I. First things first: Mise en place - Set yourself up for success.
The end of the year has some of the best food focused holidays and since you’re throwing a dinner party you will be doing a lot of cooking and cutting. Before you start anything make sure you are working with sharp knives. You can either mail in your knives or if you live in Chicago or San Francisco stop by to have your blades sharpened. Using a sharp knife will make your job faster, easier and ultimately safer.
Get the prep work done days in advance - Sauces, smashed/mashed/roasted potatoes and almost all veggies can be prepared the day(s) before the big dinner. There’s nothing wrong with getting side dishes done early, just make sure you give yourself enough time to finish and have them warmed come dinner time. Desserts can be made early too. Cookies, cakes and pies can all be made up to a month before just remember to thaw out a day in advance.
Have your table set early to create the perfect ambiance for the night. Use seasonal flowers, set your lighting so that it is warm and inviting, make a music playlist that can be recognized but played low enough to not hinder conversation and don’t forget to set your table with elegant tableware including your Town Cutler Steak Knives.
II. Use the right tools.
It doesn’t make sense to use a 3” paring knife to cut up your main protein, whether it be turkey, ham, roast beef, prime rib or a hearty fish, that food will be stone cold by the time you get done trimming. Understand the knives you're using and know their purposes.
Boning Knives like the Hankotsu, Honesuki and Fillet Knife are all very specific knives to use during this season of entertaining. Our Hankotsu is an American interpretation of the Japanese butcher knife, perfect for whole animal butchery and a workhorse in the kitchen. The Honesuki is a Japanese knife traditionally used for poultry, with it steep drop point it is excellent for cutting through joints and can be used to precisely trim your protein. The Fillet knife was designed to have a thin and flexible tip with a hard and durable heel. This will be your go-to knife if you want to serve a succulent boneless fish.
Cleavers are heavy pieces of cutlery that most likely rarely get used at home but this is the season for them. This hefty tool will help breakdown proteins, hack through bone and sinew and the broad side of the blade can be used to crush or pound food.
Some people feel intimidated by a large chef knife, on the contrary this knife should be your biggest ally in the kitchen. Our 7”, 8.5” or 10” chef knives are what you want to slice, dice, Julienne and mince just about anything that comes across your cutting board. With a larger chef knife you can cut bigger items, more of them and at a faster pace.
Paring Knives or Birds Beaks always come in handy if you want to show your guests a little more finesse and flare with your finished dishes. Paring knives are commonly used in peeling and paring fruits and vegetables but they can also be used to remove unwanted seeds, dice garlic and even to de-vein shrimp. The Birds Beaks can also be used for peeling and paring soft fruits and vegetables. Though, with its curved tip it’s perfect for carving intricate designs creating decorative garnishes such as rosettes in radishes or fluted mushrooms.
Palette Knives are any cooks secret helper. These tools are excellent utensils to help finish the job on your desserts as they are ideal for spreading frosting on cake. If you want to dazzle your guests with beautifully portioned plates then keep a palette knife within arms reach. You can also allow your guests to serve themselves from the many different side dishes or cut into soft cheeses and spread onto crackers or bread.
The appearance of a 10” Slicer suggests to your friends “I know what I’m doing, and I look good doing it”. With the long straight and narrow blade, the slicer enables you to pass through a protein with little restriction in one fluid motion. Due to little flexibility, you can keep your blade straight and achieve flat even cuts on the featured protein.
Just as important is knowing what your knives can’t or shouldn't do. They should not be soaked in water or put in a dishwasher. Do not use them to scrape pans, use them as garage tools (like a screwdriver) or can/bottle openers. Don’t cut products too tough to be cut through like acorn squash or pineapple. Like any great musician, treat your culinary instruments with care and respect.
III. Delegation is your BFF amongst Friends.
When you’re the host of a party everyone always asks “Is there something I can do?” You being a wonderful host, drenched in sweat clenching your teeth mutter “No, I’ve got it. But thanks!” Well, don’t be so humble. If guests ask if they can help, let them! Outsource jobs, it gives you space and time to focus on real matters of concern, in addition it gives the party goers a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.
Also, don’t hesitate to put those kids to work. Have the small ones adorably help with taking coats and bags, rip the phone out of teenagers’ hands and give them a serving tray instead so they can pass appetizers. It’s never too early to teach knife safety skills, if you have a few interested children who are of an appropriate age, have them pick herbs, berries or cut citrus for your bar which should be in full swing and manned by a person of your choosing.
IV. Speaking of bars: Stay hydrated!
Being in the kitchen can be nerve racking and hot, so make sure you’ve got a glass of your favorite adult beverage. Being a chef with a drink in your hand will make you seem relaxed to your guests even if you're stressed because your bread isn’t rising!
Plan on serving wine at dinner but offer drinks before hand. Get ready to give one toast to thank everyone for coming and be sure to give a special thanks to those helpers you assigned jobs.
You don’t need to have a full bar at your house, but offer a few easy to make drinks. Wine, beer, gin and tonic, whiskey and coke, vodka and soda are the most recognizable and will help lubricate the festivities. Remember, if you’re serving mixed cocktails don’t forget an ice bucket WITH an ice scoop and offer straws.
Here’s one of our new favorite cocktail recipes that your guests are sure to enjoy: A Very Fine Spritz
(Recipe and image from from “Nothing Fancy.” Copyright © 2019 by Alison Roman. Photograph copyright © 2019 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott.)
V. Full bellies are the light at the end of the tunnel.
Dinner is done, people are now sitting around the table or convened to the couch. Before your guests are fully in their food coma, ask any of those people who offered to help before dinner for their assistance at this time.
Have your helpers clear the table, keeping the glassware and tableware set aside so you can wash them separately. If needed, get the dishes, pots, and pans soaked if they can be. However, as stated earlier NEVER SOAK OR PUT YOUR TC KNIVES IN A DISHWASHER.
It's highly recommended that you invest in some take out boxes or tupperware to give to any guests who enjoyed certain portions. Do not take “no” for an answer. Make sure everyone leaves with some leftovers because that makes your clean up that much easier. Allow the helpers to divy up portions.
As your night is winding down, turn up the music and the lights, thank your guests one last time before you kick them out and swear to yourself that you’ll never host a Holiday dinner party again. . . Until next year!