Getting to grandmother's house is no longer just a simple trip over the river and through the woods. In the Northwest, it may go something like this: Over the hill and through...
Getting to grandmother’s house is no longer just a simple trip over the river and through the woods.
In the Northwest, it may go something like this: Over the hill and through the Mercer Mess, south on I-5 and through the Convention Center bottleneck, into the dark enclosure of the Mount Baker Tunnel and across the I-90 bridge, over the Raging River and finally, through the snowy woods to North Bend we go.
It doesn’t have the quaint musical ring we’re familiar with, does it? But it’s the reality of holiday travel in our region, and Thanksgiving, the granddaddy of potlucks, poses its own special challenges. We cart casseroles of mashed potatoes, fragile pumpkin pies, even turkeys from one end of the region to the other, hoping they won’t fall victim to slowdowns and stormy weather along the way.
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We may not think of Thanksgiving as a potluck, and for many it may not be. But chances are good that most of us will be asked to contribute something to the feast.
And this is where the host becomes mix-master, with the not-so-enviable job of matching guests with food that’s their specialty, or is at least doable for them. If a guest is notoriously late or is traveling a distance, an appetizer is probably not the best choice. The cousin with declining cooking skills can pick up jarred pickles and olives instead of providing the pumpkin pie.
The savvy host will provide guests with an idea of how many their dish should serve. For instance, if more than one person is bringing a salad, a recipe that usually serves 6 may be enough for 8 to 10 servings. Be specific. Unless you’re partial to the many forms of gelatin salad, aim for variety by tossing in some greens too.
Ask guests to bring their food in the dish in which it will be served, along with serving utensils. Consider in advance how much counter space is available and how much last-minute prep may be needed. If there’s only one oven, can a microwave be used for back-up? And clean out the refrigerator before guests arrive.
Guests need to do some planning of their own. (This is not the time to show up at your host’s home with a bag of raw carrots and expect to prep and cook them 15 minutes before dinner is put on the table.) Rather, choose recipes that can be made ahead, can travel well (can be kept cold or hot during transport) and are easy to reheat. Some of our recipes for side dishes Steam-Roasted Vegetables with Cumin and Lemon Zest, Overnight Mashed Potatoes with Herbed Cheese and Buttered Crumbs, and Garlic-Crouton Stuffing fit the criteria and are great additions to a holiday table.
In the “Big Book of Potluck” (Chronicle Books, 2003) author Maryana Vollstedt shares some ideas about taking food along for the ride.
When traveling short distances, tuck food into a basket or box and pack towels or newspapers around it to prevent sliding or spilling. For trips longer than half an hour, pack hot food in an insulated chest, or wrap in foil and several layers of newspapers or a thermal blanket. (The USDA says cold food should be kept at 40 degrees or below; hot foods at or above 140 degrees. Food cannot be safely held for more than two hours at room temperature.)
Transport cold food, including pumpkin and pecan pies, in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Use a separate cooler for drinks so the cooler holding food will not have to be opened often.
Carve cooked turkey meat off the bone, cool and wrap well. Refrigerate until you’re ready to travel, then transfer to a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. To reheat, arrange sliced turkey on a microwave-safe platter. You can drizzle a little chicken broth on top, cover with wax paper and microwave until the top of the turkey and the bottom of the platter feel hot. Gravy should also be kept cold. Bring to a boil on top of the stove and simmer for 5 minutes before serving.
A turkey should never be partially cooked and finished later; it becomes a prime breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. A thawed, uncooked turkey should be packed in a separate cooler from other cooked or raw food, with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs.
Stuffings with perishable ingredients such as eggs, meat or seafood should be kept cold.
Layered salads and marinated vegetables transport well, as do gelatin-based salads. (But don’t remove them from the mold until you’ve reached your destination.) Store watery ingredients such as sliced tomatoes and cucumbers separate from greens. Salad dressing can travel in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
To prevent the tops of frosted cakes, cheesecake or bar cookies from damage, place a miniature marshmallow over the points of several toothpicks, then insert picks into cake. Lay plastic wrap on top of the marshmallows.
Whatever your plans, make this portable feast the best and safest it can be.