Each year, I get older (I’m really against this, but somehow, in spite of my best efforts, it still happens), and each year I find myself making more lists of things I need to do today, this week, this month… They really help, especially when I have so many things going on at once. I’m sure you’re probably in the same boat. Well, guess what? It’s now just a little less than four weeks before Thanksgiving comes around, so it’s not too early to start some preparations for what many consider the most elaborate, time-consuming and stressful meal on their holiday meals calendar.
A little planning can really go a long way in helping you avoid all the stress and anxiety you may have had in years past, such as realizing on Thanksgiving Day that you don’t have enough place settings, cream for the coffee or ice for the drinks.
Because most home kitchens were never designed to accommodate the volume of food prepared on this one special day, it’s especially difficult.
And the pressure is especially on if you’re cooking for a big crowd.
This is the one meal of the year you want to get right.
That’s why pre-planning is SO important. As an old chef mentor of mine would always say, “Plan your work, and work your plan.”
So, having said that, below is another one of my trusted lists. It’s my 3 Week Turkey Dinner Timeline to help keep you organized and on track all the way through Thanksgiving. It’s something you might want to print off and tape to the inside of your kitchen cupboard.
3 Weeks Out
1) The guest list is created and finalized.
- a) Likes and dislikes
- b) Food allergies
2) Write down your menu with ALL the fixin’s.
- a) Mark which dishes you KNOW you’re personally going to prepare and items your guests may be asked to or want to contribute.
- b) Locate those Thanksgiving recipes NOW.
3) When your guest count is finalized, check the cupboards to be sure you have enough:
- a) Place settings
- b) Silverware
- c) Stemware and goblets
- d) Napkins, tablecloths and decorations
IF NOT, and you intend to rent, place your order immediately! If you’ll buy additional pieces, shop for them this week.
2 Weeks Out
1) If you’re going to order a fresh/Amish or special turkey from Nino’s, do it NOW!
2) Review your menu and check to see that you have all the appropriate platters and service wares for the turkey and all the sides. In addition, be sure you have all the cookware, casserole dishes and roasting pans.
3) Place your order for any fresh flowers or arrangements for your Thanksgiving Day table.
1 Week Out
1) If your menu includes homemade cranberry sauce, marmalades, chutneys or marinades, go ahead and make them this week. They’ll last WELL past Thanksgiving!
2) One week out will be your 1st food shopping for Thanksgiving. Buy any beverages this week (coffee, ultra-pasteurized coffee cream, beer, wine, liquor, mixers and all soft drinks). Most of these can hang out well in the garage or storage space. Also, you can purchase snacks, chips, nuts and dips this early and store them in some out-of-the-way place.
3) Fuel for the grill, fat for the deep fryer (if you prepare your bird that way) and logs for the fireplace (if you have one)
4) One week out is also the time to start banking (saving) cubed ice from your freezer, unless you intend to buy a large bag the day before Thanksgiving.
5) SEE ADDITIONAL 2 WEEK OUT TIPS BELOW
3 Days Out
1) If possible, do all your major shopping today to avoid the Tuesday and Wednesday rush. If you purchase a frozen turkey, leave it in its sealed package and immerse it in cold water. Remove it from the water before you go to bed and place it in the refrigerator until Wednesday evening. Your produce (onions, celery, sweet potatoes, Idaho potatoes and dairy products) will all be fine for Thanksgiving if bought today.
2) Don’t forget the foil, plastic wrap, extra trash liners and paper towels. And be sure the knives are sharp!
The Day Before
1) Last-minute purchases:
- a) Bake or buy your pumpkin/pies or any and all desserts
- b) Rolls and breads
2) Chill the beer and buy your additional ice (unless you’ve banked some). Pick up rentals and any floral pieces for your table.
3) Set the table and turn the wares upside down (glasses too).
4) Peel your whole potatoes and place in cold water to refrigerate until the morning. Or take it one step further and finish today for re-heating tomorrow (see below).
5) If you don’t intend to stuff your bird. Prepare your stuffing today with strong turkey or chicken stock, just the way you like it, and place in a buttered casserole dish for baking tomorrow.
6) If you make a green bean and mushroom casserole, you can fully assemble it today (minus the crispy onion) and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
7) If you are making a relish or vegetable tray, make it today, cover it with a clean, damp towel and mummy wrap with plastic film.
8) Check to see if your turkey is fully thawed. If not, completely immerse it in cold water and allow it to stand overnight in your sink.
9) If you are brining your turkey, brine 1 hour per pound and begin sometime this afternoon or tonight for tomorrow’s roasting. Nino’s has a GREAT brining kit!
1) Prep your turkey and get it into the oven (see Nino’s Turkey Roasting Tips).
2) Your microwave is your friend today. Use it to reheat/cook stuffing before finishing in your oven. Same with the green bean casserole, whipped potatoes and sweet potatoes.
3) Timing is, of course, critical today. Start preparing sides that are not yet COOKED (whipped potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams). Move on later to re-heating items that are already cooked (green bean casserole, canned corn).
4) Rolls are ABSOLUTELY the last thing to be baked (15 minutes before service). Don’t forget to take them out of the oven before you sit down to eat!
OTHER TIME-SAVING TIPS
1) Buy a small turkey 2 weeks out. Roast the bird, pull the meat and make a nice, rich stock/broth from the carcass, neck, wings and drumsticks. Make all your Thanksgiving gravy right now from this stock and use some of the giblets and turkey meat in it. Place it in 1-quart freezer containers and freeze. Thaw it the day before Thanksgiving. Dice up some of the remaining meat and save it (with perhaps some of the stock) for your Turkey stuffing, which you will ALSO make the day before Thanksgiving.
2) Make your mashed potatoes the day before, place them in a ceramic casserole dish and reheat in the microwave oven (covered with plastic wrap). Or top with shredded cheese and serve as a mashed potato au gratin by re-heating in the oven.
3) If you intend to serve a colorful vegetable medley, consider cutting all the vegetables today, and to save space on the range tomorrow, place them in a perforated grilling skillet and grill them on your outdoor grill. A little olive oil and dry herbs (thyme, oregano and basil) tossed in can also make a nice flavor addition.
4) Sweet potatoes can be roasted in their skins the day before, chilled, then peeled on Thanksgiving Day and topped with a bubbly mixture of butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. Pop into a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, and you’re good to go.
5) If you want to pre-portion part of your meal for easier service, consider portioning prepared, cooked stuffing on a buttered casserole dish, thinly carving both dark and white meat turkey, molding it over the stuffing, basting it with broth, covering, then re-heating in an oven or microwave oven.
Nino’s will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, so our extended family of employees can be at home with their own families.
We wish you and your family a VERY Happy Thanksgiving!