I don’t flatter myself: No one reads food columns on Thanksgiving Day. The soporific amalgamation of sweet potatoes, turkey, alcohol and pie makes napping the greater good. So here we are, reunited the day after the day after, leftovers still spilling from our respective refrigerators. After all that hard work – trussing, dressing, messing and cleaning – it’s hard to conceive that there remains a gamut of food-heavy holidays to get through: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl Sunday et al. Here are a few tips to help you run the gantlet with the least amount of elbow grease and expenditure:
D’oeuvre the right thing: Canapés and crudités save the day. A sit-down meal is tough enough to coordinate – and then someone arrives 30 minutes late. You hold the roast and it dries out; the greens wilt; a child cries. Do yourself a favor and serve a buffet of hors d’oeuvres instead. A mix-and-match spread gives guests the chance to indulge with gusto on whatever, whenever. After years of party practice, I’ve streamlined my list to a few easy pleasers: Gourmet’s peach-lacquered chicken wings (www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2009/06/peach-lacquered-chicken-wings); New World Home Cooking chef Ric Orlando’s blackened string beans and remoulade from We Want Clean Food; grilled shrimp skewers; a banging platter of meats and cheeses and fruits and vegetables; and my mother’s stuffed mushrooms (the recipe follows). For dessert, serve foods that are similarly small-plate-friendly: cookies, cupcakes or baklava, which is a snap to make once you learn to wield sheets of freezer-section phyllo dough. My favorite recipe, with tips, is in the Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes cookbook.
Desserts can be made at least two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator or airtight containers, as applicable. Many appetizers can be made a day or two ahead, stored in ovenproof or microwave-safe dishes, ready to be reheated. Green vegetables for a crudité platter can be boiled and shocked early in the day and held for service – some assembly required.
There is no more important tip to pulling off a large meal than “Work clean in the kitchen.” Put a plastic bucket for compost by your cutting board and a large trashcan for everything else, and put a wet paper towel under your cutting board so it doesn’t slide.
Make a list and check it thrice. Make lists of ingredients, dishes and utensils and day-of tasks, including projected times for chopping, peeling, assembling and serving. A countdown list should chronologically chart the arc of party-planning from shopping to showtime.
A few booze clues: For seasonal drinkers, stick to standard varietals that don’t pack too much of a wallop, e.g. Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Riesling, Rioja and Sangiovese. Or ask a professional: Shopping local at smaller, owner-operated store offers direct interface with the wines’ purchaser. Nothing says holiday cheer quite like a flute of champagne – the most famous effervescent varietal – or sparkling friends Prosecco and Cava. It’s the most wonderful time of the year to indulge in something sweet, like cordials, spiced wine or Port. Often served as a dessert wine, Port comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Spiced wine or mulled wine typically combines red varietals with warming spices and is served heated. A cordial is a strong, sweetened aromatic liqueur.
Finally, you can never have too much sugar, flour, pepper, salt and wine, or too many utensils. You can have too much fresh-grated nutmeg, which is poisonous in large doses.
My Mom’s stuffed mushrooms recipe
1 500-gram container white mushrooms
1 stick butter
1 small Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces dry white wine
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
¼ cup Parmesano Reggiano, grated
2 cups breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
granulated garlic powder
dried Italian herbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush dirt off mushrooms with a paper towel and remove stems. Trim and dice two-thirds of stems; set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic. Add diced stems and white wine; cook down. Transfer mixture to a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Stir in parsley, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, spices and herbs to taste.
Melt remaining butter in still-warm frying pan. Using a teaspoon, fill mushroom caps with stuffing. Dip cap bottoms in melted butter. Place caps on cookie sheet, stuffing-side-up. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until caps are browned and breadcrumbs are toasted.