For a lot of people this is a stressful time of year. Not for me. My mom will have dinner for 5 people, and it will taste great. Before I go to mom’s house for dinner I will have nearly 300 people for Thanksgiving Dinner (lunch, actually) at work. The quantities of food we get out will be nothing short of staggering for most people! As an example, our cranberry sauce starts with 24 pounds of cranberries!
I guess you might be wondering what my point is. My point is this, plan ahead. You know what you plan on having for your menu by now, I would hope! Take a little time to think about what you can do ahead. For instance, at work, I made the cranberry sauce yesterday. Potatoes for mashed potatoes can be cut in advance. You had better have your turkey thawing in the fridge already.
Obviously I don’t know what you are planning on having for dinner on Thanksgiving so I can’t give you a plan, but the general principal holds true whether you have 300 or 3 for dinner. Figure out what you can safely do ahead of time without compromising the quality of the product, and do it. Have a plan written down if needed so that you can essentially walk into the kitchen and without even giving it a second thought, KNOW exactly what you need to accomplish how long it should take, when you need to get the turkey in so that it has time to rest before you start trying to carve it. Obviously, a little planning will go a long way. I mean chances are you only have one oven, four burners, a microwave, and several dishes to get done all at the same time. Planning this out shouldn’t be that hard to do, because you already know fairly well how long it will take to do each item. You’ve done them all before. Now you have to put them together, and make it all work so you can get dinner on the table.
At work, we have an extensive prep list. Each item on the menu is assigned to a person. Each of us has several items that we need to get done, and as long as all of those things get done, there will be no problem, and none of us will have to kill ourselves to make sure it gets done. Thursday morning, everything will be as ready as it can be. Essentially, we will go through a process of plating cold items, and heating everything that needs to be hot. We get huge turkeys (30-ish pounds each!), and they get started early so that they can be out, and rested, before we break them down to give to the carver.
You should always rest meat. How long depends on how large of a piece of meat you are dealing with. After you take a piece of meat out of the oven or off of whatever heat the temperature will continue to increase. Perhaps by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t have to worry about it getting cold. However, if you pull it out of the oven, and just start carving into your turkey, you will end up with dry turkey. I can’t say that I know why exactly, but all of the juices in your meat will run out if you don’t let it rest. Almost as if the meat will hold more moisture when it is cooler!
Turkey is rested? Now you want to know what I mean by break down the turkey to give to the carver? Well, most people like breast meat, but don’t really care for the dark meat of the legs and thighs. Remove the wings, almost like you would if it was raw, but because it is cooked it will be easier. Cut around the wing, and pull against the joint, and sever the tendons. Next, do the thighs. Cut the skin between the breast and legs. Then break the joint, and cut through the tendons. Now for the gruesome part! With the breast up, lift up by the sternum, and cut down through the side of the rib cage on both sides. This will cut the back away from the breast, and leave you with a perfect turkey breast. The advantage of this is that the breast will be more stable, and make it easier to carve without all of the meat that nobody wants. We do send a few legs out to the carvers, just for the rare bird(sorry) that does like dark meat. This method of breaking down a turkey does take some practice, but it works very well. After the next three Thanksgivings you should have it down. The sad fact is that for most of us, a whole roasted turkey is a once a year treat, or is it an ordeal? A big part of that is the amount of work that goes into Thanksgiving dinner. Work all day, spend 30 minutes eating, and then the rest of the night cleaning.
So, to wrap up. Work ahead as much as you can, so that Thursday is as simple as possible, and have a plan that is as detailed as you need. The more detail the better, to a point. Don’t try to have everything planned to the minute, otherwise, you’ll fall behind, and panic. Write down all of the dishes you are making, and when you want to start them. Good luck, and have a great Thanksgiving everyone!
Since I am a cook, and we are open for Thanksgiving, I work. After, I go to my mom’s for dinner. We have a pretty basic Thanksgiving dinner. Of course I am also on a gluten-free diet, which complicates things a bit. Amy’s family has Thanksgiving dinner while I am at work, and she comes to our dinner late. It works out well enough. I don’t get to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of my own, but I try to cook something that feels nice and fall-like. This year I decided to take a shot at gluten-free butternut squash ravioli, and a sage beurre blanc. This was the second time I have made pasta, and the first time gluten-free.
The first thing I did was start with the filling for my ravioli.
1 small butternut squash cut into cubes, and seeded
2 thin slices of guanciale(I used less than a slice of bacon. Use pancetta if you don’t have guanciale.) finely diced (optional)
1/2 small onion, finely dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 TBSP herbes de provence
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded asiago cheese
Start with the squash. Cut off the top and the bottom, then cut the neck off. Cut the neck into one inch cubes, and quarter the bottom, seed it, and cut into one inch cubes. Toss with a little oil, and salt and pepper, and roast it until it is softened and brown. Let it cool for a few minutes, and pull the skins off. This will be easy.Next I heated a skillet, and added a little oil, and then the guanciale to render it. Once it had started to brown a bit I added the garlic and onion. Once the onion had become a bit transparent I added the squash, and herbes de provence, and a little bit of salt. Next I transfered everything to my food processor, and pureed it in batches. I added part of the asiago with each batch. Once I was done I put this in the fridge to cool before I filled the ravioli. If you want to make this vegetarian the only change you would have to make is skip the guanciale, and just saute the onions and garlic in a little oil.
Pasta is a fairly simple thing. With wheat flour it can be as simple as flour, eggs and salt. The time I made lasagna noodles by hand that is what I did. With gluten-free flours it is a bit more involved, but only because you need xanthan gum! I used the four flour bean mix from the Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman, but I would imagine any good flour blend would work well. This is a variation of her bean pasta recipe. It worked well. In the case of gluten-free pasta we have an advantage. We don’t have to spend a long time kneading to develop gluten, and the dough doesn’t have to rest before it can be worked, and we also don’t have to worry about overworking the gluten.
1 cup flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP oil
2 large eggs
That is all it takes. Combine the dry ingredients, whisk the eggs and oil together, and combine, and mix until a ball forms. I had to add a little water to make it all come together, but it was maybe a tablespoon. Kneed for a few minutes on a counter dusted with cornstarch, or you can do what I did. I worked on a piece of parchment, and then rolled it out between a second piece. This allowed me to cut down on the mess in my small kitchen! If you have a pasta maker you could use that, a rolling pin would work well, and if all else fails, improvise! An empty wine bottle would work just fine. I rolled my dough out as thin as I thought I needed it. (I was a little off! Oops, next time I do this they will be a bit thinner!)Add a small amount of filling to the center of the ravioli. In the picture above I have the right amount of filling. When you are ready to top the ravioli with the top dough a small amount of watter along the edge will help them stick together. Pinch the edges together, and set aside. Make sure you have a pot of boiling, salted water ready.
Now, we need to make the sauce. Beurre blanc is literally white butter. It is a simple sauce, but brings a lot of flavor! Start with white wine, and cider vinegar, in equal amounts. I started with 1/2 cup total, and a tablespoon of finely diced onion (shallots would be more traditional, but this worked fine.) and a little fresh ground pepper. Reduce the liquid au sec, add a half dozen torn up leaves of fresh sage, and then whisk in room temperature butter. I used a bit less butter than would traditionally be used. I used a quarter pound of butter, to make a lighter sauce rather than the half pound that should have been used in a traditional beurre blanc. It was still a nice sauce, and tasted great. While you are working on the sauce, boil your pasta for about 7 minutes, and serve hot, topped with the sage beurre blanc! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!