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Guide to Holiday Entertaining


If your home will be the central gathering place this year for a holiday, it's time to make your lists and check them over twice. The editors of the Leewood Times have created this guide to holiday entertaining to help you get organized and make the visit pleasurable for you and your guests. Whether you're planning to throw your first dinner party, or you've been hosting gatherings for years, this primer will remind you of all the little details that add up to a spectacular occasion.

Extend a Specific Invitation

If you will be on the hosting end this year the most important thing to do up front is make it clear how long your guests will be welcome in your home. You can either extend an open-ended invitation, or one that makes the timeframe for the invitation clear. This will prevent any any uncomfortable periods where no one knows what's expected and you're too shy to ask when they'll be leaving. Here are some links to help you create your invitations.




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Plan Your Meal

Next you will have to decide how many meals you'll be preparing, and how many meals you can take out. There's nothing wrong with not cooking every meal yourself, as long as your guests know you've made some kind of plan. Make sure you give out specific assignments to guests that are bringing a meal. This will eliminate any confussion. The best way to get started planning a meal is to pick one recipe. Once that is in place, the rest of the meal falls together. By considering one choice at a time, You can build your meal step by step. Always keep an eye on the total picture and, before you know it, the entire menu has come together.

Food restrictions or dislikes

Nothing is worse than putting a glorious plate of food that you’ve worked hours to prepare in front of someone only to find that they cannot enjoy it for one reason or another. Some people have medical restrictions, others have ethical restrictions, and then there are some people who just won’t eat certain foods. If someone is a vegetarian, ask what that means for them—some vegetarians will eat egg and milk products or even fish. If someone is Kosher, find out how they practice these dietary laws—there are different ways that individuals follow the Kosher dietary rules. Get specific information about what your guests can and cannot eat. If you have doubts, ask questions. You’ll find that your guests will appreciate your taking their special needs into consideration.

Menu Season

Different seasons mean that different produce is at its peak so why not take advantage of this when planning your menu? For example, asparagus is available all year round in local markets but the asparagus is best in the early spring. Seasonality can also affect certain seafood, such as crab.

Time of Day

When is the meal to be served? Some dishes seem better in the mid-day, others in the evening. Some dishes may be great for a Sunday brunch, but out of place for Sunday dinner.

Level of Elegance

How elegant will the meal be? Do you plan to use a formal table setting or a casual one? While you will want to impress my guests, you also want them to feel comfortable. Do what you feel comfortable doing, but think of your guests, too. Let your menu and its presentation reflect the level of elegance you wish to impart.

Equipment Availability

Plan your meal around the equipment that you have available in your kitchen. If you have only one oven to work you cannot cook two items at different temperatures at the same time. We all have a limited number of burners on our stove and a limited number of pots to place on the burners. Keep all this in mind when you plan the meal.

Here are some meal planning links...

Food Network Holiday Meal Planner

Whole Foods Market Planning Tips

About.com Meal Planning Links

Nutrition.gov Planning Page

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How to Create Your Shopping lists

One of the keys to successful entertaining is being well organized. Arm yourself with a well-thought-out shopping list before you hit the stores, here's how:

1 . Assemble all the recipes you will be preparing.

2. Create a Master List

- List all the ingredients that you will need to purchase.
- List all the beverages you will need to buy that are available in supermarket.
- List all party goods that you need to purchase that are available in supermarket.
- List all flowers or center pieces available at the supermarket.

3. Create a Last Minute List

- Review Master List for ingredients that will need to be purchased at the last minute, such as fresh produce or a special dessert. Write these items on Last Minute Purchases list. Remove them from the Master List.

4. Create Misc Lists

- Party goods not available in the supermarket.
- Flowers or centerpiece supplies not available in the supermarket.
- Beverages such as Liquor not available in the supermarket.

Butterball Interactive Shopping List

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How to Create a Party Timetable

Schedule a day (or days) to go shopping for the items on your lists. Here is a simple countdown to take you through the final two weeks leading up to the big day.

