Posts Tagged ‘menu’

Talking Turkey: Countdown To The Big Day

November 12, 2015

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Thanksgiving is the Olympics of cooking ( and eating!). If you approach this event as a marathon, not a sprint, you and your guests will enjoy it more. We wouldn’t want to head into the big event without doing some advance work, and you shouldn’t either.  Since the holiday is just two weeks away, its time to do some serious planning. If you are preparing the entire meal from scratch, it is virtually impossible to do it all in one day, or to just “wing it.” Grocery stores sell out of key ingredients at the last minute, and the crowds make the shopping experience more stressful than it needs to be. While some people cook ahead and freeze it, I prefer to make everything fresh within the last day or two leading up to the holiday.

Here is a a schedule of what needs to be done so that you can plan a low-stress, delicous and fresh feast for Thanksgiving.

Two or more weeks ahead:(that means NOW!)

Invite guests

Plan the menu

If you are doing a potluck, assign guests specific dishes to bring to avoid duplications or holes in the menu. If you are doing it yourself, start a file with all your recipes in it. This can be digital or paper, but it helps to have everything in one, convenient place, rather than pulling out cookbooks and magazines. Photocopy the pages you want, and put the books away.

Order your turkey from the local farm or butcher. We get ours from Dipaula Turkey Farm and they are far superior to any frozen bird you will find. It costs more, but it is well worth the splurge.

Make shopping lists. Go through all of your recipes and make a list of what you need. Inventory your pantry items to see if you need to add any of the basics to the list.Don’t forget aluminuim foil and plastic wrap! Then, break the lists down by perishable and non- perishable items. The sooner you can pick up the non-perishable items, the better. Just do it, and get it out of the way. I tend to buy different types of things at different stores, so I list things by where I will need to get them.

One Week Before:

Make pie crusts and freeze them. Pie crusts are one of the very few things that I freeze. If you are planning to make several pies, it pays to do this in advance. The crusts benefit from a good chilling before baking to avoid shrinkage, and they don’t need to be thawed beforehand.

I also freeze rolls or biscuits unbaked and pop them in the oven at the last minute. Getting these messy items out of the way are a big help.

Inventory your serving dishes, tableware and linens and see if there is anything you need to buy, or take care of. Don’t wait until the last minute to iron 30 napkins, or polish the silver. Do it ahead of time. You will be glad you did.

Two Days Before:
If you are serving soup, now is the time to make it. It will stay nicely in the refrigerator and some will actually taste better once they have had time to sit. If there is any excess fat, it will rise to the top and solidify, making it easy to skim off.

If you have time, make the cranberry sauce and any dessert items that won’t get stale, such as chilled cakes, or cookies.

Pick up the rest of the groceries. At this point, I buy everything but any seafood I might want for appetizers, and the turkey.

The Day Before:

Pick up the turkey.

This is the day I try to go all out and get as much done as possible. I make the sweet potatoes, cranberries if I didn’t do it already, and clean all of the vegetables I will need for the salad and side dishes. I bake the pies and any other desserts and wrap them to keep them fresh. I even toast the bread for the stuffing, since the drier, the better. I make salad dressings or any sauces that can be prepared in advance. Mis en plas is your friend.

Set the table, or better yet, get someone else to do it for you. Bring in all the extra chairs needed.

Lay out the serving pieces. I serve the main meal as a buffet, so I line up my bowls, platters and serving pieces along the buffet, and put a post it note by each one assigning it to the item it will hold. This not only ensures that I have what I need when I am scurrying around at the last minute trying to get the food out, but also that I don’t forget something. I have opened the refrigerator many times at the end of the evening only to discover an item I forgot to serve, or a garnish I didn’t remember to use.

The BIG Day: 

Prepare the stuffing and make the turkey. Never stuff the bird until you are ready to cook it. This promotes bacteria growth that can make you and your guests sick. Wait until you are ready to put it into the oven before stuffing it. Also, be sure to remove all of the stuffing before storing the turkey for the same reason.

Wipe down the bathroom, sweep the floors and make sure the dishes are done and the dishwasher is unloaded.

Right before the guests come, get any other last minute dishes ready, and begin to slowly reheat anything you made in advance.

Bake the rolls or biscuits.

Toss the salad, make the gravy and anything else you couldn’t do in advance.

Have a glass of wine with your guests, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Thanksgiving Game Plan

November 10, 2014

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Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and to make it as stress free as possible, it’s time to start making a game plan.

If you are hosting, it’s important to be a well-oiled machine, with all parts coming together to create a massive feast in a relatively short period of time.

Here are a few tips to create a game plan that will guide you to a successful dinner:

Make a guest list. Encourage your guests to commit, and let you know if they are planning to bring someone along. Every year, without fail, someone calls at the very last minute asking if they can bring a friend or two. We always figure out how to squeeze in a few more, but frankly, it’s best and most polite for all involved to give a little notice. (Yeah, I went there.)

