- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

For dinners at home, the last thing chef Patrice Olivon wants to do is cook at the last minute, especially in a small kitchen.

Mr. Olivon, chef instructor at L’Academie de Cuisine North in Gaithersburg, plans and begins preparing the meal two days ahead of time, reserving the day of the dinner for heating and plating the entree and side dishes. He plates the desserts in advance, keeping them stored on the bar top in his cool basement, and he has the coffee ready to brew.

“It’s all a question of planning and designing [the meal] according to the space you have to work in,” the Arlington resident says.

A small space makes maximizing preparation and serving techniques crucial for large meals such as Thanksgiving dinner.

Former New Yorker Chantal Sheppard, an interior design professor at Montgomery College in Rockville, has learned a few ways to make the most of tiny kitchens.

Mrs. Sheppard likes to ensure that things are accessible by storing spices in a hanging rack that fits inside a cabinet door near the stove and keeping pots and pans in drawers designed to make things easy to find. The spice rack frees up cabinet space, as does using a rack to hang utensils inside cabinet doors or on the side of the refrigerator, she says.

“It goes back to organizing and creating multipurpose or [multi]use areas,” Mrs. Sheppard says.

Meal planning also is important when space is at a minimum.

The first step is making a checklist of all the items that will be served and using that list to create a shopping list, says Cathie Filian, co-host of DIY Network’s “Creative Juice,” which gives ideas and instructions for crafts, entertaining and cooking.

The menu can be planned by determining how long it will take to cook the turkey or main entree and backtracking from there, Mrs. Filian says. The desserts and many of the side dishes can be prepared, cooked or partially cooked ahead of time to free up oven and counter space the day the main entree will be prepared, she says. The dishes can be refrigerated in oven-safe serving pieces instead of plastic storage containers to decrease the number of dishes used, she adds.

Delegating preparation of some of the side dishes to family and friends also helps free up some time and space in the kitchen, says Sue Hoss, senior editor at Cuisine at Home, a cooking and recipe magazine published in Des Moines, Iowa.

“They know a dinner like Thanksgiving is a big thing to undertake,” Ms. Hoss says. “People don’t like to show up someplace and not contribute.”

Another planning device is cutting, chopping and peeling vegetables, salad ingredients and other items in advance, says Cheri Sicard, editor and co-creator of FabulousFoods.com, a food and cooking Web site based in Los Angeles.

“If you prep in advance, you save yourself time, which is why planning is important,” Ms. Sicard says.

To free up oven space, cooking does not have to be limited to the kitchen. Some dishes can be prepared on a grill, or the turkey can be cooked in a turkey fryer, says Susan Lacz, co-owner of Ridgewells Catering in Bethesda. In addition, pre-making items and reheating them makes some foods taste better, she says.

“Doing things as much as possible in advance is good for two reasons: one, so you can enjoy your family and guests that day, and two, so you can be organized and have things done,” Ms. Lacz says.

Relying on one oven the day of the meal can make it difficult to have everything cooked, hot and ready to serve at the same time, says Sue Debevec, president of the McLean interior design firm Debevec Interiors Inc. and a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, based in Northeast.

Dishes that need to be reheated can be put in the oven while the turkey “rests” before carving, about 20 minutes, Ms. Debevec says.

An appetizer or side dish can be set out to start off the meal and give the cook time for finishing up last-minute details in the kitchen while guests relax and engage in conversation, Mr. Olivon says.

One detail, carving the turkey, should be done in the kitchen and not on the serving table, Ms. Hoss says.

“That is a huge mess and disaster waiting to happen,” she says, adding that a small, set table does not provide enough space for the carving.

Once ready to go, the turkey and side dishes can be dished up in the kitchen or served buffet style, which allows for more people to be served in a small space than does a sit-down dinner, Mrs. Sheppard says.

The buffet can be set out on the kitchen counter, a kitchen island or peninsula, or a piece of furniture, such as a coffee table or desk covered with a piece of fabric or tablecloth. If the dinner is sit-down, a side table can be set up from which to pass dishes around the table. Or some of the dishes can be put on the table and some on a side table.

“You have to think of what kind of space you have and how you can turn it into a food serving space,” Mrs. Filian says.

Smaller serving dishes also save space, even if they need to be refilled, Mrs. Filian says.

Mrs. Filian suggests that when storage space is short, it’s best to stick with one set of plates that are usable for any occasion and neutral colors for the linens.

“If you’re putting in all this time and energy to do this Thanksgiving dinner, you should put it on nice plates,” she says.

Forgoing large, chunky napkin rings is another way to save a bit of space, Mrs. Filian says. She suggests tying napkins with ribbon or penning guests’ names on kraft paper to double as a napkin rings and place cards.

Decorating can be done in a way that does not take up too much space.

“If you’re in a very small space, and if you have a table and dessert station, you’re going to get more impact and wow factor with bolder pieces than small decorations,” Mrs. Filian says.

Flat decorations such as leaves gathered from outside do not take up much space, and dishes can be placed on top of them, Ms. Sicard says.

Or try grouping small pumpkins or gourds or using candles interspersed down the middle of the dining or serving table, Ms. Debevec says.

As for seating, renting chairs, tables and TV trays is an option, or use sofas or sectionals or collapsible or folding chairs decorated with slipcovers.

“The reality is it’s all about friends and family joining together for a good meal and a nice day together,” Mrs. Filian says.

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