Cooking Celebration Meals
When cooking celebration meals, the first thing to do is make sure that you know the food requirements of the people you are expecting to feed. Some cultures have specific food rules and some people have specialist diets. While you can’t cater to everyone, if you have a diabetic, or somebody who is vegan, a person who can’t eat wheat, or somebody whose religion forbids certain meats, you can at least prepare a simple alternative dish that does meet their needs. This ensures your celebration is a whole-hearted success.
Shop at Your LeisureAny big festival brings shoppers out in hordes, so make your shopping list a month before a major celebration date and shop twice: once, as soon as your list is complete, and once two weeks later for anything you forgot or couldn’t find the first time. If you must have fresh ingredients just before you begin to cook, consider ordering them in advance so you can collect them at your leisure and be confident that they will be there when you want them. The way to make your list is to write down all the ingredients for every meal – that way you won’t forget something vital.
Give Guests Something to DoOne of the big problems with celebration cooking is that it can requires split-second timing, meaning you are often in the kitchen while everybody else sits around the table and waits. Prevent this by having some do-it-yourself food, such as a fondue course, self assembly blinis, sour cream and fish, or make-your-own salad sundae. For the latter you just need tall wide glasses and a range of shredded salad foods, various dressings and different serving spoons. Encourage your guests to layer the salads in their glasses to make a lovely striped design … once they understand the process they will spend twice as long making it look good and that gives you time to get things cleared and the next course ready.
Celebrate with Something NewOften festivals have traditional foods that everybody is used to, and this can really put the pressure on you, as your Christmas pudding or Ros Hashana cake will be compared to every other version of that dish that the diners have tasted. So why not try springing a surprise – have a chocolate Christmas pudding or a Ros Hashana cake with apricots and walnuts instead of raisins and almonds? This prevents the comparisons that could make you feel bad, but also respects the traditions of the festival. If you are cooking for a family celebration, take the favourite ingredients of the special guest and use the Internet to research an exciting way to use them in a new dish.
Use Your EyesEating is 70% visual and so if the food looks good, everybody is predisposed to love it! Make sure your table décor is superlative – if this isn’t your great strength, enlist an artistic member of your family to help. If you don’t have any budding Nigella Lawsons or Martha Stewarts around, then get the youngest kids to make table decorations and lay the place settings: even the crustiest old misery will hesitate before criticising their work, and that lets you off the hook for visual appeal.
Food colouring is a great way to really boost celebration food. If you bake your own bread, paint celebration appropriate designs on it with food colouring before baking: for Christmas this could be holly leaves and berries. For Ros Hashana you could make white icing for cakes and use marzipan to make tiny traditional apples to decorate them. Eid (a Muslim holiday) has special sweet pastries and in many cultures, children are given coins, so paint round pastries with yellow food colour to symbolise this tradition.