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An Easy How To Guide: Preparing a Holiday Feast

January 5, 2010

Greetings Holiday Sufferers!! The Season is upon us again. And this year you are hosting dinner. You are now tasked with the challenge of entertaining and feeding the 12 headed beast that is your family. And to make matters worse, you do not love to entertain or cook for that matter. So, what will you do to wow your in-laws? Never fear, MyHungryTum is here to help.

This useful holiday guide can be the end to your Christmahannukwankzakah nightmares. And I am happy to assist you as your virtual sous chef. Lets get down to business. In each part we are going to identify your challenges. Then we will walk you thru executing each part thereby preparing your feast one step at a time. If you plan carefully following these useful instructions, I promise you will be able to deliver a delicious and sumptuous feast that will be remembered by all. My only concern is that you will end up becoming the default holiday meal host because you will look like a pro.

Step 1 Challenge: The Setup and Tabledressing

For traditional holiday feasts the biggest challenges are generally time and space related. In order to deliver a first rate feast on time to a large number of people, you first need to ensure that you have the appropriate seating arrangements, utensils and stemware for your undertaking.

Practical Solution:

In our example, you are going to feed 12 persons including yourself. Your table seats a maximum of eight people, so you need to seat 4 more bodies. I recommend a card table with folding chairs. If you do not have one, you can either borrow one or purchase one at Costco or Walmart. A seasonal tablecloth and centerpiece can make the makeshift table seem very pleasant and festive. Try to mimic the main table setting in order to not make the guests at table 2 feel less important and place it as near to table 1 as possible. Make sure that each guest has a complete table setting, again borrow from friends or family or purchase additional settings from a home store such as Bed, Bath & Beyond. Finally, a bit of holiday music and the right lighting can really make a memorable meal unforgettable. Set the lights and music to an appropriate level for conversation as this is the core of a successful family occasion.

Step 2 Challenge: Never Enough Space!

Finding the room to seat people is one thing. Now you have to have room in your fridge. One cannot store a holiday meal on the back porch.

Practical Solution:

In the week leading up to the holiday, try to eat up leftovers and extra fridge groceries since you will need alot of space in your fridge to store prepped items and things like the Turkey or Ham. Check for old dates on condiments and food items and dispose of anything that is beyond its shelf life in order to free up even more space. Clean and organize the remaining areas of your fridge or freezer so that you can find everything you need in a timely manner while cooking.

Step 3 Challenge: Menu Planning and Prep Lists(this section is in several parts)

Menu planning is crucial. You want to be able to serve a beautiful meal while at the same time considering your level of ability in the kitchen. This step should begin no less than 1 week in advance.

Practical Solutions:

Check local grocery circulars for deals on all the traditional items and try to take advantage of specials and pre-holiday shopping promotions. You can save lots of money by purchasing your turkeys and hams this way. In addition, you will need to buy the main proteins in time to thaw(if frozen) and brine your birds for example. Make sure you leave several days to do these steps.

Choosing what to cook:

This link will take you to traditional holiday feast menu’s. www.epicurious.com/recipesmenus/holidays Each Holiday listed is a link to hundreds of Holiday Recipes with user ratings and comments. This should help you choose some tasty and exciting holiday items to serve to your guests. Following a recipe can produce a fabulous meal but consider your level of skill in the kitchen and choose items accordingly. A Sous Vide Fish may sound nice, but do you know how and have the appropriate kitchen ware to pull it off. Also will over extending on one dish cause others to suffer?

Be aware of the number of guests you are serving when choosing your menu and building your shopping lists. Adjust recipes by multiplying the recipe(look for numbers served on each recipe) by the number of guests you wish to serve. I.E. If a recipe feeds 6 and you have twelve guests, you need to double the recipe or multiply by 2 each listed ingredient.

Your prep list should include every single ingredient you will need for cooking and do not already possess. It is a great idea to make a master list from each recipe, and then organize it by either similar items like dairy, meats, produce, spices etc or even better, by the stores where you will find the best quality and value. Although most stores will sell the basics, you may need to find a specialty retailer to locate all of your items. To reduce overlooking things, get it organized!!!

Most importantly when planning, choose items you think people will eat! Not every family wants a Crown Roast with Baby Fingerling Potatoes in a Creamed Sherry and Peppercorn Demi Glace. If your family tends to lean towards chicken wings and beer, then keep it simple and traditional for the best reception. If you are the only gourmand in your clan, then might I recommend you try a great restaurant on some other evening? http://www.getondining.com/ is a fun audience grown wesite that recommends independent restaurants nearby.

