It’s not like Thanksgiving is a tough meal. It’s just a big meal of fairly easy-to-make items, but more dishes than you’d eat in three normal meals. Here are the last-minute tips to help you out.
It’s not like Thanksgiving is a tough meal. It’s just a big meal of fairly easy-to-make items, but more dishes than you’d eat in three normal meals.
So relax. OK, that’s impossible. But making your battle plan before the mayhem cuts down on stress. Here are some tips for the harried holiday cook, born of years of experience.
No. 1 is the menu. Write it down today. All of us have forgotten dishes in the rush to serve. Then you smell your dinner rolls smoking in the oven as you serve the bird.
Don’t be bashful about asking for help and assigning duties. It’s not an admission of culinary weakness. There’s no way you’re going to get this meal to table still warm all by yourself. Guests often like to help out in the kitchen, if they could care less about football on TV.
Expect perfection, but cope with emergencies. My sister was ready to bake her turkey when she had a power failure. She rushed it to our house, and the meal went on as usual.
On your menu, check off items that are finished. This way, you’re managing the food flow, so to speak. Put stars by the dishes you can make ahead tonight.
The day and night before
• Drop your newspaper and make sure the turkey is thawing. It should have no ice in it. A safe way to speed thawing is to cover it with cold water, then refrigerate overnight. Figure 30 minutes per pound under cold water.
• Mix and roll dough and refrigerate overnight — its flavor improves with this cool-rise method.
• Prep the stuffing — tear the bread, chop the celery and onion. Add the egg and any perishable ingredients, such as sausage or oysters, tomorrow morning right before stuffing the bird.
• Make mashed potatoes and refrigerate. Reheat in the microwave tomorrow. (This saves time and stove space.)
• Make salads and chill, covered. Hold off on the dressing until just before serving. Or, better, serve it on the side and let guests decide.
• Assemble condiments (pickles, green onions, carrot, celery sticks, etc.) on serving plates. Cover with plastic and refrigerate. Or, keep them in an unheated garage if it’s cold enough.
• Plan an appetizer. Fresh fruit and cheese go with a champagne toast at the start of the meal. Serve in portions small enough to tickle appetites, not overwhelm them.
• Set your table. Set the kids their own card table if there’s not enough room for them.
• Wash bird inside and out with cold water, pat dry with paper towels and allow to sit 30 minutes outside the refrigerator. During this time, add any rubs, glazes or marinade. Then remove giblets and neck from the turkey cavity.
• Stuff the bird, and if you have leftover dressing, place it in a baking dish and bake alongside the turkey for 2 hours. Bake with neck on top and cover with foil.
• Start roasting your turkey 5 to 7 hours before the meal, depending on the weight. Baste the bird with pan juices every 30 minutes.
• Note that all ovens are slightly different, and suggested roasting times are just that. In the last hour of roasting, check for browning. Increase heat to speed this. Also, pop-up thermometers are not exact.
Do the turkey rub
An easy way to improve your bird is to rub it ahead with herbs and spices:
1 stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons rosemary, chopped
4 teaspoons thyme, chopped
4 teaspoons onion, minced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Mix the rub the night before. Coat the outside of the turkey with a pastry brush just before baking.
• Use half and half instead of milk in mashed potatoes and cream sauces, such as in your green bean casserole. It vastly improves texture and flavor. The same for gravy.
• For lump-free gravy, add a small amount of liquid to the flour and whisk until smooth. Then add to warming turkey juices. Strain if necessary.
• Use butter instead of margarine. Make up for the extra fat later.
• Combine mashed potatoes and mashed yams in one bowl, side by side. This saves a bowl and is fun to serve.
• Use a warming tray. These free up oven space and do a good job warming food. Warn guests that serving bowls will be hot.
• Appoint a volunteer to carve the bird. When carving, remove legs first, keeping them whole. Then carve the thighs, reserving the breast for last. Dark meat usually is served in pieces; white is sliced with skin.
The night of
If you’ve had a noon dinner, make supper as easy as possible. Serve made-ahead soup, plus cheese, cold cuts and buns for sandwiches, plus some cold turkey and warmed dressing if anything is left. Don’t forget a plate of lettuce plus mustard and mayonnaise. Serve leftover pie or made-ahead cookies for dessert.
When everybody leaves, throw yourself on the sofa with a glass of leftover wine. Then get busy cleaning up.