Two Weeks Before:

- Confirm your guest list, order your turkey if fresh, purchase your turkey if frozen, give out specific assignments to guests that are contributing meals.
- Finalize your shopping lists.
- Inventory your table and kitchen supplies.
- Make arrangements to borrow or rent any items that you lack.

One Week Before:

- Order your centerpiece.
- Iron linens & polish your silver.
- Purchase wine, beer, soft drinks.
- Shop for non-perishables.
- Select music.
- If using a frozen turkey, plan the day to begin to thaw. The rule of thumb is to allow one day for every five pounds of turkey.
- Make a plan for cleaning your house, particularly the rooms that will likely be seen by guests. De-clutter the messiest rooms first.

Two Days Before:

- Purchase all perishable ingredients.
- Begin cleaning and chopping any vegetables for the stuffing/dressing and side dishes.
- Bake and freeze any pies or other desserts that can be frozen.
- Prepare recipes such as dips, soups and cranberry sauce, pie dough.
- Make a written plan for cooking your meal.

One Day Before:

- Clean the powder room, dust and vacuum all rooms guests will be using, especially the dining room and kitchen.
- Set the table, take out all of the serving pieces.
- Make and refrigerate your stuffing or dressing, clean and truss your turkey, then refrigerate it.
- Finish preparing and bake your pies.
- Prepare and refrigerate salads.
- Pick up your centerpiece if it's not being delivered.

Day of the Party:

- Roast turkey and stuffing/dressing.
- Ask someone to pick up any bread or rolls you'll need for your dinner.
- Finish preparing appetizers, first courses, and/or side dishes.
- Make the gravy.
- Turn on your music.
- Light the candles.
- Take fifteen minutes before guests arrive to freshen yourself and relax.
- Welcome guests.
- Set out the food, and count your blessings!

Food Network Party Planning

Yankee Grocery Party Planning

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How to Make a Written Plan for Cooking Your Meal

Once your menu is set, make a copy and keep it in your kitchen to refer to when needed. Some dishes require preparation for a number of days, whereas others can be prepared at the last minute. Keep this in mind as you plan so you don’t find yourself with a three-day recipe to be prepared on the same day the guests arrive. Make a list of equipment that you have available in your kitchen, and what you are going to use with each recipe. You probably only have only one oven to work, meaning you cannot cook two items at different temperatures at the same time. Write down what times and temperatures you will need for each meal. We all have a limited number of burners on our stove and a limited number of pots to place on the burners. Write down what items will use what pot.

Some ingredients can be prepared a day or more in advance. Stocks can be prepared in quantity and then frozen until needed. Pickled, smoked, dried, and other preserved ingredients can be prepared well in advance of the day of the meal. Cakes, when stored properly, can be much better two or three days after they are baked. Stews and other meats cooked in a sauce definitely benefit from being made in advance and reheated just before serving.

Same Day Preparation

Many dishes can be prepared many hours in advance of the meal. Some preparations benefit from sitting for a time before being served. Even if the whole dish cannot be completed early in the day, usually the mise en place, the preparation of the ingredients, can be. Ingredients can be cleaned, cut, blanched, and otherwise made ready for their final cooking.

Last Minute Preparation

The only parts of the meal prepared at the last minute should be items that definitely cannot be prepared in advance. This would include the final cooking of certain meats, poultry, and fish; the dressing of salads; and the baking of flans and soufflés. Fresh herbs can be picked and cleaned in advance, but those that darken quickly when cut, such as basil and tarragon, should be cut at the last minute.

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It's Time to Cook

Preparing a holiday meal doesn't need to stressful. Many dishes can be prepared many hours in advance of the meal. Some preparations benefit from sitting for a time before being served. Even if the whole dish cannot be completed early in the day, the preparation of the ingredients can be. Ingredients can be cleaned, cut, blanched, and otherwise made ready for their final cooking.

