On days like this when my stress levels are through the roof (crazy week at work), my instinct has always been to clean or organize something. With turkey day fast approaching (only 3 sleeps away today!), I thought what better way to diffuse my work-induced anxiety than to organize a few things around the kitchen. I am sure that many of you who are entertaining this year have begun making preparations – whether in the form of grocery shopping or advance cooking and baking. Soon -if not already- there will be a large bird, an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and/or other beverages, dishes cooked in advance, and a slew of other items competing for space in your fridge, oven and kitchen countertops.
The prospect of a disorganized kitchen when I’m attempting to cook dinner for 20 people makes me nervous (yes, in case you can’t tell, I have OCD tendencies), and given how easy it is for life to become disorganized in the lead-up to Thanksgiving and on the day itself, here are a few tips to keep things sane around the kichen.
Reorganize the fridge
My fridge needed a serious overhaul to accommodate the 19-pound bird I purchased yesterday after the butcher informed me that the delivery of fresh turkeys they were expecting from France has unfortunately been delayed (I think it is safe to assume that there aren’t any home-grown turkeys here in Dubai!). My frozen turkey is now happily thawing in my fridge, but it put a serious dent in the amount of fridge space remaining, so I had to get creative.
- Start off by throwing out anything that looks like it has grown its own winter jacket.
- Find clever ways to stack things; using uniform containers helps.
- Martha Stewart Living suggests putting a Lazy Susan into your fridge for easy access to all your condiments instead of rummaging through the fridge to find what you’re looking for everytime you need something…genius!!
- Move all non-perishables out to make room for things that absolutely have to be stored in the fridge (e.g., soda cans take up a lot of space but they will not spoil if not refrigerated, while all dairy and most fruits and vegetables will quickly go bad unless kept in the fridge).
Plan your day to perfection
If you have a relatively small kitchen like mine and/or you don’t have the luxury of two ovens, you will need to think about how to orchestrate the cooking process to make sure everything you plan to make gets enough cooking time.
- First, figure out what dishes need to be cooked in the oven (such as potato gratin, stuffing, roasted veggies, pies, and -duh- the turkey) and which ones you plan to cook on the hob (like sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce).
- Make whatever you can in advance to get it out of the way, such as baking the pie crusts and cooking the cranberry sauce.
- Plan the timing and sequencing of cooking for Thursday: decide what time you want to serve your meal and work back based on the time needed to prepare and cook each dish. Make sure to think about what dishes will need to be in the oven at the same time and how that will work, as different dishes may need to cook at different temperatures. Having multiple dishes in the oven simultaneously usually also prolongs the cooking time needed for each dish.
- If you get really stuck and can’t find a way to make everything you planned, you may want to reconsider some items on the menu. Or if any of your guests ask you what to bring and are willing to help out, take them up on it and ask them to make one of the dishes!
Find creative ways to make space
With all the washing, chopping, peeling, mashing, mixing, cooking and cooling that takes place on Thanksgiving day, kitchen work surfaces can quickly become a rare commodity. Placing a large, sturdy wooden chopping board over your sink is a sneaky way to create some much-needed additional countertop space!
In good health,
* Fridge image courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, November 2011 issue.