How do you keep everything warm till it's all served ?
What are your tips for keeping your food courses warm till you're ready to serve it ?
I appreciate this more in restaurants now that I find it's so difficult to accomplish when I'm cooking a main course + veggies + bread / potatoes at home.
Hope this doesn't sound insulting, but getting everything done at about the same time--rather than keeping things warm--is just a basic, very necessary kitchen skill gained by practice. Re: warming, don't forget to microwave those plates prior to serving.
The trick is to organize your cooking so that everything gets done close to the same time. I learned it when I worked in my dad's cafeteria. It takes a little thought and planning, but it gets easier with practice. You just need to develop a reasonably good feel for how long things take to cook, and start the things that take longer before the quicker stuff.
It's also a good idea when you're planning your meal not to choose a whole bunch of things that all require lots of attention or last-minute fiddling. If you're making risotto, for instance, don't also choose something to saute unless you've got a helper who can stay on top of the risotto while you do the other dish.
The most forgiving dish, I think, when you're trying to get things timed right, is just plain rice or rice pilaf (but not risotto because it takes more attention). If the rice is done and you aren't ready to serve it, you just turn the fire off and leave it there with the lid on. It seems to take a long time for rice to get cold--and it's not a problem at all if you're going to put some kind of sauce or something on it.
I'll describe how that worked for me last night (this was actually easier than it can sometimes be, for reasons that will become clear).
I made a braised pot roast with gravy, roasted potatoes, and sauteed spinach. The roast took a couple hours, so that was the easy part. Long before I started on anything else, I browned both sides of the roast and added the liquid to simmer it. Then I went and sat on my behind for about an hour. (The roast was going to simmer for a couple hours.)
About 45 minutes before I intended to serve the meal, I started the potatoes. I peeled them, cut them into chunks and put them on the stove with some water. While they were cooking (brought to a boil and cooked for 5 minutes, then drained), I chopped up some garlic and preheated the oven for the potatoes. Then I put a little olive oil in the pan that I was going to cook the potatoes in and set it in the oven to heat. I did that a little too soon, though, so it came out a few minutes before I was ready for it. No problem: I took half my garlic and put it in the pan, then set it on the counter out of the way so the garlic could flavor up the oil. When the potatoes had boiled for five minutes, I took them off the heat and drained them, then put them in their pan, seasoned them, put them in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Then I went and sat down and enjoyed a little wine.
When the timer went off, I took the potatoes out of the oven, turned them over, seasoned them again, put them back in the oven and set the timer for another 15 minutes. Then I got some flour water ready to thicken the gravy and got my spinach ready to saute. I took the roast out of the pan and set it aside to rest, and turned the fire up under that pan to get the liquid boiling. At the same time I put some oil in my saute pan, along with the garlic, and turned the fire up under it. When it was hot I added the spinach and sauteed it till it was just a little less done than I wanted it to be, stirred in a little vinegar, turned off the heat and put a lid on it. Then I made the gravy, took the potatoes out of the oven, sliced the meat, and it was suppertime.
I agree that planning ahead is key, but as someone whose husband's promise that he's "leaving work in 5 minutes" usually means something quite different (and the kids are already hungry so waiting till he actually walks in the door to start things isn't an option) you learn how to "slow things down"; take something off the heat, do the initial onion and garlic sweating but wait to but the green vegetable in till you're ready to eat, etc. Just a matter of watching carefully. Food is usually pretty forgiving of such treatment, IMHO.
All the advice above is excellent - that's a skill you just sort of grow into over time, as you get a better feel for how long it takes you to do things, and as you learn to organize your work area better. The first part took only a year or two after I'd started cooking seriously; the second continues to elude me!
I also cheat, when I'm doing a giant feast: I have a pretty good selection/collection of Salton HotTrays, from a two-bowl sized one to a roll-around cart with a middle shelf. I can keep an awful lot of side dishes on Hold for long enough to carve the beast and make gravy.
Another tip that I got from Shirley Corriher: if you're making mashed or scalloped potatoes, make them ahead of time and keep them covered at room temperature, then reheat in a medium oven for about ten minutes (I give'em at least fifteen). Potatoes are one thing you do NOT want to serve lukewarm.
re: Will Owen
Will Owen- Wrote: ""Another tip that I got from Shirley Corriher: if you're making mashed or scalloped potatoes, make them ahead of time and keep them covered at room temperature...""
Shirley you must be joking, Will!
Room temperature storage of potentially hazardous food, is just unacceptable these days. Serve Safe needs to be taught at home.
I agree, it takes skill and practice. I remember this was a problem when I first began to cook for groups. However it does get easier. Keep practicing!