It’s November. In three short weeks a holiday considered the epitome of food and the epicenter of its cultural, political, ideological, and psychological significance in this country will take place. It is a celebration focused on cooking and eating and even those who consider grilling a steak ambitious think about roasting a turkey with dressing, making gravy, and searching the Internet for that horrible green bean and cream soup casserole.
In other words, it’s Thanksgiving.
As a ChefsLine consultant I spent two weeks last year on the phone helping home cooks avoid and recover from mistakes. I’ll be doing the same thing again this year. Anticipating those phone calls, I thought I might depart from my usual beat and actually offer some cooking advice here because by the time you think to call me or the Butterball help line it may be too late.
So here’s my bottom line caveat: Start now.
Whether you’re planning on a small dinner for yourself and your new significant-other or have invited both extended families and step kids over for a major bout of gluttony, I suggest in the strongest possible terms that this week, today if possible, is the time to finalize your menu. Now is the time to find every recipe you need and to plan the cooking. And as you plan your menu and search for recipes, do everything you can to choose a menu that can be made in advance.
Because if the only thing you actually cook on Thursday November 22 is the turkey your odds of a successful feast are almost assured.
Planning on serving that bean thing I mentioned above? Make it this weekend and freeze it. Then thaw it out the day before. On T-day all you need to do is sprinkle those nasty onions on top and heat it for thirty minutes in the oven before serving. Sweet potatoes? Same deal but wait until T-day to add the marshmallows. Want to try something new, maybe homemade rolls? Now’s the time to find the recipe.
Don’t forget your microwave. Make the gravy the day before Thanksgiving and then heat it up just before serving (Note, flour thickened sauces don’t freeze well — or more accurately, don’t thaw well). If your yams are candied then they too can be microwaved.
Let’s be honest, something is almost sure to go wrong on Thanksgiving Day. There’s just too much pressure on the cook for it to be hazard free unless you’ve got a lot of such meals under your belt and you’re used to your relatives wandering in the kitchen to rehash childhood memories at oddly timed intervals. And even if you are an expert, something non-food-related and beyond your control could occur and require putting things on hold. You might get the flu, for instance, or have a power outage. The less you have to do on T-Day the more wiggle room you have for the unplanned. And the more you can enjoy yourself – and your guests.
I’ll spend this Thanksgiving with my parents and my sister is driving down from Virginia to join us, that means there will be four experienced cooks in the house. Still, almost everything will be prepared in advance. We’re tying down the final menu this week, but I’ll be making Parkerhouse rolls that I’ll freeze and reheat. I may also do the Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon and Truffles that are so wonderful and I will make them well in advance also.
Here are some additional holiday recipes that work in advance (in general, anything that’s frozen should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator before heating):
Cece Fritos: These are delicious and healthy munchies before dinner. Make a day in advance.
Braised Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are in season and delightful. You can par-boil the sprouts a week or two in advance, freeze them, and then braise them just before serving.
Roasted Rutabagas: Make these a week or two ahead of time and freeze them. Reheat in the microwave.
Cranberry Mousse: This mouse is slightly tart and moves the traditional cranberries into a special place. Make a day in advance.
Oh, and good luck. We’re all going to need it.
You can leave questions, comments, and remarks here.