Thursday, November 14, 2013

Perfect Feast Tidbits From An Expert

This year, Thanksgiving is at your house and you’re beginning to wonder why you agreed to host the family event. Relax. I’ve got tips for you.

Why should you take my advice? Well, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving, among other events, for more than twenty years for small, large and huge groups. And, I’m not only an award-winning author, but also— a long time ago— an award-winning restaurant manager. So, I have some experience at preparing feasts for many. Organization is one of my talents.

It’s always good to have a plan, so let’s start.

First, you need to do is decide three things. What style of dining you want your party to be—buffet or sit down. The style will play a part in your menu. You certainly don’t want to serve soup at a buffet. Too many opportunities for spills.

Second, your guests. How many will be attending your celebration? This number will also determine what is the best style for your feast. If you really envision a sit down dinner, you’ll have to limit the guests, or have a second sitting and even a third sitting. Extra sittings is not my idea of a fun-filled day.

Third, the menu. Menus for Thanksgiving can range from the traditional Norman Rockwell’s portrayal of roast turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce to Wild Salmon and rice. Make the holiday your own by combining traditions of guests. If invited family or friends offer to make dishes, let them, but ask if they intend to cook or bake their dish before arriving. Seriously, I’ve had someone bring their unbaked dish to dinner, expecting room in my oven and time to bake it.

My last tip has nothing to do with the meal. Activities. You’ll have a household full and while dinner is part of the agenda, it’s not the whole day. And while I love enjoying watching football, not everyone does, so have other activities planned. My children and grandchildren love playing bingo. A game set can be purchased at a dollar store along with prizes. And while very few think of November as a time to fly a kite, it is great fun and exercise.

Now with your style, guests and menu decided, make a game plan.

Two weeks out from the holiday:
1) Confirm guests and time.
2) Review recipes and make shopping list for all dishes.
3) Anytime this week, check china, silverware, glassware and all serving dishes and platters, including salt and pepper shakers (wash & fill), butter dishes, gravy bowls, bread baskets, etc. Wash them and store them until ready to set your table.
If you’re planning to use paper or plasticware, buy it this week, especially if you’re thinking of holiday theme. You don’t have time to run from store to store searching for the last few packs on the shelves.
4) Check tablecloths, napkins, and any other decorative items, such as candles and candleholders. I’ve come for my candles only to remember they were used last storm or broken. Purchase wanted items now.
5) During this week, you could actually arrange your furniture and set your table to ensure enough elbow room. It’s better to have the space all planned now then to try to arrange it during the time you will be baking and cooking. Arrange for extra necessary table space or seating.

One week out from the holiday:

1) Double check your grocery list and head to the store. (It’s a good idea to buy extra plastic containers and Ziploc bags for guests to take leftovers home.)
2) Think about your cooking timeline. I have one oven and a lot to bake, so I start my timeline at 1 pm, since my family usually sits down then and I work my way backward. The star of my dinner is the turkey, which I know must come out of the oven by 11:45. It has to sit and can be kept warm. So, depending on the size of the bird is when the turkey must go in my oven. 11:45 works, because my stuffing and corn pudding needs to bake for an hour so it can go in the oven then, along with mash potatoes and yams or any other dishes that need to be warmed. (It’s a good idea, especially if you have limited space, to put all baking dishes in the oven beforehand to ensure they fit) At 12:45, those food items come out and rolls go in for the last fifteen minutes while all other food is put into dishes and placed on the table. During the last hour, veggies can be steamed or warmed.
3) Cleaning. Honestly, I do a light house cleaning before the holiday, because the house is going to need a deep clean after the crowd leaves.

Two days before the holiday:

1) Some dishes can be made now. I find stuffing and candy yams taste much better when made ahead.
2) If you possibly can, set your table.
3) Make ice if you don’t have an ice maker.

Day before holiday:

1) Other dishes can be made early. Ie: mash potatoes, pies, desserts, veggie trays.
2) I put my applesauce and cranberry sauces into bowls and refrigerate.
3) I’m in northeast PA and have been able to use my outside gas grill as an extra cold storage for items prepared ahead. Think out of the box when space is limited.
The holiday:
You’re organized and ready. Stay with your timeline and if something hiccups, don’t sweat it. Your friends and family only will know what you’ve done, not what wasn’t done.

Enjoy the day and as always thanks for stopping by!

Ps: if anyone has found a time saving tip that has worked for them, please share.

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