By now, all shopping and a lot of your prep work is done. Dishes, cutlery, utensils, pots, pans, and linens are all sorted. Set the table the night before and cover with a clean white sheet. Do a quick vacuum and dust early, then it’ll be off your list. Do wash up in the kitchen as you go, it makes your job so much easier at the end.
Much of your prep can be done the day before. I make the stuffing on Wednesday. Sauté chopped celery (2 cups) and onion (1 cup). Warm 1 quart low-sodium broth with 2 sticks unsalted butter. Add about 2/3 of the mixture to Brownberry stuffing cubes and let it soak in; then add more as needed. Pack in a disposable pan for baking tomorrow. Before baking, dot with butter. Bake till heated through and a little crispy on top. For fun, you can bake individual stuffing cakes in a muffin pan.
Mashed potatoes are another great item to prep the day before. Use russets for fluffy, not gluey, mashed. Peel and cut potatoes, cover with water, and refrigerate. Do not add salt until just before cooking. Mash with heated cream and unsalted butter. Always heat the butter and cream for fluffier potatoes. Make them a little stiff. Place in a crock pot container and heat on low for two hours to reheat. Just before serving, whip in a little more hot cream and butter. Appetizers are easy to prep ahead of time too. Crudité veggies, dips, and hot appetizers can all be done the day before. Veggie prep on Wednesday. Roast Brussels Sprouts and make your green bean or sweet potato casserole. All can be reheated just before dinner; use that microwave! It’s invaluable at holiday time.
Follow the package directions when cooking the turkey. Whole turkeys generally cook for 20 minutes per pound. Don’t stuff! Even though the stuffing is so fab, it’s not safe. You will have to overcook the turkey to make sure the stuffing is up to safe temperature. Let the turkey rest wrapped in foil for at least twenty minutes before carving. It will come up to temperature and juices will redistribute. That’s why we take out the turkey a few degrees early. Save some pan drippings to add to the gravy. No separator? Place drippings in a glass measuring cup, place in freezer. After 20 minutes, the fat will harden. I use McCormick Turkey gravy mix, because my family likes it the best. Reduce water for each packet to ¾ cup. Cook in one- minute intervals in microwave till thick. Watch constantly; it can boil over!
Everyone wants to help. Assign bartenders and dishwashers. You keep the food prep organized. If someone asks, “When is dinner?”, I say around 4. This gives you at least a 45- minute window. Turkeys don’t always cook exactly as predicted. By the way, don’t bother basting. It’s useless and only extends cooking time. Anyway, if things run late, open more wine.
The most important thing to remember is to relax. As a rule, Thanksgiving dinners are composed of forgiving dishes that will reheat well without drying our or losing flavor. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little gravy, broth, or reheating. In any event, your guests are almost always family and close friends, so they are also forgiving. Have an awesome Thanksgiving!
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO