There are certain holidays that call for a fair amount of planning and organizing to pull off easily. Thanksgiving is certainly one of them. Whether you are hosting a pot luck or doing all the work yourself, these tips and tricks from my own experience and Martha Stewart (who else?) are sure to help you relax and enjoy the big day.
1) Get organized- a few days before Thanksgiving go through your fridge and pitch everything you don't need (old leftovers, that cocktail sauce you used once, etc). If you are lucky enough to have an extra fridge in the garage, clean that out as well or move items from your main fridge into it to create more space. An organized fridge is a huge stress reliever.
2) A few weeks ahead plan your menu. Gather your recipes and give them the once over, noting temperatures and times and think about how you will strategize cooking. Make sure a few things get cooked in the oven and a few things on the stove. If you are hosting a pot luck, designate who should bring what so you don't wind up with duplicates of the same dish. Tell people what you will be handling, and ask what they would like to bring. Also, it is not rude to mention that you could use another green vegetable for the table, and so fourth. If you are terrified of the turkey, it's fine to ask someone else to bring it. It can rest on the car ride over! Make your pie dough. The dough can be made and frozen up to three months in advance and thawed just before baking. You can also make it and keep in the fridge a few days before Thanksgiving if you are like me and like things fresh.
3) A few days before- buy the wine and chill the white and champagne. Buy something simple like cheese and grapes to put out for an appetizer while you cook away. You'll be glad you have something to munch on, especially if you have help in the kitchen. Buy and table decorations needed as well. Thaw the turkey (a turkey can take anywhere from one to six days to thaw in a regrigerator. I would bet on three days as long as you don't have a massive turkey. The rule of thumb is one day in the fridge for every four or five pounds.) Prep all of your vegetables and store in containers or ziplock bags. Label, so you don't get confused. This puts you one step ahead when you begin cooking. Chopping vegetables can be sort of a time hog!
4) Day before- Prepare cranberry sauce and casseroles. Cover and store in the refrigerator. I take a sharpie and write on the plastic wrap covering casseroles how long they need to bake and at what temperature so I don't need to look again. Most likely they will just need warming through. The day of, you can take the casseroles out of the fridge and allow to set out at room temperature for an hour or two to take the chill off. You can warm these up in the oven after your turkey is cooked and resting. Thaw pie crust in the fridge if you have them made ahead and stored in the freezer. My favorite no-fail pie crust is Ina Gartens. Make mashed potatoes. They can be made the day before and warmed up very slowly over low heat when needed. Add milk to moisten as needed.
5) Day of- Turn music on to get with the festive mood.
Set the table and arrange centerpieces first thing. The only items I make from scratch the day of Thanksgiving are the turkey, the stuffing and the pies. I make the pies in the morning (usually an apple, pumpkin and pecan) and store the pumpkin in the fridge and pecan and apple are fine at room temperature. Next, I make and bake the stuffing so it is cooked through and only needs warming before sitting down. Then I tackle the turkey. I make sure I know exactly what time I need to put that sucker in the oven so it is ready when I need it. Remember to calculate resting time into that equation. You can warm all the sides in the oven after the turkey comes out. You will most likely have a good 30-35 minutes needed for the turkey to rest and then you'll have to carve it before sitting, so there is plenty of time for the sides to warm up. Use that time to warm the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes (and collard greens if you are at my house) on the stove top. Then, whip your cream for pies and store in the refrigerator until you are ready for it. You'll be glad you did that before the meal and whipped cream will store fine for a couple hours after beaten.
6) Give props- To give all potluck cooks their due, write the menu-along with each cook's name beside his or her dish to post on a chalkboard or side board.
7) After the meal have dry dish towels ready for anyone who asks. Don't be crazy. Let people help you clean if they offer. You don't need to direct people on where the gravy boat goes and so fourth (that drives me mad because I cannot mulitask). Just clear a space on a countertop and have people dry the dishes and leave them there for you to put away later.
8) Don't waste that turkey carcass! After you take the meat off the bones, store it in the fridge and make turkey stock with it the next day. Just place the carcass in a large stockpot, fill with water, herbs (I like thyme, parsley and dill), raw onions, carrots and celery and garlic (which you will probably have left over anyway, plenty of salt and pepper and let it simmer together for 1 1/2 hours. Not up for cooking so soon after the big meal? You can also wrap the carcass up well and freeze until you can face it again. :)
The ghost of my family's Thanksgiving's past:
My sister, me and mom
Ready to eat!
My son helping me get the desserts ready (Thanksgiving 2008)
I wish everyone a happy, organized and stress free Thanksgiving this year!