Efficiency tips in kitchen

Dinner parties, big family meals, birthdays or events like Thanksgiving or Christmas meals involve a lot of preparation, organisation skills, I guess many of us who cooked up the big meals start from shopping to cooking of dishes. Would like to hear your experiences. Are you using any particular method that help to organise or to speed up the tasks? How many days ahead the menu is decided? Are there special dishes you like to cook when dealing with big crowds?

My own experiences, I think I always underestimate the workload, which in the end, people were happy with the food, unhappy with the waiting. I also insist that if a plate is supposed to be served hot, I would cook that the last minute so it will be served in an optimal condition, of course this adds more workload.

I always start making the desserts a day ahead to free myself for the d-day cooking.

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Do you mind sharing a bit more on this? How to do that correctly.

Over the years, and in general, we have reduced the effort we can be bothered to put into family events. It’s the expedient of not offering such elaborate meals as we might once have done. So, for example, birthdays are now much more likely to be inviting folk round for a coffee and a piece of cake, than cooking a full three course lunch or dinner.

Our “major event” is Christmas and we only do this on alternate years, with another family member doing the other years. Personally, I hate the occasion and cannot wait until we feel able to break the unchanging nature of it (likely to be next year). In the meantime, it is our turn to cook it this year. There will be an expectation, from the family, that it will be exactly the same as it has been for the last 30+ years. The one time we tried to radically change things, like the expected vegetables, it was not well received and, frankly, we can’t sufficiently arsed to try something new again. So, it will be the same old bland boring food that no-one really enjoys but everyone expects will be put in front of them. That. at least, has the great benefit that little culinary effort needs to go into it. We shop for the festive season at the earliest possible time. None of our family guests will care if we went shopping for fruit and vegetables in the early morning of Christmas Eve - so we don’t bother, buying at the supermarket several days in advance.

It still makes for a tiring day and we are both glad when the family bugger off to their homes and leave us to collapse in front of the TV. Next year, we’re going to Tenerife and the family can please themselves how they celebrate.

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I’ve never done a holiday meal (Thanksgiving or Christmas) that has been more than 4 people, and haven’t done one since my mother passed away in 2019. Even so, things can pile up quickly if you don’t have some form of a schedule. So even if I’m making a turkey breast for myself the Saturday after Thanksgiving (which I did after spending 2019 T’giving at my sister’s in-laws), I still have in my mind the timing needed for everything to come together at the same time.

The pie (apple and/or pumpkin) are done the day before. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I usually work backwards from when the turkey needs to come out of the oven while sits for its 20-30 minute resting time. If dinner is supposed to be served at 3:30, the bird goes in so it’s ready to come out by 2:45 or 3 at the latest. Then again, it’s the LindaWhit family tradition that if dinner is said to be at 3:30, it’s actually served at 3:45 or 4:00 p.m. :wink:

I’ve already pulled out butter, milk/heavy cream, and sour cream out about a half hour before their needed for the mashed potatoes so they come to room temp. A jar is already prepped with flour, s/p, and other seasonings so I can add cool water, shake it up, and whisk it into the pan drippings and chicken stock in the roasting pan when I need to make gravy (this is the last thing I do).

While the bird rests, potatoes get mashed (as they’ve already been put on to boil and drain just after the turkey comes out), I’m already doing the last cook on the glazed carrots, green beans go ON the back of the stove to steam during the last 5 minutes, slivered almonds are toasting in the convection toaster oven, gravy pitcher and serving dishes are heated with extra-hot water before being drained, wiped dry, and veg is put in them, covered and brought to the table, wine cork gets popped (if I’m not already enjoying a glass during prep…oh, who the hell am I kidding - of COURSE I’m enjoying a glass of wine during prep! :rofl: ) Turkey is carved and plattered, while gravy gets made from drippings and chicken stock (after using a fat separator to keep the good stuff from the drippings), then poured in to the pre-heated pitcher.

It’s a dance that comes with practice, I think. I used to marvel at how Mom got it all done - and then she showed me the ropes (and roped me into making the pies the day before!)

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Yup. ^THIS^. Family is/can be exhausting.

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That’s a much more elegant way of saying what i think I was saying, mon ami. If the food for the “big event” is always the same, over the years, then process becomes easy.

For Xmas, stuffing for the turkey and stock for the gravy is made well in advance and frozen, so it just needs heating up. And we peel things like spuds and carrots on Xmas Eve and they then keep in the pan covered with water until the next day - yes, they will lose vitamins this way but our guests could not care less about the vitamins.

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It’s something I’ve thought of, even making the dessert in advance before freezing them. But you need a big freezer.

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You don’t need a really big freezer. Just some planning. So, for example, in early December we make sure we use up what’s in the freezer to make enough space for things we’re going to need to freeze for Christmas.

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For me, this category is split in two: family/seasonal “feasts” and dinner parties, totally different animals with totally different needs and musts. I have pared the family meals to the essentials: the chosen protein and demanded sides. Nothing just for traditional that isn’t appreciated or even particularly wanted. This step really cuts out a lot of unnecessary work.

