Many of you are planning your Thanksgiving dinners. Perhaps your family assigns one dish per guest. Perhaps an uncle brings a smoked turkey. Maybe you are taking over the apron strings from your mother and are going to do it all. Putting together a family feast is complicated.
I’m not cooking a classic turkey dinner, but I have invited more than forty people to my home for pie. It would be impossible to pull this off without applying the organizational skills that I learned when working in professional kitchens. Good planning reduces the stress and increases the enjoyment. It means there will be fewer cooking disasters. It means that at the last minute you won’t be saying, Oh, no I forgot to buy the sage! I’ll share what I do here, and perhaps it will help your holiday festivities to go more smoothly.
1. Plan your menu and write it down. I keep a file of all past Pie Parties, with notations on which pies were the biggest hits, how much people ate and drank (this is how I know that year after year, each person consumes half a pie!) and ideas for the next year’s event.
2. Collect the recipes. Even if you know a recipe by heart, write it down. You’ll be creating a shopping list from the recipes, and you don’t want to forget a thing. If a recipe that I’m using is in a book, I copy it, as it is unwieldy to have a half-dozen books open on the kitchen counter. Clippings get slipped into a protective sheet. As I cook, I write notes on the recipes – everything from whether the baking time was accurate to what dish I used. You think that you’re going to remember these things from year to year, but you don’t. The recipes can them be filed away and referred to the next year.
3. Write up a complete shopping list. Put down exact quantities. Not “milk” but “2 cups whole milk.” I count eggs. This year I need 61 eggs for the 20 pies that I’ll be baking. I’ll be buying 5 dozen – my molting girls aren’t going to provide them!
4. Create a cooking schedule, with what you need to do ahead of time, and what gets cooked at the last minute. List every item, and the order that you will do it. My schedule starts two weeks out with pie crusts that I roll out and freeze (16 this year). Next are the pies that can be assembled, baked and frozen. Some pies are assembled and frozen, but then baked off the day of the party, other pies are baked one day ahead and set, and others need finishing right before the guest come (such as Banana Cream Pie with a Meringue Topping.) Sometimes there are parts of recipes that can be done ahead of time. This year I’ll be baking off butternut squash and slow-cooking onions the day before I assemble the pies. My baking schedule details all of this! Have your cooking schedule broken down into time slots and don’t think that you can do this in your head. Work off the master plan, and you’ll be much calmer. Interruptions? Phone call from crazy Aunt Mary? No matter! You’ll be able to pick up where you left off.
5. Write out another schedule for the other things that need to be done, such as the decor, the dishes, the coffee, and the lighting of candles. This keeps you from scrambling at the last minute. On the day of my Pie Party, I have built into the schedule a relaxing shower an hour before the guests arrive. So, by the time the doorbell rings for the first time, I’m in my party attire (with an apron on, of course!)
6. Always check things off the list after you’ve done them. You’ll need that on-going sense of accomplishment.
I’m halfway through writing up my lists. They will be finished this morning after I’ve posted this blog. Check!