Keeping on Track: The Savvy Single’s Workplan

22 Sep

One of the symptoms of my chronic illness is a degradation of the brain’s “executive functions” . . . or as most women would call it, multi-tasking! Add an extra person or two into the Solo Kitchen and you have a recipe for chaos.

So well before the day of a big meal or a company-coming-dinner, I have to sit down with my trusty coil-bound notebook. I start by writing out the menu (sometimes including what serving dishes I will require for each course and each dish). Then I check the recipes for each dish — guesstimating their prep time (something I still have trouble with) and noting the cooking time AND temperatures. If the dishes you are making require different oven temperatures you may need to juggle prep times or have a plan for keeping things warm. Or look instead for a make-ahead dish, different cooking techniques or ones with complementary oven temperatures.

With time, these are the factors you will keep in mind as you plan your festive dinners or company suppers.

Using the Roast Turkey Dinner as the example here is:

The menu:                     Est. Prep Time              Est. Cook Time/Temp

Roast Turkey (5 kg/11+ lbs)        To thaw — 2 days                 2.5 hrs covered/325F

½ hr to rinse, stuff              1.0 hr uncovered/325°F                                                                    & season
Creamy Mashed Potatoes             20 minutes                            20-30 minutes/range
Turkey Stuffing (the lazy woman’s way) 10 minutes              10 minutes / micro HI
Turkey Gravy & Cranberries          5 minutes                            20 minutes/range
Ginger Glazed Carrot Coins           10 minutes                           10 -15 minutes/range
Lemony Green Beans                      10 minutes                           10 minutes/steamer
Cabbage Salad                                   15 minutes                           n/a — make ahead
Rolls & butter
Blueberry Cornmeal Cake               20 minutes                           Make ahead/350°F
with Toasted Nut Topping
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The above information formed the backbone of my work plan. The dinner was scheduled to be served by 8:00 p.m., a little later than I would recommend for most folks, but one of my guests had a class until 7:00 p.m.. I wanted to be able to put on the finishing touches just before we were ready to sit down at the table. I am not a fan of vegetables re-heated in the microwave or cold turkey while the house still smells so sublime from roasting one.

You can see my plan sketched (and then adjusted) out like so:

The dessert was made the day ahead, covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator. I included time to shower and dress for dinner and to go out and pick up my two YA guests. I didn’t leave the house until 7:00 p.m., ten minutes before the last hour of cooking was complete. I checked the skin and it looked terrific — crispy and a golden brown colour — I gave it a good basting, then tented it loosely with foil. I turned the oven off.

What my work plan doesn’t show is that I brought the potatoes to a boil just as I was finishing my shower and getting dressed. I turned the burner down to low and covered the pot. When I put the heat on the potato pot, I placed the pan with the sliced carrots on the back burner where the heat from the oven rises.

When we returned, The potatoes were completely cooked, so I shut off the burner and covered them, undrained. It took very little time to bring the carrot water to a boil. When it had, I tested the carrots and they had already softened so I popped the steamed basket with green beans onto the same pot, placing the lid over the steamer. Ten minutes later both vegetables were cooked.

Meanwhile, the turkey was removed from the oven and allowed to rest on the carving board.  Then one guest scooped the stuffing out and mixed it in with the remaining heated stuffing in its casserole dish and put back into the warm oven, covered. He then proceeded to carve half of the bird and arrange on a platter

The roasting pan was placed over two burners, and its pan juices brought to a boil. The second guest manned the whisk as I added the flour slurry and then some potato water and seasonings.

Cranberries, cabbage salad and drinking water were removed from the fridge and set on the table. The cake was also brought out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature by dessert time.

Guest two was also put to work mashing the potatoes once they were drained. I hovered in the background, supplying the needed butter and sour cream to the mashed potatoes.

It was quick work to dress the carrots and then the green beans. Guest one uncorked the wine and guest two filled the water glasses and made himself a cocktail. The potatoes were dished into a lidded casserole, the dressing came out of the oven, the gravy poured into a pitcher.
We sat down to eat at 8:06 p.m. which was shockingly close to my original goal.

With second servings selling like hot cakes, we delayed dessert for about an hour. This gave the guests time to make up plates for ‘take away’ and gave me time to put away the remaining food.

The lads had been forewarned they would need to get themselves home, since I had enjoyed two glasses of wine . . . and was mighty tired. The world was better without me on the road!

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