For dinner parties, we have a format of “something” in the living room with drinks, a starter, main, cheese plateau and dessert.
Starter is often a soup that is simply simmered vegetables, blitzed with an immersion blender, butter or cream. Just about any combination results in a complex and delicious puree.
I prefer a braise or big fish stew for a main since much can be done the day before. The braise cooked and cooled, fat removed; fish stock made and seasoned, ready for last minute seafood additions. I usually grill the seafood late in the afternoon of service, cooking it only halfway. Only a couple of minutes at the last moment brings it to perfect doneness.
A cheese plateau is easy to assemble and can/should be set out early in the day so cheeses can come show their best. A simple cherry or other fruit compote, some fresh fruit, good bread.
Not a dessert person, I keep them simple, often ice ream with a special seasonal sauce, or like the other night, vanilla ice cream with strawberries and hibiscus syrup (Mexican store or section will sell dried hibiscus flowers which you hydrate and add sugar, strain.)
So I guess my tip would be to plan simply, break down work into segments that can span several days, consider partial cooking early in day and last minute cook up.

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When I do any big meal, I use an Excel spreadsheet to make a list of what can be done when, plus a schedule for day-of cooking so I know which dishes will be occupying oven/stovetop space at what time. Here are screenshots from my Thanksgiving organizer from a few years ago:

This list tells me what I can do over the weekend/very early, what I need do on Wednesday and what has to be done on Thursday (and in what general order).
image

This is my Thanksgiving Day schedule showing all of my stove burners and oven shelves.
image

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OK, you win.

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I don’t have a spreadsheet for Passover, but I have a schedule, including which pots/pans/dishes to use for what, so I’m not chilling the knaidlach in the bowl I need to mix some other dish.

Cooking (and pulling out the good dishes, wine glasses, etc.) starts at least a week in advance. (Longer, actually, since I try to cook some of the other meals ahead of time to give myself a bit of a break.)

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:rofl: You should see the spreadsheet my friend and I have put together for our joint couples’ trip to Seneca Lake later this month (he and I are the cooks of the group). He even added a pivot table!!! :rofl:

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If it works for you all, go all in with his Excel geekdom!

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This is what I wish my mom and aunt/proxy mom would do to put their experience down for the rest of us :grinning:

But meanwhile, it’s all in their heads, and works like clockwork due to a lifetime of practice. So we have to observe and learn when they tell us to.

2019 thanksgiving my aunt/proxy mom wasn’t feeling well the day before, so I did all the prep she usually would have (because I stay with her) and the day of she directed us (her daughter, daughter-in-law, sons, and me) in what needed doing when.

That night, she confided how she hopes we will keep up these traditions after her, and she worries that no-one (but really: her daughter) will have the experience of hosting these large family events while she can still teach them (but also: she doesn’t want to cede control of the events right now).

Maybe the next time we have a “real” Thanksgiving (2022?) I’ll document the process a la @biondanonima and that will be my present to her, and us all. In a file with recipes attached :smiley:

Now my mom… she’s a harder nut to crack. It’s all in her head, and she doesn’t do well with help while she’s on a roll.

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My people.

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You just described my aunt/proxy mom’s holiday method - working backwards from the bird or roast.

She’s got some internal clock, though - probably from this :point_down:t3: where the vegetable blanching timings come in, and that last dance of everything being finished (vegetables buttered / sautéed to finish, gravy come together , potatoes finished with warm milk/cream) just in time rather than sitting and getting cold.

ETA: I stand corrected. Working backwards goes several days back, to the shopping, defrosting and/or brining of the turkey (or seasoning the roast), and in the new world of adult children, planning appetizers and desserts to include who wants to bring what - whether or not she wants it, lol.

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bionda’s methodology is gold standard. Much of what I do is on automatic pilot since I’ve been putting on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for 50 years. Pots, pans, dishes are more or less repeated year after year; dinner party ware will vary more as does the menu. The only thing I timeline is a roast and its Yorkshire. At this point, I prioritize my time on the basis of how long my back will allow me to stand and do a particular job. Anything I can do a day or so ahead means less pain and more enjoyment on D-Day. But for beginning hosts, my best advice is to analyze what is important and SIMPLIFY both menu and style. And don’t be afraid to farm out a dish or course to family members or friends. Other people love to be able to share the limelight even if their creation is not exactly what you would have made.

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I note on paper for breaking down the tasks, but not as detail as yours. Bravo for your spreadsheet recommendation!!

I use Paprika Recipe Manager to keep most of my recipes, to change servings size and guests numbers is instant . Saves time for shopping.

@eleeper

This is especially useful especially if I won’t be cooking in my own kitchen and I need to bring stuff to the place.

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Recently, I start timing myself on tasks, usually I’m more or less on time. Distraction can be a big problem. When guests arrive and start talking to me in kitchen, and someone gives me a glass, then things get considerably slow down. :rofl:

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold