Keeping perspective on the reason for the gathering can make the food preparation easier and hopefully free of stress or anxiety. The best advice is to have fun and enjoy the gathering.
If the turkey isn't perfect, or the pie isn't homemade, it doesn't matter. Chalky gravy or lumpy mashed potatoes shouldn't ruin a meal and the focus of the day should be on gratitude, people and being thankful.
But don't give up on the idea of Thanksgiving bliss. There are easy ways to avoid some of the most common kitchen mishaps and combined with the blessings of the day a perfect meal is not out of reach.
Make a list and a timeline: Read through all of your recipes completely and make a list of all necessary ingredients. Figure out what you can do ahead of time and prioritize each step.
Keep it simple: Don't try anything new that is particularly complicated. Save it for a meal that doesn't have quite as much pressure.
Check temperatures: Invest in an instant-read meat thermometer for cooking the turkey, a refrigerator thermometer to make sure your fridge is staying below 41 degrees and an oven thermometer to be sure your oven is actually heating to the designated temperature. You may find your oven is off by as much as 25 to 50 degrees – making a big difference in cooking results.
Thaw early: Begin thawing your turkey well in advance of Thanksgiving Day. Estimate 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. A completely thawed turkey can last one to two days in the refrigerator.
Partial Preparation: Look through your recipes and see if parts of it can be done in advance. Gather all ingredients and chop any necessary vegetables and herbs. You can do this for just about everything except potatoes or apples. Store the chopped ingredients in the refrigerator in plastic bags.
Sauces: Cranberry sauce, salad dressings, roux for gravy and white sauce for green bean casserole can be made one to two days in advance.
Dressing: Breads can be cubed and cornbread baked two to three days ahead of time and allowed to dry or stale at room temperature. Bread can also be dried in a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. Cool completely and place in a plastic bag until ready to use.
Perfect Pies: You can make homemade pie crust up to four days ahead and store in the refrigerator or a month ahead and store in the freezer. Pies can be made two days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Take the pies out of the refrigerator when you begin to serve the meal and warm in the turned off oven while eating dinner.
Table Setting: Set the table a day or two before and put out all necessary serving dishes and serving pieces. Before the meal warm your gravy boat and soup terrine in the oven after it is turned off so the gravy and soup stay warm at the table.
Enjoy the Day: Everything doesn't have to be perfect. Relax and cut corners where you can. Ask someone to help you in the kitchen, buy some things like pies or rolls already prepared or ask guests to bring a side dish.
For more advice on turkey preparation, preparing sides, making gravy, pies and rolls join Food Editor, Christine Gardner at FRESH by Brookshire's from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for a free Thanksgiving 101 workshop.
Come and go and shop at the same time while learning tips and tricks for a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Or email Thanksgiving questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will receive a personal response and be included in next week's FLAVOR section.
Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
2 golden beets
2 purple beets
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/2 cup goat cheese crumbles
1 bag mixed greens
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Pinch of sugar, salt, black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice off the top and bottom ends of the beets. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast about 45 minutes or until they can be pierced easily with a knife.
When cool enough to handle rub with a paper towel to remove the skin. Dice into small cubes and refrigerate separately because the color of the purple beets will bleed onto the golden beets. When ready to serve assemble the salad by placing the greens in a large bowl. In a clean jar add the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper and mustard. Shake to combine. Pour a few tablespoons over the greens and toss to combine. Top with the beets, goat cheese, parsley and red onion. Serve remaining dressing at the table. Time-Saving Tip: Beets can be roasted and diced up to two days ahead. Dressing can be made up to three days in advance.
Goat Cheese Garlic Mashed Potatoes
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
6 garlic cloves, halved
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
4 ounces goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Place in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender. In a small saucepan over low heat combine the milk, 4 tablespoons butter, goat cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper. Stir until butter and cheese are melted and mixture is heated through. Drain the potatoes and garlic and mash with a potato masher, ricer or food mill. Pour the milk mixture into the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. Transfer to a baking dish. Take the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cut into small pieces. Scatter the pieces over the top of the potatoes. Broil the potatoes under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the top is golden. Time-Saving Tip: The potatoes may be prepared up to the broiling point up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Reheat the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes until they are heated through before broiling.
2 to 3 pound baking pumpkin
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups corn kernels
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 tablespoon honey
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut stem off pumpkin and carefully cut in half. With a spoon scoop out the seeds and remove strands. Rub with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet skin side up. Roast for about 45 minutes until inside flesh is tender. Set aside to cool. In a large saucepan add one tablespoon of oil and the butter and cook the onion over medium heat until softened. Add the corn and sauté until both the onion and corn are slightly browned. Add the bourbon to deglaze the pan. Scrape out the inside of the pumpkin and add to the corn and onion. Add the tablespoon of honey and stir to combine. Pour in the broth and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Transfer in small amounts to a blender and puree. (Do not fill blender more than half full or the steam from the soup will make it overflow.) Return the soup to the pot and stir in the milk. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper accordingly. Time-Saving Tip: Soup can be made in advance and frozen or refrigerated for up to three days. Thin with more broth if necessary.
