Monday, November 21, 2011

Food and Cooking: The Plan

It's the week of Thanksgiving!  If you're cooking this year's feast, then I know you're already planning.  The bird takes three days to thaw in the refrigerator.  Making the sides, getting out the good china, heck... par-baking the dinner rolls... all takes a few days of prep.  You're probably knee-deep in it and don't even have time to read this!

Relax.  No, I don't have some solution for you that will magically let you eat bon-bons for the rest of the week.  Relaxing is just a good idea in general.   I'll tell you about it on Friday when I review a documentary on Stress: Portrait of a Killer.  If I don't post about it on Friday, it's because I'm exhausted.

Meanwhile, we have to get through this week without pulling our hair out, yes?

My husband's pay schedule is annoying during the holidays.  He gets paid every other Friday without fail... except during the holidays.  Then it's hit-or-miss.  We may get his paycheck direct-deposited this Wednesday, or it may not show up until Saturday, it's anyone's guess.  If he's getting a bonus, that might show up on Wednesday as well, or it could be there right now.

This is my long-winded way of saying that I started planning three weeks ago.

Timing is everything, too, because the really good sales on hams and turkeys don't really start until a week before the big day.  So here's what we did.  Setting a little money aside, we went and got a turkey breast on Sunday, along with a dozen eggs and celery.  I already have a dozen eggs, why am I getting more?  Because older eggs, kept in the fridge, are easier to peel for deviled eggs than really fresh ones.  The older eggs are going for that purpose, whereas the new eggs are going into the Wild Rice and Onion dressing, pies, and various other items.  Not to mention they will make fantastic omelettes and frittatas later in the week when we're sick of turkey.  I still have two bags of fresh cranberries, but I would have bought those as well.  At this point it should be all about the cooking... the shopping should be done.

Today I plan on par-baking two pie shells made from scratch.  I will also make the dough for dinner rolls, shape and place them in their pan, and then freeze them.  They'll go into a low oven after I've pulled the turkey out to rest about a half an hour before dinner.  They should be done in twenty minutes.  From a thawed or refrigerated state they take fifteen minutes, but honestly I won't have room in the fridge.  I may get crazy and chop the onions and celery for the dressing, but it's a little early for that.

Tomorrow I shall bake the pies.   More room in the fridge lost.

Wednesday night I will cook the wild rice, boil the eggs, and that would be the best time to chop all the onions, celery, etc.  I may assemble the dressing, but I hate to do something overnight with raw eggs in it, so I'll probably just get the components ready and assemble Thursday morning.  I'll boil the cranberries for the jelly.  I may leave the skins in half of it, or I may strain the whole thing.  (Cranberries are an excellent vegan source of calcium, I recently discovered.  Go nuts!) 

Thursday's plan will depend on when you want to serve.  We aim for noon or one pm.  Everybody gets to see the parade (or listen to it while they're in the kitchen) and then we can eat while the dog show is on afterward.  This is the time when you thank your lucky stars that there's a dishwasher on the premises.

The planning doesn't stop there.  There's food safety issues to deal with.  No food should be in the temperature "danger zone"  (above 40°F and below 140°F) for more than four hours TOTAL over its lifespan.  Don't leave the bird sitting for six hours while people pick at the carcass.  Pack it away immediately.  Same goes for the sides.  I planned ahead a month ago and got some very nice professional-grade food storage totes.  These will easily fit a fully-carved large turkey, or the remains of a small turkey and a ham.  They're also low-profile enough that they will fit in your fridge, and leave room for several small containers on top, providing a level base.

Have a safe, happy, and flavorful holiday everyone!  And remember, if you didn't cook, then you should offer to help with the dishes.  I'm just saying...

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