Here is a handy countdown leading up to the biggest cooking holiday of the year.
Now or within the next few days
• Prepared your guest list; confirm how many people will be there.
• Found out if your guests have any special dietary needs.
• Place a rental order, if necessary, for tables, chairs, glasses, plates and flatware.
Within the next week
• Decide on your final menu and collect the recipes you'll need. Select some dishes that taste good at room temperature, so you wont have to worry about your hot entree getting cold or your cold dessert melting.
• Assign cooking projects to family members who offer to help.
• Order your fresh turkey, or buy your frozen turkey and put it in the freezer. If buying a whole turkey, plan on 1 pound per person. If youre buying just the bone-in breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person.
• Order or pick up alcohol and other beverages, or delegate this to your non-cooking guests. Keep in mind that a bottle of wine contains about five glasses and always have nonalcoholic drink choices on hand.
• Shop for nonperishable goods now. You can buy flour, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, canned pumpkin, packaged stuffing and cornbread mixes, rice and fresh or frozen cranberries, all before the crowds descend.
One week ahead
• Shop for hardier vegetables like butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips.
• Buy heavy cream now; its hard to find right before Thanksgiving.
• If necessary, wash and iron linen or polish silver. Dig out your turkey roaster and platter and any serving dishes hidden away in closets or high shelves.
Three days ahead
• If you have a frozen turkey, clear a space in your fridge and put the bird in now to defrost.
• Clean the house, or put noncooking household members in charge.
• If youre having a lot of guests, you may want to set up the table(s) and make sure you have enough space and chairs.
Two days ahead
• Make pumpkin pies or pumpkin cheesecake, rolls, breads and cornbread for stuffing. Refrigerate pies; you can always warm things up again before serving. Apple or pecan pies dont do well in advance, though; the crust doesnt stay flaky and crisp.
• Make things that can sit for two days in the fridge, like soups and cranberry sauce.
• Assemble casseroles (like sweet potato or green bean); they can be stored uncooked in the fridge and baked on Thanksgiving.
One day ahead
• Set the table now so you wont have to worry about it later.
• Set up a coat rack with extra hangers.
• Do any remaining baking, including apple or pecan pies.
• Buy salad greens and perishable vegetables. Wash lettuce leaves now, dry well and store by packing them in paper towels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
• If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up from the butcher.
• Calculate your cooking time (and cooking order) for the big day.
• Figure out what cant be cooked along with the turkey in the oven, either in terms of temperature or space. Plan to cook those things before or after the turkey is done, or on the stovetop while its cooking; better still, make them today.
• Prepare stuffing for the turkey (if youre stuffing the turkey) and/or the dressing to cook on the side.
• Prepare vegetables for cooking. Clean, peel and chop. Cover the ready-to-go vegetables and put them in the refrigerator. Boil potatoes and mash them; they can be reheated just before serving.
• Stuff the turkey and get it in the oven according to the schedule you calculated yesterday.
• After the turkey is in the oven, you should have a little time to relax away from the kitchen.
• Just before the turkeys done, begin cooking fresh vegetables, and get anything else that needs to go into the oven ready (stuffing, store-bought rolls, etc.)
• While the cooked turkey is resting:
• Put a foil tent over the turkey. You now have about an hour to do the remaining cooking.
• If you have a pan of stuffing/dressing on the side to bake, put it in now.
• Warm whatever needs to be warmed, including mashed potatoes, rolls, soups and casseroles.
• Cook frozen vegetables.
• Make the gravy.
• Put all the food on the table or buffet. Dont hesitate to press guests into service to put food in bowls, open wine bottles, fill glasses and dish up the cranberry sauce.
• Get a plate and eat! Dont spend the meal running back and forth to the kitchen and end up missing out on the Thanksgiving feast youve created.