Originally published in Tulsa World | Thanksgiving meals prepared by trained chefs and home cooks aren’t that different. There are side dishes, desserts and, of course, a turkey.
No need for frills or fancy garnish when dining in the company of family and close
friends, said Aaron B. Ware, OSU Institute of Technology chef instructor. His Thanksgiving
meal includes all his family favorites, like collard greens, corn, baked macaroni
and cheese, sweet potato pie and bread pudding.
“People think (chefs) eat fancy food, but we eat the same things everyone else eats,” he explained. “It’s a passion and a desire (to cook). Everyone wants to have such a wonderful time with family and be present with the people who are there — not worrying about the food and rushing and getting it done.”
If you’ve got a lot of people visiting for the holidays, it’s OK to get people involved and start a day or two ahead of time. Preparation and planning are key to keeping holidays stress-free. If you don’t have enough space in the refrigerator or oven, he said to ask for help from family or friends. It’s a common mistake for home cooks to take on a lot during the holidays.
“Sometimes I try to do too much and want to do it all myself,” said Brenda Nimmo, an OSUIT chef instructor. “But now I try to provide a space for Thanksgiving and cook the turkey. It’s much more enjoyable.”
During big holiday meals, she invites her guests to bring a prepared dish when they arrive so she can focus on the turkey and other details like the table and decorations. She said pulling out all the elements for setting the table before the big day will organize the process before guests arrive
“Don’t forget the reason you do it is to enjoy your time with your family and friends,” Nimmo said.
She answered a few questions about Thanksgiving to point home cooks in the right direction for a successful and memorable meal.
What are the common mistakes that home cooks make when it comes to making homemade gravy (i.e. too much flour or not enough seasoning or too small a quantity)?
Experienced cooks may not need a gravy recipe. However, a good rule of thumb that I ask my students to memorize is: 1 pound of roux to 1 gallon of liquid will create a medium-consistency sauce. Ratios are easier to remember; once students understand the cooking methods, they can apply that ratio for thickening gravy, soups or sauces.
For the home cook, you would probably use a quart of chilled chicken broth and 4 ounces of warm roux (equal parts fat to flour). Experienced cooks also know you have to start preparing for holiday feasts several days in advance. If you make a quality stock or broth beforehand, all that is needed is the pan drippings to form a roux and a little salt and pepper.
There are so many options now for canned or powdered gravy, is it ever OK to make gravy ahead of time and then reheat it later? Or is it absolutely necessary to wait until the turkey is done to use the drippings?
I think from a chef’s perspective it would be a shame not to use that fond (brown bits in the pan) to make your pan gravy. Since the roast needs time to rest before carving, I find that is just enough time to prepare the pan sauce.
Imagine no one brought cranberry sauce. What’s an easy way to make cranberry sauce from scratch at the last minute?
Just simmer a package of cranberries in 1 cup of sugar and a cup of water until they burst. If you want to add a little holiday spice, you can also use the zest and juice of an orange or add a cinnamon stick while they are cooking.
Caramel and chocolate sauces would be wonderful paired with Thanksgiving dessert. Do you have any recipes that can be done ahead of time and warmed up as guests are finishing their meal?
It may sound simplistic, but when it comes to holiday desserts, fresh whipped cream is all I need.
What is your best piece of advice when it comes to cooking this holiday season?
My best advice to all is that experience is the best teacher.
Get in the kitchen with someone who knows how to cook. Volunteer to peel some potatoes or wash the dishes. Meanwhile, ask questions to discover their tricks and tips for all those family recipes. If not, you might be left wondering why you can never quite get that favorite recipe just right. You may already know that having a recipe is only a guideline. I tell my students that cooking is a lifelong learning process and to find a mentor that has the desire to pass along all their “secrets.”
NANA’S CRANBERRY RELISH
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 shallot, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon orange zest, plus juice
½ cup toasted pecan pieces
1. Sweat the minced shallot and small diced celery in a little oil over medium heat until soft.
2. Add the sugar and water and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar.
3. Add the cranberries, cloves and cinnamon stick. Simmer until the cranberries start to burst and the syrup reduces and slightly thickens. Stir in the orange juice and zest and allow to cool. Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves, then stir in the pecans just before serving.
— Recipe from OSUIT chef instructor Brenda Nimmo
BOURBON CARAMEL SAUCE
1 cup sugar
½ cup of heavy cream
½ tablespoon of butter
½ cup bourbon
1. Place sugar, butter, and cream in pot. Cook under low heat until the sugar is light brown
2. Remove from heat and add bourbon and whisk
3. Serve warm.
— Recipe from OSUIT chef instructor Aaron B. Ware