Plan Ahead

If you decide what to cook early, have all ingredients on hand, and cook some of the meal ahead of time, you can save yourself a lot of stress. On the day before you can make and refrigerate your stuffing or dressing, clean and truss your turkey, then refrigerate it. You can finish preparing and bake your pies, and prepare and refrigerate salads.

Simplify Cooking

If you can take shortcuts, take them. Bake your turkey in a plastic bag, which keeps it moist as it cooks and makes clean-up easier. Opt for instant mashed potatoes, pre-cut green beans, and pie from the store.

Cut Down On Food

If you’re cooking for only a few people, you may consider cooking a turkey breast—rather than the whole bird—to save time and energy. Turkey breasts cook more quickly, take less preparation, leave no carcass behind, feed several people, and supply delicious white meat, which is lower in fat. While it’s fun to have leftovers, if the idea of turkey soup and turkey sandwiches for the next two weeks doesn’t appeal, this is a good place to simplify

Try Fewer Side Dishes

It’s a lot of fun to have a feast, and there are many creative recipes this time of year, but if you cut down on side dishes, you can save yourself quite a bit of time and effort. Just pick a vegetable or two, and rolls, and make a lot of them. This way, while there’s less variety, there’s plenty of food.

Let Others Help

Another fun way to simplify your meal is to let others help with the side dishes. If you’re having other people come, you can just let everyone bring a side dish or dessert while you supply the turkey. If you’re only cooking for your own household, you can let everyone in the house be responsible for one side. This lets everyone feel good that they’ve contributed to the joy of the feast.

Get Take-Out

If all of this sounds too complicated, there’s an even simpler way. Many restaurants and even grocery stores are beginning to offer pre-cooked holiday feasts. All you do is pick up a cooked turkey or ham (which can be reheated and served when you choose), and several side dishes. This is a great solution for those who want a traditional meal for their holiday celebration, but simply don’t have the time or ability to cook one.

Cooking Tips A-Z

Food Reference.com has cooking tips for every food item. Here are helpful links for your to use.

To use: If you are cooking asparagus you will use the "Tips-A" link and click on "Asparagus"

Tips - A Tips - E Tips - L Tips - S
Tips - B Tips - F Tips - M Tips - T
Tips - Ca - Ch Tips - G Tips - N O Tips - U V W
Tips - Ci - Cu Tips - H I J Tips - P Tips - X Y Z
Tips - D Tips - K Tips - Q R  

Cooking Meats

Most of your cookbooks do discuss how to prepare your meats. It has everything to do with time and temperature. You have too much of one or the other or both you may be seriously overcooking the meats. When you overcook meat, the fibrous proteins in it become solid, dense, and dry. You need to find a happy compromise between getting the meat done and keeping it moist and tender.

We strongly suggest you invest in an instant-read thermometer, which will help you know when your meat is fully cooked. Meats will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat — small cuts like pork chops and hamburgers will rise an additional 5° or so while large roasts will rise 10° or so — so you should remove them shortly before they reach the desired temperature.

Here is a helpful guide to proper meat temperatures:

Fresh ground beef, veal, lamb, pork 160°F
Beef, veal, lamb roasts, steaks, chops: medium rare 145°F
Beef, veal, lamb roasts, steaks, chops: medium 160°F
Beef, veal, lamb roasts, steaks, chops: well done 170°F
Fresh pork roasts, steaks, chops: medium 160°F
Fresh pork roasts, steaks, chops: well done 170°F
Ham: cooked before eating 160°F
Ham: fully cooked, to reheat 140°F
Ground chicken/turkey 165° F
Whole chicken/turkey 180° F
Poultry breasts, roasts 170° F

You will notice that there is no allowance in the chart above for meats cooked rare. When the thigh of a roast chicken reaches 180°, the breast is still around 165° to 170°, which is in the opinion of many, a little overcooked for best flavor. If you cook the bird until the breast is 180°, the thigh will be above 190° and no part of the bird will be particularly appetizing.

