Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Huge Holiday Meal Cooking and Baking- Pre-Meal Preparation- Short Cuts and Time Savers

I'm a night owl. What's new? Well, now that I work full time and cannot sleep as late as I'd like, I definitely pay for it throughout the day, especially if I haven't hit the sack by 12 or 1... I work at a very physical clinic that focuses on Sensory Integration Occupational Therapy (the real stuff), so if I'm not on my A-game, then I bump, slam and even fall- and get super ugly bruises in the interim. Also, if I'm not on my A-game, then I might have a difficult time reading what's going on with my kiddos and making sure to provide them the just-right challenge they need to be given to be successful. 

ANYHOW, let me digress, since tomorrow I don't have to be up at 6:30-7ish, I'm totally using my night owl rhythm to my advantage! Tonight, I'm prepping sides (green beans, potatoes, stuffing, carrots) and making compounded butter for turkey massage :) Why stay up to do what I can do during the day? There is no one under my feet...


We got a local, freerange turkey, organic, local and NoGMO veggies. I am making a compounded herb butter to massage my loverly turkey with, so I figured I'd make that tonight as well, give the flavors to marry together a little bit more.

Since I felt a little chatty (and talking to my cats in the middle of the night is a little too much crazy-cat-lady for me), I wanted to share what I do to make large meal preparation enjoyable... well, at the very least, less stressful and a little less like running around like a chicken with your head cut off:

Top five tips to save some time, keep you sane, less stressed and enjoy the day!

1. Plan the Menu: A few days ahead of your planned shopping trip(s), make your menu list- of EVERYTHING. We're talking appetizers, main dish, desserts, drinks, coffee, EVERYTHING.  Once you have your menu, you then need break it down by things that can be prepared (or even fully cooked) in advance.If you're like me, you want to break your shopping up over a couple weeks, so you're not feeling the ding of an ultra expensive meal in one weekend. This is also the time to make sure none of your guests have any food allergies, specific food issues or are on special diets (vegan, low carb/cholesterol). Just FYI. According to research from Cornell University, "low fat" foods are actually not any healthier than full fat foods and this study finding the same result, mainly due to the high sodium, sugar and hydrolyzed fats that are used as replacements for flavor in these items. Also, just make sure you're plates are kept to appropriate portion sizes and do not contain hydrogenated oils (Crisco, spreadable "butter", margarine of any kind, and ESPECIALLY the spray stuff). 
 
2.  Match Recipe Ingredients to one another. Look at everything you're planning on serving throughout the entire day and start your list ingredients for each. Organize recipes and notate things that have common ingredients. This way, you can be sure to purchase enough of what you need instead of getting one onion, when you REALLY need three (not that I know ANYTHING about this). Also, when it comes to prep time, this way you save time when preparing those same items for multiple recipes together in advance.

3. Meal Preparation: You can do all prep work in one evening before the holiday (or party), or you can even split things up over a few days. It really depends on what the food is. For example. I use celery and celery leaves in my stuffing, but we also plan to have a fruit/veggie tray out for the early afternoon football watchers. So, I cut all the celery at one time. I chop/mince my celery for the stuffing, but make the sticks for the dip. With celery, as I posted in my post about extending the life of fresh produce preservation post in January, just put water in with the celery and it keeps the cellular structure intact; therefore, you do not end up with a limp stalk. Same thing with the carrots. We'll be having carrots with that celery for snacks, but I'm also making Brown Sugar and Honey Glazed Sautéed Carrots as a side dish using some TO DIE FOR Raw, creamy, Organic and Non-GMO verified Honey from Rigoni di Asiago that I'll be reviewing for TNM in the coming weeks (with my loverly carrots recipe). So, I'll be slicing all carrots and celery at the same time. However, I don't do this more than a day or so before the event because my husband assumes everything in the refrigerator is free game- even if I had a skull and crossbones on it. For serious. For two items, that work their way into at least 5 recipes? Twenty minutes of prep time. Onions, garlic, fresh herbs? Chop once, grab from bowl/glass container or baggie, and use as needed throughout your week/day of cooking. I actually do this weekly, even when there isn't a holiday going on, and tend to chop my garlic and onions once weekly, usually Sundays, in my Cuisinart Mini Chopper (worth every cent of that $28- I use it literally 4-5x per week) and have them in my favorite storage cubes from Wean Green- why these? The Mini Chopper has never gotten stuck, has never melted in the dishwasher (like three cheapie ones I had previously) chops to smithereens whatever I put in there, and the Wean Green cubes don't let out a SINGLE bit of onion or garlie smell in the refrigerator- NADA. That's my winning team right there. I try to do it weekly, to save time so that we can have more home cooked meals with those few time saving tips.

4. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Really. Delegate the things that you aren't worried about presentation. Have your friends, in-laws, husband (or teenager) peel the potatoes, carrots, apples, etc. Peeling of things that are going to be smashed or baked into a recipe anyhow, it really doesn't matter how shitty of a job they do; because, all you're going to be doing smashing it all up. No harm, no foul. I'm a kitchen psycho. I hate sharing my kitchen, I hate asking others to help (because as I'm sure you agree, no one does it the way we do it!!!!), and I really don't have a large kitchen in this rental, (which is why my prep is being done on the dining room table. I don't like bumping into people, warning others of hot pots, etc. Also, giving younger kiddos some kind of a job makes them feel like they're helping, and most younger kiddos always want to pitch in and help in some way. Have them open cans (if they're a little older), have smaller little ones help pull the fresh herbs off of the stems. Have them collect the items from the pantry and things you'll need for the cheese tray (that should totally be at least cut the night before), etc.

