Lo­cal chefs share Thanks­giv­ing tips to help make the hol­i­day stress-free for those pre­par­ing a feast for fam­ily and friends.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY GAIL JOHN­SON

Christina Cul­ver, the sec­on­deldest of six kids, grew up on the North Shore in a fam­ily of avid skiers. In high school, she took it upon her­self to make din­ner once a week to help out her mom, who reg­u­larly baked bread from scratch and made a point of feed­ing her fam­ily whole­some, nu­tri­tious meals. By the time she had moved out, Cul­ver had built up her own reper­toire of healthy and flavour­ful foods.

“I was liv­ing in the West End in a build­ing where I had friends on ev­ery floor, and I was al­ways known as the salad queen,” Cul­ver says in a phone call with the Ge­or­gia Straight. “Some of my friends said, ‘We love your food; what if we paid you to make our lunches?’ Things snow­balled from there.”

Cul­ver is re­fer­ring to the 2012 launch of Cul­ver City Sal­ads, the green so­lar-pow­ered food truck (af­fec­tion­ately named Granny Smith) that she runs with her sis­ter Sarah. All of the food is plant-based and gluten­free. The com­pany also does cater­ing, and de­spite the busi­ness keep­ing the women busy, Cul­ver still loves cook­ing for—and with—her fam­ily.

Mak­ing Thanks­giv­ing din­ner is no straight­for­ward task for the party of eight. Cul­ver is ve­gan, but there are also meat eaters and veg­e­tar­i­ans in the group, as well as peo­ple who are gluten-free and those with other food sen­si­tiv­i­ties and pref­er­ences. To sat­isfy so many di­etary needs with­out spend­ing the en­tire day in the kitchen, she has come up with a few time-sav­ing tips. One of them is not to make mul­ti­ple ver­sions of dishes to try to ap­pease every­one.

“Some­times we’ve done a gluten­free stuff­ing, a reg­u­lar stuff­ing, and a ve­gan stuff­ing,” Cul­ver says. “We’re re­leas­ing the whole need to have a ve­gan and a non­ve­gan ver­sion; just have it more plant-based. Screw hav­ing two mashed pota­toes, one reg­u­lar and one dairy-free. What I find the eas­i­est thing to do is make ev­ery­thing gluten-free and ve­gan,” she says, with the turkey and gravy be­ing the ob­vi­ous ex­cep­tions. “You’re go­ing to get a bunch of amaz­ing sides with beau­ti­ful flavours in ev­ery sin­gle dish in­stead of just mash­ing some pota­toes.”

Sourc­ing her pro­duce at places like In­ner City Farms (pic­tured on the cover), Cul­ver says some of her favourite sides are roasted sweet pota­toes topped with ve­gan marsh­mal­lows; kabocha squash stuffed with ve­gan dress­ing (which is as In­sta­grammable as it is tasty); Brus­sels sprouts pan-seared

with truf­fle oil and rose­mary; pota­toes and steamed car­rots mashed to­gether with roasted gar­lic and co­conut milk; and a ve­gan cashew “cheese” sauce.

There are few ways to cut down on the time in­volved in pre­par­ing and cook­ing the bird it­self, but Cul­ver says that tak­ing the easy route for other parts of the din­ner helps make up for that. Chances are you don’t need as many sides as you might think, and there’s no rule book say­ing you have to have a pump­kin pie to fin­ish things off.

“Do you re­ally need that ex­tra dish? Of­ten­times you don’t,” Cul­ver says. “You al­ways end up eat­ing way too much food. Also, for dessert, get some fresh fruit and serve it with co­conut ice cream. A lot of peo­ple get re­ally hell-bent on hav­ing these tra­di­tions. But the world is chang­ing; the way we eat is chang­ing. So switch up tra­di­tions a lit­tle bit so you feel good at the end of your meal.”

To keep the meal prep mov­ing along, Cul­vert prac­tises a tac­tic em­ployed by her mom, who used to go ski­ing with the whole fam­ily ev­ery year on Christ­mas Day and still get a turkey din­ner on the ta­ble at a rea­son­able hour. She takes an in­ven­tory of what’s be­ing served, how long each dish takes, how many burn­ers she can use at once, and how many items can fit in the oven si­mul­ta­ne­ously, all to come up with a grand plan.

It’s a strate­gic ap­proach that res­tau­rant chefs use all the time, whether they’re at work or at home.

“Writ­ing out a menu is not re­served only for pro­fes­sional chefs; it’s a nec­es­sary tool to be­gin plan­ning for any meal, big or small,” says Caitlin Mark, chef at H2 Ro­tis­serie and Bar at the Westin Bayshore. “What we end up with is a shop­ping list and a prep list, and by know­ing the cook times, we know when and in what or­der to start cook­ing each dish to al­low the din­ner to stay on track and on time.”

Mark has other pro tips to help save time in the kitchen on Thanks­giv­ing and other hol­i­days. One of them is to re­duce “vis­ual noise”.