You will also need to take the time required for your own preparations into consideration and make sure you will have plenty of time to have the food ready for your guests plus a way to keep it warm so it doesn't get cold.

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Setting the Table

We often intimidate guests by being too formal, yet some rules do apply. The following diagram shows a full-blown table setting for a fancy dinner party. Adjust it as necessary to fit your menu. Remember to make your guests as comfortable as you can. Don't put out utensils that won't ever be used. If your menu doesn't include anything that would be eaten with a teaspoon or desert fork, don't put them on the table. If you're planning to serve coffee and dessert afterward, bring out the teaspoons then. There is no hard and fast rule, you can use this diagram as a guide.

1. Napkin
2. Salad fork
3. Dinner fork
4. Dessert fork
5. Bread-and-butter plate, with spreader
6. Dinner plate
7. Dinner knife
8. Teaspoon
9. Teaspoon
10. Soup spoon
11. Cocktail fork
12. Water glass
13. Red-wine glass
14. White-wine glass
15. Coffee cup and saucer*

* For an informal meal, include the coffee cup and saucer with the table setting. Otherwise, bring them to the table with the dessert.

Serving Your Guests

Deciding when to begin serving food to your guests at a dinner party is an extremely important aspect to the overall success of your event. You want people to leave feeling pleased and satisfied and not like they were either rushed or had to wait too long to eat. If you are going to serve your first formal course at 6:30, make sure everybody knows that from the invitation. Your arrival time is at 6 o'clock, which gives a half hour for appetizers to be passed around. You normally want to give people half an hour to show up, it is alright to serve appetizers for up to 45 minutes while waiting for guests to arrive.

How Many Courses

There are several factors you need to take into consideration when setting up your meal time, including what you are serving and how late you are willing to entertain. If it's an extremely formal meal with several courses, you will need to consider the time it will take to serve and consume each of the courses and possibly plan an earlier dinner, such as 5:00, depending on how late you want the evening to go. For shorter meals, anywhere between 6:00 and 7:00 is acceptable.

Appetizer Time

If you plan to serve appetizers while you are waiting for guests to arrive, you will want to stop serving them ten to twenty minutes before your first course is served. You don't want to give people too long to eat appetizers, as you don't want them already full when it's time to sit down for the meal.

It’s all in the Invitation

Let guests know ahead of time what they can expect. Send out invitations that include a time set for appetizers and a time set for dinner - and then stick to it. Don't invite people to arrive at 5:00 and then serve them dinner at 7:00. This is just too long to wait and while your guests might like the company, they won't appreciate being kept hungry. Be specific on your invitations, such as "Hors d'oeuvres from 6:00 until 6:30. Dinner served at 6:45."


In case there are leftovers, it's good to have containers on hand for your guests to take some home. Heavy duty storage bags, disposable baking pans, or disposable storage containers make leftover transport easy, and guarantees that your favorite bowl doesn't get lost in the sharing.

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Activities & Entertaining & Sleepovers

If your guests will be visiting for more than one night, you can avoid cabin fever by scheduling activities besides the holiday dinner. There are always special events from which to choose around the holidays such as plays, vocal performances, ballets, or new movies. Investigate whether any local museums have special exhibits that would interest your group. Even planning a family walk in a local nature area would be a welcome change from holiday dining. Other fun physical activities could include going to an indoor roller-skating rink, an ice-skating rink, driving golf balls, or even bowling. Have schedules, times and prices available for activities that don't need advance ticket purchase, then the group can decide what sounds best.

Stuff for the Kids

If little children are visiting, some fun, inexpensive diversions to have on hand include sidewalk chalk, bubbles, crayons and paper or coloring books.Simple baking projects are also a good project for young children. Use a mix or pre-made cookie dough, available in supermarket freezer cases, and let the children have fun shaping and decorating the cookies. Taking the children outside (weather permitting) to a local park or playground helps to release their nonstop energy. You might want to stock up on some of the following child-friendly foods: American cheese, juice boxes, pretzels,Goldfish snack crackers, animal crackers, Cheerios brand cereal, boxed macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, frozen pizza, frozen chicken nuggets. This will give the parents easy, familiar alternatives to offer the children if your much labored-over holiday foods are rejected.

