Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tips For A Stress-Free Thanksgiving

The Burlington Free Press caught up with Chef Contos regarding Thanksgiving dinner...check it out

Sress-free Thanksgiving Dinner Tips

Advanced Kitchen Prep:

1. Make pie dough, form into two discs, wrap tight in plastic wrap, and freeze (up to 6 months) or keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
2. Make cranberry sauce and freeze (I use ball jars with one and half inches of room). Defrost it by putting it in the refrigerator two nights before Thanksgiving or make it up to 4 days in advance.
3. Bake your bread for stuffing two days before your feast (after it is baked and cooled, cube it and leave it uncovered to dry out). At the same time, make your dinner roll dough (mine is the same as my bread stuffing for convince). This way on the big day all you have to do is form your rolls, let them rise once, then bake while the turkey is resting or earlier in the day if your more comfortable with having them baked and on the table. 
4. Make lists and do all of your nonperishable grocery shopping now. That's all your baking ingredients, stock (if you are not making it yourself), potatoes, root vegetables, butter, nuts, and wine.
5. Make a day of cooking schedule and hang it in the kitchen. Remember to include turkey resting time into your timeline. 

Day Before:

1. Peel potatoes, place in a large pot covered with water and place in a cool place (sometimes outside is just the right place).
2. Clean and chop vegetables. You may also have a side dish that could be prepared this day.
3. Prep stuffing; chop and sauté vegetables and brown sausage. This was all you have to do is assemble the day of. Most stuffing recipes are best baked the day of as they would dry out being reheated. 
4. Make turkey stock (buy extra wings to add to the neck).
5. KIDS! Kids are a great help with peeling carrots and potatoes. Give them a job, they will feel more involved in the chaos! They may even set your table ;)
6. Bake pies.
7. I'm a fan of making gravy on this day. Making gravy with a house full of people the last minute has the potential for disaster. Make your gravy a touch thick this was you may add the drippings from the roasting pan to enhance to your already made grave. It will be amazing!

Day Of:

1. Cook mashed potatoes
2. Bake rolls.
3. Roast turkey, remember a brined turkey cooks a lot faster then a unbrined one (my 15 pound brined turkey will be done in 2 1/2 hours). Always use a digital thermometer that will be inside the turkey, in the oven, while keeping you informed outside the oven. This way you are not opening the oven door and letting heat out. When the turkey is done, let it rest 45 min to and hour and never ever do I cover it. I worked to hard to have crispy skin. This always scares my students as I have been teaching a Thanksgiving Feast class for 12 years and every time I go to carve I'm still burning my fingers it's so hot! Keep your skin crispy and don't worry, it will not be cold. If anything the vegetables are the ones that you need to plan on how to keep them warm. I use Le Creuset pots to cook and serve my vegetable dishes in, as covered, they hold the heat very well for an hour.
4. Do not baste for these reasons 1) every time you open the oven door you let the heat out, therefore slowing down the cooking process. 2) Does adding liquid to strong turkey skin really do anything anyways? 3) Your time will be better spent focussing on vegetable prep and staying calm.
5. Assemble and bake stuffing.
7. I find nothing wrong with enjoying a nice glass of wine at any point during my day of coking. 

For Your Table (do days if not weeks ahead):

1. Iron or dry clean your table linens and place them on hangers.
2. Polish your silver.
3. Gather serving platters and label each one with the recipe that will be served in it.
4. Pre-order your flower arrangements and centerpieces. I like to use a heirloom pumpkin hollowed out and filled with approbate fall flowers for my table centerpiece. I drop the pumpkin off at my florist a week ahead of time, they carve it and make my centerpiece that I pick it up the day before the big dinner. 
5. Shine/Polish your wine glasses. 

6. I like to set my table three days ahead of the big day. I keep it free from dust by covering it with a sheet. We have two dogs that shed so we always vacuum the morning of the big day then remove the sheet after that.

Miles Away From Mainstream
Chef Contos Culinary Tours 2015

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