Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving countdown

Thanksgiving is 5 days away. I find that the only way to survive the marathon cook fest and entertaining while working full-time, and without accumulating any extra strands of grey hair, is to plan plan plan. If I make lists and prep ahead of time, then come Thursday, I can actually enjoy my time in the kitchen.

First on the to-do list—menu planning. Finalising a menu for Thanksgiving is fairly easy since the centrepiece is usually always a turkey or a roast of some sort. The trick is to choose side dishes that are standards in your repertoire and are easy to pull off, along with one or two surprising dishes that allow you to flex your culinary muscles and truly wow your dinner guests.

Here is my menu for Thursday:

First course: 
Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese on Buttered Brioche

Main course:
Spice-and-Buttermilk-brined Roast Turkey
Moulded Cranberry Sauce
Sage Sausage, Cranberry, and Pine nut Stuffing
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta 
Green Beans with Almonds and Champagne-Mustard Glaze 

Caramel Apple Pie 
Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake 

With a finite amount on time on hand, I always make a day-by-day checklist divided into things to buy and things to make/ to do. I usually have one big shopping excursion on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, where I procure most of my ingredients. But I save some things like flowers for the table and deli meats for hors d’oeuvres till the day before Thanksgiving, for optimum freshness.

I also itemise all my prep-work in the checklist, and divide the work as evenly as possible over 3-4 days. If you’re lucky enough to have two ovens, then you can multi-task more easily on d-day. But if you’re like me and have to juggle all the dishes on one stovetop and oven, then it is essential to make a lot of things ahead of time and refrigerate them till ready to use—like making the cranberry sauce and the dough for pie crusts, blanching green beans, toasting nuts, rendering bacon and pancetta, etc.

One year I tried to heroically bake the dessert early on Thanksgiving morning. But I ended-up delaying the whole day so much that the turkey didn’t get to the table till well after sundown. I’ve learnt my lesson now, and will finish baking both my dessert items on Thanksgiving-eve.

So, come Thursday, if all my pre-planning yields me a spare 30 mins or so, I’ll enjoy every one of those spare moments lingering over an early glass of bubbly!

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