Having guests over for Thanksgiving can be very stressful, often leaving the cook spending the day in the kitchen unable to enjoy his or her guests. With a little planning, this can be avoided. So many traditional Thanksgiving dishes lend themselves to preparation ahead of time- as much as three days or more if you freeze them.
If you are a homemade dessert maker, these can be made and frozen up to two weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. Better yet, if your guests always ask what they can bring- have them bring desserts! Appetizers are also easy to make ahead. Or have guests bring them! Most dips even taste better after sitting for a day- it gives them more time for the flavors to mingle.
Non-perishable food shopping can be done this week. Shop from your master list where your menu and timetable is. You can buy perishables as early as three days before. The turkey needs to thaw in the refrigerator. Place in a pan large enough to catch any drips and set on the lowest shelf to prevent cross contamination. Very large turkeys can take up to four days to thaw so plan accordingly.
Gather all serving dishes, cooking pots, and utensils. You can even set the dining table! Cover with a clean sheet to keep the dust off. I’ve even gone from using the best dishes to fancy disposable plates but I’m just serving family, so they don’t mind. In any event, you can surely use nice disposables for appetizers and desserts.
Look over your menu and ask yourself “What can I make ahead?” The main attraction (the turkey) must cook on Thanksgiving, but most of the menu you can make ahead of time. Cook the vegetables and put the stuffing together. Place in aluminum stuffing pans and refrigerate. Mashed potatoes can be made early in the morning and placed in a slow cooker on warm. Make a little stiff and whip in warm cream and butter just before serving. Green bean casserole and sweet potatoes can also be made the day before. Plate up crudité and cheese tray components and cover with plastic wrap. Your rolls can be baked several days ahead of time and frozen.
Gravy doesn’t need drippings to taste great. Make a roux with a stick of unsalted butter and one cup of flour. Melt the butter, add one tablespoon of onion powder, and gradually whisk in the flour to make a paste. Whisk in ¼ cup turkey stock. Add the remaining 32 oz of stock and bring to a low boil, whisking frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste and boil till thickened, about 10 minutes or so. Cool and refrigerate. Before serving, heat and check if it’s too thick. If it is, add some drippings.
The best way to have a stress-free Thanksgiving is to have an action plan. Plan everything! Menu, shopping lists, and time-tables. If you schedule everything, nothing can faze you! But don’t worry, all your guests are friends and family. They will forgive any small hiccup.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO