Martine and I played host to her family for Christmas-eve dinner again this year. We planned a full-on turkey fest for ten adults and three kids. This is only the second time we’ve fed so many people, and we hoped things would go smoothly.
Things got off to a promising start. For one thing, I didn’t sprain my back like I did last year. As well, we used the same recipes for the turkey, gravy, and (un)stuffing as we did last year, which considerably reduced the stress and uncertainty level.
We also planned to keep it fairly simple (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, vanilla-maple yams, cranberry sauce, sausage-apple [un]stuffing, and cranberry sauce). I was able to make the (un)stuffing and the yam sauce the night before, which helped a lot. We didn’t bother with soup or salad courses (they weren’t necessary), and dessert was provided by a brother-in-law who brought a couple of home-made cakes.
Still, there is always a lot that can go wrong. One of the biggest problems is trying to keep all the tasks and the timings straight. So I sat down the night before and mapped it all out. I made an effort to be realistic when planning, and to stick to the plan as the day went on.
Here’s the plan, with time-sensitive items clearly indicated:
- 9:00 AM; Brine the turkey
- Prepare the roasting pan (Carrots, leek, celery)
- Cut fennel and trim beans
- 2:30 PM; Put the turkey in the oven (theoretically until 6:30)
- Prepare the table (10 adults, 3 children)
- Wash and pierce the yams
- Roast 6 of the oranges (quartered) @ 500° for 10-15 minutes (toaster oven)
- 5:45 PM; Peel the potatoes
- 5:55 PM; Open the cranberry sauce
- 5:55 PM; Put yams in the oven @ 350° (45-60 minutes)
- 6:15 PM; Boil the potatoes
- 6:30 PM; Take turkey out of the oven
- 6:30 PM; Put the stuffing in the oven (20-25 minutes)
- Cool the pan drippings
- 6:45 PM; Steam the green beans/fennel
- 6:45 PM; Mash the potatoes (delegate)
- 6:45 PM; Make the gravy
- 6:50 PM; Carve the turkey (delegate)
- 6:55 PM; quarter the yams, sprinkle with fleur de sel, nuke the syrup for 45 seconds and pour it onto yams.
- 7:00 PM; Load up the table and EAT!
Notice that half of the items (in blue) take place in the final 35 minutes. That was the "panic zone."
Fortunately, it all went like clockwork. In fact the process was so methodical and precise that at one point I thought that surely I must be dreaming. For example, I predicted the turkey would take four hours to roast — it took four hours and five minutes. The recipe predicted there would be four cups of pan drippings from which to make the gravy — there was exactly that much, to the spoonful.
Delegating some of the time-consuming tasks such as mashing the potatoes and carving the turkey left me free to concentrate on finishing the green beans, the gravy, and the yams.
It was incredible! All of the food was hot when served, the turkey was juicy and delicious (and perfectly cooked), and it went so smoothly that my pulse barely quickened at the peak of the panic zone. We were at the table and filling our plates at 7:05.
After dinner it was more wine, gift-swapping in front of the fireplace, family chatter, and all that other Christmassy stuff.
Happy holidays, everyone!