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« Pho: The Long Goodbye to the Thanksgiving Turkey | Main | Roasted Cranberry Chutney »

Getting Ready for T-Day

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

I love hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Steve is finished with most of the food shopping and I’ve completed some of my early prep—making pie dough, baking cornbread, and cubing white bread for the stuffing, according to my Thanksgiving game plan. We’re in good shape.

  • If you are still getting organized, here are some tips that might help you plan your Thanksgiving meal, from someone who has cooked many of them over decades:
  • Clear the decks—make your kitchen ready for marathon cooking. If you have time, clean out the fridge and get rid of any odds and ends, so your Thanksgiving ingredients are easy to find.
  • Gather all the canned and dry ingredients and put them in a shallow box on your kitchen counter, for efficient access. (I love the free Costco boxes for this.)
  • Inventory your equipment—have knives sharpened, make sure you know where your bulb baster is, and check that everything is in good order.
  • Make a plan—once you’ve decided on your menu, plot out what you will cook when. If you can, try to make or prep a few dishes every day or every night after work. Everything you complete before Thanksgiving will ease the pressure the day of.
  • Plan around your oven capacity—if you’re roasting the turkey and you have just one oven, you can only roast or bake before the turkey goes in and after it comes out, when it is resting (about 30 minutes) before carving. A menu that includes roasted vegetables that can be served at room temperature, dishes that can be cooked on stovetop, or ones that can be made ahead and reheated in a microwave are good candidates for side dishes.
  • Don’t forget to account for guest contributions—if guests are bringing dishes for the feast, make sure you have planned for what they will need when they arrive, such as oven space to reheat their dish, and a platter and utensils to serve it up.
  • Determine the look of your table—plan your centerpiece, candles, plates you will need for dinner and dessert, flatware, glasses and napkins. Make sure you have enough of everything; buy or borrow what you are missing. For a centerpiece, I like to use fresh produce like small pumpkins, squashes, pomegranates, and persimmons, interspersed with Indian corn and gourds. Iron the napkins, polish the silver, gather the candles and put them in a shallow box to keep them corralled, and to make it easy to transport them to the dinner table.
  • Plan the seating—if at all possible, try to set up tables and chairs (even if you have to borrow them) so everyone has a designated place. When guests are balancing plates on their laps and have their wine glasses at their feet, accidents usually happen. And I strongly believe in place cards so you can decide in advance who will sit with whom most companionably, avoiding the sticky situation when people who are political opposites end up sitting next to each other.
  • Make a comprehensive Thanksgiving file folder that represents your game plan—this should contain all your recipes (printed from the Internet, photocopied from your cookbooks or from your treasured family recipe file box). By having everything in one folder, you can easily access all the recipes you need. The folder should also include your grocery shopping list and a calendar of what you will do when, up until Thanksgiving Day. Refer to your folder as you set out the Thanksgiving dinner to make sure you haven’t forgotten a dish in the fridge, that you will discover only after guests have left.
  • Have a party breakdown plan—after the dinner is over, have containers ready to package the leftovers for yourself and your guests. Have a plan for the turkey carcass because even if you break it apart, it will still take a lot of space in your fridge or freezer until you do something with it. And don’t just throw it away; the carcass is your bonus meal!
  • To make turkey stock with the carcass—break up turkey carcass, and add neck and wings and leg bones to a roasting pan; roast in a single layer in a 450-degree oven until browned, about 20 to 25 minutes; remove to a deep pot. Add chunks of carrots, onion and celery to the roasting pan, stirring up any browned bits, and roast the vegetables until browned at the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan to stovetop, add 2 cups wine and cook until wine is reduced and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Add contents of the roasting pan the pot with chicken carcass; add enough water to cover and 2 teaspoons salt and simmer 3 hours, skimming foam occasionally. Remove bones and strain liquid through a strainer. Chill to solidify fat and discard fat. If stock does not seem flavorful enough, continue to simmer to reduce and concentrate flavors. – Adapted from a recipe by LA chef Suzanne Goin.

Here are some soups to use up stock made from your turkey carcass:

  • Turkey Tortilla Soup, a recipe by Katie Barreira, is zesty with South-of-the-border flavors and topped with your favorite fixins.
  • Popo’s Turkey Jook was my mother-in-law’s way to make a comforting rice soup from the turkey carcass; top with fresh herb garnishes.
  • Make your own turkey stock, then turn it into delicious Turkey Mushroom Soup.
  • Turkey Vegetable Soup can be made by substituting turkey stock for the chicken broth and adding turkey pieces instead of chicken to this old-fashioned, family-pleasing, meal-in-a-bowl.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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