Unless you are leaving town, two things you can bet on for the holidays are guests and gifts. The guests may come with children and spouses, or they may come alone. But you can be sure they will come with hunger and expectations for a festive display of yuletide plentitude.
If you are like most people, you will enjoy the season more if you have your holiday entertaining strategy planned ahead of time so you can relax with your visitors.
Tarla Fallgatter--an instructor at Ma Cuisine in Newport Beach who has worked as an apprentice at some of the most renowned restaurants in Paris, including Maxim's--suggests choosing meals with ingredients that can be used in more than one dish and that can be prepared in advance.
Let's assume your guests are arriving Friday, laden with gifts from their kitchens, and staying through Sunday's Christmas dinner. In the sample holiday weekend plan that Fallgatter put together for The Times, Friday evening's stir-fry main dish is used in Saturday's burritos. And mushrooms are used in Sunday's roulade as well as the Christmas Eve buffet, which includes homemade cookies, bottles of wine, preserves and other edible gifts from guests.
The do-ahead dishes, many of which can be served at room temperature, minimize last-minute preparations. The beans for Christmas dinner are steamed ahead of time and served lukewarm. The cranberry muffins are made several days in advance and frozen. The butternut squash soup is made a day ahead, with only the cream to be added before heating and serving.
Don't hesitate to enlist your guests' help in the kitchen or to ask them to pick up some muffins or fruit bread on their way to your house, says Fallgatter, a Costa Mesa resident who attended Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne schools of cuisine in Paris.
Purchasing ready-made foods from the grocery store is no longer considered the faux pas it once was. These days, most stores carry a good selection of vegetable salads, fruit muffins and smoked fish that can be used to quickly create elegant meals. Sunday's breakfast requires little more than unwrapping store-bought foods and setting them on the table. And purchasing ready-made flour tortillas, cranberry muffins, fruit bread and Chinese noodles makes other meals easier to put together.
Armed with this detailed plan--which Fallgatter estimates can be executed for no more than $200 at the grocery store--you should have plenty of time to enjoy the weekend while serving your visitors simple, yet delectable, meals.
Fallgatter's plan includes the following menus:
FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER
* Beef and vegetable stir-fry (stir-fry mixture will also be used for Saturday's burritos)
* Fresh Chinese noodles (can be purchased ready-made)
* Lemon curd cake
* Breakfast frittata
* Cranberry nut muffins (buy ready-made or make ahead and freeze, reserving some cranberries for cranberry sauce to accompany chateaubriand)
* Cold poached fruit (reserve some fruits for Sunday morning fruit salad).
* Chinese burritos
* Melon balls with mint
* Baked apples with caramel sauce
CHRISTMAS EVE BUFFET
* Spicy shrimp on bamboo skewers
* Puffs filled with creamed mushrooms (buy enough large shrimp and mushrooms, about two pounds each, to serve on buffet and use in Sunday's roulade)
* Platter of ham, hearts of palm, marinated vegetables and smoked white fish (all can be purchased ahead)
* Homemade Christmas cookies and other gifts from guests
CHRISTMAS MORNING BREAKFAST
* Baby bagels spread with cream cheese
* Smoked salmon
* Fruit salad
* Fig bread
(All can be purchased from store.)
* Mushroom roulade
* Tossed salad
* French bread
* Butternut squash soup
* Roasted chateaubriand with two sauces
* Wild rice with chopped apricots
* Steamed Chinese string beans
* Chocolate chestnut buche de noel