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Archive for Monday, December 15, 2008

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Kitchen confidential: Local chefs share tips to make Christmas dinner go smoothly

December 15, 2008

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As the chef at WheatFields Bakery Café, 904 Vt., Lonnie Fisher has plenty of experience preparing meals, but he ensures serving a stress-free holiday feast by planning out details for the dishes beforehand. Writing down specifics about the number of guests, ingredients and recipes will help any holiday meal run smoother.

“Sitting down and writing out a plan … makes things go smoother,” Fisher says. “The idea of the holidays is so you can enjoy the family.”

Fisher and other local chefs say that serving Christmas dinner doesn’t have to be painful. With their practical tips, even a novice cook can prepare a delicious meal.

Meat prep

If you will cook meat that is frozen, Fisher says it’s important to allow plenty of time to thaw it before it goes in the oven. Depending on the size of the meat, it can take multiple days to thaw in the refrigerator. Fisher suggests investing in a meat thermometer to monitor the meat once it goes in the oven.

“Every oven has a different cooking temperature,” Fisher says. “A thermometer (can help) so you don’t end up torching your meat.”

Carol Latham, who owns Terrebonne Downtown Catering, 805 Vt., cooks and carves her meat the day or night before.

“I can reheat my meat and cook casseroles at the same time,” Latham says.

Planning ahead

When you’re planning your meal, Latham suggests figuring out how many people will be coming to the meal and delegate dishes for others to bring.

“You get to eat things you only eat once a year,” Latham says.

To make sure you don’t run out of cooking time for side dishes, it’s beneficial to complete preparation work the day before.

Matt Spangler, sous chef at J.B. Stout’s, 721 Wakarusa Drive, suggests cutting up all your vegetables for relish trays or casseroles the day before.

He says you can keep vegetables like sliced carrots and celery fresh and crunchy by placing them in water and keeping them in the fridge.

“You can peel and cut potatoes the night before and keep them (refrigerated) in cold water,” Spangler says. “You already have the water in the pan so you’re ready to go (when you start cooking them the next morning.)”

Desserts can also be prepared ahead of time.

“They actually set up better,” Latham says.

Time & temp

Some cooks struggle with preparing dishes to be served at the same time. Spangler suggests adjusting temperatures for meats or casseroles to balance out cooking times.

“(If you’re serving ham), when you reheat it in the oven, put it at a lower temperature,” Spangler says. “If (scalloped) corn will take two or three hours, you’ll be able to pull the meat out at the same time.”

Make it special

Although turkey and ham are classic staples of holiday banquets, don’t be afraid to be creative.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve done things that aren’t traditional, like pork loin, duck confit and steak,” Spangler says in reference to his family’s gatherings. “Just go for it.”

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