Thursday, December 16, 2010

Feeding the holiday house guest: Mad Hungry tips from Lucinda Scala Quinn

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Lucinda Scala Quinn
"I live in fear of being unprepared when it comes to throngs of hungry people." - Mad Hungry host Lucinda Scala Quinn (but the words might as well have come out of my mouth, because I feel exactly the same way)
I've got hordes of houseguests descending for the December holidays, and it's my job to feed them. I love having our extended family and friends around, I love cooking for them all, and I'm pretty organized. But shopping for and preparing two weeks of meals for houseguests and other drop-ins intimidates even me. I need help.

Enter chef, author and supermom Lucinda Scala Quinn, who knows a lot about feeding crowds. Her must-read cookbook Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys covers the blocking and tackling required to satisfy the immense appetites of teenage boys (she's raised three). Now, as host of the Hallmark Channel series Mad Hungry with Lucinda Scala Quinn, she dishes out the kind of family meals I love to make: cheese fondue, one-pot stews, homemade "Chinese takeout." 

When Lucinda and I met last year we talked about feeding our families; this year Lucinda kindly gave me pointers on how to keep guests happy and well fed over the holidays while still keeping your sanity. I think you'll find her advice useful, too.
  • Breakfast: "I'm a breakfast fanatic. I make one breakfast every morning, not different things for everyone. It might be granola and fruit; bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches; oatmeal; coffee cake and hard-boiled eggs. Make sure there's something for everyone. I always have food ready in the morning - it gets people started."
  • Lunch: "I put lunch out at a certain time, and I make sure everyone knows when that is. I'll make pressed sandwiches in large loaves of bread and put them out with a bowl of fruit. Or I'll have two kinds of soup on the stove and serve that with crusty bread. The day after Thanksgiving for lunch I made a big pile of crepes and brought out all the Thanksgiving leftovers, and everyone made their own crepes instead of sandwiches."
  • Snacks: "I'll put out a fruit bowl, olives, nuts, maybe homemade pita chips. A bowl of cleaned radishes with olive oil and a dish of specialty salt. And cheese. I have a problem with cheese - my family is always saying Mom, step away from the cheese!"
  • Baked ziti makes a great do-ahead dinner
    Dinner: "I try to make a few main dishes ahead and stick them in the freezer, like lasagne or coq au vin. That way, when we've got eight hungry people and I don't feel like cooking, we don't have to go out or order in. Once a week I make chili and serve that with cornbread, or corn chips if I don't have time to make the cornbread."
  • Shopping: "I replenish my liquor cabinet and baking supplies before Thanksgiving. In December I splurge a little: smoked salmon, prosciutto or serrano ham, specialty breadsticks, panettone, dulce de leche. Prosecco to give as gifts or to mix with juice for brunch. Lump crabmeat, which I stretch by making dip or crab cakes. And I buy specialty sodas and flavored seltzers for the kids, because the adults are drinking lots of special things."
  • The kitchen: "I don't like guests working in my kitchen. I've got everything organized. When I'm a guest in someone's house, I try to be on their program. I'm a planner; I make sure everyone has enough. I don't like people starting in on omelettes when I've already got breakfast prepared." [Me too. I can't help it. I'm territorial when it comes to my kitchen.]
Do you have tips for feeding the holiday crowds? Leave a comment - I need all the help I can get!


Monet said...

What a great list of tips...I'm not hosting a big group at my house, but my mom is taking us all in! I'm going to send her this post. She will greatly appreciate all the tips here. Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a wonderful day!

Nancy said...

Hi Erika!!
Wonderful tips!! I plan my menus ahead of time - one tip I have is to make up a chutney or two - I'll roast a turkey breast of a pork loin and serve it with the chutney and roasted vegetables and potatoes. Leftover pork and chutney go into sandwiches and the potatoes and vegetables can go into a breakfast egg dish. The chutney can also go over some goat cheese for appetizers... you get the idea!!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Monet - glad to be able to help Mom out.

@Nancy - chutney, now that's a great idea. I always have fig chutney in my downstairs refrigerator. I'll remember to pull that out next week for sure!

Nadine said...

Great ideas exposed!

Well done!


Sippity Sup said...

I can totally relate to this woman and to you! GREG

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