Talking Turkey: Countdown To The Big Day

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Thanksgiving is the Olympics of cooking ( and eating!). If you approach this event as a marathon, not a sprint, you and your guests will enjoy it more. We wouldn’t want to head into the big event without doing some advance work, and you shouldn’t either.  Since the holiday is just two weeks away, its time to do some serious planning. If you are preparing the entire meal from scratch, it is virtually impossible to do it all in one day, or to just “wing it.” Grocery stores sell out of key ingredients at the last minute, and the crowds make the shopping experience more stressful than it needs to be. While some people cook ahead and freeze it, I prefer to make everything fresh within the last day or two leading up to the holiday.

Here is a a schedule of what needs to be done so that you can plan a low-stress, delicous and fresh feast for Thanksgiving.

Two or more weeks ahead:(that means NOW!)

Invite guests

Plan the menu

If you are doing a potluck, assign guests specific dishes to bring to avoid duplications or holes in the menu. If you are doing it yourself, start a file with all your recipes in it. This can be digital or paper, but it helps to have everything in one, convenient place, rather than pulling out cookbooks and magazines. Photocopy the pages you want, and put the books away.

Order your turkey from the local farm or butcher. We get ours from Dipaula Turkey Farm and they are far superior to any frozen bird you will find. It costs more, but it is well worth the splurge.

Make shopping lists. Go through all of your recipes and make a list of what you need. Inventory your pantry items to see if you need to add any of the basics to the list.Don’t forget aluminuim foil and plastic wrap! Then, break the lists down by perishable and non- perishable items. The sooner you can pick up the non-perishable items, the better. Just do it, and get it out of the way. I tend to buy different types of things at different stores, so I list things by where I will need to get them.

One Week Before:

Make pie crusts and freeze them. Pie crusts are one of the very few things that I freeze. If you are planning to make several pies, it pays to do this in advance. The crusts benefit from a good chilling before baking to avoid shrinkage, and they don’t need to be thawed beforehand.

I also freeze rolls or biscuits unbaked and pop them in the oven at the last minute. Getting these messy items out of the way are a big help.

Inventory your serving dishes, tableware and linens and see if there is anything you need to buy, or take care of. Don’t wait until the last minute to iron 30 napkins, or polish the silver. Do it ahead of time. You will be glad you did.

Two Days Before:
If you are serving soup, now is the time to make it. It will stay nicely in the refrigerator and some will actually taste better once they have had time to sit. If there is any excess fat, it will rise to the top and solidify, making it easy to skim off.

If you have time, make the cranberry sauce and any dessert items that won’t get stale, such as chilled cakes, or cookies.

Pick up the rest of the groceries. At this point, I buy everything but any seafood I might want for appetizers, and the turkey.

The Day Before:

Pick up the turkey.

This is the day I try to go all out and get as much done as possible. I make the sweet potatoes, cranberries if I didn’t do it already, and clean all of the vegetables I will need for the salad and side dishes. I bake the pies and any other desserts and wrap them to keep them fresh. I even toast the bread for the stuffing, since the drier, the better. I make salad dressings or any sauces that can be prepared in advance. Mis en plas is your friend.

Set the table, or better yet, get someone else to do it for you. Bring in all the extra chairs needed.

Lay out the serving pieces. I serve the main meal as a buffet, so I line up my bowls, platters and serving pieces along the buffet, and put a post it note by each one assigning it to the item it will hold. This not only ensures that I have what I need when I am scurrying around at the last minute trying to get the food out, but also that I don’t forget something. I have opened the refrigerator many times at the end of the evening only to discover an item I forgot to serve, or a garnish I didn’t remember to use.

The BIG Day: 

Prepare the stuffing and make the turkey. Never stuff the bird until you are ready to cook it. This promotes bacteria growth that can make you and your guests sick. Wait until you are ready to put it into the oven before stuffing it. Also, be sure to remove all of the stuffing before storing the turkey for the same reason.

Wipe down the bathroom, sweep the floors and make sure the dishes are done and the dishwasher is unloaded.

Right before the guests come, get any other last minute dishes ready, and begin to slowly reheat anything you made in advance.

Bake the rolls or biscuits.

Toss the salad, make the gravy and anything else you couldn’t do in advance.

Have a glass of wine with your guests, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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