I normally use a white board on my refrigerator for regular family schedules. And it’s great for large meal planning too! Schedule shopping trips and add notes like “Order turkey and pies!” Or “Move turkey to fridge for thawing!” (you’ll need one day for every four pounds frozen) This way, you’ll see it every day. Your complete schedule is on your legal pad, of course. Following are tips and handy tricks to make the day go smoothly.
Set the table the day before and cover with a clean white sheet to prevent dust. This takes another task off your plate. Gather all serving pieces and utensils, as well as any cooking vessels. This prevents scrambling on the big day, trying to find a specific saucepan or serving dish. Refrigerator space will be at a premium on Thanksgiving. Use large coolers. Take all unnecessary items out and put in a cooler in the garage. Use another cooler for drinks, soda, and water for guests to serve themselves. Keep it near a small table set with glasses, wine, corkscrews, and ice in a bucket.
Use store-bought items when you can. I never bake dinner rolls anymore. They take up valuable oven space and even grocery store bakeries have better ones. Pies are another buy-ahead item, or you can ask guests to bring. Do you have guests that want to help? Ask them to bring a side or dessert that doesn’t need heating, or liquor or other drinks.
There are so many things you can do ahead of time, anywhere from one to three days ahead. Prep all vegetables up to two days early. Think about all the vegetables. The actual dishes can be done the day before, like roasted vegetables as well as crudité vegetables. But cooking veggies can be done ahead too. I sauté the stuffing vegetables day before. Peel potatoes too and keep in cold water. If you like, you can make the mashed potatoes the day before and refrigerate in a crock pot insert. Put a little melted butter and cream in the bottom, set on low to heat and hold. Make them a little stiff, add warm cream and butter before serving. Make dips and other appetizers. Use that microwave, it’s invaluable this time of year!
I bake my stuffing outside the turkey. I’ve seen too many warnings that stuffing in a turkey is dangerous. Unfortunately, to bring the stuffing to the proper temperature will overcook the turkey. I’m loving the slight crust the oven does on the stuffing. Make your stuffing moist as it will dry a little in the oven. When you are making the stuffing, remember it takes time for the bread to absorb the liquid. A note on that: all broth used should be no or low-sodium, so YOU control the salt. Only real cream and butter are allowed on Thanksgiving, you can diet next week. Tape your schedule and recipes on cabinet doors. Keeps everything at eye level for all to see.
Remember that you are surrounded by family and friends. There will of course be something that will be a miss rather than a hit. But warm broth or gravy takes care of dry turkey and another cocktail will take care of most everything else. Take a deep breath, Thanksgiving dinner is most forgiving.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO