Archives for November 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving {The Final Week}

Multicolored autumn season vegetables assortmentWhether you are a first-time host or a seasoned hostess, the final days leading up to Thanksgiving can be stressful.  In Part 3 of our Countdown to Thanksgiving Series, we tackle all the last minute details to help you throw the dinner of the year.

weekend

  • Start Shopping:   The supermarket is going to be busy!  Make your trip easier by organizing your shopping list into categories: dairy, meats, vegetables, bakery, etc.  This will make navigating the grocery store easier and keep you from wandering aimlessly through the aisles.  Also, don’t forget to bring a pen to cross things off your list.
  • Defrost the Turkey:  If you purchased a frozen turkey, transfer it to the refrigerator so it has time to properly defrost. This is especially important if you plan to brine the bird.   
  • Copy Your Recipes:  Cooking can get messy.  The last thing you want to do is ruin a recipe card that was passed down from your great-grandmother or a page in your favorite cookbook.  Take the time to photocopy or print out all your recipes to protect the originals.  
  • Create Your Cooking Schedule:  Now that you have copies of all your recipes, organize them in the order you plan prepare the dishes.  Make notes on prep and cooking times and make sure that you will have enough room in the oven and on the stove.  This will keep you on track leading up to and during the big day.

Monday

  • It’s Go Time:  Start to tackle small and tedious tasks like chopping up vegetables, making breadcrumbs and mixing up any dry ingredients you will need. Pre-measure your ingredients before storing in air-tight containers or bags.  Then clearly label each bag with the quantity and recipe name so they are ready for cooking.
  • Make the Brine:  Combine the ingredients at least 24 hours before you plan to add the turkey.  When working with a wet brine, you want all the ingredients to be chilled completely and have time to combine for the best flavor.
  • Cook What You Can:  Cranberry sauce, pie crusts, gravy and casseroles are all perfect items to tackle now.  Wrap carefully and clearly label before placing in the refrigerator.  If you plan to reheat or cook a prepared casserole later, tape a card with cooking time and oven temperature needed for easy reference.
  • Set the Table:  Many people like to set the table the night before Thanksgiving.  I prefer to do this a couple of days earlier to give myself enough time to make any necessary changes as the big day gets closer.  If you are planning to do any place cards or special decorations, get these done now.

Wednesday

  •  Brine the Bird:  The centerpiece of your meal, the turkey should now be completely defrosted and ready to go.  Don’t forget to take the giblets out before submerging in the brine.
  • Start Baking:  Finish any pies, cakes or desserts now.  If you are planning to make homemade bread or biscuits, get dough setting so they are ready first thing Thanksgiving morning.
  • Final Shop: Pick up any last minute items that are missing from your list.  Don’t forget to pick up fresh flowers if you plan to add them to a centerpiece.
  • Chill the Drinks: Space in the refrigerator may be tight, so take some time getting everything in.  If you are lucky enough to live somewhere cold, you can try placing drinks on a back porch or in the garage to cool.  Also, pick up extra ice.
  • Final Clean: Do any last minute straightening, dusting and vacuuming.  to wake up to a clean house on Thanksgiving morning.

thanksgivingThanksgiving Day is different for everyone.  It will be as fun or as stressful as you make it out to be.  Just remember these few last minute tips and enjoy the big day:

  • You’ve Got This:  All the small details are out of the way and now it is time to cook and spend time with your family.  Always remember that mistakes can happen: a sauce may burn, an ingredient may be forgotten or a plate might get dropped.  Don’t let the little things become big deals.  You may not be laughing now, but small mistakes can turn into the best stories over time.
  • Keep an Eye on the Clock:  Work backwards from when you plan to eat and make sure that you have enough time to cook the turkey and let it rest before serving.  Allow your turkey to sit for 30-40 minutes before serving to help redistribute the juices.
  • Ask for Help: If you need an extra set of hands to carry out hors d’oeuvres or a dishwasher, speak up!  Most people want to help but maybe don’t know how to ask.  Get people involved where you can and enjoy the company.
  • Don’t Forget to Shower:  Make sure you have a little bit of time to yourself to prepare for your guests.  You will most likely start cooking in your pajamas, but you do not want to be greeting guests in your bathrobe.  If possible, give yourself an extra half hour to sit back and enjoy what you have accomplished so far.  Your family and friends will be there soon enough and they it’s time to party.

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving {Part Two}

Multicolored autumn season vegetables assortmentWe are just 10 days away from the biggest feast of the year-Thanksgiving!  By now you should have a menu in place, your budget squared away and your basic prepping and cleaning are under way.  In Part Two of our Countdown to Thanksgiving Series, we tackle three more tasks to help you prepare for the big day.

delegateWhen preparing a large meal, you have to be ready for anything.  Not only are you the host, but an entertainer, cook and sometime ring-master.  It can be a lot of work, so knowing when and where to ask for help is essential.

