You have a lot to do in the next week – so we are trying keeping things simple. Use this streamlined checklist of prep work to ensure you have a great (and uneventful) Thanksgiving dinner. (We are not cooking our Thanksgiving this year, so I am going to coast. I will volunteer to hold the baby. Or to wash dishes.)
Have you ordered a turkey? If you get a frozen turkey, don’t forget to allow for time for it to thaw! It can take 4 or 5 days for a turkey to defrost in your refrigerator. Amazing! Not thawing the turkey ahead of time would be almost as bad as cooking the turkey with the giblets still in the bag, still inside the bird! I have a friend who really did that. It was her first Thanksgiving cooking on her own, but we never let her forget it. Do not replicate her experience, please! Do not become the stuff of legend.
Make your cranberry relish and stash it in the fridge. The general wisdom is that homemade tastes best, and it is even better for having been prepared a couple of days in advance: it macerates. That is, of course, unless yours is a family that values the grooves left in the cranberry jelly from the Ocean Spray tin can.
Clean out spaces in the fridge and the freezer for the food that is coming in for prep, and for the inevitable leftovers. It is a good time to sort through those sell by dates and recoil with horror! Full disclosure: I just looked in our fridge and threw out two yogurts that expired on September 28 and a sour cream from October 7.
What are you using for a centerpiece? Flowers? Pumpkins? The turkey? Do you have someone to craft beauteous place cards? Many delightful quiet hours can be whiled away with some three by five cards, felt, Elmer’s glue and pinking shears. And do you have enough chairs? Will you need to improvise a children’s table?
Check your linens. One of the best hints I ever garnered from Martha Stewart (or one of her many minions) is to take the tablecloth out of the washing machine and let it air dry for just a little while before putting it, damp, on the table. Now enlist one of your reluctant underlings to help you stretch the wrinkles out, and then let gravity do its work. Wrinkle free and kind for the environment! This week I read an ode to Downey Wrinkle Releaser Plus on Slate. I am going to give it a whirl the next time I get all of the laundry off the dining room table and actually sit down to a meal.
You’ll still have to iron the napkins, though.
Are you starting stuffing from scratch or are you using store bought Pepperidge Farm stuffing? If you are doing scratch, don’t forget to cut up some bread (dare I suggest Pepperidge Farm Original White bread?) a day or two before Thursday, so it has time to get good and stale.
Check your platters, dinner plates, wine glasses, water glasses, serving pieces and silver. Assign silver polishing duties to the young and the restless. Set the table on Wednesday night. And mark it off your To Do List.
Bake pies. Or cakes. Or fancy trifle or ambrosial artisan pear tarts.
If you are brining your turkey, get cracking. It needs to be in the brine overnight.
Make the mashed potatoes. It is much better to know all the peeling and smashing is done. Stash them in the newly spacious and clean fridge, but don’t forget to reheat them tomorrow! I had a dream about mashed potatoes the other night. Honest. I woke up chattering that I needed half a potato per person. Luckily I did not wake up the dog.
Be sure to chill plenty of white wine. Or apple cider for the young ‘uns.
Prepare the stuffing. We like sausage, onion and celery added to the bread, doused liberally with chicken broth, and sprinkled with celery seed and black pepper.
Stuff the bird.
Roast the turkey. We assign the basting duties, which occur every half hour, to the Tall One. He is our favorite Master Baster.
Side dishes: beans, squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, salad, corn, creamed spinach, pearl onions, cranberry jelly (or relish), rutabagas, rolls. Don’t forget the rolls!
Relish tray: gherkins, carrots, celery, olives, radishes. You have the dish, so why not revisit the 1950s?
Light the candles.
Get your young IT department to make a playlist of songs for your iPhone and your Jambox that everyone will enjoy – this is a multigenerational event, so play fair. Or find a Pandora station that has an eclectic mix of old and new – just as long as no one starts playing Christmas carols yet!
If you are serving coffee after the meal get your coffee pot ready to go before you sit down. You might get all comfy and chatty after all the delish food and wine and pie piled with soporific whipped cream, and you wouldn’t want to forget to brew coffee.
And don’t forget that the New York Times says it is fine and dandy to cut corners. So try to enjoy yourself. Put down the wooden spoon and join your guests. Enjoy the candle light, the company and the moment.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy
For your vegetarians: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/445045-a-well-vegetarian-thanksgiving