Thanksgiving Pre Game Tips
I say pre-game because Thanksgiving can be complicated cooking match especially if you are cooking for a crowd. The good news is there is plenty of great advice in your favorite cooking magazines (you probably received them in September) and a never-ending supply of ideas on the Internet with the click of your mouse.
I thought I’d share some of the better tips I’ve found in my magazines and favorite websites and blogs for getting ready for what I consider the “biggest cooking day of the year” for home cooks. If you are cooking for a large group, this is as close as you may ever get to understand what it is like for a professional cook who does this every day for a lot more people.
I invite you to share some your own favorite tips that may make it easier for the rest of us home cooks this holiday. The pros offer lots of great advice but I trust everyone who reads this has suggestions of their own from real life experiences. So here we go.
Have a Plan
Sunday morning I listened to my wife and youngest daughter going over all the recipes, creating a shopping list for those items missing. My wife is much more organized than I am so I trust her talents when it comes to holiday cooking.
For every day cooking, I like to make stuff up with “what’s on hand” ingredients but when it comes to big parties events, you MUST have a well thought out PLAN.
There is a very cool Thanksgiving Menu Planner at epicurious where they ask you 6 questions and based on your answers offer you some menu ideas. This is a great resource for finding tasty recipes, but what if you already know what you want to cook and are looking for ways to organize your week leading up to Thanksgiving?
My friends at Rouxbe also have a good “Multi-Task” Meal Planner that shows you how to handle multiple recipes with some of the best cooking videos (if not the best) on the Internet. This is a paid tuition site with multiple options but the quality of instruction is as close as going to culinary school as you can get without actually attending. Worth a look.
There’s plenty you could have done before today like ordering your turkey, making your guest list, reading your back issues of Food and Wine for recipes but now it’s getting near crunch time so lets look at some of the chores you want to take care of this short week.
Many Thanksgiving Planners I’ve seen break tasks down by two weeks before, then one week before, then three – two – one days before, then in the morning and so on, but I’m just going to offer up some ideas and let you figure out how to apply them to your schedule. Everyone has their own style of planning and cooking so here are some ideas to think about before the big day.
Clean Out the Refrigerator
I don’t mean scrub it down but you are going to need a lot of room for Thanksgiving ingredients so now’s the time to use up some of those leftovers and while you’re at it, make some room in your freezer too.
Plan Your Menu
I mentioned earlier about the importance of a plan so figure out what you are going to serve and breakdown the recipes so you know how much of each ingredient you’ll need. Everybody asks me how much of this or how much of that should I figure for 16 people?
My answer is, “it depends on who the 16 people are.”
Are they young or old, football players or ballerinas, on a diet or ready to overindulge? There are so many factors; it’s just impossible to give an exact answer. So think of whom you are inviting and plan accordingly.
My wife and I did a lot of our shopping this Saturday at the Farmers Market. We picked up a lot of fresh local produce, fresh eggs and I picked up a bunch of cheeses to serve before dinner. Yesterday my wife went to the supermarket very early to beat the rush.
Don’t wait until Wednesday to shop unless you enjoy shopping with a crowd.
Defrosting Frozen Turkeys
Turkeys are big and frozen turkeys take a while to defrost in the refrigerator. Depending on the size, I would give it 3 to 4 days to defrost in the fridge. If you bought a fresh turkey, you won’t have this situation. You can also defrost your turkey in your beer cooler. Just make sure you purchase enough ice to keep the bird at 40°F or less to prevent harmful bacteria growing.
Here are some rough estimates that might help:
8 to 12 pounds……….1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds……….2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds……….3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds……….4 to 5 days
If, once Thanksgiving eve has arrived, your turkey is still on the frosty side (its wings and/or legs do not move freely), you can finish defrosting it in a deep sink. Just plug the drain and run cool water in a very thin stream over the turkey.
Make sure that any overflow water has a way to drain since this process could take an hour, two or even more. While this works well, it can be pretty stressful on the cook who is facing a still-frozen turkey, so plan accordingly and use this option as a last resort.
Brining The Turkey
Lots of home cooks are brining their turkeys these days. I’m not so sure if it’s worth the fuss. Food scientist Harold McGee says, “You’ve got a nice turkey with lots of turkey flavor.
