Cooking your first holiday meal for the family involves a lot of stress. The key to success is the same as preparing for a large supper club gathering. Get as much prepared in advance as possible. Or as a well-trained chef’s would say: “Have your Mise En Place ready”.
When my daughter cooked her first Thanksgiving meal for her in-laws Helene and Rick she was definitely stressed. She wanted it to be perfect. Jenn also wanted all traditional dishes she had grown up with. She had watched the meal made lots of times, but to it all herself was a different challenge.
The other key is to use an external read thermometer. The biggest challenge is to get the turkey (or other protein) cooked on time and not overcooked. My father claimed that my mother would intentionally keep the family waiting because by the time she served the holiday dinner everyone was so hungry even shoe leather would taste good.
The beauty of external read thermometers is that you can monitor the progress of your roast without opening the oven every 15 minutes. Opening the oven basically shuts down the cooking process as it lets the heat out of the oven. So if you are anxious for the roast to get cooked, by opening the oven to check a traditional thermometer you are delaying when you can serve your meal.
The most common failure for a holiday meal is to overcook the roast. The classic example of that is depicted perfectly in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The scene where Clark slices the overcooked turkey is classic. Again the answer is an external read thermometer
The reality is that most of the holiday meal can be cooked in advance and just warmed up at the last minute. Our family has come up another way to insure that you are in no hurry for the main course to be served. We have a New England Clam Chowder as a first course. This chowder is fantastic. It is also fantastically filling. A serving of this and you are in no rush for the rest of the meal.
Jenn’s first holiday meal on her own was a big success. She got an “A” for Mise En Place (See her notes below) and use of an external read thermometer. She wowed Helene and Rick with her New England Clam chowder. Getting the gravy to thicken presented a bit if a challenge, but with Helene’s help and a few glasses of red wine even that turned out fine. And, besides after the chowder no one was going to starve to death.
If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at www.impromptufridaynights.com/blog and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the Kindle-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.