Plan a menu. If you are like me, you will be making lots of dishes over a 24 hour period, and need to juggle time and precious oven space to make that happen. If you are like most people who aren’t control freaks, you may be sharing the cooking with others, and want to make sure every item is covered, and no duplications show up. It’s not fun to have 5 store bought pies and no potatoes or cranberries. I like to print out all of my recipes and place them in a folder, along with my menu and grocery lists. I keep it from year to year, and add or subtract recipes as necessary. Since we have just done some home renovation, I had better start looking for my beloved folder, which I am sure is in a bin somewhere.

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Ask about food issues: Notice that I called them issues and not allergies. These days, everyone has them. This one is gluten free, that one is vegetarian. Someone avoids nuts, another avoids dairy. I have had dinners where there was not one single item that everyone at the table was willing to eat. With all of the side dishes on Thanksgiving, it’s very possible to have enough items for everyone to find a few things to feast on without having to make anything special. One year, I knew I had a vegan guest coming, and scooped out portions of every non-meat dish as I was making them and substituted margarine for butter, or made sure to use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. It wasn’t a big deal to do this as I went along, and she was very, very grateful. Make sure that if you don’t do that, you are completely transparent about it. Don’t tell someone it’s ok if it really isn’t. As a guest, if you have a lot of food issues, offer to bring a dish that you can eat and enjoy. Be gracious and make enough to share with everyone.

Inventory your cookware, dishes and serving pieces. Do you have everything you need?Are the linens stained?  If not, now is the time to shop for those extras, or borrow them. Make sure you have a chair for every guest, if you are planning a sit down dinner. It’s rarely the worry of having enough food for those last minute guests that throws me into panic mode: it’s more about having enough dishes and a seat for them.

Make a grocery list. I like to divide mine into perishables, and non-perishables which can be bought in advance. Now is a great time to stock up on those non-perishable items and leave them in the pantry. Think about everything you need, even salt and pepper, so you don’t run out. The stores are a virtual zoo in the days leading up to the holiday, so the less time I spend in them the better.

Prepare: I am not much of a make ahead kind of cook. The idea of preparing a meal and freezing it, to me is akin to serving fancy TV dinners. Ok, I am exaggerating, but I prefer to get my cooking zen on and make everything with a day or so of the meal. Having said that, there are many things that freeze well, if you want to get a jump start. Homemade breads,rolls and pie crusts can be made ahead, and baked on Thanksgiving day, making them freshly baked, without the last minute fuss.  If you make cornbread for stuffing, that is also freezable. Non creamy soups also fare well in the freezer.

Now sit back, relax and repeat after me: “I go this!” You do, you really do!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Thanksgiving Menu

November 25, 2013

We are on the home stretch of Thanksgiving planning, and after a whirlwind month of working, I finally got around to taking my own advice and made my Thanksgiving game plan. Using mostly tried and true recipes, which are contemporary twists on traditional fare, here is my menu:Many of these recipes have been posted before, so just click on the link to take you there!

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Thanksgiving Dinner 2013:

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Creme Fraiche

Cheddar Corn Muffins with Jalapeno Butter

Arugula, Radicchio and Fennel Salad with Toasted Pecans and Cranberry Vinaigrette

Garlic and Herb Roasted Turkey with Mushroom Gravy

Bread and Vegetable Stuffing, Cooked 2 Ways

Hot Cranberry and Apple Compote ( we call it Cranberry Jones!)

Roasted Sweet Potato and Banana Puree with Pecan Crumble

Green Beans with Lemon and Garlic

Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream

Chocolate Marscapone Cheesecake

Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie

For a tutorial on making the perfect pie crust, click here.

Stay tuned this week, as we countdown the days until Thanksgiving, with cooking tips and recipes for the big day.

Photo: Glasshouse Images ( that’s actually our turkey made last Thanksgiving!)

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Thanksgiving Game Plan

November 14, 2013

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and if you are hosting dinner, it’s time to get cooking; in a figurative sense. Unless you prepare a massive feast for a crowd on a regular basis, planning ahead is everything.

Here are a few of our favorite tips to ensure a successful meal:

Nail down the guest list:

Our Thanksgiving guest list ebbs and flows each year, with regulars often asking to bring friends at the last minute.  While there is always room for one more, a few more, or a few less can wreck havoc. Try to get a head count so you can plan more efficiently.

Order the turkey:

If you have ever had a fresh, free range or organic turkey, vs. a frozen conventional turkey, you will know this step is critical. I order mine from Dipaola Turkeys at the Union Square Greenmarket, and you really can taste the difference.

