Foothill gourmet: Be prepared

By From page B2 | November 25, 2013

Donna BrownIt’s those last few days before the Thanksgiving celebration. For the most part, the planning has been done; the guests are invited. All that is left is the shopping and the final execution of your menu.

If there is one suggestion that would help you to cope with the stress of the day’s cooking; it’s prepare ahead.

Examine your recipes and where there are portions of the recipe that you can prepare ahead, do so. You’ll feel more relaxed and you will have more time to enjoy your company on Thanksgiving Day.

For example, it is possible to make your mashed potatoes ahead. Store them in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap. When you want to reheat the potatoes, use a little milk or broth to achieve the desired consistency. Water tends to dilute the potatoes and cream can make them too thick. The potatoes will reheat well in either the microwave oven or in a large saucepan over medium heat.

You can also bake a yam or winter squash casserole one-day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. To reheat, cover and place in a 350-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or microwave on high for 8 minutes.

If you want to ease the stress of last-minute preparation for other vegetables, wash and slice them early in the day. You can store them for up to six hours in resealable plastic bags in the fridge.

Peeled potatoes will turn black if exposed to air for a long period of time. However, you can peel them, submerge them whole in cold water and refrigerate up to six hours ahead and they will not discolor. I always add a small amount of lemon juice to the cooking water, about 1 teaspoon that helps keep the potatoes white.

For breads or rolls, there are several things you can prepare in advance. You can pre-measure the dry ingredients and then store in resealable plastic bags until it is time to mix up the dough. Or once you have made the dough and cut out the biscuits, it is possible to freeze the biscuits before baking. Transfer them to a baking sheet and stick the sheet in the freezer. When the dough is frozen, slide the biscuits from the sheet into resealable plastic bags and store in the freezer. Thaw the frozen dough before baking.

Yeast breads and quick loaf breads can also be baked ahead and then frozen. After cooling completely, wrap tightly in foil seal in a plastic bag and freeze. Completely thaw before serving. Serve at room temperature. To heat, wrap in foil and place in the oven for about 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Some other helpful hints that I use when preparing a large dinner with lots of dishes follow: Make quick appetizers with prepared ingredients, decorative plates or bowls make a nice presentation. For an even more unusual presentation, take a tip from chefs in food competitions and arrange bite-sized finger foods on a mirror tile.


Quick appetizers

Almond olives — Stuff pitted olives with whole, salted or smoked olives.

Ham with kiwis — Wrap thinly sliced smoked ham around wedges of peeled kiwi fruit and secure each with a toothpick.

Tortilla bites — Spoon a little guacamole or hummus onto tortilla chips, and sprinkle with paprika or ground chipotle pepper if you like spicy.

Purchase cooked peeled shrimp and compliment with lemon wedges and good quality bottled cocktail sauce.

Mini meat roulades — spread deli ham, roast beef or smoked salmon with plain or herb flavored cream cheese. Roll up, cut in half and secure with toothpicks.


Quick dips

Tuna — drain a can of tuna and mash with plain yogurt. Add chopped dill or chives to taste.

Pesto — Stir pesto sauce into light sour cream.

Blue cheese — Mash equal amounts of blue cheese and soft cream cheese, softening with a little milk if necessary.

Avocado — Mash avocado with a little mayonnaise and add lemon juice to taste.


Dessert ideas

For a delicious and unusual sauce for pie or ice cream, boil about 5 cups apple cider or juice in a heavy, large saucepan over high heat until reduced to ¾ cup, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 3-4 tablespoons butter. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.

Put a twist on whipped cream by preparing a flavored version. Add a dash of brandy, rum or a fruit liqueur to liven it up. For a sweetener, substitute brown sugar or honey for granulated sugar. Or, for a tangy flavor, beat equal quantities of whipping cream and sour cream together. Spoon a dollop on pies, cobblers, crisps, mixed fruit compotes or gingerbread.

Donna Brown

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