Hosting a party can involve more cooking than socializing when you're the chef. To spend the time enjoying the company of your guests, instead of tied up in the kitchen, cook and prepare your party foods in advance. Armed with a plan and an arsenal of storage containers, you can cook the party food days, or even weeks, in advance.
Strategically planning your menu is key. Choose items that reheat well, can be cooked and frozen, or can be partially cooked to complete quickly before the event. Some easy entrees to prepare in advance are chicken Parmesan and stuffed peppers. The broth, meat and vegetables for cream soups can be prepared days in advance -- adding cream while reheating only takes a few minutes. Also consider serving courses that require no cooking at all, such as salads, dips and shrimp cocktail.
Unless you plan to freeze meals, pay close attention to the shelf-life of your ingredients so they stay fresh. For instance, purchase fresh fish or poultry no more than two days before you plan to cook it. Fresh meats and deli foods typically last three to five days in the refrigerator, and different types of produce go bad after anywhere from two days to two weeks. Check the FDA's "Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart" to plan your shopping accordingly.
Preparation and Storage
Do all of the prep work in advance so on the day of the party you can simply reheat, garnish and serve in a jiffy. Slice, dice or chop produce and store it in the refrigerator in plastic zip-top bags or airtight containers. Lasagna and stuffed shells or peppers can be prepared and stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or frozen for several weeks. Keep sliced Italian beef covered in the fridge for quick beef sandwiches, or fry some breaded chicken breasts for a head start on your Parmesan.
Reheating and Serving
If you've done the prep work in advance, your efforts should quickly come together and party day should be a breeze. Combine all salad ingredients in a serving dish and toss with dressing. Reheat the soup broth and whisk in the cream. Top your fried chicken breasts with marinara and mozzarella and pop them right into the oven alongside your lasagna, stuffed shells or peppers. Quickly heat Italian beef by submerging it in hot beef broth.
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