Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simple Is Big

Pie? Nope, I love Pumpkin Cheesecake
Squeezed between Halloween and Christmas is a beautiful holiday called Thanksgiving. Most of us grew up with an idyllic idea of what Thanksgiving should look like and taste like. A cozy house of friends and family who are hungry and gracious, sitting before a feast as seen on the cover of Bon Appetite. We imagine an effortless holiday, from a stunning centerpiece to lump-less gravy. In our efforts to achieve such lofty goals we often miss the opportunity to actually enjoy it.

If Thanksgiving is at your house this year and your vision for its success is the magazine quality spread with a  family bonding experience, you might consider a more simple approach. What's not to love about a simple well prepared meal, affordable decor and easy execution? I realize that simplifying a holiday that is the super bowl of meals seems odd but give it a try! Long after the leftovers a stress free holiday gathering will be your reward.

Artichoke, Leek and Spinach Gratin

Here is 10 suggestions from the kitchen to the table that will help make your Thanksgiving easy as pie.

Guests- Review your intended guest list. Consider how far they will be traveling, age group, dietary concerns before you fix the time and set a menu. Time the day by considering if your out of town guests will have to leave at the crack of dawn or drive home late. Consider if you have guests with food allergies or if they are vegetarian. Older guests may not enjoy spicy foods or avoid sugar. The children may do better with a hearty side dish, like macaroni and cheese.

Menu- Start with a simple plan of soup or a salad, main dish, one to two starches, vegetable, bread and dessert. Add additional dishes after carefully considering your time and cooking space available. Let guests who offer bring support dishes bring them. Use quality purchased items to help with filling out the menu without making your job harder. Don't feel like you have to serve traditional dishes, try to include dishes unique to your family.

Planning- Build a time line that lists all activities from housekeeping to guest depart time. Be accurate to make sure you to schedule the time item needed to go in or out of the oven. Check to make sure you haven't planned anything needing the same cooking appliance. This will slow your march to the finish line. Lay out all your platters, serving tools and dish-ware ahead of time so they are in reach when needed.

Shopping- Once you set a menu, divide it into two trips. One to buy all the shelf stable items and those that can stay frozen until prep time. Trip two should be for produce and perishables. Do not shop without a list and make sure you checked off everything you already have at home. Check expiration dates on items you don't use often to make sure they are fresh. Allow 4 to 5 days in a refrigerator for a turkey to thaw.

Housekeeping- Ideally all deep cleaning projects should be finished week ahead and only tidy up needed (we all know how that goes!) Plan B is to stash clutter and stick to cleaning main traffic areas and the restroom. Prepare the kitchen for work by freeing the counters of excess appliances and collectibles. Clear out the fridge and freezer to store only the foods you need. Condiments and bottled drinks can be stored temporarily in an ice chest to gain more space.

Prepping- Chefs call it mise en place... "everything in it's place" meaning get it ready to roll! Don't under estimate how long it takes to get the basics done. Cut up vegetables and wash greens ahead and wrap in clean towels. It's okay to peel potatoes a day ahead and keep in the fridge in water with a few drops of lemon. You can measure seasoning and dry ingredients out for your recipes even a week before, just label, bag and set aside.

Decorating- Use seasonal fruits, nuts, squash, gourds and pumpkins to decorate. Fall colored leaves found on a walk can add a splash of color to your home. To keep as much room as possible on the table, centerpieces should be simple and low. Gather some small vases, arrange candles and fill with fall colored branches.

Seating- If space allows, try to fit guests at one table with at least 18 inches between settings. If one table is not possible, go with smaller intimate groupings and serve from a buffet so guests can mingle.
Avoid sticking the children at a "kids" table. Sitting together is an opportunity to reinforce good table manners and sharing a meal together creates wonderful memories.

Clearing- Ask ahead for an older child or close family member or two to help with clearing away the dishes. When the time comes it will be smoother to have designated help to move on to each course. For safety reasons put food away quickly, more then two hours in an unsafe range can make leftovers dangerous.

Grace- Remember the spirit of the holiday. Give a prayer or a toast, read a poem or elect a family member to do so. It doesn't need to be fancy or rehearsed, a simple statement of gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Menu Items!
From Cook like a Caterer Recipes

Rosemary Roast Turkey 
Sage and Thyme Dressing
Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic
Porcini Mushroom Gravy
Whipped Yams with Pecans and Cinnamon Streusel
Artichoke, Leek and Spinach Gratin
Vinters Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Cranberry, Apple and Walnut Salad
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Vinters Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette


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