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11/15/2012

~ The Countdown to the Big Turkey Day Feast Begins (Melanie's Top 10 Tips to Not Let it Drive You Crazy)~

IMG_5419I've started my countdown to Thanksgiving, how about you?  For the next week, I'm going to be adding several of my favorite Turkey Day recipes to those already posted here on Kitchen Encounters. Yesterday I received a phone call from a reporter from our local newspaper. Heather Hottle is writing an article for The Centre Daily Times about holiday entertaining (which I believe will appear, in this Saturday's CDT).  The article is not featuring me, it is mentioning me, but it was most fun to be interviewed.  She was given my name by an acquaintance (thank-you Jessica) and she asked if I would be willing to share any tips I have for hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of people (20-24).  Little did she know, I know everything there is to know about this particular subject!  Let's start here:  

Thanksgiving is my favorite foodie holiday!

Thanksgiving is food, family, friendship, fun & football!

IMG_5357A bit about my credentials:  I've been orchestrating our familys Turkey Day feast for 36 years now. For ten years, from 1986-1995, it was an elegant, sit-down, family-style, evening meal at our home in Belmont Circle, and, I always had 16-24 guests.  From 1996-present, it's been an elegant, sit-down, buffet-syle, evening meal here at our home on Gaylord Lane, and, I always have between 16-24 guests!

IMG_5376A bit about my Thanksgiving Day game plan (1996-present):  We open our downstairs Penn State Room (rec room) bar at Noon and immediately start serving Stan's Bloody Mary's. Coincidentally, our guests arrive at Noon.  Football games are on, and remain on, on as many TV's as we have at the time, all day long.  Pool shooting is encouraged, all day long, and some folks bring their own stick!

IMG_5370At 1:00PM I serve a hearty soup and sandwich "du jour" combo for lunch.  The soup is ladled, by each guest, into a cup (not a bowl), so they can walk around freely.  The sandwiches, always served on slider-sized buns, are on a large platter, awaiting random pick-up. From 2:00PM-6:00PM, I pass a hot hors d'oeuvre every hour,  which I serve personally, because it gives me a chance to talk to every person!

IMG_5362From 6:00PM-7:00PM, a small group of guests (who have been hand-picked and enlisted-in-advance) help me place food on the pre-determined, post-it-noted spots on the buffet line.  From 6:00-7:00, Joe is occupied carving two turkeys, and, occasionally a ham.  Yes we carve our turkey ahead of time, as, carving at tableside is seriously messy and way over-rated.  Dinner is at 7:00PM-ish, or when Joe comes down the stairs and presents the bird to a line of cheering fans!

IMG_5381When the eating subsides and the menfolk start to nod off to sleep, a second small group of hand-picked and enlisted-in-advance female worker bees assist me in an organized gathering of dishes, glassware and flatware.  When that's done, we proceed to present my signature "five-pie dessert buffet" around 9:00PM.  After that, some folks leave, others head upstairs to bed, and others... well some of us like an all-night party!

How do I manage to do this?  A little thing called:  organization!

Another Day at the Office #1Tip 1.  Be your own best friend. Be the CEO of your Thanksgiving feast. Only you know what you can do, what you are willing to do, and, what your skill-level and space constraints are.  Don't compete with or compare your Turkey day feast to anyone elses.  Your house?  You(r) rule(s).  Serve whatever you please, combining simple  and show-stopping recipes with style and stunning presentation!

~ Tip 2.  Evaluate your kitchen equipment, hardware and serving pieces.  Before you plan what to eat, you've got to know what you're going to cook it in.  Only have one oven?  The turkey is going to make use of it for most of the day, so plan around it.  Don't have two 8-quart stockpots?  Don't serve a soup if you'll be needing that pot for making the mashed potatoes.  Only have service for eight guests?  It's time to hit a thrift shop or borrow some plates from Verna! 

