You have time to cook, just not right before you want to serve dinner. This make-ahead plan identifies a couple of dishes that can be prepared hours or even days before you sit down to eat, then cooked right before you and your guests are ready to dig in.
Dishes that will reheat well are your friend, as are casserole-like sides that don't rely on a lot of textures to appeal. Something like mashed potatoes that hold onto their creamy, buttery goodness for a while. And anything with lots of texture, like something crispy or crunchy, should be simple and able to be made just before dinner is served.
Apple Spice Sangria
You can prep everything for this cocktail a few days in advance, then mix it together about two hours before it's served. Core and slice 3 apples, then add to a large pitcher or other serving container. Using a vegetable peeler, peel an orange, and add about 4 pieces of the peels into the pitcher. Add ¾ cup light rum, 1 (750-milliliter) bottle white wine, 3 cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons whole cloves. Stir. Refrigerate until cold, or for up to 4 hours. When ready to serve, add 24 ounces ginger ale.
Rosemary Roasted Pork
We are staying away from chicken for this one, as the poultry can become overcooked or dried out when reheated. A pork shoulder slowy roasted in the oven can either be cooked right up until the time you need to serve it with minimal hands-on tasks required from you, or it can be made a day or two in advance and heated back up in the oven. See the recipe for Rosemary Roasted Pork.
Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes
This is Ina Garten's recipe, and we always trust Ina. You can assemble this dish up to three days in advance, store it in the refrigerator, then bake it just before serving. To make, peel and cut into ¾-inch chunks 3 pounds of large Yukon Gold potatoes. Place in a large pot with enough water to cover the potatoes, along with 5 cloves of garlic and a tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until very tender. Drain, then stir in 8 ounces goat cheese, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1½ cups sour cream, ½ cup milk, 4 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Stir until smooth, then pour into a 9- by 12-inch baking dish, top with ½ cup Parmesan cheese and bake for 35 minutes.
Grape Walnut Salad
This salad relies on prep work, but not a ton. Start with the dressing. To a small container (preferably with a spout), add ¼ cup olive oil,¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, salt and pepper. Mix very well, then refrigerate. Chop 1 cup walnuts and sliver 1 cup grapes. When ready to serve, place 4 cups spinach or kale in a large bowl. Add walnuts, grapes and 1 (4-ounce) log of goat cheese. Serve with dressing on the side.
Oatmeal Apple Crisp
Make this a day before the party, refrigerate, then bring to room temperature while you're eating dinner. To make, heat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 cup flour, ½ cup packed light brown sugar, ½ teaspoon baking powder and a pinch of salt to a food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 cups quick-cook oats. Pulse until just combined. This is your topping. In a bowl, combine 3 cups peeled and sliced Gala apples, ½ cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and add to an oven-safe baking dish. Add topping, then bake for 1 hour.