Thursday, April 28, 2011

Timing: Scheduling so everything can be served together.

When it is time to sit down to dinner, I like everything to be as it should: cold things cold, hot things piping, people on time when called (if you know how to make this magical feat happen, please share!).  But it takes timing for everything to be ready at once.  How do you do this?  They showed us in college, and though I most often do this in my head, it is common for me to think it through while planning the weekly menu and I will always write it out if I am serving company.  This is how you go about it.
1) Decide what time you want to eat.
2) Consult each recipe that will be served and estimate the preparation time, including any baking or chilling times.  Write these down.
3) Working backwards from the dinner hour, figure the time to start each recipe.  Identify recipes that can be made ahead and designate their timing as well.  Concentrate effort on things to be served hot.
4) Write your schedule, assigning a start time to each step.  Some menus will have things that work well together, like while you simmer a casserole for 20 min., you will mix and bake biscuits as a side.
5) Work your plan.

Let's take an example menu and work it through to be served at 6 p.m.
Chicken Parmesan Skillet
French Bread
Green Salad with Gorgonzola Dressing

The dressing is a make ahead, and needs time to chill.  We'll make it in the morning and chill. Gorgonzola dressing: 9:00 a.m.
French Bread will be nice served warm, with only a short time to cool before we cut it.  Reading the directions, I calculated the bread will need 90 min. prep., 35 min. to bake and 5 min. to rest before I cut it.  So, working back from 6, I need to heat the oven at 5:00 p.m., put the bread in the oven at 5:20.  Working another 90 min. back from that, I will need to start mixing the bread at 3:50 p.m.  Don't worry about recipes for bread.  The steps you take with the bread only take a few minutes each, the rising takes the time and dough can do that all by itself.
Chicken Parmesan Skillet takes only about 30 min. from start to finish, but I have to stay with it most of the time.  So, I will plan to wash vegetables and assemble my green salad at 5:15 (remembering to put the bread in at 5:20) and start the skillet meal at 5:30.  I have children to help with the table preparations, so I direct traffic from my post at the stove and the table can be set, and condiments placed while I cook.  If you don't have extra hands, remember to include the table setting in your schedule. 
A condensed schedule might look like this:
9:00 a.m. make dressing
3:50 p.m. mix bread
5:00 p.m. heat oven
5:15 p.m. assemble salad
5:20 p.m. put bread in the oven
5:30 p.m start Parmesan skillet
5:45 p.m. set table
6:00 p.m. serve dinner
There are other choices you can make with this meal, you can serve the bread cold, giving you freedom to make it earlier in the day, you could also assemble the salad and chill it along with the dressing.  You can add other steps to remind you when to check the bread progress. This is just to give an example of how a schedule works.  Even if this is done loosely, it allows you to make jello in the afternoon or plan desserts that can bake while you eat. Knowledge is power!
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