When you brine it, you’re basically diluting that flavor with salty tap water”¦. A better route may be salting the bird for a couple nights. It gets some of moisture retention qualities of brining, without diluting flavor.”
He also suggests that if you are going to brine your turkey, do it for at least two days in your refrigerator or ice chest and be sure the water temperature stays below 40°F.
Prep and Make What You Can Early
Go over your menu and see if there is anything you can prep or prepare before Thursday. My wife made the cranberry sauce on Saturday and we made soup yesterday.
You can make pie dough the day before or wash the salad greens or cut the bread into cubes for homemade stuffing. How about chopping vegetables or peeling potatoes and storing in water the night before? You’d be surprised at how much you can do beforehand so you can relax just a little on Thanksgiving Day.
Wine & Other Beverages
Figure out who’s going to be drinking what before, during and after dinner. Do the adults drink beer or wine or some other adult beverage? What about the kids? Do you need extra milk and juice.
If serving wine, do a little research on what wine goes best with turkey. Me, I like a pinot noir and recently read on another web site, “the grape that the comic movie Sideways made famous. Smooth, complex and balanced, with flavors of red fruit and earth and a texture that makes you think of velvet, an excellent Pinot Noir”.
If serving white wine, be sure to get it in the refrigerator to chill in plenty of time. But remember, optimal serving temperature for white wine is between 48°F – 55°F and 58°F – 64°F for red wine, so don’t go overboard and serve your wine at refrigerator temperature.
It’s not as bad as Valentines Day, but again try to buy flowers and centerpiece decorations early this week rather than wait. If you are going to make something unique for the centerpiece, now’s the time to make it. You don’t want to be messing with crafts on Thanksgiving Day.
Set the Table Early
If you know how many family and friends are coming to dinner, why not get the table set today or tomorrow. Just one less thing to think about.
And if you are going to use the good silver handed down or received as wedding gifts, you might want to see if it needs a little polish. You don’t get to use it that often so why not make it shine?
Recruit the Kids
Thanksgiving prep is a great way to get the kids involved with sharing some of the responsibilities in the kitchen. There are plenty of tasks that your children can help with no matter what their age. Check your recipes and make a note of what can be handed over to each of your children. It can be a big help to you and most kids love to mess around in the kitchen with their mom and dad.
The New York Times Thanksgiving Questions & Answers – here you’ll find great questions and answers like :
Can I Reheat My Turkey Without Drying It Out?
What Do I Need to Know to Make Delicious, Not Lumpy Mashed Potatoes?”¨(be sure to check out my post on Perfect Mashed Potatoes)
How Far in Advance Can I Buy a Fresh Turkey?
What Are Some Easy Side Dishes That Will Break Up the Monotony?
And then some like this one: Is It Safe to Cook a Reagan-Era Frozen Turkey? Hmmm!
Butterball Turkey Talk Line – 800- Butterball – call Monday thru Friday from 8am to 6pm CST and all day starting at 6am on Thanksgiving day.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline – 888-674-6854 – weekdays from 9am to 3pm CST where you can get answers on food safety, handling and turkey preparation.
Perdue Farms – 888-674-6854 – known more for their chickens, Purdue will help you your cook your turkey and what to do with leftovers.
Ocean Spray – 800-662-3263 – Cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving is a must so if you need help with your cranberries, call these guys from 9am – 4pm EST and 9am to 3pm on Thanksgiving day.
US Department of Agriculture – 888-674-6854 – have a safety question? – check out their meat and poultry hotline between 8am to 2pm on Thanksgiving.
Baking Questions Hotlines
Fleishmann’s Yeast Baker’s Help Line – 800-777-4959 – call Monday thru Friday from 9am – 7pm for help with your Thanksgiving breads and rolls.
Libby Consumer Hot Line – 800-854-0374 – Call Monday thru Friday between 8am – 8pm EST if you need help with your pumpkin pie. These are the guys to call.
King Arthur Flour – 802-649-3717 – Need help with your baking questions, call them Monday thru Friday between 8am to 9pm but not on Thanksgiving, they are closed.