Avoid Thanksgiving Day disasters

Oct 6, 2009 at 6:45 p.m. ET

Smoke coming out of the oven? Forgot to remove the giblet bag from the turkey before cooking? Gravy looking a little lumpy? Such scenarios during what should be a time of appreciation, joy and celebration, can actually feel like a disaster. But it doesn't have to be that way. With some advance preparation, cooking Thanksgiving dinner becomes a breeze and a time for you to enjoy as well.

Let's look at some basic to dos a few weeks ahead of time. A little too early, you say? Trust me; you'll thank me later when you are surprisingly calm on the big day.

Two Weeks Out

Write out the menu and create your shopping list. Start buying items each such as spices and other required non-perishables.

NOTE: Wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy salad greens, fresh bread, or seafood.

Write out a cooking schedule and timetable indicating dishes you can make ahead, freeze, or cook at the last minute.

This is also a good time to make sure your spices are fresh. They do have a shelf life, so make sure your dried herbs are full of color and aroma, otherwise they won't add flavor to your dishes and actually can make food taste bad. Typical holiday spices to have on hand include:

Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla extract, peppermint extract, almond extract, brown sugar, molasses.

Spices for Holiday Turkey: sage, thyme, poultry seasoning

Spices for Holiday Goose:
sage, poultry seasoning

Spices for Holiday Duck: dill, mint, rosemary, sage, tarragon, poultry seasoning

One Week Out

Clean out your refrigerator to make room for groceries and prepared dishes.
Buy your turkey. Put the frozen turkey in the coldest part of your freezer. To figure out how big of a turkey you'll need, estimate each guest will eat about 1.3 pounds and then round up. Example: 8 guests: 8 x 1.3 = 10.4. So, your turkey should weigh at least 11 pounds.

4 Days Out

Leave time to thaw your turkey. If you're bought a frozen turkey, you'll need to thaw it. Every 5 pounds of turkey will require 24 hours thaw time in the refrigerator. NEVER DEFROST TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE.

2 Days Out

A few days before Thanksgiving, iron table linens, designate serving platters, and make sure your glassware and silverware sparkle. Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate. Prepare other sauces, jellies, and dressings; store in the refrigerator.

1 Day Out

Mis en Place: This is a French term for preparing all the ingredients for a dish in advance, such as washing, trimming and chopping vegetables; setting out your spices and herbs, and clean and dry salad greens and store in a re sealable plastic bag. You can also set your table Thanksgiving Eve.

Thanksgiving Day

Remove turkey from the refrigerator allowing it to sit for 90 minutes to two hours at room temperature. Depending on the size of your turkey, you're going to need to start working on it five to seven hours before dinner is served. Make sure you take giblets and neck out of the inside of the turkey. Rinse turkey in cool water, pat dry, season, and dress it according to your taste and traditions.

Check the temperature using an instant read thermometer. Always use a meat thermometer. Cooking time will vary depending on whether or not the turkey is stuffed. Remember to leave time for the turkey to stand before carving.

As you can see, with a little planning, Thanksgiving dinner isn't so daunting after all. By taking time to do things in advance, your culinary bravado will shine and you too – can offer Thanks.

Thanks to WhatsCookingAmerica.net.

More on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving traditions: 9 ideas for families

SheKnows Thanksgiving
How to prepare the perfect Turkey