I got up this morning and thought about Thanksgiving. I’m a cook, not a Chef. While I’m nowhere near the rankings of anyone fabulous, I take comfort in knowing that Julia Child considered herself a cook and instructor. There really is no bigger holiday for a cook than Thanksgiving. I love hosting my family and sometimes the occasional friend that pops in. This year I can relax a bit since the crowd will be slightly smaller. Never the less I’ll be happily buzzing around my workspace making tidbits to make people smile.
From most reports, I’m told, I’m pretty good that this cooking thing. As such I thought I’d spend a couple of minutes imparting some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years to help you make your dinner go a bit smoother. Because, I’m thinking that even though most of the readers are beyond knowing how to Do Up a Feast, there may be some newlyweds out there that may appreciate a commentary.
Alton Brown says, “Organization will set your free.” Commit that to memory! It’s true.
Menu: I love my cooking shows and food magazines. They’ve got so many great ideas. BTW, that little free booklet from Williams Sonoma is a keeper. Word of warning – I do not advise making a ‘new and innovative’ menu for the big day.
1. Never experiment on a family holiday, save that for a party with friends. Make the old standards that your family has come to love and add one or two new ones. They’ll still be happy and give you a critique on what new things to keep for next year.
2. Make notes. Because if it’s more than 2 weeks from now and I have to do it again (say at Christmas) I won’t remember. Did Shirley like that Apple Cider Sidecar drink I made (oh, yeah – make a double batch next time)? How long was that bird in the oven for? How big was it? BTW, I’ve never ‘brined’ or trussed a bird. Mainly, because I stick with my tried and true method…Compound Butter under the skin, a little stuffing inside, a little extra foil on the wing tips and drum ends, and sealed in the biggest foil tent I can make. No turning or basting or flipping…put it in, cook it, take it out. I have enough to worry about with getting my pre–prep stuff assembled and cooked in time. That’s where the organization comes in.
3. Organize the menu. Make dishes that you can cook half way days in advance. Like fresh green beans – blanch and toss in the fridge, same with those brussel sprouts. Cranberry sauce keeps in the fridge …I never buy the canned stuff! Not when it’s soooo easy to make yourself. If you think about it, much of the real work can be spread out over 3 days..if you’re organized. Oh, yeah and clean out that fridge.
4. Cheat! Yes, I said it…cheat. Use frozen corn fresh from the microwave! I never bother with bread. That’s a great thing to have a guest bring. Or do crescent rolls from a can, Sister Schuberts Parker House rolls from the freezer, or a pitstop at Panera. Salad you say? Oh, no Bag-o-Salad and add some funky topping/dressing you’ve made. If you aren’t good at gravy…cheat. Although, buy something really good like a jarred one from Williams Sonoma or a even a restaurant you like and re-heat. You can practice gravy later with a weeknight chicken. Dessert? I rarely make dessert because well, my Mom is a master of the Pumpkin Roll – a family fave.
Workspace: Yes, my workspace is wonderful, now. It hasn’t always been. Boy, have we come a long way! Gone are the days of my girlfriends teasing me about my ‘beautiful wood floors’ – they were plywood! I’ve also tested the durability of the Contact Paper over particle board countertop trick. The stove was an old Whirlpool that came with the house. The absolute bottom of the line – only one big burner out of the 4, and not even a window in the oven door. Even when we moved to the big house, the kitchen was designed for/by retirees. Which means it was like the size you’d find in a nice RV! Point is, you don’t need a $50,000 kitchen (which even my new one is NOT) to make great food.
1. Assess your workspace and organize. Know your equipment. That old stove had it’s quirks and I learned to deal with them. Has your oven got a hot spot (the place where all cookies turn dark too fast)? Deal with it by turning your bird, or use a pizza stone in the bottom to diffuse it. Don’t let it surprise you. Dig out the small equipment – the roaster pan, and thermometer, gravy boat, etc. Go thru and make sure there’s a serving dish for everything and set them aside. And I’ve been known to scribble it’s contents on a scrap of paper and leave inside it. I’ve actually used this in the past to find OMG I forgot the beans!
2. Make space. If your workspace is small, move things out of the way for a couple of days. Like, can they live without the toaster for a day? Or the big cookie jar or bread box?
See, it’s not so hard. You can do this, and make it look easy in the process 🙂 Now, I’m going to go and organize my own menu for this years festivities. Good Luck and have a Fabulous Thanksgiving!!
Please don’t forget to actually be Thankful – we’ve all got so much to be Thankful for.