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Advance Preparation for a Thanksgiving Meal

It has been said that  “the Thanksgiving meal takes an average of 18 hours to complete and 18 minutes to eat.”  I encourage you to start today prepping your meal, each day make or prep something for your dinner.  This way, you’ll be able to sit and enjoy your family and guests instead of spending the entire day in the kitchen.

Based on the following Thanksgiving Menu (yours may differ):
Roasted Turkey
Mashed Potatoes and/or Sweet Potatoes
Stuffing/Dressing
Gravy
Vegetables
Rolls and/or Cornbread
Dessert: Pies, Tarts and/or Cakes

Here is a list to get you kick-started:

Monday:
If you have a frozen turkey, get it out of the freezer today!  Turkeys take a couple of days to thaw out.  Thaw your bird safely in the refrigerator.

Make pie dough:  Follow the pie dough recipe and instructions under the recipes index.  Roll your dough, place into pans, placing a piece of parchment or wax paper between the shells and wrap well with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate.  If you are going to make double crust pies, roll some dough out and freeze on a sheet pan separated by the parchment or wax paper. 
 
Tarts can be fully baked now and frozen.  I have some wonderful tart recipes you’ll find in the index – all of which are easy and delicious!  Bake them today, cool and freeze until  Thanksgiving day.  (They thaw within a 1/2 hour or so)  I would not bake today and keep until Thursday, not that the tart will be bad, but not as fresh.  If you want to skip the freezing step, bake your tarts or pies on Wednesday.
 
Tuesday:
This is a great day to wash, cut and prep all your vegetables.  I always bag my chopped onions and celery for stuffing, and prep out all of my other vegetables, bagging them too.
 
Cornbread can be baked to be used for stuffing or cut bread slices into cubes for stuffing.
 
 
Wednesday:
Make Turkey Stock – Remove the giblet packet and neck from the turkey cavity.  Place in a saucepan and brown on all sides.  Add to browned turkey, celery, an onion (or two), pepper, salt, sage and 2 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours on low heat.  Cool and refrigerate.  This will be the stock you can use for stuffing and gravy tomorrow. (instead of canned broth or water).
 
Mashed Potatoes –  You can either peel, wash, cut and place in a pan with water and refrigerate for tomorrow OR go ahead and boil today until tender, mash, add cream cheese and/or sour cream, butter, salt and pepper and place in a casserole dish to be warmed through tomorrow.
 
Sweet Potatoes – Peel, wash and roast or boil.  When the potatoes are tender, drain and cut into cubes or mash, whichever you prefer.  Stir in the ingredients you use and place in a casserole dish to be warmed up tomorrow.  (I use butter, honey, toasted pecans and a dash of cinnamon)
 
Stuffing/Dressing – Onions and Celery – as many as you like I usually make a couple of cups.  Saute until translucent, cool and then refrigerate (I put mine in a bag to be added to the stuffing tomorrow)
If you are using bread, cut into cubes and then place cubes back in the bread bag for tomorrow.
 
Dessert – Make your pies/tarts today if you haven’t done so previously in the week.  Most tarts and pies do not need refrigeration.  Creamy pies NEED REFRIGERATION.  Follow recipe instructions. 
 
 
Thanksgiving Day:
Turkey – Pat dry your turkey, and season as desired.  (I make a compound butter with sage, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and rub under and over the skin of the turkey.  I also place celery and sage leaves, onions and salt and pepper in the cavity of the bird to flavor from the inside.)  Place your bird on a rack in a roasting pan.  Roast covered in a 325 degree oven for approximately: (I usually uncover to brown mine during the last hour.)
 
4 to 8 pounds (breast) — 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds — 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds — 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds — 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4½ to 5 hours
Test with meat thermometer in thickest portion of the bird, which is the thigh.  Temp. should be 180 degrees.
 
Stuffing/Dressing – Add the sauteed celery and onions to the bread cubes or cornbread – add 2 eggs and Poultry Seasoning and enough turkey stock to make it moist but not soaking wet.  Mix lightly with your hands and place in a greased foil bag or casserole dish (It is not recommended to stuff the bird).  Bake in 350 degree oven for approx. 1-1-1/2 hours.
 
1 hour before your bird is done – place the casserole dishes of potatoes in the oven or begin to boil potatoes.
1/2 hour before the bird is done – begin to prepare rolls and vegetables.
 
Gravy –  When your bird reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees, lift the rack and remove the bird to a cutting board.  Cover loosely with tin foil and allow to rest approx. 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on the stove top on medium heat.  Whisk up all the bits from bottom of the pan.  Add any remaining turkey stock to the pan juices.  In a small bowl, whisk together 3 Tabl. Flour and 1/4 cup cold water.  Whisk the flour mixture into the turkey juices.  The flour will thicken as it heats.  Bring to a boil and thicken more if needed, or add a bit of stock or water if it is too thick).  Keep the gravy warm while carving the bird.

Thanksgiving Meal

Like many of my readers, today will be my prep day for tomorrows feast.  Like you, I’d like to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family and not be stuck in the kitchen all day.

My years as baker for retail bakeries have taught me to plan ahead.  My mantra: “Prepare everything possible today to bake off fresh tomorrow”.  There are major parts of the meal that can be completed today to make tomorrow easy.  Most of these dishes are the “messiest”, so completing them today frees your kitchen from the mess tomorrow.

What to do today:

Mashed potatoes – I add a little cream cheese and sour cream so they taste delicious when warmed up.  Put mashed potatoes in a buttered casserole dish to be warmed tomorrow.

Corn Bread – make the batter, spread in the pan, refrigerate and bake off tomorrow.

Make Turkey Stock – from the giblets and neck, celery, onion, seasonings –  for stuffing and gravy

Saute’ celery and onions, cool and then refrigerate today to be added to the stuffing tomorrow

Cranberry Salad

Trim and wash any Vegetables such as squash, beans

Desserts:  Bake the pumpkin roll, fill and ice,  Prepare pie/tart crusts and fillings, so tomorrow a.m., you can fill and bake and have fresh, warm pie!  If you won’t have enough oven space, bake today.

I hope this guide will be helpful to you today and help you to have a wonderful, peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving tomorrow!

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