When I first started in the kitchen, I found that the most challenging thing for me was timing the food as it became done. The goal in the kitchen is when serving a meal, to have everything be finishing up at the same time…however this is much trickier than it sounds. I’ve noticed throughout my cooking experience that other people seem to struggle with this as well…
When I was younger I always dreamt about the day that I could host my own dinner parties. I wanted my house to be the one where everyone met at. So naturally when I moved into my first apartment junior year of college I wanted it to be the “spot.”
When Thanksgiving came around, my roommate and I decided we wanted to host a “Friendsgiving.” I’m sure many of you are familiar with this term as it has become quite popular in the last few years. Typically you will celebrate Thanksgiving with your family and either the Sunday before or the Sunday following Thanksgiving, a “Friendsgiving” will be hosted.
I was thrilled to finally be hosting my first dinner party!! Talk about stressful though. This was no ordinary dinner party, it was a second Thanksgiving! I couldn’t just make one meal for everyone, but rather I took it upon myself to cook the turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and several dishes of vegetables. I knew that many of my friends either didn’t have kitchens or lacked the desire to cook a dish to bring to dinner. I had never had practice with this, and I had definitely bit off way more than I could chew. I was going out on a limb and reverting back to memories of how my mom had done this.
I really thought I could do it, but as I began to cook the various dishes, I found out that the timing of when things were finished was the most challenging part of it all. I misjudged the turkey and had everything ready half an hour before the turkey was done (therefore I had to reheat everything, which was a pain). I must say looking back, I put too much on my plate for a first time party-hoster. I wasn’t able to mingle with any of my friends because I was too busy busting my butt in the kitchen.
Knowing when to start various sides is absolutely something that comes with time, however I can offer some advice on the basics. If I had known a few of these tips then, I think I would have been much better off.
- When making a pasta dish, know that not only will pasta take roughly 8-10 minutes to cook, but you also have to allot time for boiling of water. THIS CAN TAKE UP TO 15 MINUTES. Make sure to remember that you can’t speed up the rate of which water boils, so factor this into your cook time.
- Know that certain dishes can sit longer than others. If you’re making mashed potatoes, the potatoes can sit on a back burner covered and will keep warm until you’re ready to serve.
- When cooking a side of vegetables know that this must be done last! You don’t want your veggies sitting out because they taste best when they’re either right out of the pot or right out of the oven.
- Certain items (like oven fries, or even oven roasted veggies) can be left in the oven (turned off of course) to help them keep warm while everything else is finishing up. If you do this, try to cook them a few minutes shorter, because they may continue to cook even if the oven is turned off.
- If you decide to cook a roast, make sure to calculate how long it will take before you stick it in the oven. If you know how long it will approximately take, you can backtrack and figure out when to start the potatoes, gravy, any desired sides, etc.
- A good rule of thumb for how long to cook a roast beef: oven at 500 degrees: 5 min/pound, then turn off oven and leave roast in oven with door closed for 2 hours.
- A good rule of thumb for how long to cook a chicken/turkey: Large chicken (greater than 10lbs) 15 min/lb @ 350 degrees. Small chicken (less than 10lbs) 20 min/lb @ 350 degrees.
- Do as much prep as possible before you start your meal. If the preparation is complete, then while the dish is coming together, you don’t need to stop and cut the veggies that you need to go into your dish. If you decide to prep while your cooking, make sure that nothing overcooks. Even as a somewhat experienced cook, I always prepare my veggies, sauces, etc. before I start the meal so I’m not running around doing things at the last minute. This causes panic and a higher chance that something will either be burnt or overcooked.
As I mentioned above, the more you cook, the more you’ll start to grasp the concept of time in the kitchen. If any of you have any other questions, please send me an email! I would love to help!