  • Speak Up: Does your Aunt Jo make amazing apple pies?  Does your Dad want to bring his world-famous mashed potatoes?  Check-in with your guests now and see if anyone wants to bring one of their specialty dishes to dinner.  Add this to your menu.
  • Keep in Mind Your Oven Schedule:  If a guest brings something, ask them to prepare it completely ahead of time.  Regardless of how big your kitchen is, you do not want to have to stop what you are doing so someone else can cook.   Crock-Pots are perfect for keeping dishes warm allowing you to keep your kitchen free for your own preparation.

Stock the bar 2

Alcohol is one area that can easily break the bank if you are not paying attention.   A general rule of thumb when buying for large party is to assume guests will drink 1-2 drinks in the first hour, then one drink for each additional hour.

  • Don’t Fear the Box:  Check out companies like Bandit and Black Box who are reinventing the wine market with their award-winning boxed wines. The eco-friendly packaging allows them to be sold at a significantly lower cost that their bottled counterparts and are great options to serve if entertaining a large group.
  • Create A Featured Drink: Serving a signature drink as guests arrive is an easy way to create a festive atmosphere.   Pinterest is the perfect place to go for recipes and serving ideas.  Use a Crock-Pot to prepare Mulled Wine (for adults) or a Spicy Apple Cider (for kids).
  • Mix It Up:  Take the stress out of last minute shopping by picking up club soda, tonic, sodas and Bloody Mary mix now.  Many liquor stores will also offer non-perishable items like gourmet salts (to ring glasses) and bottled items like cherries or olives.

decorate 2It’s still a bit early to set the table, but pull together your components now to ensure that you have all your bases covered.

  • Plate It Up: Count your place settings, wine glasses and silverware for the main event.  If necessary, make a list and pick up any missing or replacement pieces.  Also, don’t forget about dessert!  You should have enough plates and utensils to cover all your courses.
  • Ready to Serve:  Using your menu as a guide, pull out your serving dishes and match them with your recipes.  Double check that you have enough serving utensils as well.  If using a sideboard or table for serving, it is helpful to lay out the dishes and platters to make sure everything will fit during dinner.
  • Keep It Simple:  You are putting a lot of effort into preparing the perfect meal, so don’t overshadow the food with scented candles or too many distractions on the table.  Try to keep centerpieces small- you want your guests to feel connected and free to talk across the table.

Don’t forget to check out our latest post,  Countdown to Thanksgiving {The Final Week}, where we breakdown the final preparations for your big meal.

Countdown to Thanksgiving {Part One}

Multicolored autumn season vegetables assortment

We are only two weeks away from my favorite holiday of the year -Thanksgiving!  Not only is it the official start to the holiday season, but it is a day that allows us give thanks, celebrate with great food and spend time with our loved ones. Whether you are a seasoned host or a first-time hostess, there is no reason for the day to be stressful.  Here are a few of my essential tips that you can do right now to help make your Thanksgiving day a little bit easier (and don’t forget to check back Sunday for more helpful tips!)

plan ahead 2Time has a funny way of getting away from you during the holiday season.  A little planning and thoughtful preparation can go a long way.

  • Don’t Wing It: Make a menu and stick with it.  If you have spent months scouring Pinterest and FoodGawker for the latest and greatest recipes, do a test run.  Experimenting with new recipes is fun, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned. You want to make sure that there are no surprises when you sit down to eat.
  • Allergy Alerts:  Find out if any of your guests have allergies or dietary restrictions.  This doesn’t mean you have to change your whole menu so they can eat every dish, but being mindful of your guests needs and having a few options available will leave a lasting impression.
  • Create a Budget: When planning a large meal, things have a tendency to add up pretty quickly. With Christmas right around the corner, you do not want to break the bank before the Black Friday sales have even started. Breakdown what you plan to spend on food, drinks, supplies and decorations and make adjustments accordingly. Also, make sure to earmark a little bit extra for last minute surprises (trust me, they is always something!

deep clean 2No one really likes to clean but it has to be done (sigh). Ideally, you want to have your house ready to go so that all you need to do is a quick vacuum and dust the morning that your guests arrive.

  • Start with the Refrigerator:  The refrigerator is the backbone of any kitchen and deserves a little extra TLC this holiday season.  Begin by throwing away any old or expired food and make a note of any essentials that need to be replaced.  Wipe down the shelves, drawers and doors with a mild detergent and add a fresh box of baking soda to help absorb any odors.
  • Tackle the Small Stuff:   Pay attention to the details in your home that are not part of your normal cleaning routine.  Dust corners for cobwebs, wipe down base boards, shake out rugs and don’t forget to clean the oven.  To make these tasks seem less daunting, picking one room a day and give it a thorough cleaning.
  • Wash Up:  If you have guests staying over, make sure that all your towels and sheets are washed and ready to go.  Any table linens should also be washed and pressed before setting the table.

bulk 2Once you have your menu in place, it is time to start shopping.  Even “perishable” items, such as potatoes, onions, cranberries, squash and apples can be bought up to 2 weeks in advance if stored correctly.

