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Thanksgiving dinner planning tips

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Nov 16, 2017

(Nov. 17, 2017) Just the thought of preparing a Thanksgiving feast compels me to pour a much needed glass of Stony Hill Chardonnay.

Yes, it is expensive but I deserve a special treat since I will be slaving away for endless nights with little sleep.

I find it ironic that my refrigerator is packed with food and I cannot partake of even the tiniest morsel. I have meticulously calculated the amount of food that will be needed for our 13 guests which leaves no room for my daily intake. Sometimes chance has a way of serving up a slice of reality; maybe abstinence should be incorporated into my everyday diet.

I don’t know about you, but I find it odd that cooking show host’s gleam in their immaculate attire as they display their gorgeous dishes and tell you how simple it is to prepare your turkey celebration. I adore food, I love cooking, I relish the thought of entertaining, and I know what I am doing. But there is no denying this event is filled with hard work and much planning; do not allow anyone to tell you any differently.

To make matters worse, my meticulous kitchen ends up looking like a war zone. It takes the combined effort of my grandmother and mother to clean up this controlled chaos. It is only when I am alone and in the privacy of my home that I can finally collapse and rest my frail being. Thank God Thanksgiving only comes once a year.

What would the holidays be without family drama? We are a loving family but emotions seem to be heightened to say the least. It never fails, there will be an incident where someone’s feathers get a little ruffled.

Maybe the pressure of trying to make everything perfect comes into play. I am sure a psychiatrist would have something to say. But to be honest with you, I have a feeling we are not alone.

Preparing a Thanksgiving feast takes a tremendous amount of thought. Following are a few tips that will hopefully ease your stress and add to your success.

First and foremost take a deep breath and put things into perspective; you are not cooking for the Queen of England. You are cooking a special meal for family and friends who are coming together to give thanks.

That being said, keep the menu simple unless one welcomes such a challenge. Oven space will be limited, so choose a variety of dishes that do not require the use of an oven. For example, string beans and mashed potatoes can be made on the stovetop. A pickle and olive tray can be served at room temperature which again frees up the oven. Refrigerated dishes such as molded cranberry sauce also help the cause.

Do not be afraid to change up the menu. I realize at some family gatherings this sacrilegious act may be considered an act of treason, but nothing ventured nothing gained. A chef must expand his repertoire if knowledge is to flourish.

Once you have finalized your menu, write down a schedule and shopping list. I always follow this ritual and revise it every day. This mini notepad is my bible and does not leave my side.

Thanksgiving deserves a specialty drink; champagne punches are perfect for this occasion. I have a tendency to stay away from punches that are red in color.; a spill can result in damage to one’s carpet. But if a spill occurs, Woolite carpet cleaner is by far the best.

Even though the turkey and sides are the main event, appetizers should be given the same consideration. The key is to keep these offerings light. A wheel of brie topped with fig jam highlights the sweet and savory theme. Crab balls and stuffed baby portabellas will most certainly be a hit. For those who relish Brussel spouts, consider Brussel sprouts wrapped in bacon and served with a creamy lemon dip.

Choosing side dishes is all about balance. Think what is going to pair well with the main course in terms of flavor, color, texture and the amount of cooking time. A Thanksgiving plate should contain a variety of colors and textures.

Let us delve into specifics for further understanding. If one starts out the meal with butternut squash soup, you probably would not want to follow with roasted carrots and a sweet potato casserole.

Balancing flavors follow the same train of thought. Bacon and garlic are bold flavors but one should not incorporate them into all of the sides. Balancing rich dishes with lighter ones enhances the overall structure of the meal.

Thanksgiving sides are meant to give guests choices. Do you have a true vegetarian dish or something that will appeal to picky kids? Remember, many children have nut allergies so this must be taken into consideration.

The theme of Thanksgiving is synonymous with mashed potatoes. For a perfectly smooth mash, you must invest in a ricer. A ricer is a kitchen device used to process potatoes by forcing it through a sheet of small holes, which are typically the diameter of a grain of rice. These amazing gadgets can be purchased at Amazon for as little as $10.

While we are on the subject of mashed potatoes, Cook’s Illustrated suggests cutting each potato in half and placing each half cut side down in the ricer. This way the flesh is forced through the holes while the skins remain in the hopper.

Great gravy is a must and distinguishes experienced cooks from those just starting out. Buy extra turkey wings and roast them with your diced onion, celery and carrots for a more intensified turkey flavor. Deglaze the pan with water and simmer on the stove top; wine, sherry, or brandy can give your gravy more depth and richness.

The distinction between stuffing and dressing can be solved very simply. If the stuffing is cooked inside the turkey it is called stuffing. If it is cooked in a separate dish it is called dressing.

There are pros and cons to both cooking styles. The primary advantage to an in-bird stuffing is that it is unbelievably moist and has a natural essence of turkey. However, if it is prepared in a dish, you end up with a nice contrast in texture and have more dressing options.

The last and most important subject is the turkey. Brining is absolutely imperative for tender and juicy meat. One quart of water to 1/8 cup salt is the basic ratio. Extra seasoning can be added for more essence. Do not forget to rinse the turkey thoroughly after brining.

The following suggestion is the most amazing turkey tip. Before you season the turkey, apply one coating of soy sauce over the entire bird. The high intensity of the sodium causes a chemical reaction with the heat and seals the skin for extra crispiness. Soy sauce also acts as a natural dye and your big bird will come out a gorgeous, deep brown color. I highly suggest you try it.

One word of caution, it must be a large turkey. Do not try this on a turkey breast or chicken; otherwise, you will taste the soy sauce.

In closing, Thanksgiving is about sharing delicious food with family. Take a moment to give thanks for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon us and this great country. Be safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Secret Ingredient - Thankfulness. “Enjoy the little things, for each day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

— Robert Brault

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