Mashed Acorn Squash
2 acorn squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 to 1/2 milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub the inside with a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until flesh is soft and can be scooped out of the skin. Allow to cool, scoop out flesh and discard skin. Place in a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Using a masher, mash the squash until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with a slight sprinkling of cinnamon. Time-Saving Tip: Can be made two days in advance and reheated in the microwave.
1 bone-in turkey breast or whole turkey, thawed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons herbs de Provence
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 shallots, peeled and quartered
1 lemon, cut into eight wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
4 sprigs rosemary
8 sprigs thyme
Cranberry-Glaze (optional, recipe follows)
The night before rinse the inside and outside of the turkey. Place breast side up in a roasting pan. Using paper towels dry the turkey completely. In a small bowl combine the salt, pepper, herbs de Provence and olive oil and, using clean hands, rub into the skin of the turkey around the breast, legs, wings and cavity. Also, carefully rub some of the oil mixture under the skin of the breast. Rub the butter over the turkey. Stuff into the cavity the shallots, lemon, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Tie the ends of the legs of the turkey together with kitchen twine. Place the turkey back into the refrigerator until ready to cook. Take the turkey out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place in the oven for 20 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast. Keep an eye on the skin. When the turkey begins to turn a light golden brown color, cover the entire turkey with a large piece of tented foil. When the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees remove from the oven and using a basting brush baste with the pan juices or the cranberry glaze. If you plan to make gravy from the turkey drippings and will be basting with the cranberry sauce, ladle off some of the pan juices before applying the cranberry glaze. Return the turkey to the oven and continue to lightly baste every ten minutes until the turkey reaches 165 degrees. Recover with foil if necessary. It will still absorb the juices and/or glaze when covered with foil. Remove from the oven let rest the turkey rest, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Discard the shallots, garlic, lemons and herbs that were stuffed inside the cavity before serving. Time-Saving Tip: Put all of your sides that need to be baked into the oven while the turkey is resting.
Cranberry Glaze for Turkey
1 can of whole cranberries
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons bourbon
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
While the turkey is cooking make the glaze by combining all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the glaze is reduced by half. Remove from heat and cool slightly before glazing.
Sweet Potato Gratin
4 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 stick butter
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brandy
Peel sweet potatoes, cut off ends and cut in half. Boil for 20 minutes until slightly tender but still firm enough to slice. Slice the potatoes into ¼ inch slices with a mandolin or a food processor with a slicing attachment. Grease a round baking dish with cooking spray or butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan combine butter, brown sugar, milk and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in brandy. Pour over sweet potatoes. Bake for 40 minutes. Time-Saving Tip: Boil, slice and arrange potatoes up to two days in advance. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Defatted pan drippings and juices plus chicken broth to equal 4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pour the reserved turkey pan juices into a glass measuring cup and skim off the fat. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners over medium heat add the wine, pan juices and 1 cup chicken broth. Deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer, then strain and transfer to a measuring cup. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a dark blond roux. Whisk in the reserved liquid then simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning, to taste, with salt and black pepper.
Pour into a warm gravy boat and serve.
Grand Marnier Cranberries
1 bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
In an 8x8 baking pan combine the cranberries, orange juice, cinnamon and sugar. Stir to combine and place in a 350 degree preheated oven. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Take out of the oven and stir in the Grand Marnier. Refrigerate for 8 hours. Time-Saving Tip: Can be made up to three days ahead of time.
Cranberry-Pecan Bread Stuffing
2 loaves Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup apple, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 to 3 cups chicken broth, as needed
2 eggs, beaten
Toast bread cubes in a 200 degree oven until dry. Let cool and transfer to a large bowl. In a large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper and onion until soft. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. When cool, add the vegetables to the bread. Toss to combine. Add in the cranberries, pecans, thyme, rosemary, parsley and poultry seasoning and continue to toss. Gradually add enough broth to reach a wet, sticky consistency while gently tossing. Taste and add more salt, pepper or poultry seasoning, if necessary. Once you are satisfied with the seasoning add the eggs and gently toss. Do not overmix. Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Time-Saving Tip: Vegetables can be sautéed and refrigerated up to two days in advance. Stuffing can be made the day before and baked after turkey comes out of the oven while it is resting. If stuffing is refrigerated remove from the refrigerator an hour before baking.