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.
BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH BACON AND SHALLOTS
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.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES AND PINE NUTS
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.