Just in time for the holidays, I offer you this basic guide for getting all of your food on the table at the same time. Frankly, I don't recommend trying this for the first time with Thanksgiving dinner. I would practice on kinder simpler meals first. Then, if you put your mind to it, you might be ready to give this a go in a couple of weeks (yikes!) or maybe for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. OK? Now, ready, set, start cooking!
There are some very basic steps that you need to go through to get food on the table when you want it. Some of them are preliminary so that you have things ready and in place before you start while others boil down to thought processes…AND ABOVE ALL, not getting stressed out about getting it on the table.
If anything will get in your way, it is having an anxiety attack about whether you’ll be able to make it happen. So, take a deep breath, read through my helpful hints and put them into action step by step. Organization and preparation are your friends…get to know them VERY WELL!
The first steps should be in place before you start cooking. So get out your recipe or your instructions or whatever you’re going to use and start there. I’m going to assume you’re using a recipe.
1) READ THE WHOLE RECIPE TWICE (I’M SERIOUS!)
This might seem like overkill (especially from me, the “recipe hater”) but I promise you…it will work. You might pick up on things you didn’t see the first time. It’s like "Measure twice, cut once."
2) MAKE A CHECKLIST OF ALL OF YOUR INGREDIENTS
I love checklists and you should, too! So, make a checklist then go into your pantry and your fridge to double check you have everything and cross off items as you have them.
3) HOW LONG IS THE RECIPE(S) GOING TO TAKE?
Do you have time to make it and is it even possible to get them to come out at the same time? Usually recipes tell you exactly how long you’re going to need to complete it. The really helpful ones break it into "prep time," "cooking time" and "inactive time." Sometimes, it’s just not going to work and you need to know that before you start. If it’s impossible, change some of your choices. It’s okay to do that! You don’t have to prove you can run a marathon. BABY STEPS! You just want to put together a nice meal for friends and family.
4) RESPECT THE ORDER OF THINGS
A place for everything and everything in its place. There’s a reason for doing things in a certain order and taking that into account. This applies not only to timing but also to the way foods go together.
5) GET FAMILIAR BEFORE GOING ROGUE
Consider making the recipe, the first time, as it is written to get familiar with it. Once you see how it cooks up, you will have a better idea of how you might want to change it or not. Then, GO FOR IT!
After you have read your recipe (twice), made an ingredient checklist and you know how long it’s going to take for everything and have imagined when each thing should be finished: It’s time for the gameplan.
I recommend that you write every step down until you get comfortable with the whole process. This is another one of those situations where you need to be familiar before you go rogue.
START WITH SIMPLE PROJECTS! THAT MEANS NO THANKSGIVING DINNER (RIGHT NOW)!
These are general guidelines that work. Figure out what takes the longest to cook/prepare and use it as your guide. You can back out the timing on everything else using the longest/most involved item as your jumping off point. For instance, risotto takes 30 minutes, steak takes 15 minutes to grill (take into account heating the grill) with 5 to 10 minutes to rest and salad can be done while the meat is resting and the risotto is finishing (the last five minutes where you cover it, take it off the heat and let it stand).
Since I don’t know what you will be cooking, specifically, these are guidelines, again, NOT WRITTEN IN STONE.
THE (SUGGESTED) GAMEPLAN
Two days before your dinner or event:
Make a list, grocery shop and get organized – this is where you make sure you have every ingredient you need.
The day before:
Read through your recipes and anything that you can make ahead of time, do it now
For instance, sauces that can be made, refrigerated and then warmed up or meat that needs long marinating
The morning of:
Make marinades, prepare salad greens, cut vegetables.
You can do all of the chopping, slicing, just all forms/types of preparation.
Two hours before:
Marinate meats (check recipe for marinating times)
Do a final check of your process
One hour before:
Take meats out to come to room temperature (not chicken – no more than 30 minutes)
Arrange and organize your workspace with ingredients....this is known as "mise en place". It means put into place and it gets you organized (All chefs and good home cooks do this.).
30 minutes before:
Warm sauces slowly over low heat
During appetizer/cocktail hour:
Bring friends/family into the kitchen to help. This is not secret stuff, guys. The more the merrier. You can have specific jobs for them so that everything comes out together.
REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN! IT’S A PARTY IN THE KITCHEN! FOOD, WINE, TUNES, FRIENDS AND FAMILY!
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I'd love to hear from you so leave me a comment and, let me know how this gameplan did (or didn't) work for you....let's have a conversation!