Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dinner Party Timeline- Menu #7

Last week I had the chance to interview a friend of mine, Cristi Breen, whose hosting skills are sparklingly polished. I'll be writing all about it in February, but for now I'll let you in on one of the things I've learned from our conversation: Her uncanny ability to put on an event with grace is a direct result of her type-A organization habits. Which means that my inability to host half so well as she after years of experience is a direct result of my type-B organization habits. That's oversimplified to some extent, but it remains true that careful planning is the most necessary of the evils required to pull off a successful party. Of course, there's a creative portion of the planning process, which, for many hosts, myself included, is nearly as much fun as the party itself. Developing a timeline, however, is not so much creative as it is something that makes you want to pluck. your. brain. out. of. your. head.

Well, I don't want any of you to miss out on the joys of hosting just because the timeline part is a headache, or because you have a type-B personality, and I certainly don't want any of you plucking out your brains. So, I've got you covered.

I take payment in the form of chocolate-covered pretzels, lavish praise, or high-end cookware. (Currently I'm seeking an immersion blender.)

As you look over this list, the hope is that you won't feel stress but that it will actually have the opposite effect; it should help you to breathe easy knowing that you've covered all your bases, and free you up to enjoy the process and enjoy the party!
Menu #7
Cheese Platter 
Sparkling Apple-Cranberry Juice & Ice Water 
Rosemary Artisan Bread 
Fall Veggie Bisque 
Candied Acorn Squash 
Shawn's Mashed Potatoes 
Chicken Fricassee
Blackberry Cheesecake 
Three Weeks Before
  • Find a co-host and kitchen helper. You may find it very helpful to have two, one to help you with the cooking and one to help you keep the space tidy. (For this party, most of the heavy-lifting, so to speak, will be done on the day before, so you'll likely find an assistant useful during that time as well as on the day of the party. You'll want their help in the kitchen on the day of the party around the time you begin making the main course, about 2 and a half hours before the guests arrive. Make sure they feel comfortable with their responsibilities ahead of time.)
  • Arrange for child care if desired/needed. (If you have children, you'll want someone else to be tending them on the day of the party, and possibly for at least part of the previous day while you're cleaning, baking, and engaging in all the prep-work.)
  • Send out invitations. Be sure to mention if you desire dressy attire.
One Week-2 Days Before (Do as many of these one week out as possible, because you're going to want to feel rested for all the work you'll be doing on the eve of the party.)
  • Deep clean the house.
  • Follow up with any guests who have not given an RSVP.
  • Choose an outfit and have it ready to go.
  • Review recipes and make your grocery list as well as a list of all needed preparation and serving dishes.
  • Shop for any non-food party necessities such as unscented candles for the dinner table, matches, cloth napkins, wood for the fireplace, or fresh soap for the guest bathroom. (Be sure to scan the list of serving dishes needed in the Day Before section in case there's anything you'll need to purchase or borrow.)
  • If you're going with a playlist other than one you can find on Eats and Beats  make your preparations.
  • Clear room in the freezer for purchased ice, or make the ice if you're planning not to buy it.
  • Charge your camera battery, if needed.
  • If you're using an entire bird for the Chicken Fricassee, purchase the chicken and have you butcher cut it into 11 pieces, cutting the breast in half, and keeping the wings attached but the tips clipped. (Do this 2 days out, because you'll want the poultry as fresh as possible.)
  • Wash and iron any table and bathroom linens, including bath rugs.
  • Make sure all dishes are clean and put away so your cookware and dish washer are ready for tomorrow's baking and prep-work!
Day Before (This is a VERY BIG DAY, so get an early start!)
  • Go grocery shopping for ice and all food items, except for any bread you might be using for the cheese platter. That should wait until tomorrow so it's fresh. Pick up any specialty drinks you'd like to include in a beverage station to enjoy while eating the cheese platter.
  • Make the cheesecake, including the topping, but do not top the cake until tomorrow or the juice from the berries will begin to soak into the cake slightly.
  • Make the bread dough and refrigerate until tomorrow.
  • Clean the house. Since you've already done deep cleaning, this should be a bit less time-consuming than it might be otherwise.
  • Stock the guest bathroom. Include fresh towels, plenty of toilet paper, tissues, a scented candle, matches, new or refilled soap, (and it wouldn't hurt to tuck away a plunger so your guest doesn't have to request it should they find themselves in need.)
  • Make sure all dishes are clean and put away so your cookware and dish washer are ready for tomorrow!
  • Set the dinner table with place-settings and any decorations.
  • Designate a beverage station for your guests to enjoy with the cheese platter.
