The Big Thanksgiving Meal

Preparing meals for Thanksgiving

Two Weeks in Advance: Write out your menu, a shopping list, and a to-do list. As you make standard trips to the market, start collecting components on your shopping list that will keep well.

The Weekend Before: Make your pie crust. Homemade pie pastry is worth the effort. Prepare the dough, roll it out, fit it into the pan, and freeze. Keep in mind that frozen pie dough do not require thawing before baking. Also, apple pies can be completely prepared and frozen in advance.

Three to Four Days in Advance: Begin defrosting your frozen turkey. Complete all your last-minute shopping. Start setting aside 30 minutes in the mornings and/or evenings to start prepping the meal. Even in 10 minutes, you can finish simple things like measuring out the amount of sugar and pecans for a pie or chopping up carrots and storing them in a zipper-lock plastic bag. These little pockets of prep time can make all the difference when time gets tight later on. Some dishes, such as cranberry sauce and dips, can also be fully prepared a couple of days in advance.

The Day before Thanksgiving: This tends to be the real crunch day or night, a valuable period of intense cooking that will make Thanksgiving day a breeze. Focus your energy on baking the pies. That's one task that you do not want to be tackling on Thanksgiving day. If you are in need of refrigerator space, place the turkey in a large cooler and cover it with ice water. If you are brining the turkey, add salt and sugar to the ice water and remove the turkey from its wrapper. With a full shelf in your refrigerator, you can now finish more advance prep. Wash and store salad greens, scrub potatoes, and chop onions and other vegetables. If you are baking some kind of potato casserole or other baked vegetable dish, assemble it now, or even bake it now if you can. With a big turkey occupying your oven all day before the meal, there may not be room or time to bake other dishes. When baking a bean or sweet potato casserole ahead, just leave off the topping at first. Add the topping when reheating, so that the topping will be fresh and crisp.

Thanksgiving Day: It's the big day. Almost everything should be either cooked, assembled, or ready for assembly or last-minute touches. Of course, a few dishes are best when made fresh that day. For instance, mashed potatoes are ideally made within an hour of mealtime (a good task to delegate while you are attending to the turkey). If casseroles need reheating, pull them from the refrigerator 30 minutes before the turkey is scheduled to be done. After the turkey is out of the oven, put the casseroles in to reheat. If you've made soup, keep it warm in a slow cooker. This way, your stove top will be freed up for making gravy or other last-minute vegetable dishes.

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