Thumbnail~ Tip 3.  Put a guest list together, then, plan a menu, then, write a grocery list.  Invite your guests one month in advance and give them two weeks to respond: R.S.V.P. While you are waiting for them to respond, plan your menu, including all beverages and bags of ice.  Once you have a head-count, go over your recipes and calculate how much of every item you need and write a detailed grocery list. BTW: don't forget to include extra cleaning supplies, paper towels and toilet paper on that list!

~ Tip 4.  Place orders for as many things in advance as you can. Never shop at the "eleventh hour". Need two even-sized turkeys? Oysters? A special triple-cream, truffle Brie? Dial the phone. Grocery stores and gourmet markets are happy to take your order! 

6a0120a8551282970b0163027e727b970d-320wi~ Tip 5.  Make and freeze as many things in advance as you can. Prepare your chicken or vegetable stocks, and, any cooked apple or cranberry sauces and chutneys up to six months in advance and freeze them.  Did you know that pie crusts can be prepared, rolled flat, interleaved with parchment paper, stacked and frozen six months in advance too?  Same goes for a lot of hors d'oeuvres... many can go straight from freezer to oven!

IMG_3306~ Tip 6.  Do the prep on as many fresh ingredients as you can in advance.  Four-five days before the holiday, add up how much of each you are going to need and prep it. Chop your onions, celery, carrots and bacon.  Mince your garlic, slice your mushrooms, and, cube your bread.  Put each one in a food storage bag in the refrigerator until it's time to cook.  You're going to feel like a chef on turkey day!

6a0120a8551282970b0162fbe4af98970d-800wi~ Tip 7.  If you need help, ask for help.  If you don't need help, ask for help.  On Thanksgiving, everyone wants to help. The trick is to manage the help wisely.  If you know you need five pies and only have time to make four, and if mom really does make the best apple pie, call her and ask her to bring it. If someone offers to bring a dish, and, you really don't need anything, tell them you'd appreciate an extra pair of hands clearing the table! 

IMG_5385~ Tip 8.  Set your table or buffet table 2-3 days in advance.  Serving your meal piping-hot at the designated time is a breeze if your table is set with your serving pieces in place.  Post-it notes remind me what goes into each one.  If serving buffet-style, remember, plates go at the beginning of the buffet line and flatware and napkins go at the end. Why?  So people aren't juggling their forks and napkins while trying to fill their plates with food! 

IMG_5392~ Tip 9.  Anticipate the mess and cleanup.  Find an out-of-the way place (a garage) for a large trash can, but, don't allow guests (especially after a cocktail or two) on their own where cleanup is concerned.  I've lost more than a few forks under these circumstances.  Place a table next to the garbage can with clear instructions on it, and, NEVER let a stranger load your dishwasher!

IMG_5397~ Tip 10.  Anticipate leftovers.  At Thanksgiving I always make more food than I need because I look forward to leftovers the next day as much as everyone else does.  I also don't want to deny my guests their fair share.  Initially invest in 2-3 small, inexpensive, reusable, food-storage containers for every guest on your list.  It is a good thing, but, DO NOT feel the need to invest in new containers every year.  Do what I do, and explain:  "If you return your containers next year, I'll refill them for you."  Now, I just buy a few for newcomers to the clan!

Confused about how much poultry to purchase?

Want to know how to roast it and make gravy too?

6a0120a8551282970b013488ff54f0970c-800wiYou can find

~ Portioning Poultry:  A Chart/Guide that Will Help ~

and

~ Roasting Poultry & Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques & Oration  ~ 

 right here on Kitchen Encounters by clicking into Categories 15 or 18!

IMG_5425Cook's Note:  Under the best of circumstances, you are going to be physically exhausted the day after cooking and hosting a large Thanksgiving feast.  Trust me, I've played in local tennis tournaments and three days on the courts in the hot sun does not prepare you for this.  Sit back, relax, relish in your victory and "let them eat Chinese takeout"!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti 

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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