5. Expect and plan ahead for disasters. By prepping multiple ingredient side dishes, glazes and rubs ahead of time, I am able to say "oh crap, I forgot to get sour cream and I need it for my mashed potatoes" the night before or first thing in the morning. This way, we can do an early AM run for them, rather than realizing it at 4pm and dealing with all the crazy shoppers (and my husband missing a few minutes of the football game). Because, let's be honest, you all know that every single one of us misses one or two things we need, either we think we have it at home, so we don't get it, or it totally slips our minds, even though it's number 4 on our grocery list- listed under the dairy section items. Prepping in advance makes this a little less stressful.

In summary, the benefits of all this preparedness? It's a bit less stressful. I mean, holiday cooking isn't always on a military timeline, but the more you have finished, the easier things are. Plus, I like to be the only cook in my kitchen. I rule this kitchen. When there becomes too many cooks in the kitchen? There's stepping on toes, absolutely not enough counter space, and definitely too many opinions.My biggest annoyance? People adding something to my recipe when I've walked out of a room to pee because they think it's not "just right"... If it needs more salt, the other people at the table can do so when they serve their platter.

Happy early Thanksgiving! I'll post tomorrow and share the things I am most grateful for this year! Maybe even a photo of the finished product of dinner- as long as the bird comes out looking gorgeous!

xoxoxoxo

~Michelle

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26 comments:

  1. I totally agree about prepping ahead of time! I was lucky enough to grow up learning that. My mother would purchase the most important items just as soon as they started carrying holiday foods in grocery stores, and stock them away for the big day. That way we also don't have to deal with the possibility of the necessities being out of stock when we scramble for things last minute.

    I look at my meal plan and go through ingredients to make sure I have everything I need---and some extra in case of an emergency where I burn something---about a week before.

    The only thing you mentioned that I don't do is food prep ahead of time! Although that's easy to do with biscuits because fresh ones made from scratch save REALLY well, I always like the fullest taste so veggies are always prepped the same day. Thanksgiving is over here in Canada (it was in October), but I saved SO much time this year compared to previous years because I decided to use my food processor to chop all the carrots, celery, and onion that went into everything. I always have my husband peel potatoes, although even letting him do that drives me a bit bonkers because he uses a knife rather than a peeler like a normal person ;)!

    The one tip I'd add is to not rush through cooking. Give yourself some extra time to get things done, and remember that cooking on a low temperature may take longer, but you'll be less likely to burn anything! The only times I've ruined (or nearly ruined) anything, it was because I was trying to cook on high heat, forgot about it for a second, and.... well, you can guess what happened.

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  2. Happy Thanksgiving. It's also my husbands birthday.I like your short cut tips. A holiday meal can be nerve racking if not planned out.

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  3. Happy Thanksgiving!! We just ate our dinner. Thank you for posting your list of helpful tips, but I'm sure that people who have been preparing their feast for as long as we have been have got it down.

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  4. Happy Thanksgiving , I always forget something at the store and running last minute thank you for the tips Lots of great hints to make it Easy!

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  5. Thank you for the very helpful tips. These will come in handy at Christmas.

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  6. We really should plan ahead bec stores can get crowded on holidays. Great tips.

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  7. I so wish I would of seen this post last week. LOL, Thanksgiving at my house is CRAZY!!! But I still love it!!

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  8. yes, delegate delegate! This is especially important now that I have girls that are old enough to help! Helps me get the meal done in time, and I pass along family recipes and cooking ideas!

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  9. Those are good tips to keep in mind for any big meal. X-mas is right around the corner.

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  10. We just cannot get ourselves to do the prep-ahead thing - we'd much rather spend time together on the night before and then get up wicked early to start the cooking.

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  11. How I wish I could learn to prep before hand! I am the worst procrastinator! Not just for family feasts, but everything. When going on a trip, I don't START packing till the night before. I would also love to delegate - but I have a "if you want it done right, do it yourself" mentality. So.....I always end of doing EVERYTHING at the last possible minute! OMG!

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  12. I didn't prepare ahead of time and it really bit me in the rear on Thanksgiving day. I was scattered and dinner just didn't turn out very good.

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  13. Thanks a lot for this. It does require preparation to make this big of a meal to pull it off with success. I remember the first time I did the Thanksgiving meal for my family I was extremely stressed out.

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  14. I love this idea. I've been trying to do the same ... as much in advance as possible. So much easier!!

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  15. since it is just me dont cook a thanksgiving meal, however, love your tips, when i did have to cook for other people, i asked for help. my mother would let me help when fixing things, grinding foods, etc.

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  16. It is a good idea when cooking a large meal to get as much done as you can ahead of time.

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  17. I agree with prepping and planning large meals. I happen to be lucky because my husband is a chef and plans meals and recipes for a living.

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  18. #4 is where I recently made a lot of progress. I used to want to do everything myself and it just made me so stressed out. I've been doling out smaller jobs to my boyfriend and close friends that come over before gatherings. I also have been taking people up on offers to bring something, which I hadn't done in the past. It has helped a lot financially.

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  19. I find even on a daily basis meal prep. saves time. Especially when I make meatballs. I make my breadcrumbs ahead and mix in the spices. Then, when I'm ready to cook I can just toss it together.

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  20. Thank you for the tips!! I think planning for a disaster is a really good one. You have to have a plan B and be prepared for the worst!!

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  21. I like how you emphasize delegation. If you do have a helpful husband or teen to help you in the kitchen it can certainly help you prepare dinner a lot quicker.

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  22. seriously why didn't i think of some of these things? thank you for sharing!!

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  23. I am just happy that I don't cook. I can't imagine the stress of trying to co-ordinate a multi course meal.

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  24. With a large meal, you really have to prep. If you can, try to arrange for help and ask others to bring a dish to share.

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Thanks a bunch for your comment love!