Are you a Thanksgiving Host? Here's how to ROCK IT (insert hair flip)
November 23, 2014
DO: Write out a game plan and a day-of timeline! Figure out what temperature the oven needs to be, and when. When mapping it all out, see if you can switch anything to the stovetop, or make it ahead and rewarm briefly. Better yet, choose things that are delicious at room temperature!
DO: Get out your serving dishes, and stick post-its with what food you want to put in each, so you know you for sure that you have enough of the right size, etc. Borrow what you need. If people are bringing food, ask them to bring their own serving dish/spoon along with it (marked with their initials, if possible).
Especially if you are hosting a dinner with your dysfunctional family, DO email out the menu you plan to cook. That way, if someone complains that you aren't serving Aunt Judy's ambrosia salad, you can say, "It would be great if you brought that!"
DO: Set the table early-- on Tuesday, even. This means a clean and ironed tablecloth (if using), spot-free glasses and silverware, and salt and pepper on the table. UNSCENTED candles and LOW floral centerpieces are also nice additions.
DO: Make as many things as possible AHEAD! If something is "a la minute" (as we say in the biz), have every component chopped, measured and ready to go.
DO: Offer your guests a drink and at least a little something to eat right away, while you finish cooking the big meal. You want people to feel welcomed, but you also don't want any Drunk Uncles. Put the food in the room where you'd like people to hang out (HINT: Not in the kitchen, if it's too cramped in there).
If you don't have one already, DO borrow or buy a GOOD meat thermometer. This means spending at least $30. Roast your turkey to 165 degrees, NOT 180 degrees like they do at the school cafeteria. If you get it to 180, your turkey will look like this:
DO: Let your turkey rest about a half hour or so before cutting into it. Otherwise, all the juice will be left on your cutting board.
DO: Cut up veggies and fruit. They are great for picky eaters and children.
(#1 Way to make it better: REAL whipped cream. THAT YOU WHIP YOURSELF.)
DON'T Get too outrageous and adorable when setting your table. Make sure there's room for food. Skip the moss, as seen here:
DON'T forget to clean your bathroom and empty your trash/recycling before everyone arrives.
DON'T brine your turkey. #1) A pot of water big enough to fit a turkey takes up VALUABLE room in your fridge. #2) Although the meat is flavorful and moist, the skin turns out rubbery, unless you have a day to dry it out, which means you should've already started this process. Instead, SALT your turkey. Grind spices like cumin, coriander, allspice and black pepper, mix with finely-chopped herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme or oregano, and mix them in with a generous amount of kosher salt. Then rub the mixture under the skin of the bird and leave it loosely covered with plastic wrap in your fridge for up to 3 days. If you need a more detailed recipe, look here.
DON'T serve lumpy gravy. Start off by sifting your flour into the pan with the butter/fat. Then make sure the stock you use is warm or hot- cold stock totally invites lumps. Add the stock in a slow, steady stream. Skip the Kitchen Bouquet. If you've made a delicious stock, you won't need brown food coloring.
DON'T fear the giblet. Slowly-braised hearts, gizzards and neck meat all contribute to delicious gravy and stuffing.
DON'T serve cold gravy! Just thinking about gravy skin gives me the heebie jeebies. Gravy should be the temperature of McDonald's coffee. Just keep it away from your crotch. Hey, how 'bout you do that, even if it's cold.
DON'T only serve starch. Everyone will feel better if you offer a few (non-marshmallow-topped) veggies alongside the mashed potatoes, stuffing and rolls.
DON'T serve delicate greens that will wilt soon after getting dressed. A nice shaved kale, cabbage or brussels sprouts salad will hold up beautifully (even improve!) after sitting with a vinaigrette on the buffet.
DON'T use old spices/herbs when making your food. Toast spices if you're not cooking them in the recipe. Use whole spices that you grind in a cheap coffee grinder when possible. 99% of the time, fresh herbs trump dried ones.
DON'T forget to finish your dish! This means 1) Taste it before it goes on the table! 2) Adjust seasoning as necessary 3) Garnish it! Fresh herbs, pomegranate seeds, citrus zest, nuts (or pumpkin seeds), cheese or even just a drizzle of good olive oil can really elevate a dish. Is your food missing something? Chances are salt, parsley or a squeeze lemon can give it the punch it needs.
DON'T serve Cool Whip. Or even whipped cream out of a can. Have I made myself clear on that one? It's Thanksgiving for chrissakes, you can whip some damn cream once a year. Here are some tips if you're scared.