Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hectic holidays

The part I hate about hosting meals is that, while everyone else is socializing and picking over the hor d'oeuvres, I'm always stuck in the kitchen, slaving over everything, playing a game of trying to get it all ready at the same time so that I'm not serving anything cold. I know I'm not alone because the same thing happens to my mom on Thanksgiving. There also seems to be the problem that you never have enough oven space or burners (on my mom's part, this was partially rectified this Christmas when she received an electric pressure cooker (how cool is that?)). As a result, my goal when cooking in these situations, is to make as many parts of the meal in advance. This way, there's less stress and I can enjoy the company of others.

I believe I've nearly perfected my methods, as yesterday I served dinner to NINE people and only had to disappear into the kitchen for a half-hour before serving the meal (that's right, I actually got to enjoy some of my own salmon spread this time). I would like to share with you the little tips and tricks I employed for cutting down on kitchen time in the hopes that you'll be able to use them yourselves in the future and spend more of your holidays with your loved ones than slaving over a hot stove. Enjoy!

The turkey
  • I brine my turkeys. This not only helps keep the bird moist, but it alters the proteins in the meat, allowing it to cook faster. I've never had a bird in the oven for more than three hours, and I've cooked some pretty big birds.
  • I use a digital, leave-in thermometer. I know it's tradition to serve dry, tough meat, but it doesn't have to be this way. By using a thermometer, you remove the guess work of knowing when you're meat is done. White meat should be at 165F and dark meat should be at 170F. Most turkeys I've had (that I haven't cooked) would probably read around 178F and 185F, respectively, by the time they're pulled from the oven. This is because they're probably in there for a full hour longer than they need to be.
  • If the turkey happens to be done early, I put the lid on my roasting pan (the turkey is cooked exposed, with a "turkey triangle" (a folded triangle of aluminum foil) placed over the breast meat for added protection), and turn the oven down to 150F.
The gravy
  • You know that grab-bag of goodies you pull out of your turkey's butt before you cook it? That's not just a cracker-jack prize - it's an opportunity to make your gravy BEFORE your turkey's done.
  • Use the gibblets and neck to make an easy gravy and store it in a 1L thermos. It'll stay warm allllllll day, just pour and serve.
  • After everyone's gone home at the end of the day, you can salvage what's left in the bottom of the roasting pan and freeze it for an easy gravy NEXT time.
The potatoes
  • Mashed potatoes are not just cooked potatoes that have been beaten to a pulp and thrown into a bowl.
  • Add a quarter to a half cup of sour cream (depending on amount) to your potatoes during the mashing part (don't forget some melted butter and seasonings!) and they won't set up like bricks when they cool.
  • Make them ahead of time, transfer them to a casserole dish and let them cool.
  • To reheat, nuke them in a microwave for about 5-6 minutes, then finish them in the oven while your turkey is resting (30 minutes!) to lightly brown the top.
Remember: Your turkey should rest, tented or covered, for 20-30 minutes before you cut into it. This allows the juices to redistribute in the meat and prevents it from all coming out on the serving platter. During this time, you can be finishing the vegetables and any other last minute meal parts.

Finally, carving the turkey with an electric knife will make the entire ordeal much faster and less messy. Consider buying one if you don't already have one.

Happy holidays!

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