If you're cooking in someone else's kitchen this long weekend, here's how to make it less stressful. My first piece of advice, glib as it sounds, is to avoid it if you possibly can, especially if you have a strained relationship with the kitchen's owner.
Hosting is hugely stressful and having people poking around your kitchen looking for a knife while you're trying to food on the table just makes things worse. Offer to help with dishes — and follow through, you monster! — but otherwise, stay out of the kitchen. Your hosts will thank you.
But let's say Aunt Cindy insists you make your famous whatever, since last year you wouldn't shut up about it. Don't panic!
Thank your past self for deciding to offhandedly mention a dish that can be made ahead of time in the privacy of your own home and do just that. There's a reason hosts tend to task guests with bringing sides: they can be made ahead, travel well and usually taste great at room temperature.
If you must contribute a dish, choose something that ticks all of those boxes — and bring it fully assembled, preferably in a dish you can stand to never see again.
Sometimes, though, you can't wriggle out of prepping a meal in an unfamiliar kitchen. If this is the case for you, here's what you can do to make everyone's lives easier:
- Ask the host when they want you to arrive and be on time. Mild lateness is one thing — like house shows, Thanksgivings run at least an hour behind — but do not arrive early unless you're explicitly asked to at the last minute.
- Do 100 per cent of the prep at home. This includes chopping onions, mincing garlic and measuring out your baking ingredients. Put everything in zip bags or soup containers and bring them with you, like a mobile mise en place.
- Bring your own knife and a steel or sharpener. Adapting a recipe to fit whatever cooking vessels you find isn't too bad, but never rely on your host to provide you with a sharp chef's knife unless they've confirmed otherwise. If your hosts are known to use dull knives, you can offer to run 'em through the Accusharp and be the hero of the day.
- Communicate. Scope out the kitchen, ask all your questions and get necessary permissions before you start cooking. Once you begin, speak in short, declarative sentences and err on the side of over-communication.
Finally, find some chill. I'm not a "chill" person by any means, but I gotta pretend I am when I'm cooking in someone else's kitchen. Try to resist your control issues — if you have them — and do whatever you need to stay calm, be it five minutes alone in the guest room with a meditation app or judicious consumption of booze (read: don't get so hammered you throw your mobile mise on the floor).
Everything is going to be just fine, I promise.