Take Control of Thanksgiving, and Enjoy

Thanksgiving dinner is surprisingly simple to make. Most of the feast can be done ahead -- you can relax and enjoy the feast, too.

Sure, once upon a time I was afraid of serving a dry, overcooked bird and lumpy gravy. But once I realized how simple the meal actually is (I bought a meat thermometer and a strainer), I seized control of the holiday. I make Thanksgiving dinner every year, and whether it's for two or 12, the work is essentially the same.

4 days before the feast...

  • Shop for food.

3 days before the holiday...

  • Prep food.

Thanksgiving Day...

  • Do very little cooking.
  • Put the turkey in the oven and go for a long walk or take a bubble bath.

A few reasons why I am grateful that I'm in charge of Thanksgiving dinner...

  • When you're in charge, you can have it your way and keep unwanted traditions at bay -- like salad. What's with serving a green salad on Thanksgiving? Can we not have one meal that doesn't come with a salad?
  • Thanksgiving dinner, unlike a dinner party, is served at an approximate time -- when the turkey is done. This is a no-stress situation. If you set out a platter of cheese, veggies, and dip, you can keep the crowds placated for a couple hours.
  • People show up early, and, seeing that you are making some wonderful food, immediately pitch in to help with other tasks, from fetching drinks (one for you, of course!) to setting the table to taking out the trash. Then folks will hang around in the kitchen to chat and keep you company, and in general create a festive, party atmosphere.
  • The hostess gets all the glory and does no dishes. Which would you rather choose? I can't drag my gravy-laden body to the kitchen for cleanup duty after eating seven different dishes. Napping, however, I can manage.

I'm telling you, making this meal is a win-win situation.

Herb-Butter Roast Turkey

Pear-Pecan Stuffing

Pan Gravy

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions

Green Bean Bake Revisited

Zinfandel Cranberry Sauce

Pumpkin Hazelnut Pie

Three days ahead...

  • If turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator to thaw. This can take two days.

Two days ahead...

One day ahead...

  • Make the Pumpkin Hazelnut Pie.
  • Toast the bread cubes and pecan pieces for the stuffing.
  • Make the Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions.
  • Cook the onions, mushrooms, and green beans through step 2 for the Green Bean Bake Revisited.

Four hours before guests arrive...

  • Assemble the stuffing and get the turkey into the oven.

Two hours before guests arrive...

  • Set the table if you have not already done so.
  • Start basting the turkey with its juices every 30 minutes. Add water to pan if it dries out.

5 days before Thanksgiving...

  • Clean the house.
  • Make a centerpiece.

Centerpiece Ideas

As guests arrive...

  • Provide purchased appetizers and snacks, such as cheese and crackers.
  • Enlist help in finishing table set up and a making a beverage station.

When the turkey is done...

  • Use both the oven and microwave to reheat side dishes.
  • Transfer the turkey to a carving platter and cover with foil to keep it warm.
  • Make the gravy.

Thirty minutes after eating...

  • Be sure to get primo napping seat in front of the fire.
  • Let most closely related guests oversee kitchen cleanup.


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