9 Ways to Spend More Time With Friends and Family at Thanksgiving Dinner
Brought to you by Hingham Realtor Alice Pierce
Thanksgiving is central to both food and relationships, and in order to enjoy your time with family and friends in Hingham or the South Shore, here are 9 excellent tips on how to better enjoy time after you serve that amazing Thanksgiving meal.
Believe it or not, Massachusetts Pilgrims staged a pot luck of sorts for Thanksgiving dinner, and we still follow this tenant to some degree. Many Hingham Thanksgiving meals include predetermined contributions from family and friends. One person might bring their special green bean dish, another their grandmother’s creamed onions, and some people even arrive with a second turkey already stuffed and roasted to perfection. But this style of Thanksgiving dinner does not off set the amount of post-Thanksgiving clean up that must be accomplished before enjoying your family and friends.
So stock up on freezer bags now, and prepare to spend a lot more time with the people you invite over for Thanksgiving Dinner.
1) The 3 C’s of Freezer Storage
Combine, collapse and contain. No matter what type of freezer you have, shelving or pull-out drawers, over, under or side-by-side, you and I both know that there are things in there from summer before last. So put a big beach towel on your floor, get a black Sharpie, and remove everything from the freezer. If you have multiple cold packs for coolers and/or first aid, line the back of your shelf area with these, or place them in a flat layer on the bottom of your freezer drawers. You would be amazed how much space a frozen, diagonally placed cooler pack can use up.
If you have frozen pizzas take these out of their cardboard containers and write the cooking temperatures and time requirements on the outside of the sealed plastic. Put the packaging in recycling and put your pizzas back in the freezer so that they lay flat.
Then notice all the other cardboard in your freezer. Frozen waffles or chicken nuggets, for example, can be removed from their cardboard (they all come in plastic within the boxes) and placed in Ziploc baggies (which can be reused by the way). Write the date, temperature and time requirements on each baggie. Even ice cream products can be consolidated by removed it from the cartons and putting it into baggies or small plastic containers. Make sure you use square rather than round containers so that no space is wasted.
Some frozen items might be outdated (yes, frozen foods expire) and these should be tossed. Lastly, check to see if there are some old popsicles that can go in the trash.
2) Prepare The Refrigerator
If you have a second refrigerator in your basement or elsewhere, you are ahead of the Thanksgiving clean up routine. You can make sure that this fridge is completely empty prior to your holiday and designate this as the place where all of your food goes after the meal. If there is space, set aside some Saran Wrap, Cling-wrap and/or aluminum foil, and large rubber bands. This will allow you to walk your leftovers right to the refrigerator, cover them and shelve them. Then you can slice the turkey meat and rearrange your leftovers after your guests leave.
Many of us have one fridge to work with for Thanksgiving, and in this case there is an entirely different approach, although reorganizing is the same as the freezer or a second fridge. Combine, collapse and contain after you remove unwanted items to the trash.
Even if you don’t have that second refrigerator, go through the fridge, today, and clean out everything lurking in the dark recesses that may have expired or that will not be used. Cut down on space-eaters like square packaging and transfer items to Ziplock baggies. If you have multiple containers of juice, water or milk, consider combining them into one of the like containers if the expiration dates are similar.
Then define the luxury real estate in your refrigerator. For most of us, this is one of the middle shelves at about eye level. You want to keep this area clear once your Thanksgiving dinner prep is in full swing. Once things get going in the kitchen it is all too easy to start tossing things into the fridge with no thought. This prime area of shelf should be empty when you start your meal.
Notice some of the things in your refrigerator that truly don’t need to be cooled. Fresh eggs, ketchup, jelly, butter, dressings, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions do not need refrigeration to stay fresh. I suggest putting butter into a round Ziplock container with a cover that screws on. This keeps it even fresher.
There is a silver lining to your refrigerator preparation. Not only can you rest assured that your leftovers will fit right in without a lot of food juggling, but your Thanksgiving meal prep will go smoother if you don’t have to spend a ton of time searching for the lost brie.
3) Soak as you empty
Even if you have a double sink, try using a small, plastic trash can placed out of the way. Fill it with water and dish detergent and as you finish up with pots, pans, casseroles or serving platters, place these items in the soaking can to keep your sink free from clutter. Then you can quickly rinse your serving dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Keep a large yogurt container or two handy to fill with hot soapy water when the time comes to clear people’s places. The knives, forks and spoons can all go utensil end down into the yogurt containers. This will eliminate the need for extra rinsing.
4) From Server to Storage
If you can manage to serve food in containers that look elegant and nice, but that can also be used to freeze or refrigerate leftovers you are cutting down clean up time significantly. One problem is that there are few attractive serving pieces that double as freezer storage. If you are serving everything from the kitchen directly onto a plate, then this is not a concern. But many people prefer to leave all of the meal components out so that guests can always serve themselves.
