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Get ready to Entertain!

January 17, 2012

by Elizabeth

Atlanta Homes Mag

Part of our vow to return to the classics in 2012 is to entertain more – bring back the dinner party we say! I’ve found that it is far easier to do this (and often!) when you have a well-prepared kitchen to begin with. Even if you are just wanting to cook more for yourself this year, I promise it will be easier when your kitchen is ready and you’re not having to stop at the store for ingredients every day on your way home. Some people would call this “spring cleaning,” but I really think it’s more practical to do this in January to start your year off right. For a printable checklist, click here for a  Kitchen prep List.

ps: I realize this post probably makes me look crazy. I’m fine with that.

Fridge and Freezer
Start by cleaning it out – dump any suspicious looking condiments or packaged foods, and toss anything that you know has been in there way.too.long. Salad dressings and Asian sauces I never use, I’m looking at you. Clean out the veggie and meat drawers, and really give them a good wipe down – this is where the nasty stuff resides in my experience. I prefer to use a green, non-toxic cleaner for spaces my food goes in, such as Method all purpose cleaner.

Clean out the freezer – get rid of anything that is more than a year old. Stock up on Tupperware or glass containers if needed and freezer labels (or at least masking tape and a pen) so you don’t have to play the “is this spaghetti sauce or taco meat and is it from 2010?” game every time you open the door. Wasting food is my number one pet peeve, so I freeze and label everything: leftovers, surplus grocery items like chicken breasts, extra sauces or cooked meat, chicken bones and borderline old vegetables for making stock, etc. Ice cube trays are great for storing tablespoon sized portions of tomato paste, wine, stock, caramelized onions, herbs, and even cream for cooking.

Lastly, stock your fridge and freezer with necessities such as Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, bacon, chicken breasts, ground meat of your choice, pizza dough, tortillas, and things you know you use on a regular basis. I also like to keep artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, olives, capers, roasted peppers, jalapenos or chipotle peppers, jellies, and a variety of cheeses on hand for quick antipasto plates or pasta or pizza ingredients. Regular items on my weekly grocery list are plain greek yogurt (can replace mayo or sour cream), cheddar cheese, milk, Italian parsley, green onions, and lemons. Most importantly, analyze how and what you cook, and keep what you need handy so you can throw together dinner in a snap.

pantry

Pantry
Toss anything you know you’re never going to use or is stale – gluten free, fat free, flavor free “healthy” crackers, you’re getting the boot. Check canned goods’ expiration dates. Replenish spices as needed – they say you should only keep spices for 6 months to a year (a rule I don’t follow), but at least smell them to see if they’re still fragrant. You can buy small amounts of spices in the bulk section at Central Market, which is a good way to make sure you don’t waste any.

Organize the pantry. Last year I bought a spice rack and canisters for bulk goods, and they’ve changed my life – highly recommended.

I like to stock up on kosher salt, olive oil, balsamic and champagne vinegar, flour, sugar, pasta, brown rice, arborio rice, crackers, crushed tomatoes, beans, chicken stock, garlic and onions. Chocolate, vanilla extract, baking powder and soda are also good if you’re a baker.

Cookware

Inventory your cookware, tools, and utensils – give anything you don’t want or need to Good Will. Guess what, that cookie sheet that is too big for your oven is always going to be too big for your oven. Make a list of items you’d truly like to add to your kitchen, and purchase any necessities. Go ahead and take your stash of 20% off coupons to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and buy yourself some tongs, slotted spoon, or whatever else you’ve been making do without.

Either sharpen your knives or take them to a knife-sharpener.

If your baking sheets or pots look like they are about to kick the dust, try to clean them up with Bar Keeper’s Friend and some elbow grease. I promise, it works – everything will look brand new.

via pinterest

Tabletop
Organize your dishes, glasses and serving pieces so that (most) everything is easily accessible. You’re never going to use that beautiful glass salad bowl if you can’t even see it in the cabinet. If it’s feasible, replace any broken or chipped pieces – you don’t want to remember you now only have 7 salad plates five minutes before your guests arrive. On my personal to-do list is to finally purchase those last 4 sets of flatware and replace a couple of wine glasses.

Inventory and prepare your “special occasion” items. Polish silver platters or serving pieces and make sure your vases are clean. Make sure you have a stockpile of candles – I like to have white tealights, votives, and tapers on hand. Nothing dresses up an evening better than candlelight. I also like to have a couple bottles of affordable “house” wine on reserve and plenty of elegant paper cocktail napkins. If you’re extra-fancy, keep a bottle of bubbly on reserve as well.

via Williams Sonoma

Linens
First make sure all of your linens are clean. You can bleach your white linens, and spot treat or hand wash any stubborn stains. (Note to registering brides, get white linens so you can bleach them.) Dry clean if necessary, and if all else fails – toss the stained linens and replace them. However, I find most stains will come out if you treat them with a stain remover and wash promptly.

Iron everything – there is nothing more annoying to me than having to iron place mats at the last minute. It is easiest to iron linens partially damp, so either pull them out of the dryer early or spritz with water. Iron damask or embroidered linens on the back side only (Granny said so). Hang your tablecloths and even place mats if you don’t have a drawer large enough to lay them flat. I go ahead and fold my napkins before storing them.

Check your dishtowels, aprons, and oven mitts too – delegate the really stained ones to the trash or cleaning bucket. Replace if necessary.

clean appliances!

Clean
This is the least fun, so go ahead and do it now and be done with it for a few months.

Wipe down all appliances and countertops (this should be done often, as in daily or weekly depending on how often you cook). Clean the backsplashes, sides of the fridge, inside of microwave, fronts of cabinets, baseboards, or anywhere else you notice splatters. (I find them every.where.)

If you can move any of your appliances easily, dust and vacuum behind and around them. Clean the vent on the fridge, wipe out the drawer under the oven, run the self-clean cycle on the oven, and scrub those drip pans until they shine again (Bar Keeper’s Friend again).

cookbooks

Bonus points
Organize your recipes – either online or magazine clippings. Condense all those google docs into one, organize your bookmarks, set up Evernote – whatever works for you, just do it. I also like to clip recipes from magazines, so I have two cute binders I filled with clear sleeves to put them all in.

Flip through your cookbooks and make a list of dishes you’d like to make. If you’re really OCD (or bored), go ahead and put together dinner party menus.

Make a list of your “go-to” appetizer recipes that require very little prep and try to keep those ingredients on hand. Sliced salami and cucumbers, a cheese plate, pepper jelly on cream cheese, artichoke tapenade, baked brie, spiced nuts, etc. Make a list of fail-proof entrées that you’ve mastered as well. There is no reason you can’t serve spaghetti and meatballs or tacos if it’s well-prepared and well-presented.

Check your calendar – know in advance what nights are good for you to have guests over, and what nights you’d like to have leftovers ready for (Tuesdays in my world because my workout class lasts until 7). I like trying to plan my menus out for each week too – it helps with grocery shopping and post-work stress levels. Cute notepads encourage menu planning, FYI.

Purchase cheap (Ikea, PB caterers set) sets of white dishes for entertaining. I’d get 24 dinner plates, salad plates, bowls and flatware sets. I would get 60 appetizer plates and wine glasses if my budget and storage space allowed.

Download Kitchen prep List.

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