Note: I have good friends. Like Amber. Amber and I have been friends since about high school, which may seem unimpressive to you, but we’re rather fond of each other. She’s a keeper, I say. Anywho, Amber manages a local retirement home. One that happens to have an annual Christmas dinner in honor of all those employees that keep that little home turning. And last year she
was forced … asked me
to host it. Obliged, I am.
I should also note that this was one of my first jobs. Working wait staff in the kitchen, when Amber basically managed the kitchen, cooked, waited, and dishwashed at the ripe age of… well I’m not sure but she was barely legal work-force wise. And our other bestie, Katie, worked upstairs at the front desk. There’s plenty more where that came from. Who knew an assisted living home would be where it’s happening?
I was pretty nervous since Amber said to expect about 60 people. I had never really cooked for over 8 people but for some deluded reason, I thought I had it in me. I started early with the favors. I knew it was mostly females but wanted something everyone could enjoy. My first thought was a hot cocoa mix with homemade gourmet marshmallows in cute packaging. But once I came up with recipes and a cost estimate, it was a little out of our price range. And by little, I mean a lot. So to plan B: homemade ornaments. Thank you, Pinterest.
I found this recipe after some digging:
Step 1. Make the dough
Put 1/2 cup table salt, 1/2 cup water, and 1 cup all-purpose flour into a mixer, and blend together until a sticky dough forms. If you want to experiment with color, you can substitute 1/2 cup of dark tea or coffee for the water. Make sure all of the flour is incorporated. Take the dough out, and knead for 7 to 10 minutes on a well-floured surface. Once it feels smooth and elastic, you are ready to start making ornaments.
Step 2: Roll out and cut. It. Out.
Step 3: Bake. Totally modified this. I think I did 300 for maybe (?) 20 minutes. I know, helpful… but the original instructions call for a few hours. Hours in oven + multiple batches = big electric bill. No thank you. That’s why I had to leave mine out for several days to finish drying. You can read more here:
If I remember correctly, I tweaked it a bit but I don’t remember the details. I do know I ended up halving it so it didn’t dry out as it waited to be rolled out by Katie and me. It was pretty easy (and super affordable). The hardest part included the rolling out. Luckily, Katie’s arms are made of steel. Pure steel, baby.
I used a dry stamp to press a vague design into them. Then I used a popsicle stick to poke a hole in the top, one I later wished was larger. They took awhile to dry out after being baked. Once they were dry I strung ribbon through them!
I used basic brown bags from Michaels and folded doilies over them with a staple in the center for the packages.
For the centerpieces I collected small boxes for about a month from very generous people who probably thought I was a little odd for such a request. I literally asked a girl I just met, “say, what were you planning on doing with all those little boxes?” She was crazy enough to give me her address and the rest is history. I wrapped them with white, red, and kraft paper. I then used my embarrassingly large collection of various ribbons to garnish them. Picture me mumbling to myself for several hours, exclaiming “my back!”
The candles were not candles at all but those flameless votives. Think: elderly on oxygen + fire = not a holly jolly Christmas. I used leftover flameless votives with glass votive holders that I bought for myself. I then used some leftover burlap from my wedding, cut to size, with some red ribbon for an instant embellishment. These guys have seen an elderly home, two weddings, and my Thanksgiving table. That’s more living than most votives are used to.
I then spray painted some innocent pinecones for each place setting. I adore them. And I love that although we had to use paper plates, they don’t look uber cheesy. Just a little bit.
Sorry if the pictures are somewhat blurry. Not sure why some seem so and others dont- maybe it's just me??
As for the food:
The dessert table held the favors, a mishmash of sweets brought in by everyone, and these cute little mugs we decked out with mini-candycanes. Please note, although you may hear lots of people talk on and on about eggnog, it's not nearly as popular as you'd think. I'm not a fan, but then again, I'm picky. We ended up returning a lot. It seemed it was most popular with the elderly who sneaked in [ we didnt have a doorman but we probably should've considered it ;]
The food was spot-on. If I can say so myself. Since I knew I would be doing some labor-intensive food in a kitchen I was unfamiliar with, with a limited time period, I cheated. The turkey and chicken are from some Heavenly Ham place or something like that. And oh, was it heavenly.