Even if you plan on an elegant buffet style approach, you can take away the extra step of cleaning all of those serving dishes by using freezer or refrigerator friendly containers as your servers. Although this sounds unlikely because most of us don’t want to look at crinkled foil pans and plastic tubs as part of our Thanksgiving dinner presentation, there are ways. Consider some creative approaches to disguising tin foil or plastic containers for your Thanksgiving spread.
One way is to use various sized baskets to place your containers in. You can line the bottom with a paper towel or napkin, and then snuggle a fabric napkin or two around the edges so that the tin foil is covered. Mature kale leaves are another surefire way to cover up servers. The leaf will withstand an entire day of heat, and its structure allows for a lot of space to be covered. You can also trim kale to cover up smaller areas that might still show foil or plastic.
Keep in mind that this is a temporary solution and that the general rule is to place leftovers in clean containers that are much smaller than the serving dishes, thus saving space.
5) Food Items as Serving Dishes
If you are serving appetizers consider arranging them in something liked hollowed out bread or squash. Some other ideas are to put apple crisp inside of hollowed out apples once cooked, or bacon cups for salad. Use the back of a muffin tin to create the bowl shape before baking, and fill your bacon cups with a salad. Remember that bacon shrinks when you and even though this will hold its shape, if you want a bacon bowl minus the holes, add extra layers. Need chocolate bowls? Blow up some clean, washed small balloons, dip them in chocolate, and then pop the balloons when the chocolate is completely dry.
There are so many possibilities, too many to mention here. Eggplants, endive, peppers, pastry, tomatoes etc.. Google the search term “edible bowls” or “edible serving dishes” and the possibilities are endless.
6) Line Roasting Pans
Roasting pans can take a lot of time to clean, even if you soak them after removing the bird. Consider lining the roasting pans with aluminum foil, parchment paper or cook your turkey in a bag to avoid this clean up.
7) Extra Lining for your Garbage Cans
Use double or even triple linings for your trash cans. You will be assured there will be no leaks, and there is always another bag ready to use. You can also place several folded trash bags on the bottom of a clean trash can and cover this with a paper towel.
8) Refrigerating Thanksgiving Leftovers
Leftovers can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to four days. Avoid reheating more than you will be eating to hold the flavor of the food longer. And be sure you reheat leftovers to a temperature of 165 degrees. If you are reheating leftover gravies and sauces, never let them come to full boil. And for reheating leftovers in the microwave, wet a paper towel and place it over the plate or bowl to retain some of the moisture that would otherwise be lost in the microwave process.
While it is important to be mindful of temperatures when placing leftovers into our refrigerator or freezer, food does not need to be room temperature before storing it. In fact, the less time it spends at room temperature the better. By the time you’re finished eating Thanksgiving dinner, it will usually be cool enough, unless you are using Sterno heating, in which case simply dowse the heating cans once everyone is done eating.
To be on the safe side, start packing up and refrigerating leftovers within two hours. But make sure that the hot foods have cooled down before sealing baggies or lids. If you stack containers that have hot food in them, the tops are likely to open and this can cause quite a mess.
Be absolutely sure that you removed all the stuffing from the cavity of the turkey and put this in its own container. The turkey meat should be removed from the bone, and larger pieces separated as well.
9) Freezing Thanksgiving Leftovers
Freezing keeps food safe by preventing the growth of bacteria, and adds longevity to your food, but eat them within three months because the taste eventually vanishes. I am a big fan of freezer bags rather than containers because these allow for more space. If you think about storing house items, packing boxes almost always have at least one-third air. The same holds true for food. Additionally, round containers also waste space in that the edges of the containers do not meet.
Virtually anything and everything can go into a freezer bag. Mashed potatoes, green beans and even soupier foods like creamed onions and even soups and gravies. Allow thicker things like the creamed onions to set for a bit before scooping them in baggies. For gravies and soups, truly thinner foods, set a freezer bag inside of a bowl before pouring in, and leave plenty of space at the top. Then temporarily set the liquid filled baggies inside of a cardboard box until the liquid starts to freeze.
Turkey meat should be slices and wrapped first in foil or freezer paper before going into a Ziplock bag.
It’s perfectly safe to keep leftovers in the refrigerator for a few days before freezing them but the taste will be preserved better if you freeze things immediately. Also, label everything because often times the baggies and containers will cloud up during the freezing process making all your leftovers look the same. And feel free to rearrange all of your Thanksgiving leftovers once everything is frozen solid.
If there are any leftover pie containers these make pretty good storage containers even though they are round. The foil can bend of course, and you can stack them. Once your leftovers are packed away, avoid opening and closing the refrigerator door until the food has had time to cool down.
The Holiday season in New England is an ideal time to start looking for homes in Hingham MA and all of the surrounding towns south of Boston . There is no better Realtor to show you what the South Shore of Massachusetts has to offer than one of the top South Shore real estate agents, Alice Pierce. Alice is native to Hingham MA and can talk to you about Hingham’s neighborhoods and their distinctive characteristics, as well as Cohasset, Hull, Scituate, Norwell, Hanover, Marshfield, Duxbury and all of the South Shore towns.