Monday, October 08, 2007

Thanksgiving dinner takes time!



Happy Thanksgiving to Canadians!

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For those of you who have been yearning for my rum pound cake... the recipe is now posted over on http://www.starfishyskitchen.blogspot.com/ - my little cooking blog. I started that blog last summer when I was trying to be inventive and come up with good menus for a small child - so don't go expecting anything gourmet over there... but I do like to cook and have been thinking about adding more recipes. Well, actually I cook a fair bit - just don't have the time or inclination to blog about it. Except, I think - that as we head into the holiday seasons that I will be posting more about, well holiday cooking. Because, to me, a big part of the holidays - is food!

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It is Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend. From a sit-down dinner point of view, this MUCH earlier date than USA Thanksgiving (end of Nov.) is practical. Although, it seems a bit odd to my American point of view to be having Thanksgiving before the Halloween decorations come down! But it also means you don't have to cook or eat 2 turkey dinners a mere 4 weeks apart from each other (assuming you do turkey again for Christmas). In my family, years ago we switched over to lasagna for Christmas and DH's family likes fondu for Christmas, but that is a bit beside the point.

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The photo you are looking at - is a photo of a meal that would have been impossible for me to make in my early cooking days. Because, quite frankly, it took my YEARS to master this meal - the 1st turkey was a frozen 20 pounder and I took it out to defrost ON Thanksgiving morning (for all of 2 people). Much to my dismay the thing wouldn't fit into the microwave to defrost!!! And, coming from a BIG family - I really had no idea that a turkey came in any other size but 20 pounds!!! The next year I was smarter and bought a young, FRESH turkey - a SMALL one at that - the directions said to rinse inside and out with water and pat dry with paper towels. And, when the gizzards and neck and liver and all slithered out with no warning what-so-ever - and you have to admit - if you have never, ever seen such a sight before in your life it can be a bit gross and a shock to your system and I am sure you will completely understand 100% if I told you that I immediately threw up all over the bird. Sigh. Yes, it's true.

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I'm happy to say - my cooking skills have much improved over the years and now I even have stomache enough to boil those innards and use that water for my gravy (but, I draw the line at cutting them up and ADDING them to my gravy - no sir, as soon as they are boiled, they are thrown out!).

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So, what was on the menu? Salad - 1st course, which was already cleared away. Hot buttered bread with garlic/herb butter. Turkey, 2 kinds of stuffing, peas, mixed green beans with carrots, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoe, baked squash, cranberry sauce, home-made apple sauce, apple pie and pumpkin pie. 20 dinners later and there are still some left-overs. Take a good look at the photo - a crockpot is a great way to keep the gravy hot and an electric frying pan is good for vegetables - you can even put 2 different veggies in there. Pre-heat your crockpots (just ask everyone to bring one of theirs and have a surge protector with multiple plugs handy) and as each dish is finished - move it into a warm crockpot. I just use 2 because I have a commercial warming cabinet for everything else, but trust me - the crockpots and electric frying pans are great for buffet style.

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And while I was cooking yesterday (yes, in my small commercial kitchen - you guys are so clever to figure that out from a few photos!) it got me to thinking about how one would go about cooking this meal at home... for a family meal.... So, here are a few of my thoughts and hopefully I will add more cooking thoughts as the holiday season approaches - maybe it will help someone out! At the very least - please know that it takes 3 days to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator!!!