The signs got mixed up for the sauces I made ahead of time [ a mustard sauce for the ham and a cran-apple sauce]. The green beans had shallots and bacon and were delish and made last minute! The potato gratin was amazing. I had worried the most about this dish because I couldn't prep much ahead of time [I grated the garlic and cheese but that's all I could do]. I also usually cooked a small amount and knew cooking for so many people, I would need much more time]. They were done just in time and were wonderful.
I boiled the eggs ahead of time for the deviled eggs and made up the mixture. That way we just had to spoon them up and serve them. There were also homemade rolls on the tables [I labored over them for the month leading up to the party]. They work out nicely when they go from frozen to the oven for only 10 minutes to finish them off.
Everything went pretty well. Snafoos? I barely had enough people to pull this off. I had three wonderful friends helping me and barely got the food out in time. It's pretty hard to make sure everything is warm [not to mention, all at the same time]. I cut myself. I didn't expect the navy blue tablecloths. Which is totally silly, but it bothered me. Amber had prepped games. We never played them. [We were busy running around like crazy people].
So my tips you ask, for freakishly large groups of people looking at you in a hungry manner?
1. Prep, prep, prep! This saved me. I had my shallots and bacon pre-chopped in bags, ready to go. Same for the egg mixture, the cheese and garlic for the potatoes. Even my little food tags [that got turned around in the end].
2. Have good friends that can take direction, act independently, and calm you down when you're having a panic attack.
3. Expect something to go wrong. Be flexible. Don't sweat the small stuff. I won't lie and say I didn't but it made my life easier when I was willing to let go of "perfect" and go with the flow.
4. Budget and plan for 15% extra people. Leftovers are a good thing. I'd say the only thing we ran out of were the potatoes [and that was right at the end]. We weren't swimming in an abundant amount of much but we were in the safe zone for sure.
5. Play music. We gathered Christmas music and not only is it fun and cheery, but it'll drown out any kitchen meltdowns going on in the back.
6. Smile and enjoy it- easier said than done. But hey, you just made a meal for people. I think that's one of the best gifts you can give, regardless if it turned out well or not. Cooking is personal, time-consuming, and not always easy. Pat 'yoself on the back.
7. Don't forget about clean up. True, I knew it needed to be done. But "half of my staff" [read: Katie and Bob] had to hit the road. And by the time it ended, I was exhausted. Plan for coffee, sugar, drugs; whatever gets you to that second wind. [Seriously, don't do drugs, kids].
8. Keep things simple. I cheated with the meat. I made a fun and easy centerpiece that allowed itself just to be thrown together. The favors were dirt cheap but cute. I spray painted pinecones for goodness sake and everyone loved them. Some may have taken a few but hey, who's counting?
9. Have a plan to keep food warm. We had chafer dishes ready. I used the oven to keep the green beans warm without necessarily cooking them more. [Yay for two ovens!]. Once our potatoes were done, we added them to the warmer oven with the green beans and cooked the buns which only needed 10 minutes. All were ready and warm at the same time.
10. Know what you're working with. Gas is much faster but if you've never worked with it before you might burn food at first. Your boiling water is going to happen much sooner than an electric top. Two ovens are great... use one for cooking and one for keeping food warm [150-200 degrees].
Although it was thrilling and we pulled it off, I don't think I'll be cooking for such a large group again... it was totally nerve-racking. But I'm super proud that we managed it and got so many compliments. I couldn't have done it without my wonderful friends.
|against code, I'm sure|
|me, amber, katie|
And if this wasn't long enough already, I'd like to highlight one of my cousin's websites. He's an amazing photographer but he also is part of a pretty cool clothing line. Even if you aren't participating in Cyber Monday, you have to check out their vision at the very least.
Thanks for stopping by!