies and breads next year.
3. At least a week before the party read through these instructions completely and all of the recipes and review your kitchen equipment to make sure you have everything you need. I would use a metal roasting pan for turkey because it will be too heavy for the disposable and you could have a dangerous disaster with hot drippings trying to remove it from the oven. Disposables are okay for everything else, double up on the ham if you are concerned about weight. An instant read digital thermometer can be purchased for less than $10 at any grocery store and is the only way to properly gauge the doneness of poultry, hams and roasts. I have also purchased very inexpensive catering stands, sterno cans, large and small aluminum trays from Costo to keep the buffet warm. Three stands, 3 large trays and about 12 half-size trays are enough to serve this meal. If you’ve not used them before, they are really easy to set up. You drop a big try into the holder and out about 1/2″ of water in it, then you can fit two of the smaller trays in at any time. Then, you set the sterno cans below in the rack and take a math to the open tops when you are ready to heat your food. Each can of sterno will last about two hours once lit. But, they are super hot until the flames die out completely, so make sure you let them cool or grab them with something other than your fingers if you need to replace them during the party. If you’ve carved your meat into the smaller trays or baked you casseroles in them – you can just pop them in trays, cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Crockpots are great to keep gravy or veggies warm.
3. Complete all shopping 1-2 days before the party. Try not to do it all the day before, it is too exhausting. I always suggest getting a fresh turkey that has not been frozen because they taste better and do not need to defrost. You can usually get these from any grocer between Thanksgiving and they will be more expensive than frozen birds. If you have to get a frozen turkey, it will take 3-4 days to defrost in your fridge before you can roast it. You cannot mircowave defrost large birds. If you miss this window and can’t find a fresh bird, just roast a few of chickens but even these need time to defrost, so don’t wait till the day before the party! Also, make sure any major house cleaning that needs to be done is done a couple days before the party. You will spend party day messing up and cleaning up kitchen, there will not be time for the rest of the joint. You will run out of room in your fridge. You can use a cooler and ice as auxiliary for beer, beverages, cheese, ham – just protect food well from water. If you live in a cold climate, you may also be able to store baked goods and things in protected porch, but keep in mind some things don’t freeze well, do watch from sever temperatures.
4. The day before the party sit write down everything you need to make and what time it has to be put in the oven to bake to be ready on time. Unless you have two ovens, you will have to bake some items ahead and keep them warm – use the time guide below and fill in time to suit your party kick off. If at all possible: arrange flowers, sort out and press table linens. Move the furniture around to set up buffet table, drink table, etc. In a pinch, two saw horses and a flat door, or piece of plywood can make an acceptable buffet table. A tablecloth is highly recommended in that pinch. If you are on a budget, check out your local thrift store for vintage table linens, you can usually pick something up for a few bucks.
5. Talking Turkey – Always get a fresh (not frozen), natural bird (not pumped up with broth solutions, etc). If you don’t know the difference, ask for help at the meat counter or buy it from Whole Foods. Most grocery stores stock fresh, natural birds at holiday time, but if you are concerned about getting the size you want when you want it, you can usually reserve ahead of time. Avoid Butterball and Perdue mass produced birds. They soak them in these “broth solutions” that might make them keep longer, but taste really salty and give the meat a weird texture
I use a hybrid of my Grandma Durocher’s method and Martha Stewart’s Turkey 101. Really all you need to do is wash the bird, salt the interior and cover the skin with some sort of fat (I prefer softened butter) and add some sort of liquid (I use white wine and turkey broth made form the neck & gizzards) by basting or add to drippings later if you want gravy. Turkey breasts do not have enough fat to make good gravy, so I make mushroom gravy if I am not roasting a whole bird. Epicurious has a great roasting chart and general Turkey Info page. I usually start with a high oven temp (450 degrees) for first 30 minutes, then lower oven to 350 degrees for remainder of cooking. This makes for a shorter cooking time and nice crispy, brown skin without drying the bird out too much. Always plan to pull the turkey out 1 1/2 hrs to 2 hours before serving. That way you will have ample time if it needs longer to cook and still be able to let it rest before carving.
Here are your timing sheets for your One-Day or Two Day Buffets
6. Setting up the buffet. If you have three stands you can set up tray #1 with Sliced Turkey , white in one try, dark meat in the other. Tray #2 can have ham and mac & cheese, tray #3 sweet potatoes and your green vegetable. Next in line I would place your gravy and cranberry sauce. Big bowl of salad is next to that, but only put out about half of it initially and because it gets soggy after an hour or so. You can replenish as needed. However, you can lay out the cold items, salt and pepper, butter, etc. before your guests arrive and keep them covered. I would keep your sliced meats, baked potatoes, casseroles, etc all in their servings containers covered tightly with tin foil in a warming oven (200 degrees). Light the sterno and drop the food into the warming trays just when your guests are arriving.
7. I used to try and open the buffet and hour or so after the party began. But I found folks would come in ready to eat and start circling the buffet table anyway. So, I soon gave up the “cocktail hour” concept for casual parties of 12 or more and just had the buffet ready at party kick off. I actually found this has enhanced my personal cocktail hour. I get the buffet set up and running early and then kick back with my well-deserved libation and a good buddy for a chat before I hit the buffet.
8. My preference is to prep ahead as much as possible so that I can actually take a shower and get my party dress on about 1 hour before guests arrive. The real masters of organization, like my mom, have the buffet dishes ready to serve and warming in the oven, are impeccably dressed and are sitting on the couch sipping a glass of wine 20 minutes before their guests arrive. I have mastered the glass of wine, and have come close to the other two on a few occasions.
BIG NOTE – Accept help in the kitchen!!!!! Do not insist on doing it all yourself or you will be the only one that does not have fun at your party!!!!
Stay tuned for recipe cards and a day-of planner!