The Thanksgiving Dinner can be a challenge for even the best of us. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is a feasting holiday. This is the dinner your guests have been waiting all year to enjoy. Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner (“Freedom from Want”) creates that perfect image of family anxiously awaiting the most gorgeous, juicy bird and all its trimmings. It’s a meal that needs to be timed to perfection as no one wants an overcooked bird or cold mashed potatoes. And to top that off, it seems that reviews of past years’ prize winning pies or failed attempt at biscuits are remembered… year after year.
This year I’d like to share with you my Thanksgiving Countdown. I actually enjoy planning and preparing for holiday dinners. I’ve had plenty of experience in the past and find that starting early, making a list or two, checking it twice (Santa does it!) and prepping ahead keeps me stress free and on schedule.
Keep your menu simple and combine your family traditional favorites with new ideas and recipes. I’ll be posting my favorites this month and sharing any further ideas and tips along the way.
If your guests are bringing their favorite dish, then you’re a lucky host! Before my sister and cousins read this and make comment though, I always chose to not have anyone bring anything as I’m just a control freak. I’ve somewhat grown out of that now, so anyone wanting to bring a dish is more than welcome. 🙂
Friday, 11/4: Prepare guest list and confirm your seat count through the weekend.
Saturday, 11/5: Plan menu taking into account any dishes your guests may bring. Begin clearing up freezer space for make-ahead dishes to freeze.
Sunday, 11/6: Check pantry for ingredients on hand. Old spices should be replaced along with baking soda and baking powder. Start the holiday season with fresh baking ingredients and clear out unused products to make room for new. Also check your baking and cooking supplies for roasting pans, gravy/fat separator, turkey baster, serving platters and bowls. Stock up on candles, inventory your bar, check linen napkins and tablecloth if using and start thinking about your table centerpiece. Natural items are my favorite; mini pumpkins and gourds, herbs and branches.
Monday, 11/8: Create shopping lists. Purchase non-perishable items first and those ingredients to prep dishes ahead to freeze such as turkey stock, pie dough and bread. The last list will have fresh items such as your veggies to buy a few days before Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, 11/9: Order a fresh turkey now or if buying frozen, you can wait until the 17th. It’s best to allow for 4-5 days thawing. For size, allow 1 – 1 1/4 lbs of turkey per person. This would be enough for generous servings plus leftovers.
Thursday, 11/10: Shop for non-perishable items and ingredients for prepping food to freeze this weekend.
Friday, 11/11: Enjoy a wine tasting evening selecting your favorite wine for Thanksgiving dinner. A sparkling Prosecco is nice to offer with appetizers as well as an after dinner liqueur. Check out Natalie Maclean’s suggestions for the best Thanksgiving Wine Pairing tips.
Saturday 11/12: Prepare your pie dough. If making a single crust pies, roll out the dough, lay it into the pie plate and freeze. Prepare a rich turkey stock to later use for making gravy, flavoring stuffing or basting the bird. Quick breads can be made and frozen. Cheesecakes are also good to make ahead and freeze.
Tuesday, 11/15: Organize your recipes and prepare your cooking timeline noting when dishes need to begin cooking so that everything will be done on time.
Thursday, 11/17: If you didn’t order a fresh turkey, shop now for a frozen bird. Stay away from birds with pop-up timers that seldom work and self-basted birds that have been injected with fats, broth, spices and other “enhancers”!! Purchase fresh cranberries to prepare a homemade cranberry sauce on Monday.
Saturday, 11/19: Clean and prep your home. If having house guests, change sheets and towels. Remember to pick up fresh flowers for their room next week.
Sunday, 11/20: Select your baking dishes making sure several can fit in your oven at the same time. Press linens and set your table now. Toss a clean sheet over the table if you’re concerned about keeping it clean.
Monday, 11/21: Shop for perishables. Place your frozen turkey in the frig to begin defrosting. Make your cranberry sauce.
Tuesday, 11/22: Defrost turkey stock, quick breads and pie dough. Homemade stuffing normally requires stale bread; cut and cube your bread placing them on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Either leave out to dry or place in a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. Bag up to store.
Wednesday, 11/23: Pick up your fresh turkey. If brining your bird, begin now. Bake pies. Prepare stuffing and refrigerate. Assemble any side dishes to bake tomorrow or reheat. Make vinaigrette for a salad and begin prep on homemade biscuits.
Thanksgiving Day: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator at least ninety minutes prior to baking. (See turkey roasting times below) Chill the wine; prepare coffee to brew later. Whip cream for pies. While the turkey is baking, prepare the mashed potatoes, place in a heat proof bowl over simmering water to keep warm. Prepare any other side dishes, salads. Turkey is ready when a thermometer reads 180 degrees at the thigh and 165 degrees at the breast. Remove and cover with foil. While the turkey rests for 20 minutes, prepare the gravy.
Smile, have a seat and be thankful for family, friends and good food!
Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey: (based on roasting at 400 degrees, breast side down for the first 45 minutes, turning over and reducing heat to 325 degrees until done)
10-12 lbs: 2 1/2 – 3 hours
12-14 lbs: 2 3/4 – 3 1/4 hours
14-16 lbs: 3 – 3 3/4 hours
16-18 lbs: 3 1/4 – 4 hours
18-20 lbs: 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours
20+ lbs: 3 3/4 – 4 1/2 hours
If stuffing a bird, stuff just before putting it in the oven. Spoon the stuffing in loosely; do not overfill as stuffing expands during roasting. Add about 30 minutes to the total cooking time for birds 16 lbs or less and about 60 minutes for over 16 lbs.