Putting together a great Thanksgiving feast for all your relatives is simple. You only need a few little things-
1. The organizational abilities of Bill Gates.
2. The pre-planning proclivity of the White House Chief of Staff.
3. The confidence under fire of Robert E. Lee.
4. The homemaking skills of Martha Stewart after 2 double espressos.
Actually, with a little planning, making a memorable holiday feast isn’t that hard. You’ll need to start a little ahead of time, though. Here’s a helpful step-by-step guide to make your feast an easy and enjoyable time.
One week before Thanksgiving
- Gather the necessary battle gear and make sure everything is in operating order; roasting pan, baster, turkey lifter, platter, and carving set. Sharpen the carving knife- there’s nothing worse than trying to attack bird-zilla with a dull carving knife.
- Clear the decks for action- make sure your refrigerator and freezer are cleaned out to make room for all the food.
- Make a guest list and figure out how big a turkey to buy. Figure about 1 pound of uncooked weight per person. In other words if you are having 12 guests, get a 12-pound bird. If you’re doing a ham instead, figure 3/4 pound per person.
Six days before Thanksgiving
- Plan the rest of the menu. Carefully check recipes and your list of who’s bringing what before the next step:
- Make a shopping list. Get out your recipes and see what ingredients they call for, and check them against what you have on hand. Check the quantities called for, add them up and see if buying larger sizes will save you money. Make sure your pantry has the basics: stuffing mix, sugar, flour, salt and whatever you’ll need for baking.
Five days before Thanksgiving
- Shop for groceries. To save time, shop early in the morning or late at night, and don’t forget your coupons!
Four days before Thanksgiving
- Make a Thanksgiving Day timetable of what needs to be done when. Start with what time you want to serve the meal and work backward. How long should your turkey cook> What should you prepare first? Are the rolls the last thing you want to take out of the oven?
- Take out napkins and tablecloth. Launder if necessary. Spray with a fabric protector for easier cleanup of spots and spills.
Three days before Thanksgiving
If you’re serving a frozen turkey, take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. It will lake about 24 hours for each 5 pounds of bird, or three days for a 12- to 15-pounder.
Check serving pieces you wish to use; check glassware and china. Clean or polish if needed.
Two days before Thanksgiving
- Shop for fresh produce.
- Double check the guest list and menu. Make absolutely sure you have every ingredient called for in every recipe, and enough of that ingredient to make each recipe.
The day before Thanksgiving
- Buy fresh bread, produce, and a seasonal bouquet of flowers.
- Make your pie or cake today. Also, sweet potatoes can be made in advance and refrigerated. But don’t try this with mashed potatoes - they get too starchy. Also, green bean casserole can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
- Figure how long the meat will need to cook. Plan on 20 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey, about the same for a Smithfield ham.
- Plan seating arrangement and make place cards for a more formal affair.
- Fill salt and pepper shakers.
- Put the turkey or ham in the oven. Let’s say you’re cooking a 15-pound turkey at 20 minutes per pound. That’s about five hours, plus a half hour for the bird to rest before carving. Let’s say we want a late lunch, about 2 p.m. This means the meat goes in the oven at 8:30 a.m.
- Around 1 p.m., start getting your fresh vegetables prepared. Go ahead and put them in the pots they’ll be cooked in.
- At 1:30 p.m., check the meat’s internal temperature. Poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees. Get ready to take the meat out of the oven if it is done. Put potatoes on to boil and start cooking fresh vegetables. Place any dishes made in advance in the oven or microwave to reheat.
- At 1:45 p.m., drain potatoes and mash. Check vegetables for doneness and adjust heat accordingly. Make gravy.
- At 2 p.m., start someone carving the meat. Take everything off the stove and begin the feast!