Saturday, November 19, 2011

An easier way to plan and prepare a Thanksgiving meal

I often get asked, "How do you put a big meal together and have it all served at the same time, like with Thanksgiving?" The answer to that is planning and organization. Here is an easy-to-follow example with a sample menu and steps to prepare it

Thanksgiving menu

Mixed greens with dressing
Roasted beets with oranges and vinaigrette

Main course
Roast turkey with giblet gravy
Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry relish

Pumpkin pie


The weekend before Thanksgiving
-Get the recipes you want to use, review them carefully and make a shopping list based on that
-Write out a prep schedule as shown here
-Go shopping.  If you are using a frozen turkey, get it a week in advance. For lettuce, get it closer to the holiday

-Make cranberry relish
-Make salad dressings

-Make stuffing
-Cook beets

-Peel potatoes, cut in cubes and place in water
-Make pumpkin pie

-Peel beets, cut as you like, marinated in dressing overnight
-Place any cold sauces or dressings in serving containers and refrigerate
-If possible, set the dining table the night before to save time
-Write out a more detailed schedule of what you need to do on Thanksgiving and review your menu to make sure nothing is forgotten. Ex. Place turkey in oven by 10am, start mashed potatoes by 11am, start cooking beans at noon.  Etc., etc.

-Follow your schedule and enjoy your holiday

There are certain items that can be prepped ahead and it will not affect the quality, so with that said, save yourself some last minute headache and do what you can ahead. That is what we do in professional kitchens. Also, I know many people have families so doing everything on the holdiay is a pain in the but.

What many people don't do is look ahead.  For example, how many of you prepare a recipe, only to find while making it you should have done something earlier-like preheat the oven, or get your butter room temperature?

What professional chefs do is simply think ahead. This is especially important when doing offsite catering. Imagine if a chef did not think out every step? When doing any event out of the ordinary, I literally sit in a quiet place and visualize myself performing every little thing to make sure I don't forget anything. Think of it like a dress rehearsal that an actor may do but I do it in my mind. When I have done TV shows, I would even find out how much space I had to work with, set up a table with those dimensions and do a dry rehearsal. For any less-experienced cooks, the visualization step is crucial.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chestnut stuffing

As per a request, here is a recipe for chestnut stuffing

First, if you can find IQF (individually quick frozen) chestnuts that is the best. Canned ones or the ones in syrup aren't good for this.

Now I don't know exact quantities so I will give you the recipe in parts and then explain the procedure

1 part stale bread, cut into cubes, @ 2"X2"
1/4 part chestnuts, chopped into small dice
1/4 part onions, small dice
1/8 part celery, small dice
1/4 part, apples, peeled, small dice (no core)
1/8 part garlic, minced
Chicken stock to moisten
S&P to taste
Fresh chopped thyme, or rosemary, or sage or mixture of all three
Oil and butter for sauteeing

-Preheat your oven to 350F
-Heat your chicken stock until very hot and leave it on the side until ready for use. Make sure it stays hot.

-I can't give you specifics but for one quart of cubed bread, put  @ 1 1/2- 2 cups of stock and 1 T of herbs.
-Saute the onions, garlic and celery over medium heat in a little bit of oil and butter for about 5 minutes
-Add the apples, herbs, some S&P to taste and saute until soft, but firm and not mushy. Add the chestnuts.
-In a large bowl or pan, add the bread, sauteed vegetables and the hot stock and mix. Start with small amounts of stock, stirring, gradually adding more.  Remember you can always add more stock but you can't take it out. You want your stuffing to be the consistency of a thick, semi-wet dough.  If it is very wet and pasty, you have added too much stock.
-Place the stuffing in a pan, and bake until hot-about 30 minutes....serve
-For a nice twist, portion the stuffing mix into muffin paserve as individual stuffings.
NOTE: this is not baking, so your quantities do not need to be exact.  If you make your stuffing too wet or too dry, it will still be stuffing.  If you want more apples, add more. If you don't want any, remove them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The MSG Conundrum-conclusion

So why this conundrum?

MSG is a synthetically produced food additive so I am certainly not trying to sell it to you as being healthy, and yes, some people may have reactions, so my point is this: We Americans can be rather contradictory at times; we label MSG as the bad guy, but seem to have no issues with putting any number of other chemicals and synthetically produced food additives into our bodies that can cause harm without giving it a thought? Have you thought about Aspartame in diet soda or nitrites and nitrates in sandwich meat and hot dogs?

Part of the problem is it is very hard to avoid synthetically produced glutamates. Even if you eliminate MSG from your diet and think you are avoiding it completely, think again.

It is not only in our processed food but it can be found in other products such as some vaccines, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements. If you smoke, keep in mind that cigarette makers add ammonia to cigarettes which enhances the addictive effect of their product. The ammonia converts to glutamate in the brain.

