Entertaining can be stressful and time consuming. Advance planning can help to eliminate the stress, manage your time more efficiently. Planning your menu and going out to procure your ingredients are pretty obvious steps, but don’t overlook planning out your prep schedule also. You need to determine what you can prepare ahead of time and what you need to prepare at the last minute.
As a chef, and especially when I am catering, it is all about prepping ahead of time. I need to do as much of the chopping and dicing well in advance. If I am making a soup, I small dice the necessary vegetables the day before along with enough garlic for the entire meal so that I am not mincing garlic every hour as it is needed for the soup, the entrée and the salad dressing.
It’s all about Prep
Eliminating repetitive tasks will help take the stress out of the cooking process and having the vegetables ready from the day before when you start to prepare the dishes allows you to work more efficiently.
The magic of blanching and ice baths
Blanching and shocking vegetables in an ice bath is a great way to prep the vegetables for meal. This can be done early in the day or even the day before serving. For example, if I’m using French beans and a julienne of carrots for the vegetable, I blanch the vegetable in boiling water just until al dente and plunge them into a large bowl of ice water. The ice bath allows the vegetables to retain the color and crispness. All you need to do is to heat them up in a pan with some butter, a splash of water and season with salt and pepper just before serving.
If I am preparing sautéed mushroom, I cut the mushrooms ahead of time along with some minced shallots and sauté them early in the day so all I need to do is reheat them at the last minute either in a sauté pan or even in the oven if my stove top is too busy.
As for meats, I pan sear or grill them ahead of time, let them cool them down and put them back in the fridge for a few hours until I need them. Later, all I need to do is finish them in the oven. Pan searing can be messy so by doing this early in the day you will be able to clean up the stove area so it will look good for the dinner service. This will also keep the dirty pots and pans out of the sink during dinner, it is nice to have them cleaned and put away.
I find that vegetable prep is what I spend the most time on but if you manage it properly then you might actually enjoy your dinner party with your guest. I will be adding to this subject again at a later date.