The Stress-Free Guide to Holiday Planning & Partying with Anova
Holiday parties are generally a pleasure for those attending, but can be quite stressful for those doing the actual holiday planning and hosting. Especially when the host is the one charged with making all of the food! You’re making more food than you normally would for more people than you typically feed. This can make more room for mishaps than you would face feeding your family on an average Tuesday night, but hosting your party using your Anova can minimize that possibility and MAXIMIZE the enjoyment you get out of the party as a host!
Spoiler Alert: I’ve included some potential menu combinations at the end of the post–you don’t have to feel overwhelmed with choices reading the next section!
Pick Your Protein
Meat or fish tends to be the centerpiece of a great holiday dinner and is the most important thing to ensure proper cooking on the day of. You likely already know that cooking either of these with your Anova pretty much guarantees perfection. You just need to follow the time and temperature guide for the texture that you are hoping to achieve. Because of this, you can set aside the time on the day of the party for your Anova to do the work for you. This leaves you free to focus on the fun stuff (the rest of the menu and holiday planning) in the days leading up to the most relaxing dinner party you’ve ever had!
Choose Your S’s: Starters, Salad, and Sides
Now that you have your protein, it’s time to build the menu around it with the sides that will complement it best. Choosing what these will be may be as simple as thinking about what your grandmother served at her holiday dinners, or it could include 14 cookbooks, 3 holiday magazines, a little bit of Pinterest, and a Google search! Whatever your preferred method, this should be FUN. Food is fun. Parties are meant to be fun for everybody attending, including the host. And dinner should be less stressful already since you know the protein is going to be handled.
My recommendation for holiday dinners is to limit the number of sides to three varied yet really solid ones in addition to a salad and bread should you choose to serve it. Yep, the old “meat ‘n three”! It’s a pretty fail-proof combination, and potatoes in any iteration are generally always well-received.
Dessert, Dessert, Dessert
The piece de resistance! Something sweet at the end of the meal ties up this gift of a dinner party up with a beautiful little bow. In my experience with my own clients, the cheese course appears to be coming back into vogue. Fresh and dried fruit, compotes, fruit butters, honey, and dessert wines for accompaniment provide the sweetness that is typically expected as dinner comes to a close. Still, I have yet to meet someone who will turn down a creme brûlée or chocolate pudding!
Think about your guests and what they like, and choose your dessert accordingly. The key to the best dessert for a stress-free dinner party is MAKING IT AHEAD.
Now that you have chosen your menu – the simultaneously fun yet hard part – it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of what this post is all about:
How to Optimize Your Cooking to Have the Most Relaxing Holiday Party Ever
1. Make dessert first
Chef Jacques Torres, known as “Mr. Chocolate” quipped the famous quote “Life is short, eat dessert first.” I say that Jacques is on the right track, but when it comes to throwing an amazing holiday dinner, it’s MAKE dessert first, and use your Anova! Most of the desserts you can make with your Precision Cooker, from creme brulee to chocolate pots de creme to persimmon butter, can be made DAYS in advance and refrigerated. Finishing them may require only decanting to a pretty bowl, adding a dollop of whipped cream, or if you really want to impress your guests – breaking out the blowtorch!
Take the time earlier in the week to whip up the dessert of your choosing and have one less thing to worry about on the day of.
2. Make your sides – ALMOST all of the way!
I have a trick for prepping food in advance that blows my clients away every Thanksgiving. It has even inspired many of them to purchase their own Anovas. I learned the principle from a former client a million years ago! His trick was to cook his famous “perfect mashed potatoes,” in large batches and seal them into zip-locking bags to bring on weekend ski or hunting trips with friends. After he and his friends returned from a long, cold day, he would simply bring the potatoes back up to temperature IN the bag in a makeshift double-boiler water-bath setup. He somehow managed to get the benefits of this sous vide hack while preventing the bags from melting. Now WE can do it even more easily simply by using our Anova and regular water bath!
Lesson learned? Prepare the primary components of your side dishes a day or two before. What I mean by primary components is everything that is not crunchy or requires fresh cutting. Green beans can be blanched, sweet potatoes can be steamed, creamed spinach can be made in entirety, some of our veggie options can even be made WITH your Anova. Even better, most of these have approximately the same cooking temperature if you want to double up! As for the crunchy bits, I would prepare and set them aside in a sealed container.
Make them, cool them, bag them if they’re not already bagged, and chuck ‘em in the fridge. The day of your holiday party, after cooking the meat, just turn the heat up to 140ºF/60ºC and put all the bags in together adding a little extra butter where needed. When it’s time to sit for dinner, everything will be piping hot at the same time, and all you have to do is garnish and serve.
3. Complete non-food details the night before.
Tidy the house. Take anything you want to protect out of the common areas or medicine cabinet. Choose your music. Set the table. Write or print the menu out. Clear the area where you are going to collect people’s coats.
Trust me, you do not want to be running around like a headless chicken 5 minutes before the invitation time! It causes far too much anxiety. You should be sipping a cocktail, dressed in your holiday attire, listening to your chosen tunes when your guests arrive. This is the whole idea behind holiday planning. It will set the scene for a party to fondly remember.
4. The day is here! Prepare the meat!
My grandmother used to get up at 4am every Thanksgiving to make the meal (although she made the pies and nibbles ahead), checking and basting the turkey with precision regularity. It’s so much easier when you are using a Precision Cooker instead. Yes, you may still have the occasional longer cook time, and you will have to plan for that. That said, you can still drop your protein into the pot, set the timer, and walk away.
This will leave you with the time you need to plate your hors d’oeuvres, put together your cheese platter, and prepare your salad. Keep in mind that you will dress the salad only minutes before serving. This will allow you a free oven to bake or warm up bread rolls if you so desire. It will even allow you the freedom to pop out to the store to pick up more ice, because you can really never have too much ice at a party!
5. Get the party started
The music is playing and you’re in your glad rags sipping a seasonal cocktail or mocktail while lighting the candles. Appetizers are plated for immediate nibbling, the protein requires only the finishing steps of searing and carving, and the side dishes are warming up. Dessert – already finished.
Get ready for the praise of what a wonderful host or hostess you are, because your guests are going to marvel at how amazingly calm and collected you are. You’ll welcome them at the door and have time to actually enjoy their company without being stuck in the kitchen. This is going to be the best holiday party EVER!
6. Dinnertime, and the livin’ is easy
The time to sit for the meal is 15 minutes away! Ideally, dinner time is about 45 minutes later than your invitation time. That gives your guests the opportunity to mingle and have their first drink. Incorporating your guests into the final steps will actually make them feel more trusted and treasured, so invite them to help you plate up and have task delegation in mind. One person can toss the salad, another can sprinkle the almonds onto the green beans after pouring them into your previously-laid-out serving bowl. You finish the meat or fish and portion how you would like. Everybody brings the food to the table together, sits together, and eats together. Because that’s what the holidays are all about, right? Togetherness!
I hope this post has helped make your holiday planning process a little bit easier. We at Anova want you to be free to join the rest of your guests celebrating and either carrying on or creating new cooking traditions! Speaking of which, what ARE some of your favorite holiday dishes that you would love to see a sous vide version of? We’re listening!