  • Set out serving dishes. You'll need a board for the cheese, cheese knives/spreaders, as well as a small dish for the mixed nuts. You'll need a soup tureen and ladle, water pitcher, ice caddy and tongs (for the beverage station,) and a basket or board for the bread. You'll also need a platter and serving utensil for the acorn squash, (perhaps a platter with a rim for extra support in case you want them all facing directly upward,) a bowl and spoon for the mashed potatoes, a bowled platter such as this one (or other nice bowl,) tongs and a ladle for the Chicken Fricassee, and a cake stand, knife, and pastry server for the dessert.
  • Peel, cut and rinse the potatoes. Soak them in a covered, large pot of cold, salted water overnight until ready to boil tomorrow.
  • If you're using only breasts for the Chicken Fricassee, now would be a good time to rinse the poultry and trim the fat. Cover securely and re-refrigerate until tomorrow.
Morning Of
  • Review the remainder of the timeline, and go over the Chicken Fricassee recipe again if you feel you need to.
  • Go shopping for baguette bread if using it for the cheese platter.
  • Take out butter for the dinner table to be eaten with the bread.
  • Place the cheesecake on the cake stand. Cover and re-refrigerate.
5 Hours Before 
  • Make the Fall Veggie Bisque, leaving out the heavy cream for now, and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in the refrigerator until later.
  • Bake the Rosemary Artisan Bread. I would bake two loaves for any party greater than 6.
3 and 1/2 Hours Before
  • Get yourself ready for the party. (At this point I would definitely shower, do my hair, put on jewelry, and have my face ready. If  I were worried about spilling anything on my clothes while doing the remainder of the cooking, I might wait to put on my party clothes until just before the guests arrive. If I were worried I might not be able to pull myself away from the kitchen sometime in the last half hour of cooking, I'd just dress earlier and rely on an apron.)
2 and 1/2 Hours Before (This is Go Time. Make sure your co-host/kitchen helper is with you through this point forward so everything can be done on time! The time will pass quickly!)
  • Prepare your mise en place. Get out all of the ingredients for the Chicken Fricassee, except for the chicken and the heavy cream. Pull out all of the ingredients for the acorn squash. There's no need to pull out any ingredients for the potatoes except for the butter. Get out all measuring tools, other prep tools, and cooking equipment. (I like to have a working surface or two and a separate surface for holding the ingredients.)
  • Set out the cheeses so they can set to room temperature. Set out the mixed nuts and fruit as well. If you're serving sliced apples or pears, however, wait to slice them until the last minute as the insides will brown if exposed to air. Cover the platter until just before the guests arrive.
2 Hours Before 
  • Rinse all the vegetables and fresh herbs for the Chicken Fricassee. This includes the mushrooms. (Alton Brown says you can rinse mushrooms with water, so that's good enough for me! Use your fingers to make sure you eliminated all the dirt!) Chop and measure vegetables as instructed. Prepare and measure all other ingredients as instructed.
  • Brown the chicken and continue the process of making the Chicken Fricassee up until the point where you've tied your bundle of herbs and your sauce and chicken are simmering. (You're about to leave this to simmer while making the squash. If you're concerned you might overcook the chicken, leave the squash to check the temperature of the chicken. You do not want to cook the chicken beyond 165 degrees.)
1 Hour Before 
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the acorn squash and begin the 45 minutes of baking.
  • Make sure the chicken is cooked through to 165 degrees. Complete the remaining steps of the chicken fricassee, and turn the temperature down to low until ready to serve.
  • This would also be a good time for your helper to begin cleaning up any dirty dishes or surfaces. 
40 Minutes Before
  • Make sure there's only enough water to cover the potatoes and bring them to a boil over high heat.
30 Minutes Before
  • Begin to reheat the veggie bisque by bringing it to a low boil over medium heat and immediately reducing the temperature to low.
  • Make the butter/sugar/cinnamon mixture for the acorn squash.
10-15 Minutes Before (You're going to need lots of hands.)
  • When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and complete the recipe instructions.
  • Spoon the butter/sugar/cinnamon mixture into the acorn squash and along the rim (but not so that it's dripping over the edges) and return to the oven for another 20 minutes.
  • Set out the bread.
  • Set out the beverages and ice on the beverage station, and place sparkling juice on the table
  • Uncover the cheese platter.
  • Turn on the music.
  • Top the cheesecake with blackberries.
10-15 Minutes After Guests Have Arrived
  • Remove the squash from the oven and complete the recipe as instructed.
  • Transfer all food to respective serving dishes, place on the table, and announce the start of dinner!
After Dinner
  • Assess whether or not your guests need a bit of time to digest before dessert.
  • When ready, serve dessert.

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