For many, the preparation and production of Thanksgiving dinner can be a stressful and frenzied operation. The meal is complicated by a menu that usually includes many side dishes, salads, gravy, condiments and servings of large portions that are a little more cumbersome to prepare than usual. Add to the equation, the dynamics of visiting relatives, a house full of people that require a bull horn to get them to sit at the table and the stress of trying to get the food to the table still at least warm….and, well, you get the picture.
And how about the gluten-free issue? At our house there is no gluten-free issue because we, and everyone who dines with us, always eat gluten-free.
This year we would like to share a Thanksgiving dinner game plan that will enable you to keep stress to a minimum, get everything to the table hot, and on time and even allow you a little time to freshen up before the feast begins. I prepared the following Thanksgiving dinner for twelve by myself and was able to take 30 minutes before serving the hors d’ oeuvres to relax. You may still need a bull horn to get your guests to the table, but at least the dinner will be on the table when they get there.
The key to an efficient game plan is to prep everything ahead of time and prioritize the order in which you prep and prepare the dishes. In this way, your kitchen will remain organized and you are less apt to forget garnishes, toppings and the special touches that will make your dinner extra special. As most of us know, the real test is the final hour before serving. This is when a lot of the actual cooking occurs and much of it needs to happen simultaneously. If you are well prepped, even the final countdown will be far less work and far less stressful.
Don’t feel obligated to do everything yourself. (This is advice I should really think about taking myself) Some of your guests would rather help in the kitchen than wander around looking at your family photos and talking to the other relatives. Give out jobs that won’t affect the outcome of a dish, such as peeling or mashing potatoes or ladling the soup into bowls. These jobs can be done by anyone and will free you for more complicated tasks.
Prepare Your Menu
(Order your turkey. We prefer organic natural free-range turkeys and order them from our butcher. They are more expensive but as your turkey will be the star of your meal, we feel it is well worth it. If you can’t get an organic free-range turkey, be sure the turkey you select has no added solutions or flavorings, as these may contain gluten.)
When selecting your menu items, remember to think about ‘make ahead’ recipes. These are recipes that will store well in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It is always nice to have a few things that can be done even the day before and set aside. The more you can do ahead, the better. Choose an appetizer that is simple to prepare and is a light compliment to the coming meal instead of several appetizers. Serve two or three bite-size appetizers per person. Appetizers should be an appetite stimulant, not something that will fill your guests up before dinner.
Once your menu has been selected, read through every recipe very carefully,. Make notes regarding the time it will take to prep and cook each dish. Make a shopping list from each recipe and shop for groceries a couple of days before the meal to make sure you have time to look for harder to find ingredients and to assure the freshness of the produce.
Prepare Your Game Plan
Go over your notes and put your plan together beginning with the turkey. The method of preparation and weight of the turkey will dictate the game plan for the entire meal. For our dinner, we prepared a Honey Brined Turkey, which required 24 hours of marinating time in a brine solution. Therefore, our game plan began the day before our dinner. Your game plan should be as specific as possible. And don’t forget to allow resting time for your turkey after it comes out of the oven!
Thanksgiving Dinner Game Plan
Butternut Squash Soup
Honey Brined Turkey Stuffed with Lemons & Thyme With Gravy
Mashed Potatoes w/Glazed Nuts
Asparagus with Parmesan & Procuitto
Cranberry Sauce with Port
Pecan Pear Torte with Cream Cheese Frosting
The day before:
- Wash, dry the turkey and prepare the brine solution. Place the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Prepare the Spiced Pecans, cover and set aside.
- Prepare the Cranberry Sauce with Port and Blueberry Chutney. Cool, cover and refrigerate.
- Prepare the Glazed Nuts for the Mashed Potatoes. Cool, cover and set aside.
- Fry proscuitto, cover and set aside.
- Sugar and freeze cranberries for garnish for the torte.
- Make the cream cheese frosting for the torte, cover and refrigerate.
- Set the table.
The day of:
- Step 1. 8am: Make the torte
- Step 2. Poach the pears, drain and refrigerate
- Step 3. Peel potatoes, cut into pieces and cover with cold water
- Step 4. Prep the soup
- Step 5. 1:00pm Remove turkey from brine solution, stuff with lemons and thyme and put in oven. Our turkey weighed 20 lbs. and took about 5 hours to roast, about 15 minutes per pound.
- 1:30pm Roast turkey
- Step 6. Blanch asparagus
- Step 7. Make soup
- Step 8. Assemble torte
- Step 9. Prepare Salmon Roll-Ups, cover and refrigerate
- Take a few minutes and relax!
- 6pm Serve Salmon Roll-Ups and Spiced Pecans
- Step 11. Prepare Pumpkin Muffin batter and bake
- Step 12. Cook potatoes, drain and cover
- Step 13. Reheat soup
- Step 14. 6:30pm Remove turkey from oven and tent with foil. Turkey should register 170-180 degrees F with a meat thermometer.
- Step 15. Make gravy
- Step 16. Finish mashed potatoes
- Step 17. Prepare Asparagus dish
- Step 18. Carve turkey
- 7pm Serve