When You Should Undercook Your Food
When entertaining, it's easy to get overwhelmed. The last minutes before your guests arrive are always buzzing with electric energy and a lot of milling around. Finishing touches over here, oven pre-heating over there, oh, and you haven't even changed out of your pajamas. I don't blame you.
Have you ever noticed that the food you cook for guests (especially if it's a big group) is more bland than your regular cooking? It's still good (because you put your heart into it) but it just needs a pinch of salt, or another sear, perhaps a sprinkle of parmesan on top. I know the feeling. What I've learned over the years is that it's not you, it's your timing. Making food is an art on it's own, but mastering the make-ahead dishes requires even more finessing. Next time you're planning a party, and mapping out what you'll be making, plan to slightly undercook almost everything that you'll be reheating. This is often called par-baking, and ensures your food won't be overcooked. Your roasted vegetables will stay crisper, your meat will be less rubbery, and so on and so forth. You can even undercook pasta, and then finish it in a pan with sauce right before serving to keep it al dente! That is how restaurants serve pasta ;)
This doesn't mean you need to undercook absolutely everything... just focus on what absolutely needs to be served hot. If you're serving steak to a crowd, you can sear it on a cast-iron earlier in the day before guests arrive, and then keep it in the fridge until you're ready for dinner. When dinner rolls around, finish cooking the steaks on sheet pans in the oven, let rest, and serve immediately. No tough, well-done steaks for me, missy!
A good rule of thumb for me is to undercook by about 8-10 minutes. This way, the food finishes cooking relatively fast in the oven, and you can probably get away without using a timer. It's the perfect opportunity to run out of the kitchen and change into that little black dress of yours :)