Create a menu:

With the wide variety of traditional dishes served for Thanksgiving, a plan is necessary. Everyone seems to have a favorite side dish that they look forward to, and with all of the food issues floating around, it is important to serve items that fit into your guests’ dietary restrictions. Check to see if you have any vegetarians, vegans or gluten free diners. You can work around those issues in some dishes to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable meal. Copy your recipes, and place them in a folder so that they are all in one place when you need them. 

Make shopping lists:

The grocery stores get crazy the day before Thanksgiving. Other than the impeding nervous breakdown one might experience when food shopping the evening before the holiday, the most popular items are often sold out. You can’t make pumpkin pie without pumpkin, or cranberry sauce without cranberries. Dividing the list into non- perishables, which can be purchased far in advance, semi-perishables, which can be purchased a few days in advance, last minute items, and specialty store items, will allow you to be a stealth shopper, with a minimum amount of stress. 

Have a game plan:

Take that menu you just created, and figure out the best way to execute it. Several dishes can be made the day before and finished off right before dinner, and others can be prepped to minimize the muss and fuss. Cleaning and chopping vegetables, and making piecrusts are good items to get out of the way in advance.

Setting the table:

If you have room, go ahead and set the table the day before and cover it with a sheet.At the very least, inventory dishes, tableware, linens and serving pieces a week in advance. Polish the silver, wipe the dishes, iron the linens and make sure you have everything you need. When you discover you don’t have a serving piece, or a place setting on Thanksgiving Day, there is little to nothing you can do about it.

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Taking the time to plan ahead will be one of the many things to be thankful for, come Thanksgiving Day.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Ready or Not, Here it Comes!!

November 12, 2012

With all that has been going on, I almost forgot that Thanksgiving is coming in just 10 days!  With all that is on my plate between now and then, it is going to take some serious planning to pull it off without a hitch.

Are you too hosting Thanksgiving dinner and wondering how it could possibly be coming so soon?  Here is a breakdown of how to get to Thanksgiving without, well, having a breakdown!

Ready, set, GO!

Make a guest list and confirm how many to expect. I find my guest list often grows and recedes as I discover and include people who have not made other plans, or find out about frequent guests who will not make it this year. Try to nail down the amount of people as soon as possible, so you can start to plan ahead. Also, figure out if anyone has any dietary restrictions. Gluten free, vegetarian and other food issues are easy to work around this time of year, as long as you know in advance.

Create your menu. I printed out my menu from last year, and I am pulling all of the recipes together in a file. If I want to try something new, that goes into the file and the menu gets updated.
Make lists! Guest lists, shopping lists, to do lists. If you write it down, it is more likely to actually happen.

Create a shopping list and break it down by non-perishables, which can be purchased in advance, and the fresh foods, which need to be bought at the last minute. Also break the perishable foods list down by where you will purchase the items. If you are like me, it’s not one stop shopping!

Order anything that requires advance booking, like a fresh turkey. I get mine at Di Paola Turkey Farms, and pick it up at the Union Square Greenmarket the day before Thanksgiving.  If you think turkey is dry and unappetizing, try to find a fresh turkey from a reputable farm. The quality of the bird is as critical to the outcome as how you cook it.

Get organized. If you can, clean out the kitchen cupboards and assess your pantry. Do you really have enough of all of those staple items you think you have? If not, put them on the shopping list!

Think about serving pieces and table settings. Do you have enough seating and dishes to accommodate the guests? If not, it is better to know now, than the day of the event. You still have time to borrow or buy whatever you need, if you plan ahead.

While I am not a big proponent of freezing things, think about what you might be able to make in advance and pop into the freezer. Unbaked biscuits, for example, work well when frozen.

Start at least the day before. You cannot cook a great meal of this magnitude from scratch in one day, no matter how organized you are. Solicit kitchen help that takes direction well, and is up to the challenge of doing things to your standards and not making you nuts in the process. Yes, I admit to becoming a bit of a Chefzilla, so I have found that keeping everyone away the first day, and assigning tasks the second day keeps it in check (sort of).

Prep work is essential. Clean and chop all of the vegetables the day before, and assemble as many parts of the meal you can before the big day. This includes salad dressing, the ingredients for the stuffing, the roasted garlic herb butter I spread on the turkey, and many of the side dishes. I made some desserts in advance, and may make the dough for the piecrusts but hold off baking the pies until the morning. The more you do in advance, the more relaxed you will be on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Think about how much will fit into your oven at one time. Be creative about how to make it all work, and be realistic about pulling it off. Plan your menu accordingly.

During the time leading up to the big day, I will post recipes and other tips to make the preparation as enjoyable as the meal itself.
If there is a particular dish or topic you would like addressed, leave a comment and I will try to tackle it!


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