Sleeping Arrangements

If you have overnight guests throughout the year, it's worth having a separate guests bedroom so that no members of the household are displaced when guests visit. It also offers you and your guests a little privacy and flexibility so that the living room doesn't need to be cleared out when your guests need to go to sleep. A private guest bath offers even more luxury to your visitors. If you don't have a separate guest bedroom, you'll want to invest in several cots, or a pullout couch. Young children are usually comfortable sleeping on the floor on several thick blankets, or you can ask parents to bring along their kids' sleeping bags. Make sure your guests' beds are made up with fresh sheets. Two pillows per person are the standard.

Stocking the Pantry

As you assemble your grocery list for the meals you'll be cooking, here are some extra things you'll want to make sure you have on hand throughout the visit. Breakfast cereals sliced bread, muffins, frozen waffles, instant oatmeal, eggs and other self-serve breakfast items if you don't plan on cooking formal breakfasts. Check your supply of butter, margarine, and jams. If you're not planning to cook formal lunches, you'll want to have some of the following items available: deli meats and cheeses, canned tuna fish, purchased pasta salad or fixings to make a quick one yourself, hard-cooked eggs for egg salad, sandwich bread, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, pickles, olives, or the phone number of the local pizza shop.

Make sure you have juice, milk, soft drinks, iced tea, coffee or any other beverages you know your guests will enjoy and snacks that guests can help themselves to such as fresh or dried fruit, cheese and crackers. It is also inportant to have sufficient paper towels, toilet tissue, facial tissues, and paper napkins.

For the Bathroom

Bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and extra toothbrushes for the guest bathroom. Other toiletry options (if you really want to be nice) would include hairspray, hair gel, scented bath gel, scented body lotion, disposable razors, shaving cream and talcum powder. Make sure you have at least one clean towel per person. Towels and washcloths can be decoratively arranged in a basket in the bathroom or guest bedroom.

Extra Touches

Fresh seasonal flowers or greenery are always nice in communal rooms. Put a little bouquet in the guest bath or bedroom for an extra welcoming touch.

If you know your guests' favorite foods, it's thoughtful to have some to offer over the span of their visit.

Offering late afternoon cocoa, or hot cider and light snacks can help everyone relax at the end of a busy day before it's time for dinner.

Your guests will appreciate it if you have current magazines and newspapers available for those times when they need to amuse themselves.

Final Tips

Try to relax and enjoy your guests. Accept help when it's volunteered - you don't have to do it all by yourself. Remember that everything doesn't have to be perfect to build those long-cherished memories. Many times it's the little imperfections that nestle into the warmest spot of your heart.

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Help sometimes comes at a price or with a hidden agenda, but our helpful guides have neither. We hope that the information in our Leewood Times Guides give you starting points and focus. Our goal is to assist you in making informed decisions.

Here are the links to all the Leewood Times Guides


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Leewood Times 2008 Winter Guide

Leewood Times Bar-B-Que Tips & Tricks

Leewood Times Employment Guide

Leewood Times Energy Saving Tips Winter / Summer

Leewood Times Guide to Credit Repair

Leewood Times Guide to Fall Festivals

Leewood Times Guide to Going Green

Leewood Times Guide to Holiday Entertaining

Leewood Times Guide to Local Farmers Markets

Leewood Times Guide to New Years Resolutions

Leewood Times Guide to Seasonal Allergies & Pollen

Leewood Times Guide to Spring Cleaning

Leewood Times Guide to the Capital Beltway

Leewood Times Guide to Volunteering

Leewood Times Guide to Voting

Leewood Times Spring Yard Maintenance Tips

Leewood Times Summer Fun Guide




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