Thanksgiving Pre-Game Tips
I say Thanksgiving planner because this holiday can be a tough cooking match, especially if you cook for a crowd. The good news 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 tips I've found in my magazines, favorite websites, and blogs for getting ready for what I consider the "biggest cooking day of the year" for home cooks. Suppose you are cooking for a large group. In that case, this is as close as you may ever understand what it is like for a professional cook who does this daily for many more people.
Please share some of your favorite tips that may make it easier for the rest of us home cooks this holiday. Of course, the pros offer great advice, but I trust everyone who reads this has their suggestions from real-life experiences. So here we go.
Have a Plan
Sunday morning, I listened to my wife and youngest daughter review all the recipes and create a shopping list for missing items. My wife is much more organized than I am, so I trust her talents in holiday cooking.
For everyday cooking, I like to make stuff up with "what's on hand" ingredients, but when it comes to significant parties and events, you MUST have a well-thought-out PLAN.
There is a very cool Thanksgiving Menu Planner at Epicurious, where they ask you six questions and, based on your answers, offer you some menu ideas. This is an excellent 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?
There's plenty you could have done before today, like ordering your turkey, making your guest list, and reading your back issues of Food and Wine for recipes. Still, it's getting near crunch time, so let's 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 earlier, three - two - one day 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. Of course, everyone has their style of planning and cooking, so here are some ideas to consider before the big day.
Clean Out the Refrigerator
I don't mean scrub it down, but you will 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 the importance of a plan, so could you figure out what you will serve and break down the recipes so you know how much each ingredient you'll need? Everybody asks me how much of this or how much of that I should 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 that it's impossible to give an exact answer. So think of whom you are inviting and plan accordingly.
My wife and I did a lot of shopping this Saturday at the Farmers Market. We picked up a lot of fresh local produce and 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 large, 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. Of course, you wouldn't have this situation if you bought a fresh turkey. You can also defrost your turkey in your beer cooler. Ensure you purchase enough ice to keep the bird at 40°F or less to prevent harmful bacteria from 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 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 stressful for the cook facing a still-frozen turkey, so plan accordingly and use this option as a last resort.
Lots of home cooks are brining their turkeys these days. Of course, it's not worth the fuss. But food scientist Harold McGee says, "You've got a nice turkey with lots of flavor. You're diluting that flavor with salty tap water when you brine it.
A better route may be salting the bird for a couple of nights. Then, it gets some moisture retention qualities of brining, without diluting the flavor."
He also suggests that if you are going to brine your turkey for at least two days in your refrigerator or ice chest, ensure 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. For example, my wife made cranberry sauce on Saturday, and we made soup yesterday.
You can make pie dough the day before, wash the salad greens, or cut the bread into cubes for homemade stuffing. How about chopping vegetables or peeling potatoes and storing them 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 will drink 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. I like Pinot noir and recently read on another website, "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, get it in the refrigerator to chill for plenty of time. But remember, the 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. Serve your wine at refrigerator temperature.
It's not as bad as Valentine's Day, but buy flowers and centerpiece decorations early this week rather than wait. If you want to make something unique for the centerpiece, now's the time to do 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 will use the good silver handed down or received as a wedding gift, you should 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 note what can be handed over to each of your children. It can significantly help you; most kids love messing around with their mom and dad in the kitchen.
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: Is It Safe to Cook a Reagan-Era Frozen Turkey? Hmmm!
Butterball Turkey Talk-Line - 800- Butterball - call Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm CST and all day starting at 6 am on Thanksgiving day.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline - 888-674-6854 - weekdays from 9 am to 3 pm 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 cook your turkey and learn 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 9 am - 4 pm EST and 9 am to 3 pm on Thanksgiving day.
US Department of Agriculture - 888-674-6854 - have a safety question? - Check out their meat and poultry hotline on Thanksgiving between 8 am and 2 pm.
Baking Questions Hotlines
Fleishmann's Yeast Baker's Help Line - 800-777-4959 - call Monday through Friday from 9 am - 7 pm for help with your Thanksgiving bread and rolls.
Libby Consumer Hot Line - 800-854-0374 - Call 8 am - 8 pm EST Monday through Friday 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 through Friday between 8 am to 9 pm but not on Thanksgiving, as they are closed.
21 Thanksgiving Tips From My Facebook Friends and Me
Every November, I develop a collection of Thanksgiving Tips to make everyone's turkey day easier. I love this holiday because it typically brings family and friends together for a big meal and plenty of catching up.
For years, we would travel to my sister and brother-in-law's home in State College, PA, where my wife's sister would put out a massive spread for 20 or more people. For the past few years, the location has been moved to our home, and as much as we enjoy entertaining, cooking, and serving 20 or more people, it can be daunting. Hence, tips, shortcuts, and new ideas are always welcome.
