I just added up all of the holiday dinners that I have made in the past twenty plus years and the ballpark estimate is ninety. After the most recent Thanksgiving meal I had three different individuals ask me ‘how to’ do it. My best piece of advice to a novice is to be extremely organized. I hope that the following info I share can and will encourage you to try making your first holiday dinner. Believe me I have made every mistake in the book. I can guarantee you won’t make the same mistake twice. Good luck!
Organizing Your Kitchen
It does not matter what the size of your kitchen is or how many appliances you have, you too can pull off a delicious meal. You might have a custom made gourmet kitchen but if it is not organized and functional in a useful manner then you will add years of stress to your life when trying to prepare a big dinner. I cannot stress enough how well things with go for you if it is well organized beforehand. I just served eight people a delicious meal prepared in an apartment galley kitchen. Due to the limited space things need to be accessible and located in a certain place especially when planning a holiday event:
Your fridge size, including the freezer
Before you do anything else have a look at your fridge. I always clean mine out before a holiday dinner. It is a good time to throw out expired jars of condiments or those leftovers in the back that have gone moldy. Consider the space in your vegetable crispers. Wipe down the surfaces. You also need to have a look at the freezer and defrost it if necessary and make as much room as possible. Consider the space before you buy your groceries. Take it from me if you are planning on serving turkey if is too big it won’t fit in either the freezer or the fridge.
Make sure that your stove is in good working order. Clean your oven and racks and check that the burners are also working and clean. In this apartment I have an electric stove with only one large burner and that makes cooking a challenge at the best of times but it can be done. Determine how big your oven is. I made the mistake of buying a turkey too big for an oven size I had not considered and that was a huge mistake. You can read my previous blog entry ‘A Not So Happy Thanksgiving’ about that fiasco. I have never made that mistake again.
Cupboards or shelves
Clean and well organized cupboards or storage shelves will make your preparations flow easier. I keep canned goods in one place, baking supplies all together in another, dry goods in plastic containers, spices in baskets, pots, pans, lids all in one spot and small appliances in another. Root vegetables, potatoes, and onions do not need refrigeration and can be stored in a box.
I must admit I had a thing for kitchen gadgets. I had an entire drawer of them that were never used. I gave them to a charity. Now it is amazing how well I manage without the clutter. The following are a list of what I consider to be the basic kitchen utensils needed to make a holiday meal:
6-8 quart pot with a lid * in a pinch you can use the pot for double duty as a dishpan. I often soak cutlery in this type of a pot after a meal
9 inch fry pan preferably non stick with a lid
Graduated saucepans with lids *at least 3 different sizes
Deep roasting pan with a rack and cover or just a roasting pan where you use tin foil as a cover
Colander or large strainer
Wooden cutting board * it can also be used as a serving platter for meats
Plastic cutting board used just for veggies and fruits
4 sided grater
Butcher knife and paring knife
Measuring spoons and 2 cup measuring cup
3 different sized mixing bowls *can be also used as serving bowls
Different sized wooden spoons
Tongs * essential in my books
Pot holders and oven mitts *buy good quality the cheap ones absorb the heat and are a risk for burns
Large serving fork and spoon
Salt and pepper shakers
Good cork screw, bottle opener, can opener
Dish drainer and mat
Plastic dishpan or a pail
Dish soap with scrubbers and a scrubbing brush
Garbage pail and trash bags
Aluminum foil, parchment paper, plastic wrap, zip lock bags in various sizes
Coffee pot and filters if required and a tea pot
Plastic juice container
The other useful item you might consider buying is a camping cooler. It is a great way to store your vegetables before the meal if space is an issue. If you live in a colder climate, like I do, it is great to store leftovers in outdoors.
Today’s culinary challenges for a home cook may seem daunting. In many condos, apartments, lofts, to mention a few living spaces, the kitchens have become smaller or almost non existent. I consider cooking an art form that requires a combination of flair, common sense and technique. No one starts off as an expert. If you are a novice cook, then approach the task of making a holiday dinner without fear and enjoy what you are doing.
To be continued…