Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner - How it Went

Cooking on the day of Thanksgiving is, for everyone, a feat of coordination and stress management. I’m pleased to report that, while I definitely stretched myself in regards to the breadth of the menu, it was a success.

Planning, preparation and flexibility was key. I was able to successfully execute everything on the menu with a self-imposed grade of B or better, for an overall A-. I'm good with that. For now.

I didn't really realize how much stuff I was making until my dad called that day and asked what I was serving. As I read off the list, the sheer time it took me to say it all shocked me. Discussions of the particulars of each item will have their own entry. For completeness, I'm including every dish, even if there wasn't anything new I learned about it or related techniques, etc.

I separated out the dishes that would reheat well or needed to stay cold until served and made those on Wednesday night. These were the Cheese Grits, Spinach Cheddar Bake, Treebeards’ Mushroom Soup and the Lemon Ginger Cheesecake. This left the balance for Thursday itself. With a dinner time of 5:00, I had plenty of time.

With those four done, I figured all I’d really have to do was the turkey. Worst case, if I just threw together a green salad to start, I’d be okay. On top that, since Chris was bringing an Apple Cranberry pie, I figured I could blow off the Chocolate Tart if I ended up too pressed and we’d still have a wicked desert spread.

I prepped all of the remaining dishes at once. I find that if I’m cooking one dish and, in the middle, I start prep for the next, something always goes wrong. My concentration gets muddled and I usually miss a step or ingredient of one or the other dish. If I work in series (finish one completely before starting the other), that takes too damned long. So I used my great big counter to lay out the ingredients for each recipe in a row and then just went to it. The improved knife skills also paid off in that I was able to be a lot faster with all of the chopping.

We ended up serving about an hour late, because I decided to go ahead with the tart at the last minute. But that was totally worth it. Also, it was just about the right amount of time for everyone to get acquainted and relaxed.

I was concerned a little about having everything warm for serving. I addressed this by serving in courses, at least with salad, soup, the main event and desert, with generous time in between each for conversation and to let stomachs settle a bit. This gave everything time to heat up in time for its particular serving and for people to pace themselves.

I got big props, because everyone is nice. But these were further validated by JT's comment regarding robust flavor (a specific goal of mine) and Channing's mother's repeated approval then and over the next few days. This is a woman that speaks her mind, so that was high praise.

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