Chef Dad on Big Feast Timing (plus some great side dish recipes) - Sweet Potato Chronicles - Sweet Potato Chronicles

Chef Dad on Big Feast Timing (plus some great side dish recipes)

Got a big crowd com­ing over for Thanks­giv­ing this week­end? Freak­ing out a lit­tle bit? Yeah, us too. But then we remem­bered this post by our old pal, Paul Silva. Remem­ber Chef Dad? Last Christ­mas he cre­ated this amaz­ing time line for get­ting the big bird on the table and you through it all with your san­ity intact. We hope our Cana­dian read­ers have a won­der­ful Thanks­giv­ing! — C.M.

Per­haps it's hap­pened to you — your guests are fil­ing through the door, turkey isn't quite done (and of course the bat­ter­ies in the elec­tronic ther­mome­ter have died)< pota­toes and this far from burn­ing and you're still defrost­ing chicken broth for gravy. Never mind that the dog is sniff­ing sus­pi­ciously near the fruit­cake and the kids are re-arranging the table settings.

The one thing you hear con­stantly about avoid­ing such a sce­nario is plan­ning. Yup, fire up those Excel spread­sheets open, cross-reference with online shop­ping sites and uplink to the stock exchange for the lat­est prices of pork bel­lies.  And if you haven’t started this is August, you’ll incur the wrath of those foodie mag­a­zine editors!

Now, one skill us cheffy types learn to do early in our careers is mak­ing and work­ing with lists.  We map out our days, pri­or­i­tize, and give our­selves a real­is­tic time­line to work within. This small, but key, task is more impor­tant than any kitchen gad­get in terms of sav­ing you time (and your sanity).

So here are a few tips that will make things go that much smoother on the big day.  Note: this is assum­ing that a roast turkey is on the menu.  If not, then just ignore the turkey talk.

One week before:
Make a list. Write out your menu (no mat­ter how sim­ple it is), the num­ber of peo­ple (always tack on a few extra, just in case of sur­prise guests) and of course, your full shop­ping list.  Use amounts, too – how much gar­lic?  How much but­ter?  Be spe­cific.
Orga­nize what you need in the kitchen. Do you have enough serv­ing dishes and uten­sils?  Does the blender work?  Do you have enough non-food items like cling film, alu­minum foil, bat­ter­ies for the elec­tronic ther­mome­ter? Don’t for­get plas­tic tubs for stor­age and left­overs!
Clean out the fridge. You’ll need the room. Don’t for­get you might be chill­ing wine, etc. as well.
Check that you have enough plates, cups, cut­lery, etc. Ask friends or fam­ily to bring some if you’re short.
Order your turkey. Many butcher shops require you pre-order your turkey, espe­cially if you request organic or from procur­ing from a small farm.  Also: make sure the turkey will fit into your oven!
Test new recipes. Stick with the tried-and-true, but if you want to play around or intro­duce some­thing new, you might want to test it out first.  Or save the exper­i­men­tal stuff for another day.
A few days before:

    • Go shop­ping. Armed with your list, you want to get every­thing in one go.  You want to reduce the amount of times you go back out to pick up those one or two things (usu­ally unavoid­able, so send some­one else!)
      Defrost that bird. Those bad boys take a day or so to defrost, if not longer.  It’s not advised to try to roast a turkey that is par­tially defrosted.
      Turkey math. Decide on your cook­ing method (quicker to do it unstuffed, by the way) and fig­ure out how long it will take.  Then tack on 45 min­utes for rest­ing.  Sub­tract that from the serv­ing time.
      “Do aheads”. There are sev­eral things that can be done ahead of time and tucked into the chiller.  Bread for stuffing/dressing can be cut and dried out, some herbs chopped, cran­berry sauce made, etc.  Veg­eta­bles can be peeled and kept in cold water.  Vinai­grettes, soups, etc. stay well and long in the fridge.

The day before:

    Pre­pare more “do aheads”. Put on the hol­i­day music, enjoy a bev­er­age (or two!), and send the kids off with fam­ily or part­ner to give you some time to orga­nize.  You’ll need it.  Chop onions, smash gar­lic, etc.  Any­thing to make your life eas­ier the next day.
    Orga­nize your fridge. Have every­thing labeled and orga­nized and don’t be shy in tap­ing that valu­able list to the fridge door. Any frozen items can be left overnight to defrost, as needed (such as sauces or other pre­pared items).

The day of:

    Crank that oven. Face it, you’ll be using it all day.  Give it time to get up to tem­per­a­ture, while you tackle the rest of your list.
    Tim­ing, tim­ing, tim­ing. Start with the things that take the longest (turkey, desserts, for exam­ple), and then go from there.  If there any last-second shop­ping, get some­one else to do it!  Remem­ber that many things like scal­loped pota­toes, cooked veg­gies, etc. can be reheated in the oven or in the nuker.
    Enjoy your time! If things have gone accord­ing to the list, your head of hair will have remained intact.  Remem­ber that things will hap­pen – even us cheffy types have the occa­sional thing jump ship from our best laid plans.  Ride it.  A glass of vino usu­ally helps smooth things over!


You notice that I didn’t talk much about turkey – the total amount of turkey recipes and tech­niques out there could rival the Man­hat­tan phone book in length.

I love side dishes, espe­cially colour­ful, tasty ones.  I have included two here that are not only sea­sonal, but truly are sim­ple – very few ingre­di­ents.  Enjoy and Happy Holidays.


Serves 6

3 lb. brus­sel sprouts, washed and halved with stems removed
4 strips of bacon, diced medium
4 cloves of minced gar­lic
3 shal­lots, sliced thin
Salt and Pep­per, to taste


Blanch the brus­sel sprouts in boil­ing salted water until just ten­der, about 5–7 min­utes.  Drain and cool in ice water.  Drain again and pat dry.  Reserve.

Mean­while, in sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat ren­ders and the bacon starts to become crispy.  Drain, reserv­ing the fat and putting bacon on paper towel to dry.

In same sauté pan, add some of the bacon fat and over medium heat, sauté the shal­lots until translu­cent, about 3–5 min­utes.  Add the gar­lic and sauté 1 minute longer.

Add the brus­sel sprouts and bacon.  Cook until brus­sel sprouts are heated through.  Sea­son with salt and pepper.


Serves 6

1 spaghetti squash, halved length­wise and seeded
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 table­spoons chopped fresh sage
4 tbsp dried cran­ber­ries, soaked 30 min­utes in warm water, drained
1 tea­spoons but­ter, melted
1/8 tsp nut­meg
Salt and Pep­per to taste


Pre­heat oven to 350F.

Place the squash, cut side down, in a large bak­ing dish.  Bake the squash in the pre­heated oven for 50 minutes.

Scrape flesh of squash from the rind using a fork and place in a bowl.

Add pine nuts, sage, dried cran­ber­ries, but­ter and nut­meg.  Sea­son with salt and pepper.



  1. yasmin says:

    great advice and great post, chef!

  2. Rosie says:

    Thanks, much needed advice Chef Dad!

  3. […] find this post on Thanks­giv­ing Tim­ing to be super use­ful, after all host­ing a huge meal like Thanks­giv­ing can be pretty intim­i­dat­ing. And […]

  4. irene says:

    im find­ing more and more that the advice given is not to defrost the turkey and put it in the oven frozen. add on cook time (50% longer) but it makes things much eas­ier, safer (accord­ing to a vari­ety of web­sites includ­ing the Mayo Insti­tute), and no more panic that the bird hasnt defrosted in time… also no more dry bird… it comes out very moist and yummy!

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