2012 Thanksgiving Countdown

Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Dinner (“Freedom from Want”)

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.   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.

I am sharing with you again my Thanksgiving Countdown.  I actually enjoy planning and preparing for holiday dinners.   Prepping ahead keeps me stress free and on schedule.   However, all the planning, list making and scheduling cannot completely control the flow of life.  Therefore, I set aside my perfectionism and get out of my own way.

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 ideas and tips along the way.

2012 Thanksgiving Countdown

Friday, 11/2:  Prepare guest list and confirm your seat count through the weekend.

Saturday, 11/3:  Plan your menu taking into account any dishes your guests may bring.  Begin clearing up freezer space for make-ahead dishes to freeze.  Don’t forget to turn your clocks back one hour before you go to bed!

Sunday, 11/4:  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, 11/5:  Create shopping lists.  Purchase non-perishable items first and those ingredients to prep dishes ahead to freeze such as turkey stock, pie dough, cheesecakes and bread.  The last list will have fresh items such as your veggies to buy a few days before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, 11/6:  Order a fresh turkey now or if buying frozen, you can wait until the 15th.  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, 11/8:  Shop for non-perishable items and ingredients for prepping food to freeze this weekend.

Friday, 11/9:  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.

Saturday 11/10:   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, 11/13:  Organize your recipes and prepare your cooking timeline noting when dishes need to begin cooking so that everything will be done on time.

Thursday, 11/15:  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, 11/17:  Clean and prep your home.  If having house guests, change sheets and towels.  Remember to pick up fresh flowers for their room next week.  Pull together a pampering basket for the bath.

Sunday, 11/18:  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, 11/10:  Shop for perishables.  Place your frozen turkey in the frig to begin defrosting.  Make your cranberry sauce.

Tuesday, 11/20:  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.

Pick up your fresh turkey today – beat the crowds as Marie from Garden Fresh Tomatoes informed me last year!  And I quote her comment… “If you have room in your fridge, get that turkey early. There’s no difference in a fresh turkey spending an extra day or two in your fridge, or your grocery store’s walk-in. The day before Thanksgiving is the single busiest day all year in a grocery store, the day when everyones’ nerves are shot, and mistakes are more likely to happen…avoid it, if you can…”  Thank you Marie!

Wednesday, 11/21:   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 pumpkin 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, like braised brussel sprouts with pancetta, pecans and parmesan,  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!

And what to do with all the leftovers…check out these three easy ideas!

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.

I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.


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