Written by Korie Cantor for Ella and Annie Blog
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Thanksgiving sets the tone for the months of celebrations, happiness and togetherness that are to follow. In addition to being a day of feasting and laughter, it is also a litmus test of our cooking skills (at least for some of us). With hectic careers and families to look after, very few have enough time to hone their turkey roasting skills. And it is not just the bird that you have to cook to perfection, you also need to set a festive table, serve delicious desserts and drinks, and entertain guests.
If you have the habit of putting away things to the last minute, then it is the time you mend your ways. A last minute dash to hack up things for Thanksgiving is a sure shot way to fail splendidly. Here are a few tips for you to breeze your way through a catastrophe-free Thanksgiving party, and win yourself a few accolades for ingenuity as well.
1. Do Not Try out New Recipes
Venturing into the unfamiliar and the unknown will get you into trouble. You may find the online recipe for Coconut Milk and Pomegranate Turkey appealing, but it is best that you stick to the tried and tested recipes to avoid a very plausible disaster. When you try out new dishes and sides, you are never really sure of the variant that will work for you. Foreign recipes very often need to be tweaked to suit our palate and taste. So do not make an elaborate duck recipe your Thanksgiving centerpiece because your relatives will most probably be too shocked to even try it. Stick to something that you know you can cook well and is loved by your family.
2. Bring Pop of Color to the Table
You need not color coordinate everything at the dinner table to make it look awesome. Mismatched, vibrant but a tied-together look will be great. It is important that you plan how the table is going to be laid beforehand and do not save things for the minute before the first guest walks in. This is the season of celebrations, so why not bring in a few Fall colors as well to your table setting? Red, yellow and orange foliage spell the magic of Fall, so why not place a leaf each as place cards on the plates? Or you can use them as thanksgiving decorations as well to give a rustic feel to the décor. A big platter with seasonal fruits and veggies will add more than a dash of festive cheer to the gathering. Laying a lovely thanksgiving table need not break the bank. If you shop early you can even snag a few freebies that will add the zing to your table.
Check out these seasonal front porch decorations that are just perfect to welcome guests home for Thanksgiving.
3. Get Your Turkey Basics Right
It is probably only once or twice a year that you cook a big bird in all its glory, so why not do it right? Buying, thawing, marinating and roasting a turkey requires good knowledge about the whole process. You first need to determine the size of the bird you need to buy. It will be safe to assume about 1 pound per adult serving if the bird weighs less than 12 pounds, and ¾ pound per serving if the bird is bigger. If you relish leftovers you must buy a turkey that weighs at least 2-4 pounds more than what you need for serving. Ensure you buy a frozen turkey from a familiar store. If you choose fresh turkey, check the ‘sell by’ date to see that you are not past it. The ‘sell by’ date is the date by which the turkey must be sold. You can assume that the bird is safe and will maintain its quality for a couple of days more. Butcher or farm-bought fresh turkey that’s free range and never-frozen is best for its natural flavors. A frozen turkey needs to be thawed and you cannot do that on the counter because it takes very little time for harmful bacteria to build up in the meat. It takes up to 2 days in the refrigerator for a 10-pound turkey to thaw fully. So if you are buying a big bird you must keep a few days aside, not including the day of cooking it, to let it thaw fully. A thawed turkey will sit in the refrigerator for two days with no degradation.
4. Do Not Worry About Appetizers
It is not necessary for you to stress over appetizers. Serve a platter of baked or roasted veggies, dips and cheeses to placate the early birds and get conversations flowing. Cheese platters and seeded breads with flavorful oils like basil and lemon oils are also easy options for appetizers. If you feel overwhelmed or fret that you have too many things to do, do feel free to rely on store-bought and ready made items to help you sail through.
5. Cook and Bake Ahead
Most side dishes and desserts can be made a couple of days ahead of the feast. This will save you time on the big day and make your feel a tad less overwhelmed. Cookie dough and pie crusts can be made and popped into the freezer. Some recipes allow you to bake pies and refrigerate for a few days. If you only need to reheat side dishes, it will free up stove top and oven for you to cook the rest. Dips and cranberry sauce can be prepared as early as Tuesday and frozen without any loss in flavor. If you plan to serve casseroles made using hardy veggies like sweet potatoes or squash, bake them ahead and refrigerate till Thursday. Or you can assemble them and keep them ready to be baked. Soup and gravy can be made a couple of days in advance and frozen. You just need to reheat them when ready to serve. Gravy tastes best when flavor-filled drippings from the turkey is present in it. You can get over this problem by re-heating the gravy with the juices and refinish it to perfection just before being served with the bird.
The secret behind prepping ahead is having a well-planned menu that allows you to do enough and more cooking much before the last-minute rush. You should also know your ingredients and must be sure that they will not lose flavor or taste sitting in the fridge. Items like cranberry sauce and dips actually taste better when they refrigerate for a couple of days.
Thanksgiving helps you treasure and enjoy moments of togetherness. You make memories that last forever and children in the family get to live the happiest days of their childhood. So ensure that you have fun and have a fabulous feast this year.