Make Thanksgiving as Easy as (Pumpkin) Pie

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The two major bugaboos of holiday entertaining are food preparation and house cleaning. House cleaning is a lost art, and thank goodness for the professionals who help us with it!

Many years ago, our family started a new tradition. We reserved the social hall of our local church for a Thanksgiving celebration a week before Thanksgiving Day. It was much easier to rent the hall and have everyone bring a special dish. We used paper plates and no one minded. If this doesn’t work for you and it’s your turn to host the event, get your tablet and start planning. The more planning you do, the less panicked you’ll feel as the holiday approaches.

Four Weeks Ahead
It’s time for major housekeeping chores. Start by eliminating the clutter in each room and move on to specific tasks such as scrubbing the shower walls, having the floors and rugs cleaned professionally, and decorating for the holiday.
Grab a cup of coffee and start planning your menu. Turkey, of course, three or more side dishes and desserts (pumpkin pie, naturally) are usually enough for a small family gathering. If your family doesn’t like turkey, try something else; my son and daughter-in-law settled on roast beef several years ago, and we all love it. The menu should be set three to four weeks in advance so you have time to invite all your relatives and ask them to bring their special dish. This will also give you a count on how many to expect.

Next, clean the silver and glassware. Order the turkey as soon as you have a head count.

As hostess, you will probably cook the main course. Start with the hour you want to serve and count backwards. This way you’ll know how long the turkey cooks, when the stuffing should be put in the oven, and so forth. These guidelines are oriented to Thanksgiving, but can be used for any major holiday.

Three Weeks Ahead
Organize the pantry and kitchen. Discard out-of-date items and make notes on your shopping list of things you need to replace. Clean your dining and entertainment area.

Make ahead any dish that you can and freeze it, including cranberry sauce, cornbread for stuffing, rolls, gravy and mashed potatoes. Trimmings such as bread crumbs and nuts can be toasted and frozen.

One Week Ahead
Read through your recipes and make a shopping list. Divide the list into those items you need now and those you will need the day before. Go grocery shopping for nonperishables now. My store always seems to run out of certain things like frozen pie crusts, so I get them early.

Buy extra serving pieces, place setting decorations and a frilly seasonal apron for you. Pick up the wine and other bar items.

Five Days Before
Defrost the turkey in the refrigerator if you bought a frozen turkey.

Wash all of your dishes, especially those that are rarely used. Place the dishes on linen towels in an out-of-the-way place. Cover with clean towels. Wash all of your cookware and do the same.

Match your serving dishes with your recipes. Place a sticky note on each on to remind you what it will be used for. If you plan to brine your turkey, start today and follow directions.

Make all of your refrigerator dishes. Cover and place them in the refrigerator until serving time.

Check on your supplies and make a last trip to the store, since many stores close on Thanksgiving Day.

Chop all your vegetables such as celery, onions, and herbs. Cover and place in refrigerator. Cut up fruit for Southern ambrosia and let the flavors macerate overnight. Prepare as much as you can of the desserts. Refrigerate or bake them. Put wine in to chill.

Prepare the buffet table and place finished pies on it. Set the table so you can concentrate on cooking tomorrow. At some point, give the floors a quick pass. Prepare your bar station with an ice bucket, fruit juices and simple syrup.

Thanksgiving Day
The big day has arrived and everything is under control. While the turkey roasts, prepare the side dishes. When the turkey is finished and resting, make the gravy and finish up the side dishes.

Guest may begin arriving, so take the time to get dressed and put on the new apron you bought. Take the chilled dishes out of the refrigerator and place them on the buffet.

Prepare the coffee pot; switch it on as you serve dessert. Whip cream if you use it on your pies. Place in refrigerator. Run the dishwasher while your guests are arriving. Empty and put away dishes.

Your meal is ready, and so are you. Serve yourself a nice glass of wine and greet your guests. The party is underway. Bon appétit! ■

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