‘Tis the time of the year where fall and winter collide into traditions, family, and friends gathering around special recipes and libations, decorations, music and ambiance galore. Let me, Chef Wendy Brodie, be your guide to become your own holiday host with helpful tips along the way.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks to family and friends. The creative process begins by imagining colors, fall images, and seasonal foods to create an ambiance as your gift to yourself and others such as:
– Shades of greens and browns, rust, orange, burgundy
– Leaves and the turning colors, pumpkins, gourds, winter squashes, Turkey, Feathers, Corn and stalks
– Turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries, potatoes, yams and mashes, green vegetables, apples, pumpkin and pecan pies
Let’s start with the ambiance and table by staging your entrance outside or inside with natures gifts of fall leaves and pumpkins, which sets the mood. It is fortunate and less expensive to use real products and using manmade items also can be highly creative and cost effective by using them yearly.
The table should be inviting, keeping the centerpiece low or very high so as not to block your guests’ vision. The variety of pumpkins and gourds make a unique tablescape. Small pumpkins can be used for nametags or candles; leaves can be used for place cards. Using themed produce can reduce the costs of having elaborate flower arrangements. Having a clear container piled with small pumpkins and arranging a couple of beautiful flowers is simple, makes a strong statement and is easy to do yourself.
Pumpkins make great containers; for instance: a wine bucket filled with ice, a flower vase, and a soup, stew, or dessert container.
The menu of a traditional turkey feast always takes more time than not. Have a potluck or you can order ahead of time to present at home (many hotels and restaurants offer traditional menus) if doing it yourself is not possible.
Cooking the turkey these days presents so many choices: roasting with or without stuffing, high heat or low heat, smoking, barbequing, frying. Then, what preparation decisions: brining, injected or rubbed with butter and herbs, in a bag, upside down, right side up, or vertical, covered with cheesecloth or foil, the complex Turducken (Chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans creation of boneless chicken, inside a boneless duck, inside the turkey with stuffing between each poultry). An advantage to brining is that it helps to insure that the turkey stays moist and dinner isn’t time sensitive. I have found that the lower the heat, the less shrinkage and more moist the turkey is. If you stuff your bird, always cook right after stuffing, as it can pick up harmful bacteria.
If you do not have recipes for some of your favorite dishes, the Internet has a wealth of information that is readily available with photos of what the dish looks like and many comments from people that have made them. Cookbooks and magazines are great sources as well.
Work ahead as much as you can by washing, measuring amounts, and preparing parts of recipes so that you can put them together with ease, saving time. Anything you can do to make the work joyful will lessen stress, as we all want to look like we are experienced hosts.
Buffets or passed platters allow the hosts to join in the festivities. Set course menus require the hosts to be up and down more so if you are able to have arranged help it will be more enjoyable and efficient.
Cell phones and modern technology are here to stay. By using them to capture the fun with shared photos or videos, skyping can certainly add to the memory and make far away loved ones a part of the day.
Organizing the cleanup is well worth the time. Have a small garbage container and spatula to scrape food off the plates, bus tubs filled with some water to soak the stacked dishes, silverware and glasses as well as food containers at the ready for refrigerated leftovers. Designate an area for the aftermath of the meal, such as a laundry room, garage, or pantry that way you can put filled bus tubs out of the way and tackle it at a convenient time, not being a slave to chaos in the kitchen.
Most importantly enjoy your friends and family remembering the ambiance and meal is the foundation to your celebration.