Kitchen Confidence: Transform a holiday gathering into a community affair
December 23, 2015
Gathering for celebration with great meals over the holidays can be a special time for everyone. Maybe you have thought about hosting a group dinner at your home and got overwhelmed by all the work involved. It doesn't have to be that way. Shifting the event from simply entertaining guests to creating community connections can be a more satisfying experience for everyone involved.
Holiday celebrations that center around food are a timeless tradition. There is no single act that we as humans have in common more so than our daily meals. Every culture has its own customs and special foods that are part of holiday celebrations. Sharing those customs and special foods brings us together in a unique way.
In our modern world, hosting a holiday party has come to mean entertaining guests. Generally, the host is expected to provide the place, the meal, and many times even the drinks. Looking back over generations, holiday celebrations were much more of a community event. Everyone contributed. Maybe they brought food, maybe they shared in the cooking and setting up of the table, or maybe they handled the libations. One thing is for sure, everyone rolled up their sleeves and helped with the clean up. Whatever way they participated, each person played a part in making the celebration more of a time for bonding than simply socializing.
So before you throw up your hands and decide a holiday gathering is simply too much effort, step back a moment and think about how you can create a home filled with laughter and good cheer. Get a clear picture of what the celebration looks like, what it sounds like, and most importantly, what it feels like (when you nurture a feeling with gratitude, it becomes a reality). Next, consider your resources. What talents do each of the people on the list have that can help make the celebration of success? What parts beyond the food, such as candles, music or decorations are needed?
Be ready with a list of tasks and pieces needed. In this way, when your friends respond to your invitation with the question, "what can I bring?" you will be ready with an answer. Perhaps it is a dish that may already be prepared. Perhaps is simply some groceries that will be prepared on the day of the meal. Who would you like to have add their flair to the table setting and decorations? Who are the wine connoisseurs among the group who have a knack for choosing fantastic wines. When you let each person draw upon their own passions, you give them the freedom to make a meaningful contribution.
Now let's talk more about the food. For a group of 10 to 12 people, a larger-sized entrée is needed. One of my favorites is a whole roasted beef tenderloin. Now before you smack your forehead with the palm of your hand and declare "this guy is out of his mind," let me explain. For starters, when you look at it on a per serving basis, the price tag is much more manageable (maybe even ask someone to share the cost with you). Next, if you have a gas grill available, preparation can be shockingly simple, with no clean up. And finally, by enlisting the help of your friendly meat cutter, you can buy the roast trimmed, tied, and ready to be cooked. (You can ask Patrick at Safeway to tie one up for you.)
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Some important tips for cooking a whole tenderloin. First, the roast needs to be seasoned. This might be as basic as salt, pepper and some fresh garlic. The key is to use the salt properly. The salt will not only add flavor but help to tenderize the roast. It needs time to do this, so be sure and salt the roast a few hours ahead of cooking time. If for some reason you are unable to salt the roast in advance by more than 40 minutes, do it right before you're ready to put the roast on the heat. You'll get a better sear because there will be less moisture on the surface of the roast. Next, let the meat stand an hour or more and come to room temperature before cooking. This will ensure more even cooking. Finally, use a meat thermometer to ensure the roast is cooked to your liking. I like to go to 145 degrees for medium rare. Remember the temperature will continue to rise by 5 to 10 degrees once you pull the roast off the heat and let it stand for about 15 minutes before carving.
While the roast cooks, a delicious red butter sauce can be made on the stove. Space does not allow details here, but essentially it is a reduction of red wine and vinegar that is thickened with butter. Do a quick search for "Buerre Rouge" for measurements and procedure. (My favorite site is allrecipes.com.)
However ambitious your vision of a holiday gathering may be, whether it's a simple spaghetti dinner or an exciting beef roast, let the occasion be a gift that everyone present will cherish. Let them each give the gift that only they can give. The gift of themselves. Start with the best of you, followed by the rest of you, the things you say, the things you do — and have a fabulous holiday celebration.
Tom Castrigno from Frisco, Colorado, cooks and writes about food. Tom has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called "The Confidence Diet," at theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to Tom@AmobilechefCO.com
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