Last Minute Fancy Dishes: How Far Do You Go?
Okay 'hounds, it's time to give away your secrets for minimizing the last-minute frenzy (and kitchen upheavel) when making fancy meals for company...
Yeah, I know there's no hassle if you make a simple roast or reheat a braise/casserole, but sometimes you want to have something more special.
So what are your tips and tricks for prepping the fancy stuff ahead of time?
Do you make your special sauces in advance? How long will they last? How do you store them? What do you do to rewarm them? What sauces work best?
Can you/do you pre-roast veggies? Then what?
Do you prepare your mashed potatoes (or other pureed veggies) hours ahead and put them in a slow cooker? Or do you just boil & mash them and put them in a container to be warmed with cream and butter latter?
What about the main dishes? I've pre-fried panko-crusted chicken (and crab cakes), refrigerated them and reheated them later with much success. What tips do you have?
I do as much mise en place as possible the day before -- chopping my veg, measuring dry goods, stock, etc etc.
I make gravies and sauces ahead of time, and refrigerate until needed -- frequently in a heavy duty ziplock, measured to the serving container -- when it's time to serve, zap gently in the microwave, pour into the serving dish (warmed up), and pitch the ziplock into the trash.
Really though, the most important thing I do to keep from being last minute frenzied is to write out prep cards, with times. I plan backwards, from 30 minutes before my guests are due, starting out with what time I want my dishes ready to serve. and working in reverse from there to determine what time X needs to go in the oven, and there fore what time Y needs to be out of the oven, and from there what time I need to start doing things.
Once I have my prep list, I make sure to try and start the day 10 to 15 minutes earlier then the prep list calls for -- combined with the 30 minutes I built in earlier, that gives me 45 extra minutes to be ready before my guests arrive.
And I make sure to stop working in the kitchen - even if it's only a pause - about 15 minutes before my guests are due -- and freshen up. Swap out for a clean apron, take a minute to wipe down the counters, sweep up the crumbs. It helps a lot in feeling unhurried at the end.
My main strategy is to plan out the use of my stove and cooking utensil space (I have two gas burners, a toaster oven, a rice cooker, a crock pot, and a tiny fridge.) Don't think there is anything un-fancy about braised dishes - I usually combine at least one best-made-the-day-before dish with something that can be made earlier in the day and no more than one dish that needs last minute attention. (It's all in the plating for how fancy something looks...) I have a braised rabbit with mushrooms cooking right now for a dinner party tomorrow, and vegetables already diced for a ratatouille that will go with it.
My "trick" and it seriously saves me so much time is that I prep and measure everything, so that when I'm ready to mix and cook, I'm good to go. It's so much nicer to go, okay here's where I toss in 1/2 cup diced onions and just dump it from a baggy. I also tend to write down all the steps I need to go through to coordinate the simultaneous prep of several dishes all to be presented and served at the same time. I agree with others on precooking sauces as well. Side note, if I do mashed potatoes, I precook the potatoes, then mash and heat in the pot in the last minutes.
Although admittedly it still causes me to spend an appreciable amount of time in the kitchen, I like to do any frying/searing/sauteeing a la minute.
For sauces you can make stock days in advance, the sauce (like a demi) can be done earlier in the day, hollandaises less so
For fresh pastas you can freeze them
If you have breaded items you can refridgerate or freeze them then cook them to order
Mashed potatoes can be reheated on the stove with an addition of butter cream and seasoning and then cooked until the liquid is absorbed and/or evaporated.
For pureed soups and sauce you can prepare beforehand and reheat on the stove.
Many things can also be half-cooked then finished off in the oven or stove later on.