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There are a few things to consider when serving a BIG family meal. I was surprised at how much a turkey costs in Canada at $4.34 per kg - or $41.14 for the one we cooked. Which divided by 20 plus people isn't ALL that bad, but for families on a grocery budget - it is a consideration. So, if you are HOSTING a big family dinner - assign different people things to bring - pie to one person, drinks to another , icecream to a 3rd... well, you get the idea. If you have a normal household oven, you probably don't have room to make the turkey, stuffing, squash, pies, etc. in your oven. Go ahead and accept if someone offers to help. It might seem like a goofy thing, but ask someone to bring the mashed potato - it takes TIME to peel potatoes for mashed potatoes for 20 people. Besides - you don't even want to see the pan I had to use to make that much potato. Or, consider those thin skinned red potatoes where you can just mash them, skin and all! At the very least - set the men outside around a big garbage pan with a few peelers and set them to work doing the peeling for you. Invest in a few extra vegetable peelers ahead of time so you have a few to pass out! And, if someone brings the stuffing - even better - 1 less thing in your oven. It might not be the exact same stuffing YOU would have made, but at the end of the day, I am sure it will be just fine. If you don't 100% trust a person to show up with their assigned dish, you can plan on an emergency back-up... just in case. Nothing wrong with Stouffer's Stove-Top stuffing or a frozen pie in a pinch. In my own families case - once I was assigned salad and then I was late - forever after - I was always assigned dessert!

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It probably is not a good idea to try out new recipes that your entire meal hinges upon at a big dinner. Try things out in advance. And, if you really want to try something new, than hopefully it is just 1 small dish and if it doesn't turn out great - there are other things for people to eat so it won't really matter.

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And remember - no matter what - the turkey is probably always going to take longer to cook than you think.

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Plan on way more gravy than you ever thought possible (probably 1 cup per person). If you don't know how to make gravy - start out with a good gravy mix. If your gravy clumps (gasp), you can always put it in the blender or a food processor and it will fix the problem - trust me - whisking it to death will not work. But - nothing beats one of those hand-held stick blenders! And only 1 to 1 1/2 potato per person. And squash - I made 3 acorn squash yesterday (cut them in 1/2, put them on a sprayed baking sheet, add a few tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar and bake for at least 1 hour - when they are done - scoop the squash out of shell with a big spoon and mash - soooo much faster than trying to peel butternut squash). We have plenty of squash left-over.

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It is an fairly easy meal to make, it just takes much more time than you think. Plan for extra time. Pre-set the table. Make the pies the night ahead. It is OK if you don't make EVERYTHING you want.... I could have easily made at least another 4 side-dishes, but you have to draw the line somewhere... and besides - I don't think people could have eaten another bite.

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You might want to consider setting up a seperate area for drinks.

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Dishes? Do I dare mention dishes? Try to have someone else do up all the pans, etc. AS your cook or BEFORE you sit down to eat. Afterward - run all the glasses, coffee cups, BIG things first - plates are easy to stack up into nice neat piles, but the other stuff makes a huge clutter of your countertops. The other thing I do - I fill a big container with hot soapy water and all the silverware goes in there to soak and is cleaned last. Dare I mention paper plates? I don't like them, but...

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And finally - the left-overs. Go to the Dollar Store ahead of time and invest in some cheap plastic containers. Have paper plates and saran wrap on hand. Send the left-overs home with everyone! The turkey carcus went into the soup pot.

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Did I mention - if you are lucky enough to live near a Joe Trader's they have an absolutely delicious frozen pumpkin cheesecake??? You've got to try it!!!

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Happy Thanksgiving to Canadians!!!

5 comments:

Faith said...

I loved reading your blogs and wow your cooking all looks delicious hows your quilting coming along?

Dawn said...

Happy Thanksgiving! That turkey looks wonderful!

Jeanne said...

Yum, sounds like you have that meal well in hand! I forgot that you did Thanksgiving in October rather than November.
Jeanne :)

andsewitis Holly said...

And why wasn't I invited? (said jokingly) That meal looks fantastic! Evelyn, I'm a lurker. I love your blog and I just had to speak up and say this was a most excellent post. I'm having thanksgiving at my house this year for the first time serving 14 people so I take your advice to heart. I've already told everyone that they will be bringing parts of the meal so that all I will worry about is the turkey basicly. I was on the same wavelength, too, about the use of crock pots. Thanks for great practical suggestions. Happy Belated Thanksgiving.

cher said...

playing catch up once again-I love your early cooking tales, boy can I relate! We started a great tradition once we acquired a weber bbq- the turkey gets cooked in it by the men!
thus leaving my oven available for all those other foods-and it always cooks a wee faster too that way. I always made my pies the night before too. terrific suggestions Evelyn!