Saturday, December 6, 2014

Menu Planning

There are two weeks left to plan, shop and prepare for Christmas meals and entertaining ...time to start Menu Planning. 
We will have out of town guests this year, so I am planning meals for the duration of their stay. A menu will be made for each evening meal and ingredients on hand to prepare an assortment of options for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Be sure to check with your guests in advance for any special dietary requirements or restrictions. All menus should be planned with consideration to the equipment you have available and its capacity. Especially the evening meals that usually consist of more components. For example; when a turkey is in the oven, plan to use other cooking methods for side dishes and dessert rather than the oven that may already be to capacity.

In a commercial kitchen, the menu acts as a production sheet which helps organize shopping and advanced preparation days. Once the menu is made, the lists for shopping and prep for each dish are assembled. Prep usually starts two to three days before a party or big dinner. Defrost items one or two days before, depending on when you will be using them. Please be aware, the only safe way to defrost a frozen turkey is in the fridge. Leave it in its original wrapper and place in a pan or tray deep enough to collect any juices that may leak out. Place it in the bottom of the fridge so any leakage will not contaminate anything below. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of frozen turkey. A 24 pound turkey will take up to 6 days, so plan ahead! 
Vegetables can be trimmed, washed and cut a day or two prior to serving. Most cold sauces, marinades or dressings can be prepared two days in advance and kept in the fridge. Make notes of required cooking times (or times to start cooking each item) on the final dinner assembly list. This will assure all components of the meal are hot and ready at the same time. With the distraction of guests, possibly a glass of wine and cooking, it is much easier to look at your 'cook time check list' than trying to keep it all in your head. Several timers; digital, wind up or on the stove, are also an easy way to keep your cooking on track.

Breakfast menu options can include juices, fresh fruit, hot or cold cereals, egg dishes, muffins or loaf slices, pancakes, toast, yogurt, smoothies, coffee, tea etc. It does not have to be complicated or fancy. Inquire the evening before what your guests preferences are, and prep the night before to save time in the morning. For example; assemble the dry ingredients for pancake batter, defrost muffins or loaf slices that were baked in advance and frozen, set the table. A 'breakfast  strata' (or casserole) is a great way to save time in the morning. It is prepared the night before, kept in the fridge overnight and baked fresh in the morning.

For lunch, different breads and fillings make fast and easy sandwich options. This is where a freezer full of single serving, assorted soups comes into play (see my November 23, 2014 post -'Soup's On'); it is a matter of defrost, heat and serve! Hummus, guacamole and other dips can be made a day or two in advance and work well for lunch or snacks; serve with crudites, tortilla chips, crackers or bread.

Snacks kept on hand can be fresh fruit, nuts, popcorn, cheese, assorted crackers, muffins or loaf slices from breakfast. Again, it will depend on your guests and if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences.
Dinner for Four

A well organized menu along with shopping and prep lists are the key to efficient, on time and smooth entertaining. 

Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae ~ Arts Denman Studio Tour 2010


  1. Your table looks lovely, Sally. All ready for company. Sure wish I had those flowers.

    1. Thanks JP, as you probably guessed that was a summer photo! Not much in the garden except winter veggies right now. Have a lovely Christmas and all the best for 2015!