By now we are all aware of the impending Thanksgiving Buffet that we are expected to produce with a smile and certain joie de vivre. If you are anything like The Distracted Cook you are just now beginning to think about what you are going to cook. Oh! Did you remember to tell family and friends that, yes, once again your kitchen will be the Top Chef Kitchen for the big event? Better do that right now while you have at least a week to prepare and they have time to find something to wear.
Of course anyone worth their secret ingredient will reply "Oh what fun! Of course we'll be there. Uncle Bud and Aunt Fanny are visiting so they'll be there too. WHAT can we bring?"
Sounds like a reasonable question, but it never fails to strike fear in the heart of The Distracted Cook. How should I know what they can bring when I have no clue what I am cooking? This is the holiday conundrum. No one wants to pop the balloon of excitement for a prospective guest by telling them to MYOB and just haul along some wine. No? Well, yes!
If you are getting the email that The Distracted Cook is getting, then you know all about menu planning, decorating the table, making hand-sequined Turkey name tags (not for the turkey, but you get the idea), and matching THE perfect wine with THE perfect smashed cranberry-yam-brussels sprouts- Jolly Rancher dressing. Exactly!
So. My advice to you is to tell anyone who asks (and there are some who have been coming long enough that know the drill and bring what they always bring) that you will get back to them at the beginning of the week. That usually buys enough time. And then - words that echo through our Bravo TV memory - "Your time starts RIGHT NOW!"
Go immediately to your pantry and check that you can at least get into it to make your list. Don't try to straighten it up! This is NOT a clean-up patrol, it is a "Holiday General Quarters Order." What are you looking for? Umm.... well. First let's just see what we have - flour, sugar, salt, pepper, moldy bread hiding behind the peanut butter (oh no, not another empty jar! those rascally kids!) and just about 100 cans of "stuff." So that is NOT where to begin.
No, that doesn't do much for the menu. Why not sit down with a some paper (nothing too fancy or your mind will start wandering as you doodle around the flowers and cute puppies printed there.) The Distracted Cook suggests buying some legal margin notebooks or filler paper. That is the kind with the 3 inch margins.
Why be so picky? Because I said so. No, really, this is the best invention that The Distracted Cook has ever come upon, and not just for the kitchen. Those extra wide margins give you a space to condense all that writing down to ONE (1) word that is so much easier to remember. And it is almost like having a live index to all your writing and scratching of notes. You can flip those papers and read down the margins to find what it is that you are hunting when you are trying to remember where the recipe for turkey neck gravy is.
Trust me here, it works and you will be eternally grateful to the Legal Profession for having this available. It is hard to locate, but if you are in a University Town, go to the university bookstore and see if they have some. And don't get side-tracked by the Engineering papers - they are cute and you will think of at least a hundred uses for them, but you are NOT an Engineer right now. Get the Legal-rule notebook and get out of there.
Take a piece of your paper and write MENU on the top, even if you end up putting all sorts of things on there along with the menu. The main purpose is to "make a plan." That's it for Day 1 - just make the plan. And this is the fun part. Sit down and read through all those emails - Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and The Pioneer Woman all have great ideas. In fact, tonight Pioneer Woman is in a throwdown with Bobby Flay so you know she has a few things up her sleeve! Make a note to watch tonight and see what she does. Another really great place to find ideas is over at David Leite's site - lots of "tested" recipes which means someone other than a professional has attempted them and lived to tell the tale. Here is where you go: Leite's Culinaria. And right now there is a great post all about Thanksgiving recipes. Get over there right now.
After you list out some ideas for the menu such as turkey, dressing, cranberry stuff, salad, yams, dessert, dessert, dessert you can start the process of Taking Stock. That means going to your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and pulling out all the stuff you have for Making Stock. Do this right now so you:
1. make room in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and
2. you end up with some great stock for next week and
3. get to practice running around the kitchen like you know what you're doing.
When I opened my freezer I found many things and the best was jumbo shrimp that Shrimp Man had brought a few months ago. They were double bagged and frozen in water just ready for me to use. I decided to roast some for dinner that night and to make some shrimp stock with the peels! And I learned a very important thing about shrimp stock - I have been doing it the wrong way! Instead of throwing them into a big pot of water and boiling the Devil out of them, I discovered that if I just barely covered them with water and brought them to a simmer I would end up with a concentrated, more flavorful stock. It works! Simmering them instead of boiling them allows the flavor to develop more fully. Lesson learned!
Here is what you do:
Take the raw peels from your shrimp and place them in a pot of suitable size - you don't want to have them all scrunched up in there, they need to have room. Cover them with about an inch or so of cold water and bring them almost to a boil. Watch and when you see bubbles begin to form around the edge it is time to turn the heat down so that they simmer gently. And just let them simmer for about 30 minutes. If you want to put some onion, celery, or bell pepper in there just add them in after 15 minutes and continue to simmer, skimming off any foam that might form. Give it a taste and then you can season it however you like. Take it off the heat and let it cool a bit. Then strain it with a fine mesh strainer and pour into freezer containers. Then LABEL them so you know what they are and when you made it. You are now ready with your stock in the freezer and more space than you had before.
Tomorrow The Distracted Cook will let you know what happened to the shrimp that were inside those peels. Those jumbo shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico that are the very best shrimp in the world. Really, they are. The Distracted Cook is so lucky to live right here in the middle of Gulf Shrimp country and to have a Shrimp Man who brings them to her driveway fresh from the waters!