Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey Day Prep-down

Here's this month's column from the Petaluma Post. 
Just in time for T-Day.

November has rolled in and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I thought I would try to help lessen the burden of that crazy day. You will have a house full of friends and family or be packing up the crew for the drive to dinner at someone’s home. Here are some pointers to help you through.

The menu scramble… what to serve this year? About now you have seen all of the most up to date magazines with the great recipes and ideas. How to choose which one to try? In my mind thanksgiving is a pretty traditional holiday. Your menu will likely have

Turkey (also ham if you are having a large group), Stuffing (the best thing on the table), one or two Vegetable Dishes, and probably yams or sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, bread and desserts. If you want to be daring and creative, I recommend changing only one or two dishes. Vegetables and starches are good choices. But keep to your family traditions for most of it. Thanksgiving comes once a year many people look forward to the traditional comfort foods that they know. This year even my dad told me “ I want your mom’s stuffing.” Hopefully she reads this and knows she is bringing stuffing this year!

The week before Thanksgiving your menu should be set, and it is time to answer the question many of your guests will ask; “what can I bring?” This is a tricky one. Try to keep in mind whether the maker will be traveling, does their dish need to be heated for a short or long time, will they be on time? We all know that family member that is always late, ask them to bring dessert, not the hors d’oeuvres. If you are asked to bring a dish remember to answer the same questions. Probably not a good idea to bring a dish that has to bake for 2 hours if you are coming from distance. But there is a good transport option for hot items…

Hint #1
Ice chests are for more than ice. In catering we are fortunate to have hot boxes; specially designed boxes that hold food hot for a length of time. But truth be told they are just big insulated boxes, just like an ice chest. Ice chests can keep the cold in, but they can also keep the heat in. Place your hot items in an ice chest and just resist opening to check on it. This is great for anything moist, your food will put off steam and stay warm, however anything with a crust will get soggy. Standard food safety protocol says food remains safe if it does not fall below 140 degree for more than two hours; I expect most ice chests can keep something that is hot from the oven above 140 degree for at least two hours. So whether you are holding dishes to help time your own dinner or bringing them to the family pot luck, this should help.

Hint #2
On Saturday before Thanksgiving plan to purchase your turkey if you are buying a frozen one. It takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds that your turkey weighs to thaw. So, if you purchased a 20 pound bird on Saturday it should be thawed on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning for prepping. Remember, this is thawing in the refrigerator; it is not safe to thaw it on the counter; it is too big, the outside will become unsafe before the inside thaws. This shopping trip should include all of your canned, dry storage and packaged items or things that you plan to prep during the week- your cranberry sauce, yams or snacks

We are now up to the week of the T-Day. Here at the catering company we put out 20 to 25 dinners for pick up that week so my prep time at home is limited. On Sunday I check dishes, linens, glassware and flatware- what do I want to use this year, do I have enough, do I need to borrow or rent anything

Hint #3
Renting dishes and glassware. Party rental places don’t do just big events. Most are willing to rent you as few as 15 to 20 plates, napkins, glassware etc.. And the big bonus, you don’t have to wash them, just rinse and return. No extra hours on the clean up.

Tuesday is the day that I plan to do a last run to the grocery store for any perishable items, green, vegetables, whipping cream. I try hard to avoid the market on Wednesday. My common thing to do if I run out of anything is to send the husband to the store, it keeps him out of the hors d’oeuvres before the guests arrive.

Tuesday night is a great time for putting together hors d’oeuvres or desserts; pies hold quite well and are often better a day later when the juices have thickened. Sorry I have not hints on how to keep the kids and husband out of those.

Wednesday I like to prep the turkey. Remember to remove all of the packets and bits inside the bird and rinse well. This is great to do on Wednesday when your hands are not full of other prep and you can clean up well after wards. Go ahead and season and prep the turkey (without stuffing) so it is ready to go in the oven. Vegetables can be cleaned and cut, ready to cook.

Thursday- the full day. Calculate the time it takes for the turkey to cook and add about an extra hour and a half. That way the turkey can come out and rest in the Ice chest; trust me it will stay juicy if you do not cut it, and you will have time for the final dishes to go in the oven, your yams, green bean casserole and mom’s stuffing.

Hint #4
Cooking the Turkey without the stuffing. We have all heard about not stuffing the turkey. It will take 45 minutes to an hour off the time it takes to cook your turkey if you do not stuff it. You can add the dish of stuffing to the oven in the last hour of cooking and baste it with the juices from the turkey. And the best part, there is more surface area so everyone gets the crunchy part.

Hint #5
This is not so much a hint so much as a shameless plug, but it might be helpful. Preferred Sonoma Caterers has both ala cart and pre-fixe Thanksgiving menus. Available on our website So for a full meal or just the parts you don’t want to cook, we are here.

The table is set, everyone is there, just remember that memories are not made by perfection, they are made by people.


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