Cooking big in a small kitchen

Thanksgiving is a fun, flavour-filled holiday, but when you’re the one feeding everyone it can be overwhelming. Whether you’re cooking at the cottage or squeezing a large crowd into your home, there are never enough burners, oven racks or counters. But figuring out how to cook all the food and get it onto the table doesn’t have to be an exasperating puzzle. Here are a few simple options to take the stress out of cooking a big meal in a small space:

1. Pre-prep
Don’t underestimate the importance of prepping the day before. Mise en place (everything in its place) as the French say, is the key to stress-free cooking, especially in a small kitchen. When counter space is scarce, you can’t afford to fill it with kitchen scraps. Chef Maribel from FoodDiva.com urges cooks to get vegetables and other ingredients “seasoned, chopped, trayed & wrapped to be dealt with the next day.” But you can take it one step further and select a menu full of side dishes and desserts that can be fully cooked ahead of time and warmed quickly before the big dinner; pies, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes. Take a cue from the Queen herself, Martha Stewart, who compiled some fabulous make-ahead recipes for Thanksgiving. But don’t go crazy trying to pre-cook everything. If you’re making a turkey, it needs to be roasted and served the same day to remain juicy and flavourful. Reheating a whole turkey in the oven will dry out the meat, unless you use an extremely low temperature, which will take several hours.

2. Break out the barbecue
If you’re a whiz at multi-dish dinners and your biggest hurdle is limited cooking surfaces, why not dust off the barbecue and put it to good use? Sure, barbecues are typically associated with hot summer days, but they can also come in handy for a fall feast. Bundle up in a thick sweater and hit the deck to grill up any number of thanksgiving favourites you would normally prepare on the stove: sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli rabe. It’s a great way to entice your guests to help out. People love manning the grill! If you’re feeling ambitious you can even try cooking your entire turkey on the barbecue either by using a rotisserie attachment or flipping it periodically on the grate. It’s a nice change from the oven method and it produces perfectly crispy skin with a nice smoky flavour. Check out our great tips on how to smoke or barbecue a turkey and other large roasts. If you’re working with a massive bird, however, be wary of the grill. Most experts agree that anything bigger than 15 lbs can be problematic on a standard home barbecue.

3. Switch up the meat
Would it really be Thanksgiving without the turkey? Take a chance and find out! Chef Maribel suggests experimenting with game meat, which is not only tasty, but less time sensitive. “100 years ago, game meat was the traditional festive fall menu. Braising or stewing can be done one to four days in advance, thus saving the last minute insanity of carving a big bird,” she says. Cooking meat like this slowly and low in liquid keeps it tender and moist, which means you can cook it days ahead of time and just simmer for a quick 15 minutes prior to serving. Another bonus: Your oven won’t be monopolized for hours, opening up valuable real estate for other food. Try some venison, caribou or moose—great braising meats that are considered heart healthy as well. If you’re not that adventurous, you could also try using beef. The best thing about braising and stewing is that the flavours actually intensify every day they’re resting in the fridge, so you can save your sanity and make a bigger impact at table! If you just have to serve turkey, try braising some turkey legs instead of roasting a whole bird. That way, you can reheat your meat without sacrificing texture.

4. Learn to love the appetizer
Babysitting a huge bird and half a dozen side dishes that all need to hit the table at the exact same time can be nearly impossible with limited oven space, not to mention exhausting. Take the pressure off by adopting a more casual approach. Whip up some simple appetizers the day before and serve them throughout the day to satisfy hungry guests. If people are munching before dinner they’ll need less food for the main meal and you can concentrate on a few key dishes. Choose finger foods that don’t require cooking, like simple dips (hummus, guacamole, onion dip) and cheese platters. Or try some classic holiday appetizers like stuffed mushrooms and cocktail meatballs that you can cook in advance and heat up quickly in a microwave or toaster oven.

For more tips, check out these 7 Thanksgiving shortcuts and watch episodes from Cottage Life Television.