Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stressed Out About Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner?

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful and chaotic, in a fun sort of way, as you orchestrate what can be a very complicated meal. Late arrivals need drinks. Is the turkey almost done? What goes into the oven next? Is the wine open? Find another place setting. “Why did I ever agree to do this?” might actually cross your mind. 

Here are a few tips to manage and even enjoy that last hour before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner:

1.  List all the dishes you will be making and decide which tasks can be done a day or two in advance. Great items to prepare ahead are; baking pumpkin and making pie mix, pie dough, bake yams to peel later. Cut bread into cubes to dry for stuffing. Make cranberry sauce. Most important: begin turkey stock for gravy!

2.  Pick a time to eat making sure you don’t allow too much time for people to drink (er, rather over drink) or get filled up on munchies before dinner. 

3. Map out your Turkey day by the hour, working back from the time you want to eat. Start the morning with things like baking pies, stuffing, and gravy. I like to have a very rich turkey stock, thicken it and then add pan drippings and sage at the end. The giblets can be braised early and added in advance.

4.  Put your DELEGATOR hat on. This is some of the most important planning you can do. Tasks like peeling and mashing potatoes, washing, chopping, etc. are tasks that others can do. Plan who will be setting the table and who can add the last minute place setting. Who will see to the late arriving guests, making sure they have something to drink? Who is best to help you in the last hour, cooking and taking food to the table? Who might ‘volunteer’ to wash pots and pans in the afternoon when a lot of the mess is made? 

5.  Allow time for the turkey to rest. A ten or twelve pound bird can sit loosely tented with aluminum foil for an hour and still stay warm. This will free up the oven for yams, dressing and warming up the rolls.

6.  The last hour is when you encourage your guests to vacate the kitchen so you and your team can pull it all together. Have a person dedicated to carving the turkey and make sure it goes on a warm platter. Also, give some advance thought to serving dishes and utensils as there is usually a last-minute scramble to find them. This is the time to  check the seasoning of the gravy, mashed potatoes, etc. Make sure everything is piping hot before sending it to the table.

With a little advance planning and a healthy amount of delegating you will be able to pull off that final hour with grace and ease. Some of my favorite times in the kitchen are when I look around and notice the barely controlled chaos and that people are having fun . And, although it may look and feel crazy I can relax in knowing it will all turn out OK! Congratulate yourself for pulling it off. Then enjoy your company and the fruits of your labor. Happy Turkey Day!

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