Do you need a bit of inspiration for your next gathering? We spoke to celebrity Chef Susur Lee and he shared a host of ideas, plus a recipe.
1. Get Help
“Stop thinking about doing everything yourself. Ask for help,” says Lee. The Toronto-based chef recommends and buying pre-chopped vegetables to save time or even using the help of some of your favourite gourmet shops to supplement your meal. Using your time to focus on the flavours and marinades of the food is most important.
2. Create an Aroma
Greet your guests with a welcoming aroma wafting from the kitchen. Lee says his wife “puts cinnamon stick in apple cider so you can drink and you can smell. Add rum and it’s perfect when it’s cold.” Or use “bay leaf, cardamon, ginger, cinnamon.” Add water and bring to a boil, then let simmer for a fragrant welcome.
3. Stay Lean
Don’t fill up your guests on starchy appetizers. Keep it simple. “A lot of people like to put out cheese platters, and croutons. Something light and drinks are good enough. My friends have bread, croutons, cheese then I can’t even eat the dinner.”
“By the time you roast the bird and you roast the meat, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, what plate should I put it on?’ Plan ahead. Make sure that you have all the servers and platters you need. Use fresh herbs and vegetables to garnish the meat.”
Have the drinks ready and lined up for when guests arrive. “It’s not, ‘Oh, what do you want?’ You’re hosting them so you have to give them what you think is the best for them. ”
6. Unconventional Cooking
After a trip to Jamaica, Lee discovered a love for jerk seasoning and even created his own after arriving home. “I think this year with the turkey, instead of doing another base with butter, garlic and rosemary – I’ll do something spicy! Why can’t we do something spicy in the middle of winter? Jerk chicken, everybody understands. And jerk spice – oh my god- is the best thing! After – with the bones – you can make a great soup. With root vegetables and some jerk spices in there.”
7. Rethink Stuffing
“If you think about stuffing, a lot of people are still using the North American style. And I think using grains like quinoa are amazing for stuffing. Try quinoa with currants and chestnuts, dried cherries. Quinoa is so healthy – number 1. Get the red quinoa not just the white quinoa. /it’s crunchier and absorbs the juice while you are roasting the bird. Also, really good with pumpkin, diced squash with dried cherries and chestnut.” Yes, our mouths are watering now, too.
8. Get Sentimental
If you are not a good cook, Lee suggests focusing on one recipe from your childhood.
“Maybe just make one thing that when you were a child, your parents showed you that recipe and it always came out the same. Even if it’s just a cookie, just that. Then you have a story to tell your friends. You know, ‘This is how I grew up. This is where I came from. My great parents showed me how to make that.’ I think that adds to the spirit of having someone over to your house.”
As a spokesperson for Sodastream – the freestanding machine that turns water into soda water in a matter of seconds (no wires or plugs necessary – Lee came up with a genius way to make the appliance a must in your culinary creations. He brines his meats in soda water to tenderize it. Check out the recipes below to make a Sodastream/Lee-inspired dish at home.
Recipe for Roasted Chicken Marinated with Spiced Coffee & Orange Tonic
50 g fresh ginger
60 g cinnamon sticks
125 g ground coffee
9 g cardamom pods
5 bay leaves
4 L water
4 tbsp salt
1 btl Susur’s ice syrup
80 ml SodaStream orange syrup
Combine ginger, cinnamon sticks, ground coffee, cardamom pods, bay leaves, 2 1⁄2 litres of water & salt in a large pot and reduce on high heat to 1 cup.
Remove from stove and let brine cool to room temperature.
Fill SodaStream bottle to the line; snap lock into machine and select highest fizz level; once complete, release and slowly add 40 ml (4 caps full) of SodaStream orange syrup (pour on angle); seal cap and gently roll the bottle on its side until well mixed. Repeat steps one more time to have enough for the recipe.
Add 1 1⁄2 L of double sweetened orange sparkling drink to brine as well as Susur’s ice syrup.
Cut 1 whole 3-pound chicken in half and brine in mixture for 48 hours in the fridge.
Remove chicken from brine, season with salt and pepper.
Roast in 375 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes or internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Serve with your favourite side dishes or Chef Lee’s suggested sides: Roasted J-choke with balsamic soya honey glaze & sweet onions
Recipe by: Chef Susur Lee