Saturday, November 19, 2011

An easier way to plan and prepare a Thanksgiving meal

I often get asked, "How do you put a big meal together and have it all served at the same time, like with Thanksgiving?" The answer to that is planning and organization. Here is an easy-to-follow example with a sample menu and steps to prepare it

Thanksgiving menu

Salads
Mixed greens with dressing
Roasted beets with oranges and vinaigrette

Main course
Roast turkey with giblet gravy
Stuffing
Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry relish

Dessert
Pumpkin pie

Steps

The weekend before Thanksgiving
-Get the recipes you want to use, review them carefully and make a shopping list based on that
-Write out a prep schedule as shown here
-Go shopping.  If you are using a frozen turkey, get it a week in advance. For lettuce, get it closer to the holiday

Sunday
-Make cranberry relish
-Make salad dressings

Monday
-Make stuffing
-Cook beets

Tuesday
-Peel potatoes, cut in cubes and place in water
-Make pumpkin pie

Wednesday
-Peel beets, cut as you like, marinated in dressing overnight
-Place any cold sauces or dressings in serving containers and refrigerate
-If possible, set the dining table the night before to save time
-Write out a more detailed schedule of what you need to do on Thanksgiving and review your menu to make sure nothing is forgotten. Ex. Place turkey in oven by 10am, start mashed potatoes by 11am, start cooking beans at noon.  Etc., etc.

Thanksgiving
-Follow your schedule and enjoy your holiday

There are certain items that can be prepped ahead and it will not affect the quality, so with that said, save yourself some last minute headache and do what you can ahead. That is what we do in professional kitchens. Also, I know many people have families so doing everything on the holdiay is a pain in the but.

What many people don't do is look ahead.  For example, how many of you prepare a recipe, only to find while making it you should have done something earlier-like preheat the oven, or get your butter room temperature?

What professional chefs do is simply think ahead. This is especially important when doing offsite catering. Imagine if a chef did not think out every step? When doing any event out of the ordinary, I literally sit in a quiet place and visualize myself performing every little thing to make sure I don't forget anything. Think of it like a dress rehearsal that an actor may do but I do it in my mind. When I have done TV shows, I would even find out how much space I had to work with, set up a table with those dimensions and do a dry rehearsal. For any less-experienced cooks, the visualization step is crucial.

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