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Just a little planning ahead can make preparing and cleaning up after a holiday meal much quicker and easier. Start in advance to avoid some costly holiday dinner mistakes.
A few days before the dinner:
Start with the turkey. In fact, start the turkey 2-3 days ahead by making sure that it is thawed. A 10 pound turkey will need at least 48 hours in the refrigerator to be fully thawed. So get the turkey out of the freezer and into the refrigerator 2 or 3 full days before you plan to start cooking. (Note: if you already waited too long, a wrapped turkey can be submerged in cold water for 5 - 6 hours for emergency thawing.)
Now, while the turkey thaws, let's get a few more things done well in advance:
Check your carving and cutting knives and sharpen any that are dull.
Check your serving dishes against your menu and make sure you have plenty of clean, right-sized plates, platters, and bowls for serving the foods you are preparing.
Rinse off the good china, either by hand or in the dishwasher rinse cycle so they are ready to be set on the table. This will remove the fine layer of dust and perhaps a stray dead bug from those long-stored plates. Get out the glassware and rinse and polish those, too.
When planning the meal, try to either serve all simply prepared dishes, or try to have only one or two of the dishes be complex to prepare. Trying to make too many preparation-intense dishes can not only add to your stress, but may also cause your guests to feel a little overwhelmed and not able to fully appreciate each dish.
Read and reread every last recipe that you intend to use and then check the refrigerator and shelves to be certain that you actually have the ingredients in the amounts that you need.
Read the directions on every frozen food that you plan to use so you can make plans to accommodate whether they will need to be thawed in advance of cooking. You can also check to see if the frozen food will need added ingredients that you thought were already included in the package.
Check batteries and charge up any rechargeable appliances, such as a mixer, electric knife, that you plan to use. If some of your appliances use detachable cords, then locate the cords now.
Locate the lids to all the pans you intend to use for cooking.
Do some of the prep work ahead of time. For example, carrots can be peeled and sliced, onions can be diced, and bread can cubed and baked for stuffing.
Dry ingredients can also be premeasured and stored. Premeasure the flour, sugar, spices, and other dry ingredients, seal them in a jar or bag, and make careful notes on the package showing what you have already added.
Table and room decorations and candles should be checked for dust and small needed adjustments. Tablecloths and any cloth napkins should be freshly washed and ironed if necessary.
If you plan to play certain songs or music during dinner, be sure you have them on hand and that your stereo and speakers are working.
Clear out space in your refrigerator for storing leftovers. Check and match lids to your containers so they are ready for leftovers.
On the day of the holiday dinner:
Wear an apron while you cook. No need to let a blotch of flour or a splash of cooking oil ruin that blouse that makes you look so attractive.
Read over the recipes again and make note of the cooking and baking times. Plan as best you can for the dishes to be finished and ready to serve at the same time.
Have ready in your mind the things that your guests and family might be able to do to help you. That way, when someone asks if they can help (or insists!), you'll be able to give them something useful to do.
Before you start to cook, empty the dishwasher or the draining rack by your sink. They'll be ready to load dirty dishes as you cook.
Designate a large bowl for scraps and waste while you cook. Use this for egg shells, peels, package wrappers, etc. This will save countless steps back and forth to the garbage can.
Rinse and/or soak dirty pots, pans, and utensils while you cook. Wash a pan or two, or load them in the dishwasher as you go along.
Fill a dishpan or sink with hot soapy water and drop in the dirty utensils and tableware and let them soak while you carry and scrape the plates. They'll either wash clean or be ready for easy loading in the dishwasher by the time you are done.
Accept offers to help with the cleanup. Remember, you already made a mental list of things others could do. This way, you can assign tasks and have a little more control over how things are done. Depending on the type of party and your relationship with the dinner guests, dirty plates can be carried, dishes can be covered with plastic, and friends can gather for small talk with you while you work.
In contrast, if you really prefer that your guests do not help with the clean up, then let them know your custom, or perhaps assign a small harmless task to keep them busy yet out of the way.
If you prefer to do the major clean up after your guests leave, then consider letting the dirty dishes soak in hot soapy water while you finish entertaining.
Now, pour yourself a nice glass of wine or tea and go join your guests. You've just hosted a wonderful holiday dinner.
Enjoy your holiday!
Article by Patti Tokar Canton
This article is a recap of my Xomba article, 14 Secrets for Smoother Holiday Meal Preparation and Cleanup