Bonus column: Martha Stewart
With some smart strategies and the right supplies, you’ll be able to relax come Thanksgiving Day.
There are things you have figured out by now: when and where to order the turkey, what tablecloth to use, which cousins not to sit near one another.
But what about those less expected (and less discussed) loose ends that crop up every time you host Thanksgiving? For instance, what’s the most fail-safe plan for hosting a potluck (to make sure you don’t end up with one turkey surrounded by nearly a dozen green-bean casseroles)? Or what’s the best way to organize the refrigerator so you have all the room you need?
Here’s how to manage coordinating this annual feast with ease.
A FEW WEEKS AHEAD
PLAN THE MENU
Gather your recipes and give them the once-over, noting the temperatures and times required, and think about how you’ll strategize the cooking. Make sure that some will get cooked in the oven and some on the stove, so that you have room for everything. The dishes that are cooked in the oven must require fairly similar temperatures.
PLOT THE POTLUCK
Don’t let a potluck become a free-for-all. Instead, tell people exactly what you’re making — the turkey and stuffing, for example. Then, as they offer to bring things, you can plan the meal together. No one wants to show up with a duplicate — or worse, a less-tasty version — of something already on the table. And don’t rule out asking someone else to bring the bird.
Another option: Give the potluck a culinary theme — an Italian-inspired Thanksgiving, for example, or a Southern one. It will help focus the guests and the dinner.
MAKE THE PIECRUSTS
Pie dough can be made and frozen up to three months in advance. Date them before storing in the freezer. Pie dough can be thawed just before baking.
ONE WEEK TO A DAY BEFORE
THAW THE TURKEY
Depending on its size, a frozen turkey can take anywhere from one to six days to thaw in the refrigerator. (The rule of thumb is one day in the fridge for every four or five pounds.) Keep the bird on a rimmed baking sheet, covered in plastic wrap to keep juices from spilling over.
PREP THE VEGETABLES
Blanch or saute vegetables that need to be precooked before going into stuffings or casseroles. When you’re ready to make the full dish, you’ll be a step ahead.
MASH THE POTATOES
Yes, you can prepare this dish entirely the day before. Then you’ll just need to heat it on the stove, stirring and adding milk as needed to moisten it.
When did you last sharpen the carving knife? Sharpen it now. Also, give your oven thermometer a dress rehearsal: Make sure it reflects the temperature on the dial. If the oven runs a little high or low, adjust accordingly. Having an instant-read thermometer handy, too, will spare you the agony of wondering if the turkey (which will be done when it hits 165 F) is really ready. Do not rely on the turkey’s pop-up gauge.
PURGE THE FRIDGE
Give the refrigerator a ruthless edit. Maximize space by getting rid of leftover takeout, dregs of condiments and anything you can’t recall using or needing. If you have the luxury of a second refrigerator in the garage, relocate low-priority items (like that mango chutney you used once). A cooler also works. Organize what remains by retrofitting shelves with a lazy Susan for jars and containers, and stacked bottle holders for wine. If a neighbor is leaving town for the holiday, he or she may have some free refrigerator space.
BRING THE CASSEROLES TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
If you’ve kept pre- or partially cooked casseroles in the refrigerator, let them warm to room temperature on the counter before putting them in the oven.
MAKE YOUR HALF-HOUR FINAL SPRINT
The most stressful period of this entire enterprise might be the 30 minutes that the turkey rests before carving, when you can put everything else in to cook. While packing in too many casserole dishes can overcrowd the oven and interfere with heat circulation, if you’re just finishing cooking or warming things up, it’s OK to put a lot in at once — just keep an eye on everything.
To give all potluck cooks their due, write the menu — along with each cook’s name beside his or her dish — and post it on the sideboard.
CHILL A BOWL AND BEATERS
Once you sit down, standing back up — to cook, no less! — will feel impossible. Serve room-temperature desserts. If you need to whip cream, put the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator so it fluffs up faster. Get a pot of coffee ready to brew before sitting, too.
AFTER THE MEAL
Have dish towels at the ready for anyone who asks how she can help. Don’t be a martyr. Don’t insist you have “a system” — just let them dry dishes. If it’s distracting for you to direct people as to where exactly the gravy boat goes, clear a place on the table for dried dishes. You can put them away later.
MORE QUICK IDEAS TO DO AHEAD OF TIME
PREMIX AND SERVE: Consolidate olives to tidy up the fridge and have a little nibble ready for guests. Keep cheeses nearby, which you can also put out as a starter.
PREP AND STACK: Keep chopped or precooked vegetables and sauces in stackable plastic quart containers.
READY BERRIES: Make cranberry sauce ahead of time and scoop it into a compote bowl so it’s ready for the table.
CLEAN THE GREENS: Rinse your herbs and last-minute vegetables the day before, store them in plastic bags, and stash in a refrigerator drawer.
KEEP JUICE HANDY: If a lot of kids are coming, stock up on juice boxes that you can cool in the refrigerator, then take them out by the dozen and leave on a counter.