9 Things to Do Ahead of Thanksgiving

Posted by on November 20, 2012

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There are times when you know you are going to be busy and stressed. You know it. You can see it coming. It’s happened before. And at those times, it’s prudent to look at the situation and ask, “What can I do to prepare, to minimize stress?”

And so it is with Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re hosting dinner and have decided to make most of the dishes yourself, then you’re going to be busy—really busy—on Thursday. Fortunately, many tasks associated with Thanksgiving dinner can be done ahead of time on either the Tuesday or Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, helping to ease the pressure on Thursday. Here are 9 things you can do today to get started on your Thanksgiving meal.

1. Thaw the turkey. If you’ll be roasting a frozen bird, be sure to allow plenty of time to properly thaw it. The folks at Butterball recommend at least one day for every four  pounds for the preferred refrigerator thawing method, or at least 30 minutes per pound if you’ll be using a cold water thawing method. For more tips, visit www.butterball.com.

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2. Chop veggies.One of the most time consuming tasks in cooking any meal is prepping the ingredients. The French call it “mise en place” – having all the ingredients measured and ready to go before starting the recipe. If you’re making stuffing and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, you can put mise en place in place in your kitchen by dicing the onion and celery (and apple, if you use it) for the stuffing and placing them in airtight containers or zippered plastic bags. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. (Add a tablet of vitamin C to the apples to help retard browning.) The same goes for potatoes; simply peel, dice and place in a bowl filled with ice water (so they don’t turn pink). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. and keep it refrigerated.

3. Break bread. Tearing up a loaf or two of bread was one of my tasks as a child on Thanksgiving morning. But, this is one task than may be done up to two days in advance; slightly stale bread works better for stuffing anyway. Keep the bread chunks right in the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix up the stuffing, cover with plastic wrap and keep it on the countertop.

4. Make cranberry sauce.I swear by homemade cranberry sauce! It’s so easy, and once you make it you’ll never go back to the canned variety—at least not for holidays. Lucky for busy Thanksgiving cooks, this is one dish that gets better with a little age on it, so make it now to enjoy on Thanksgiving. Use the recipe right on the package of fresh cranberries; I add some cinnamon, orange juice and zest, and maybe even a splash of Grand Marnier.

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5. Bake pies. Because your oven will get a workout on Thanksgiving Day, bake pies at least one day in advance. According to the USDA, anything made with milk or eggs—such as pumpkin pie—must be refrigerated to help stall the formation of bacteria. Cool the pies on a wire rack, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight. For more holiday food safety tips, visit www.fsis.usda.gov.

6. Select serving dishes and utensils. Assess your menu as well as your supply of serving dishes and utensils and choose an appropriate dish for each menu item and set them side. It’s also a good idea to put a sticky note in each dish indicating what goes where. If you’re serving buffet style, arrange the dishes on the buffet table, to ensure adequate space and flow.

7. Set the table. Here is another time-consuming task that can take precious focus away from the kitchen and your guests on Thanksgiving Day. Set the table completely—linens, place settings, cutlery, centerpiece, candles—on Wednesday evening.

  8. Set up the bar area. If you’re having more than a few people over, it’s a good idea to dedicate an area for beverages. It could be a countertop in the kitchen, a sideboard in the dining room, or even a card table set up in the family room. Pick a spot and set out glassware appropriate for the beverages you’ll be offering your guests. If you’re serving wine, set out the red wine and a corkscrew, as well as a bucket to keep the white wine cold.

  9. Make dips and spreads for hors d’oeuvres. My mom’s entertaining advice rings true to this day: if your guests have something to sip and something to nibble, they’ll happily wait for dinner. Once the bar is set up, mix up an easy dip (like the old standby onion soup mix dip) or a tasty spread like a garlicky, salty olive tapenade. When guests arrive, set out the dip/spread with some raw vegetables with cheeses and crackers.

For an hour-by-hour breakdown of Thanksgiving Day cooking tasks, download the Thanksgiving Countdown.

Happy Thanksgiving!