“There are sev­eral rea­sons chefs keep their cook­ing sta­tions clean at all times,” Mark says. “It en­sures there is no cross-con­tam­i­na­tion, which pre­vents food-borne ill­ness. It’s a sign of true pro­fes­sion­al­ism in a kitchen. Not hav­ing to look around for what we need re­duces the time each task takes, and it’s eas­ier to think while work­ing. Vis­ual noise cre­ated by dish­ware, left­over in­gre­di­ents that aren’t be­ing used, food scraps, half-prepped items leads to a noisy brain. When we can’t think clearly, the stress ball starts rolling down­hill. The less stressed we are, the more pro­duc­tive we are in a kitchen.”

There’s an­other com­mon kitchen slo­gan that Mark says helps make big meals come to­gether: “Team­work makes the dream work.”

“Our job in a pro­fes­sional kitchen

is to work to­gether as a team to suc­ceed in a com­mon goal: fab­u­lous food made well and on time,” she says. “The same can be used for a fam­ily din­ner. Del­e­gate out tasks: is there an aunt, un­cle, or cousin who claims to make the best pump­kin pie or cran­berry sauce? Let them! Ul­ti­mately, when it comes to fam­ily din­ners, we’re all in it to­gether. We want ev­ery mem­ber to en­joy it. The more we share the dream of the per­fectly ex­e­cuted Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, the closer we’ll all get to it.”

A TIME-TESTED TIP to cut down on kitchen time on the hol­i­day it­self is to make what you can ahead of time. Rail­town Cafe chef Ta­batha Stahl cred­its her sis­ter for teach­ing her long ago to make mashed pota­toes (with a cream-and-but­ter mix­ture sea­soned with gar­lic, pep­per, thyme, rose­mary, and sea salt) in ad­vance and keep them warm in a Crock-pot. Cran­berry sauce (which Stahl likes to liven up with orange zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt) is an­other dish to whip up be­fore­hand. “I al­ways rec­om­mend mak­ing your own cran­berry sauce rather than buy­ing the store-bought stuff,” Stahl says. “It’s easy to prep ahead of time, which frees up stove space, and your guests will love it.”

Cas­cade Room chef Tim Evans sug­gests dou­bling the recipe for cran­berry sauce and jar­ring it so you have some ready for next year or even this com­ing Christ­mas.

Avoid stuff­ing your turkey, too. “It’s safer and quicker to serve an un­stuffed turkey,” Evans says. “Make stuff­ing in a loaf pan and bake in the oven or roll into ap­pro­pri­ate-sized balls and bake on a tray.”

Cibo Trat­to­ria chef Josh Gon­neau has a lit­tle time-sav­ing trick when it comes to re­mov­ing fat from your home­made stock. “While the stock is still warm, place ice cubes in it and the fat will stick di­rectly to the ice,” Gon­neau says. “Use a fine strainer to pull out the ice and you’ll re­move the fat with it. A lit­tle tomato paste will help you cre­ate a dark turkey jus.”

Wayne Sych, Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House ex­ec­u­tive chef, sug­gests mak­ing gravy ahead of time, even freez­ing it and thaw­ing a cou­ple days be­fore the big day. “Buy some bones from your butcher and brown them in the oven with cel­ery, car­rots, and onions,” Sych says. “Sim­mer them down and then thicken with a roux made with but­ter and flour. When you roast your turkey, you can add the drip­pings to the gravy. Lots of peo­ple make gravy after the turkey is roasted, but this can make things hec­tic, and gravy needs more time than that al­lows.”

An­other way peo­ple can save time is to visit their lo­cal butcher and ask for their turkey to be deboned, rolled, and tied. “This sim­ply means that the butcher will re­move the bones for you, place the dark meat in­side the white meat, and tie it into a roll,” Evans says. “You get to keep the bones to make gravy and you cut the cook­ing time by more than half.” Whether it’s deboned or not, Evans still urges peo­ple to brine the turkey, since the salted wa­ter with aro­mat­ics will sea­son the meat all the way through and keep it juicy while cook­ing. It only takes 10 min­utes to make a brin­ing so­lu­tion, with the re­sults worth ev­ery sec­ond.

Sych rec­om­mends se­lect­ing your serv­ing dishes in ad­vance and la­belling them with Post-it Notes. “That way, when you are putting ev­ery­thing out and some guests are as­sist­ing in the kitchen, they’ll know what you have or­ga­nized for what dish to be served on.”

And no mat­ter how tempt­ing it may seem, don’t try out a new recipe on hol­i­day Mon­day.

“Test it out a few weeks in ad­vance,” Sych says. “If it doesn’t turn out or be what you thought it would be, you can make ad­just­ments. Just be­cause a recipe looks good doesn’t mean it will turn out. Many recipes on­line are not tested. Try­ing it out ahead of time will al­le­vi­ate po­ten­tial sur­prises.”

To make cook­ing that big feast go smoothly, Caitlin Mark (left) of H2 Ro­tis­serie and Bar rec­om­mends keep­ing your kitchen free of “vis­ual noise”; Ta­batha Stahl of Rail­town Cafe sug­gests mak­ing some dishes ahead of time (Jel­ger + Tanja photo).

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