  • Gobble, Gobble: Never buy your turkey the day before Thanksgiving!  Supermarkets are great at offering deals for early-bird shoppers. For example, our local supermarket offered a deep discount per pound for turkeys if we spent a certain amount on groceries.  Thanks to their special we ended up saving $14! Keep your turkey in the freezer until you are ready to thaw.
  • Party Essentials:  If you are planning to serve any sort of afternoon snack or h’orderves, save the fancy dishes for dinner and pick up some cute paper plates, plastic utensils and paper napkins.  This will help keep your dishwasher free for the main event.  It is also the perfect time to stock up on chips, dips, or any frozen h’orderves that are on sale now to save you from having to worry about them at the last minute.
  • Clean-Up Crew: A big dinner + plus extra people in your home = a big mess.  Stay ahead of the game by making sure you are fully stocked with essentials like extra trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and soap.  Extra aluminum foil and cling wrap are also great to have on hand (especially for making little care packages with leftovers).

What sorts of things do you do to help get ready for a big dinner? Comment below and let me know.

For additional steps, check out Part Two and Part Three of our Countdown to Thanksgiving Series.

Saffron Roasted Potatoes

saffron titleYou can never go wrong serving roasted potatoes.  They are super easy to make and pair perfectly with everything from roasted turkey to cheeseburgers.  But how do you make ordinary roasted potatoes taste extraordinary?  Add a touch of saffron and enjoy!  Crispy on the outside and with the sweet and earthy flavors of the saffron spice baked in, these Saffron Roasted Potatoes will turn your basic side dish into one of the main attractions at your next meal.

What is Saffron?  Known as the “crown jewel” of spices, Saffron is the most expensive spice currently on the the market. Primarily imported from Spain, Iran or India it is known for it’s crimson color, distinct flavor, and hefty price tag. Made from the thread-like stigmas of the saffron crocus flower (or Crocus Sativus), each bloom produces three stigmas that are then extracted by hand to preserve their color and flavor.  Because of this, it can take anywhere from 50,000-75,000 blooms to produce a single pound of the spice (and explains why it is so expensive)!

Saffron

While the exact origins of saffron are unclear, the spice has been used for centuries and is highly regarded for it’s medicinal uses .  Ancient Egyptians used it to help relieve gastrointestinal issues while Romans believed that saffron was useful to treat wounds as well as respiratory issues such as colic and coughs.  Today, doctors are researching the its effect on treating mild depression, asthma and even if it helps to fight cancer.

Buying and preparing Saffron:  First off, don’t let the cost scare you. A little bit goes a long way so there is no need to buy a big jar.  Saffron comes in 2 forms- threads and powder.  When buying the threads, make sure that they are all crimson red in color.  Pure saffron should have slight variations in red color, but should be absent of any yellow or orange for the most flavor.  Sometimes the yellow stamen of the plant are added into the mix but these have no flavor or nutritional value (it’s basically filler).  Saffron threads can release flavor for up to 24 hours, so make sure to soak them in warm water for 15-20 minutes before using to help release the flavors (the longer you leave soaking, the stronger the flavor).  When using saffron powder, there is no need to soak and they spice flavors are already activated when ground.

framesSaffron vs. Safflower:  Now when you head to your local supermarket you may be surprised to find something labeled “Saffron (Safflower)” in the spice aisle.  Don’t be fooled- this is not saffron!  Safflower, or Carthamus Tinctorius,  is another blooming flower that is commonly called American Saffron, Mexican Saffron, or in some cases the “bastard saffron”.  It has similar coloring and will look like regular saffron to the untrained eye, but the flavors are not as intense.  I made the mistake of buying this once and have used this to make roasted potatoes before and with great results (I have included the Safflower alternative to recipe below).

saffron tray

Enjoy!

Saffron Roasted Potatoes

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs baby potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a small container, let saffron threads soak in warm water for 20 minutes to open up flavors.
  3. Wash and quarter potatoes. In a rectangular baking dish, spread out potatoes so they are in a single layer.
  4. Once the saffron is ready, drizzle potatoes with oil and the soaked saffron (including water). Toss so that potatoes are covered evenly with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and stir. Return to oven uncovered and cook another 20-25 minutes until potatoes are fork-tender and outside edges are crispy.

Notes

If using Safflower, simples sprinkle 2 tsp of the spice on the potatoes after dizzying with oil and toss with salt and pepper. Follow remaining steps as is. There is no need to soak before using.

http://bohorustic.com/saffron-potatoes/