Maybe our lifestyle in America is partly to blame. We are very demanding consumers who want a large selection and convenience, which in turn, is passed on to food companies. Our motto seems to be "live to work" with many of us working two jobs, in addition to our families and personal lives. There is less time for us to sit down and eat so we need and demand convenient food. But convenience comes at a price-to make food convenient and taste good, that means processing, food additives and glutamate are required. All that processed food in the supermarkets would not be possible without all of these additives. We can't have it both ways.

Maybe we need to follow Europe's view on food. I would be down with that, but I also think the world would be a lesser place without Cheetos in it and they have MSG in them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanksgiving tips

Here is the next post for Thanksgiving.  These are all simple tips to give something new to your meal

-Add some crushed green peppercorns to giblet gravy.  Note that anything packed in brine (as green peppercorns are) need to be rinsed and drained prior to use

-For my giblet gravy, I add all the turkey juices from the pan to demi glace (you can buy pre-made demi glace in nice markets) and the sauce has a great flavor

-Don't stuff the turkey with stuffing.  Cook it separate.  It is safer.  If you do stuff the turkey with stuffing, make sure the stuffing also has an internal temperature of 165F.  This is how many people get sick.  They cook the turkey to the proper temperature but the stuffing isn't hot enough and the salmonella isn't killed

-If doing roasted vegetables, mix in some roasted chestnuts.

-If using chestnuts for stuffng or with roasted vegetables, use IQF (individually quick frozen) chestnuts as they are the best for these applications

-Write out a schedule of what you are going to do each day of the week leading up to Thanksgiving day so your workload is a lot lighter and easier on the day

-Watch plenty of football

-Do anything ahead of time that you can.  For example, if you don't use your dining room table for breakfast, set the table the day before, put your sauces, dressing and condiments in serving dishes and wrap them with plastic and refrigerate them.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-better green beans

Thanksgiving got better a few years ago when they added a football game (no, not shitty college football, the real, deal-NFL) to the holiday. Now we have not two, but three games on Turkey day, allowing you to do more gorgeing on Thanksgiving leftovers only to park your overly stuffed, bloated carcass on the sofa for more barbaric, contact sports.

This year it will get even better for you because for those of you reading this, I am now a part of your (culinary) life and how can that be a bad thing?  I will think of something. So as mentioned before, I will be posting Thanksgiving tips and recipes until the big day.

Today we will talk about green beans and how you can make them better

First, I recommend using haricot verts (baby French green beans) but they are not required
The key points to cooking green vegetables are:
-The proportion of water to vegetables. A rough estimate is one handful of vegetables to two gallons of water
-The water is well salted-it should taste like sea water.
-The water is violently boiling
-If you are just blanching (par cooking in advance) the vegetables, make sure you have ice water ready before the vegetables are cooked
-If you put too many green vegetables in relation to the quantity water, the water will cool down too much, meaning the green vegetables will take longer to cook, consequently affecting the color. Instead of a nice green, you will have Army green (yuk!)
NOTE: if the beans are too old, you won't get a nice color either
My green beans

Approximately 4-6 servings


1 lb of green beans, snipped
3 strips of bacon, rough chop
1/2 red onion, julienned
To taste-salt and fresh cracked pepper
Handful of toasted, sliced almonds
1/2 stick of butter


-Bring a large pot of salted water to a violent boil
-Have a bowl of ice water (lot of ice) and a colander ready at the side prior to cooking the beans if blanching
-Add the beans to the water based on the proportions above and boil until they are tender
-To test, remove a green bean with a spoon.  Bite into it.  When ready, the bean should be a nice green (not Army green which means overcooked) and have a little bite to it.  It should not be crunchy or have somewhat of a raw flavor
-When cooked, scoop the beans out with a strainer and place the strainer in the ice water to cool for a few minutes.  Once cool, place the beans on a tray lined with a lint free cloth to absorb water.  It is bad for food to sit in liquid unless marinating
-Repeat the cooking process with the remaining beans and place the beans in the refrigerator until ready for use

To finish:
-Have a pot of boiling water ready for reheating the beans
-Cook the bacon over medium heat in a pan large enough so the bacon is not overlapping too much
-Once the bacon is almost cooked, add the onions and cook until tender
-Add the butter and melt
-Add the almonds
-Pour the bacon, butter, onion and almond mixture into a bowl large enough to accomodate the beans and keep it warm
-Dip the beans in the boiling water for about 30 seconds
-Remove the beans from the water, shake excess water off and add them to the bowl with the other ingredients and toss, adding salt and pepper
-Taste.  Adjust seasoning as necessary

ps. fresh, chopped thyme also nice with these

You can thank me later :)