Here are a few more useful tips when planning your feast:

  • Use Disposable cooking ware such as Aluminum Turkey pans to reduce cleanup
  • Pick the best quality items you can find. Fresh is best!!
  • Use store circulars and the internet to find the best values
  • Take your time! A well planned prep list reduces scrambling later on!
  • Don’t forget to recycle those aluminum pans and other recyclable waste. It does matter…

Step 4: Cooking at Last!! Sort Of.

When you have decided on your menu, you can determine preparation times and procedures. Some items like stuffing often take only about 10 minutes to prepare. Others like Turkeys can take days if you count thawing, brining(we will cover this later) and cooking. Clearly you should not cook the stuffing before the turkey. Lets cover this with a sample menu:

Herb Seasoned Roasted Turkey with Pan Gravy
Rosemary and Garlic Mashed Baby Red Potatoes
Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
Hericotes Verts(Green Beans) with slivered toasted almonds and pearl onions
Cranberry Relish (Whole Berries)
Pickled Beets
Roasted Yams with Marshmallow Topping
Herbed Stuffing
Panna Cotta with Raspberry Mint Puree
A selection of wines or other drinks to highlight the meal(and take the edge off of Aunt Marthas stories ;))

Step one:

Thaw both the Turkey and the Ham. Check the package or internet for thawing recommendations. Make sure to figure this out in advance as it can take 2-3 days in the fridge. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/Turkey_Basics_Safe_Thawing/index.asp will give you the official US government “best practices” to follow, but many other sites will have similar suggestions. The temperature danger zone of food storage in temperatures between 40 degrees Farenheit and 140 degrees farenheit is a rough guideline that will help you avoid food borne illness. This can be a concern with Poultry and other proteins.

Step two:

Brining a turkey is not necessary but can greatly improve the tenderness and flavor of a bird. To brine a turkey I would recommend Alton Brown’s(food network superstar) brining and cooking recipe. http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2009/11/alton-browns-good-eats-best-ever-turkey-brine-recipe.html As he mentions, allow 8-16 hours(not more than 24) to properly brine the turkey.

Step three:

On the day before the feast, carve out a couple of hours to do some of your prep work and double check that you have everything you will need. With our example menu, you would want to fully prepare the pickled beets approximately 24 hours in advance so that they have time to absorb the pickling liquid. Also, the Panna Cotta can be fully prepared and chilled in advance to save you some time. The brining of the turkey should start on this day. The rest of the menu items from our example would be best prepped and cooked on the feast day.

Step 4:

On feast day, you want to remember to cook everything in order of time to cook and aim to carve your meats as the other items finish cooking. The first step is the prepping. You want to chop and prep any component items in advance and lay them out by recipe so that you don’t lose crucial recipe items in the mix. Use the recipes to determine cook times and write down the order in which you will cook, generally starting with the Turkey, then the Ham, then the baked items, followed by vegetables and finally stuffing and prepared foods like the cranberry relish. Use a kitchen timer and clock to coordinate your cook times. I recommend opening a bottle of nice wine after you have the prep work done and the main courses and sides in the oven. A glass of wine can stop the nerves from jangling and can help you stay on course. Also I like to cook with good music( www.joelackerson.com )to find my rythm.

Aim to have each item ready at approximately the same time and shoot to serve dinner by about 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour after your guests arrive. Try to keep people out of your kitchen till the food is completely ready to be served. Grazers and Chatty Cousins can mess up your rythm and slow down dinner for everyone. Buffet style service will reduce the amount of work you have to do and generally an uncle or someone will be willing to carve the Turkey and Ham, thus reducing your headache further. If you end up carving, follow these basic instructions:
http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t–757/carving-ham.asp or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GCdkuQoLrY
Make sure you have a very sharp carving knife and carving fork!!

Plate everything as attractively as you know how, using fresh and edible garnishes like parsely or lettuces.

Call your guests to dinner, making sure to seat people with a mind to family politics. You don’t want the feuds of yesterday to reemerge at the feast of today.

The rest of the meal will handle itself. You have done the hard part and produced a delicious meal for your guests. The ambience is perfect, and your guests are looking at you and plotting how they will steal your secrets. Hopefully you’ve been helped along the way by the MyHungryTum essential guide for holiday meal planning.

Please add comments to let others know how this worked out for you, or just relay a memorable family meal from your past. Don’t worry, we don’t mind braggers!!

Bon Appetite…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jan W permalink
    January 9, 2010 11:06 pm

    Looking forward to your food adventures !

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