Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This season we’ve had more rain with spotty periods of sunshine than sunny days. The moisture and mud have a definite impact on how much time I spend in the garden. It's probably just as well. The holidays are a time of gatherings with family and friends, shopping and shipping. It's also the time of year that business becomes frantic so the fewer distractions I have, the better.

So, where do I find myself when the holiday madness has settled? You guessed it, in the kitchen. Like growing food for my family, preparing a meal is a gift that I can present on a daily basis. Some days, meals are quite simple. On others, they are more involved. But my rule in the kitchen is that nothing should ever be complicated.

Holiday meals follow that same rule. Uncomplicated!! Sure, there are usually more individual recipes to prepare for holiday dinners and some have to be doubled or more when guests are coming. My approach to these meals is to create lists. Lots of them. If I see it in writing I can systematically process what needs to be done. Writing keeps it all organized for me. Here's my process:

Menu... Plan the menu. Consider each individual who will be at the dinner table. Vegetarian? A known food allergy? Be sure to have something for everyone. I often create the basic menu and then round it out with items for those with special dietary needs.

Gather recipes... I like to print a copy of each recipe so I can have it on the counter or at the stove without worrying about spilling anything on it. Spilling is part of my process.

Shopping lists... I go through each recipe making a master list of every single ingredient I will need. If there's something that I think I have in the pantry, I physically make sure that I have plenty on hand before removing it from the list. The lists need to be really specific. Include quantities and brands if it makes a difference. Make a note of any items that you have a coupon for.

Then I break it down into smaller lists. I'd like to think I can do all of my shopping at one market but that's just not the case. The store for my staples just doesn't offer the selection or quality of fruits and vegetables that I want. Speaking of vegetables, one of the lists always includes those things that I need to go out and harvest from the garden. To recap, there will be one list for each store along with one for the garden.

Timing chart...Work backwards...what time do I want to serve each dish? Now I review each recipe to determine how much prep time is involved. With this list I write down when the actual cooking time begins. Then I can determine the precise time that I need to begin preparation of each dish.

Master timing chart... This is a bit like putting together a puzzle.  Reviewing all of the cooking and prep times involved I can now  make one master cooking list showing the precise order that I need to get things done. I suggest that you build in some time to get yourself ready into this chart!

Serving pieces...Exactly what serving pieces will I need? I get them out and find a safe place, out of the way for them to remain until I'm ready to use them. On each piece should be a small piece of paper. Write what food will go on each piece of paper.

Sound like a lot? Trust me, the up front organization will help to keep you on track and stress free when you're actually in the kitchen.

That's it! Follow these steps and you're ready to do the shopping. By the way, if it's at all possible, I delegate some of the shopping to family members. I warn you, however, no matter how detailed the lists are, you will receive many phone calls from the market.  It's worth it, though! You can get a lot done while someone is doing your marketing. And your back will thank you for it. So, be brave...go on and plan a dinner party!