This year, I decided to contact my friends on Facebook for their advice. I asked them to share some of their favorite tricks and tips they used over the years to make the day a little bit more manageable. I've combined many of them with a few of my own and now want to share these gems with you.
Thanks, everyone at Facebook, for your great ideas.
Thanksgiving Tip #1 – Plan early. Start thinking about what you're serving with your turkey, get your recipes together, and organize your shopping list. - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #2 - Prep that bird the night before. Prep whatever you can the night before. I have everything ready in the oven on the day of. That gives me more time to relax and enjoy my day. - Cissy W.
Thanksgiving Tip #3 - I no longer put the stuffing in the turkey. I make a sausage dressing, add an extra egg, and bake it in the oven. Everyone seems to love it, and there is more to go around. I am less concerned about the bird getting contaminated with stuffing stuck to the carcass. - Sarah P.
Thanksgiving Tip #4 - Avoid the crowds by getting to the supermarket well before the Thanksgiving rush. There's nothing worse than getting to the market the day before Thanksgiving to find they are sold out of an ingredient you need. And battling the crowds can be stressful! - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #5 - Consider using your grill to cook the turkey. It allows for more flexibility for side dishes. And it isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds... - Kirsten Z.
Thanksgiving Tip #6 - I'm trying stuffing this year in the crock pot!!! I hope it turns out well... at least I don't need the oven space then! - Kim G-C
Thanksgiving Tip #7 - Create a timeline for cooking the food. Work backward from when you plan on serving the food, and remember to include resting times. Doing this will keep you organized and ensure all your food is hot. - Max W.
Thanksgiving Tip #8 - Prepare as many dishes as possible before Thanksgiving Day. You'd be surprised at how many dishes you can make or get ready two, three, or four days ahead. Keep a running list, so you don't forget to serve anything! - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #9 - I make all my desserts the Saturday before and turn them into a "girls" cook party. All my girlfriends come over, and we double recipes to make 2 to 4 of everything. The desserts stay fresh in Tupperware, saving the most challenging part of Thanksgiving because multiple people make up to 8 different desserts instead of one person making all 8. Plus, it allows us to see each other and share Thanksgiving, so we don't miss it by spending the actual day with our families. - Cate M.
Thanksgiving Tip #10 - Post-its! I have them everywhere, reminding me when I put things in the oven and when they need to come out. Then, after people laugh at me, they admit it's a good idea. - Lisa S.
Thanksgiving Tip #11 - Clean as you go and ensure the dishwasher is empty after the meal. You can rinse and put all the china and dishes in there quickly and have time to relax with family and friends after dinner. - Janet V.
Thanksgiving Tip #12 - If you buy a frozen turkey, give yourself enough time to defrost it. It would be best to thaw frozen turkeys in the refrigerator, not on your back porch. It takes 2 to 3 days for a 14-pound turkey to defrost in the fridge. Plan ahead.- Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #13 - Set the table on Tuesday or Wednesday so you enjoy the process, make it memorable, and get the chore out of the way so you can spend the rest of the time focused on the meal. A bonus is that you can get in a festive mood from seeing your beautiful table each time you walk by! Trust me, it makes the table-setting task a joy instead of a chore! - Judi M.
Thanksgiving Tip #14 - Appetizers are essential, especially when friends and family arrive hours before the big meal. But clear the appetizers away at least an hour before the big meal, so they have some room left! - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #15 - If you expect a crowd on Thanksgiving Day and ask everyone to bring a favorite dish to share, keep track of who's bringing what. You don't end up with six versions of peas and no pumpkin pie. - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #16 - Make WAY more stuffing than you need (from experience). - Alicia C.
Thanksgiving Tip #17 - Time is a valuable commodity on Thanksgiving, so don't hesitate to sneak in some store-made items to save time. Homemade stuffing is excellent, and who doesn't love cranberry sauce made from fresh cranberries? But to save time, try using a quality commercial substitute…. don't tell anyone. - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #18 - I loved the stuffing from the turkey. Still, I always have extra to cook in the pan for those who need clarification on stuffing from the turkey. Still, I use a thermometer to ensure everything is at the correct temperature. - Janet V.
Thanksgiving Tip #19 - Don't make Thanksgiving a one-person crusade. Involve as many people as possible, including the kids and your cousin from Minneapolis. Assign a team to set the table and have the little ones design place cards. There's a lot to do, so have plenty of aprons available for friends and family. - Reluctant Gourmet
Thanksgiving Tip #20 - Only make turkey if you like it. Only make string beans if you want them. Only make sweet potatoes if you like them. So, the point is, it's Thanksgiving; eat whatever you make feel good, be gentle with yourself, your family, and friends, and most importantly, give thanks. - Vicky K.
Thanksgiving Tip #21 - Remember what Thanksgiving is for. Enjoy your time with family and friends, and take time to reflect. - Reluctant Gourmet