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How to Stay Sane on Turkey Day

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Thanksgiving

Cooking a huge meal for over a dozen relatives and friends during the holidays is one of the most stressful challenges that the average home cook will undertake.

What's the key to keeping your sanity? Plan, plan, plan, then plan some more... Cook as much as possible 1 or 2 days ahead of time.

For the big day itself, I like to write out a timeline of the entire day. Why?

     - You can avoid doing too much at once. Most Thanksgiving disasters occur because you have too much going on at once and you forget to tend to some dish at a crucial moment.

     - You can see if your menu is feasible for your kitchen. You might find that you have too many dishes that use the oven, and you can't possibly cook everything in your kitchen.

So how do you do it? I like writing the timeline using Excel, but you can just use pencil and paper too.

1. Decide what dishes you want to make

When you're coming up with the menu, keep in mind the resources of your kitchen. Don't plan every dish for the oven. Think about whether you can fit 10 lbs of potatoes in your biggest pot; maybe you'll need two pots and two burners.

Write each dish down at the top of your timeline.

2. Figure out what can be done ahead

Cooking ahead is the number one way of making things easy on yourself on the big day. Write down the steps that can be done ahead of time on your timeline.

Stuff that can or should be done 2 days ahead:

     - Cranberry Sauce (try making your own, it actually tastes good!)
     - Pumpkin Pie
     - Make turkey stock for gravy
     - Start thawing the turkey (you might even need more than one day to thaw).

Stuff that can or should be done 1 day ahead:

     - Make salad dressing
     - Assemble stuffing and get it ready for baking the next day
     - Mashed sweet potatoes (they keep very well)
     - Cut vegetables for crudite
     - Make dips
     - A hearty Autumn soup (pumpkin, butternut squash)
     - Make casseroles
     - Bake bread or rolls
     - Brine your turkey
     - Clean your house, decorate, set the table...

3. Plan out the big day on the timeline

Make a column for each major cooking resource, each oven and each stove burner, and add another column for miscellaneous tasks.

Figure out when you want to serve dinner, and then plan the turkey around that time. If you're serving at 4pm, then you should take your turkey out of the oven at 3:30 (to give it time to rest), and put the turkey in at 12:30 to give it a 3 hour bake time. Mark these tasks on the timeline under the column for oven. These are just our examples, your cooking times will vary depending on the size of your bird.

Schedule your other dishes on the timeline under the kitchen resource they will be using up (range burner #2, oven #1, ...). Also, schedule miscellaneous steps (eg. peel and cut 10 lbs. potatoes) under the miscellaneous column.

Make sure that you don't give yourself too much to do with any given time slot. If you do, shift the recipes to a less busy time. During the actual cooking, the schedule often slips, so give yourself wiggle room between dishes just in case.

4. Re-evaluate your menu

When you filled out your entries, did you have trouble fitting things in? Were too many dishes using the same oven? You might need to plan more non-oven dishes. Be creative. There are recipes for butternut squash soup might make a good starter.

If you just have too many things packed into a time slot, you should try to plan more dishes that can be made the day before. Instead of baked sweet potatoes, maybe make a asparagus salad that can be prepped ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

5. Time to cook

For the days before Thanksgiving, just make sure that you do all the steps you've planned for your self. The exact timing isn't as important.

On the big day, just start following the timeline. At any given time, you can easily see what you're supposed to be doing by checking the row for the current time.

Now most importantly...

6. Have fun

I know all this planning sounds like a pain, but it doesn't really take much time to make a timeline, and it's much less painful than having a mental meltdown on Thanksgiving day.

The whole point of scheduling things out is so that you're not too busy at any given time. This way you can stay calm and have fun before and during the big meal. It's also so that you can be a good host. No one wants to watch you freak out on Thanksgiving. So don't worry and have fun! That's what it's all about...

Submitted by:

Howie Wang

Howie Wang is creator of the FoodieView Recipe Search Engine (www.foodieview.com). For sample Thanksgiving timelines, visit the FoodieView site. The FoodieView Recipe Search Engine allows you to search dozens of cooking sites from one convenient place.





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