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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mama Masha's Kitchen - Opportunities for advancement or how to entertain without driving yourself nuts

The holiday season is practically upon us, and with it - holiday parties, some of which will probably be hosted by one of you.

See, where I come from (that’s Zaporozhye, Ukraine, in case anyone here doesn’t know), throwing a good party is a matter of principle. People in that part of the world don’t get a whole lot of joy in life. And so, lavish gatherings with lots of prep work, lots of good food, good conversation, singing and dancing are organized regularly to have something to look forward to. Considering how hard it is to get certain foods, entertaining becomes an exercise in strategy and supply change management.

While you may not encounter the same issues with obtaining various foods and ingredients, it still helps to borrow some Ukrainian party-planning wisdom in order to keep your head on straight and actually enjoy your own party, instead of feeling like a servant.

Make up a menu

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Actually, make up several. This tradition is not limited to any particular geographic region. Households across the globe used to keep a stash of menus to save themselves a bit of planning headache when getting ready to entertain guests. The difference is, of course, that most of us no longer have an army of cooks and household staff to prepare and serve the food. That is an important constraint to take into consideration.

Consider how many people you are having over and what sort of meal you wish to serve them? Is it a sit down dinner? Or sort of a snacky buffet-style affair, where you want everyone to mingle, while they eat?

Think of what you can make that doesn’t take a lot of time and effort but can feed many. Stews, casseroles and various pasta dishes are prime candidates for that sort of thing. If your side dishes are meatless (like pasta or rice), find a meat to go with them. A pot roast is a good idea – especially if you have a slow cooker (and if you don’t – get one, it’s a life saver!). It is easy to prepare and easy to serve – just keep on slicing.

Figure out your veggies. It can be a big salad or a vegetable tray with lots of different little things, like pickles, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumber slices, etc. Get (or make) several different dips to go with that. Aww, come now, don’t panic! Making a veggie dip is as easy as mixing some rosemary and dill into a bit of sour cream. No one needs to know just how simple it was, as long as it tastes good. In this household we like cheese. Lots of cheese. Lots of different kinds of cheese. So, when we entertain, a cheese tray is always a staple.

Dessert… You can make it, buy it or both. It need not be some sort of elaborate torte. Slices of store-bought pound cake with baked pears or peaches and a sweet reduction on top serve just as many as a big honking cake and are loads tastier and healthier.

Don’t forget your beverages – from water to wine. If you want to be fancy, you can plan out a different drink with a different course, or just have a well-stocked bar (or sideboard or whatever), where everyone can help themselves to whatever they prefer.

Go shopping

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Once you have figured out what you are serving, put together a list of things you are going to need and figure out what you can get in advance and store.

Cheeses, cured meats, root veggies (beets, potatoes, carrots, onions), canned things (sardines, clams, mussels, additional veggies), frozen things (more veggies and stuffed pastas), dry goods (rice, pasta) and alcohol can all be purchased gradually and well in advance to avoid breaking your grocery bill for the month. Just figure out where you can store it all neatly and safely, and you are golden.

Back at home, we would purposely organize a refrigerator and kitchen cabinet cleaning weekend two-three weeks prior to a party to make sure we can fit in all the stuff that needed to be stored. I strongly recommend this measure, and it’s a good one to get your kids and spouse involved. If you think they are going to whine, tell them it is a hugely important task you wouldn’t trust to just anyone, which is true. It is important because it will take some of the load of whoever is the primary host/hostess and organizer.

Once you have stocked up on the non-perishables, all you have to worry about are raw meats and fresh veggies – a very comfortable short shopping list to be attended to a couple of days prior to the party.

Cold is gold

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… when it comes to saving yourself trouble. Identify two or three things that can be prepared in advance and stashed in the fridge and either re-heated prior to serving or – better yet – served cold.

Slaws, potato salads, deviled eggs, cheese and meat trays – all these things can be done a day or two before, although you do want to keep them securely covered to keep stuff from drying out or going soggy. If you are doing a layered torte for dessert, it would be a good candidate for advance preparation too. And everyone knows, things like that only get tastier if they are allowed to sit overnight.

Assign duties

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… and stick to it! You can’t do it all by yourself. So what if your kids are not old enough to help you slice and dice? (Although, according to our family standard, seven years old is plenty old enough for potato peeling duty.) They can help set the table, bring you the correct serving dishes, put dirty cooking dishes into the dish washer, take out the trash and put stuff you don’t need back into the fridge. No, it will probably not be done perfectly – just let it go. The point is to take some of the load off your shoulders.

Have a designated driver. …No, not for trucking drunk guests home (although, that’s a good idea too). It is for running out to the grocery store for any last-minute bits and pieces that will invariably get forgotten. It can be your spouse or a sibling or a friend – whoever you can find who is capable of safely driving a vehicle and following instructions. Again, don’t bite their heads off, if something is not done perfectly. Don’t kill them if they get mozzarella instead of muenster. It’s all good.

The last but not the least…

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Enjoy yourself! Wear something pretty, but also washable and comfortable for walking around, sitting, and dancing. Arrange in advance with whoever is helping you to take turns to take away dirty dishes and to bring in or refill foods. Just stack the dishes in the sink or on the kitchen counter – you can clean up later. That way you are not constantly running in and out like hired help.

Make a point of sampling everything you offer your guests – even if it’s a little bit at a time. You’d hate to have made that delicious roast and not have had even a tiny slice – that’s just wrong. Remember that you deserve a meal and a drink as much – or even more – than your guests. This is all about having a good time for everyone – including you.

Here for your consideration is a menu Gerry and I presented at one point when entertaining his mom and step-dad. You will recognize some of the dishes from the prior issues of Mama Masha’s Kitchen.

• Russian-style potato salad (potatoes, carrots, peas, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, diced prosciutto, sautéed Vidalia onions, pickle juice, ground pepper and mayo) – prepared a day in advance and served cold.

• Ukrainian-style sautéed beets (shredded beets sautéed with beet juice, chopped Vidalia onions and onion powder) – prepared a day in advanced, chilled with sour cream on top and served cold.

• Basic salad (young spinach leaves, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, shredded cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar) – prepared and chilled an hour prior to serving.

• Coconut chicken (skinless boneless chicken breasts, lightly browned with Vidalia onions, then cooked to perfect juiciness in coconut milk) – cooked shortly after guests arrived and just prior to serving.

• Fresh bread (Take-n’-bake rolls) – baked at the same time as the chicken was being cooked.

• Pound cake with pears (store-bought pound cake, dried figs and red pears sliced in half and baked in Marsala, served with a whipped sour cream and yogurt topping and Marsala drizzle on top) – pears baked while the first course was being served and consumed, topping prepared in advanced and refrigerated.

1 comment:

Kira said...

Good advice this...