"How can I foolproof a multicourse meal?"
We asked Aaron Woo, chef and owner of Natural Selection, a Portland, Ore., restaurant that serves prix-fixe menus based on seasonal ingredients. (We figured you could use a few tips when planning your Thanksgiving feast.) Here's what he said:
Design each course so that it gets easier for you to prepare and serve than the previous course. As dinner progresses, you'll become less busy, and you'll have more time with your guests to relax and enjoy.
Make the first course the course with the most "wow" factor. With this course, you're signaling that the dinner is going to be fantastic. You'll want to incorporate lots of different textures, flavors, and colors. Sampling: Gnocchi or risotto with wild mushrooms, carrots, pear, and toasted breadcrumbs and parsley.
The second course serves as a palate cleanser. It also ensures that your guests won't be too full for what follows. Have everything prepped and ready to assemble for this course. I typically do a salad.
Sampling: A salad of Belgian endive, fresh figs, pickled red onion, shaved radish, and toasted almonds.
Dishes that can be enjoyed at room temperature are ideal for the third, or main, course. While assembling your second course, you'll want to get this course ready; reheat precooked components, or finish up cooking. I like to serve a casserole as a main dish.
Sampling: Three-bean cassoulet with lemon oil and toasted breadcrumbs (precooked from first course).
Dessert should always be memorable, and simple. I recommend a comforting dessert you can dress up through presentation. Cobblers and crumbles are easier and less temperamental than pies or tarts; serve them slightly warmed, with a fruit sauce on the plate or chocolate shavings or a dusting of powdered sugar over top. Sampling: Strawberry-rhubarb crumble with vanilla-and-orange whipped cream.
Allow friends, family, and guests to help if they offer. Plan simple tasks you are willing to let others perform. You will find that many people actually enjoy being part of the process.