FOOD WISE: Simple ideas for last-minute entertaining

 By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Rosemary buttermilk biscuit with mustard glazed ham and homemade pimento cheese. (Photo by Chef Renee Morgan)

Rosemary buttermilk biscuit with mustard glazed ham and homemade pimento cheese. (Photo by Chef Renee Morgan)

How do I get myself in these predicaments? Somehow, last week, I ended up hosting three different social events back-to-back. I suppose I was excited about having people over to the new house. I know better than to schedule so many things in one week. When I was in real estate, folks were always calling to ask me to commit to something or other. Invariably, this usually happened as I was driving down the road and without my calendar in hand. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, I would agree only to figure out later that I’d double-booked myself. My broker was a very wise man named Jay Pearce, who is still my friend to this day. He appropriately counseled me to tell the caller this little canned speech that I still use…most of the time. It goes like this: “You know, I’d love to participate, but you’ve caught me at a disadvantage. I don’t have my schedule close at hand at the moment. Let me check my calendar as soon as I get back to my office and call you back this afternoon.” The problem is, when I scheduled my life for last week, I didn’t do that. Silly girl! Will I never learn?

As a result of my failure to follow Jay’s sage advice, I ended up playing hostess with the mostest three nights in a row, in addition to this little thing called a job, raising grandbabies, directing the church choir, blah, blah, blah. Great! This also means I had to clean house, too!

Here’s how it went down. First, our good friends, Rodney and Betti, were coming over to help us plow a veggie garden over the weekend. Well, that deserves a good meal, doesn’t it? Plus, I know when Rodney and Betti show up, two things happen. First, they are workaholics so a lot more than a garden was gonna get done, and second, a bunch of teenagers are going to show up. Next up, the Pastor and his wife are coming to dinner. Now, that’s a big deal and totally adorable hubby’s fault. Quite innocently over lunch one day, he says, “Hey, can I invite the Pastor to dinner one night soon?” Next news I know, they’re coming over Monday night. Finally, I’ve had a girls night out party scheduled for Tuesday night for some time. After all, I’ve been promising Deb a get together since last October. That’s a lot of cooking and cleaning by anyone’s standards. There’s no reason to panic though. I’m a professional! I can handle it. Time to pull out my catering ninja skills.

Surely you have, at some point, found yourself in a similar, too busy for your own good, situation. Well, maybe not. You’re probably smarter than I am and don’t get yourself in this kind of mess. But, just in case all the planets collide at once and you do find yourself over-booked, I thought I’d share some of my best tips to help you get through it with no sweat. Okay….without as much sweat!

1. Begin with the end in mind. Think about the kind of get-together it will be, the personality of your guests, what kind of food they like. Is this a girls night out? Maybe appetizers and a signature cocktail is appropriate. On the other hand, when your friends come over to plow your vegetable garden and end up also re-working all your flower beds and pruning every tree and bush on your property, you probably want to feed them something heartier. I told you Rodney and Betti get a lot done when they come.

2. You want everyone to have a great time and you want to enjoy the party yourself. You don’t want to spend all your time slaving in the kitchen while your guests are there. That’s not a fun party for you or your guests. Plan to serve foods you can prepare ahead of time and assemble before guests arrive.

3. Gather all the ingredients and supplies you need for a recipe before you start. Read the recipe all the way through so you can see how the pans need to be prepped, what temp the oven should be set on, how the carrot is supposed to be cut. Then, go ahead and preheat the oven, measure the flour, chop the onion and so on. Doing all this prep work before you start actually making the recipe will help it come together a lot faster than doing each thing as you come to it in the recipe.

4. Make lists. Lists will save your life. List everything! For example, when you make your grocery list, write down everything required for the recipe, even if you think you have it in your pantry. Then check those items off as you double-check your pantry BEFORE grocery shopping. Nothing is worse than getting in the middle of a recipe, late at night after the kids have gone to bed, and realizing that you don’t have the baking soda for the cookies that you thought you had. Not that it’s ever happened to me. Yeah, right! John would beg to differ since he’s usually the one running to the store in the middle of the night to save my recipe. Make a prep list for the items you are going to serve. With my prep list, I know which items I can do ahead and can make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Plus, I feel good checking tasks off as I complete them. I know it seems like more work to start with, but I promise it will help you save time in the long run.

5. Do things ahead. Even setting the table, setting out the silverware, serving platters, cups and napkins the day before your event will help alleviate last minute stress. Making a glazed ham? Make the glaze ahead and set it aside. You will feel so efficient later, when you are in the weeds, working on several things at once and some elements are already done. I always make the dessert first. Desserts usually keep several days so I know I’m golden on that one. Check another item off the list.

6. Pick foods that will do double or even triple duty. This will make life a lot simpler. For example, I served ham for all three of my events last week. What could be better to serve a preacher than ham? Okay, well maybe fried chicken, but that wouldn’t work with my plan. I cooked a big glazed ham on Saturday. For the work crew, I made ham and cheese paninis, the Pastor got ham steaks with scalloped potatoes and I served an appetizer of homemade rosemary biscuits with paper thin shaved ham and homemade pimento cheese. Bam!

Whew! All three events came off without a hitch. Everybody was well fed and had a good time, including me. Since I’d done everything ahead of time, I was able to kick back and enjoy the party. Trust me, when you are able to relax and have a good time, so will your guests.

Glazed Ham

1/2 ready-to-eat, cooked ham, bone-in, uncut (NOT spiral cut), shank end or butt end (about 8 pounds)

25 cloves

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove the ham from the refrigerator 2 hours before baking and allow to come to room temp. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a roasting pan with foil.

2. Place the ham, fattier side-up, in the prepared pan. Score a diamond pattern in the fat with a sharp knife, about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch deep, and the parallel lines about 1 1/2-inches apart. Do not score the meat itself, just the fat and any skin. You can score the fat to as deep as where the fat meets the meat.

Place the cloves in the center of the diamonds to form a nice pattern around the top and sides of the ham. Place the ham in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes.

3. Combine the mustard, honey, sugar and thyme and season with salt and pepper. After 30 minutes, begin basting the ham with the glaze. Continue to cook the ham for another 10 minutes per pound or until an internal temperature of 110 to 120 degrees F is reached. Remove the ham from the oven and let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

Pimento Cheese

1 1/2 pounds extra-sharp yellow Cheddar, coarsely grated

1 cup prepared mayonnaise

1 cup drained and finely diced roasted red peppers

1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, roasted red peppers, cayenne powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours to allow the flavors to meld.