If I’ve learned anything from years of hosting and cooking Thanksgiving dinner it is this: Thanksgiving is as much about planning and execution as it is about cooking.  As with any memorable meal it’s always a juggling act attempting to get all the food on the table at the same time and actually still be warm.  The thing is for people to truly enjoy the food, there has to be a game plan with the end goal being that all the food is ready at the same time and on the table.  People always say that timing is everything, but in this case it truly is.  The steps to achieving this grand goal is planning and timing execution.  I like to first make a list then write down all the to-do’s on sticky notes.  Once a task is completed, the sticky note is removed and thrown away.  What may seem silly is actually extremely gratifying.

Turkey is the star and because of that everything else works around it.  I like to serve sides and desserts that can be cooked days in advance, on the stove, or in the microwave instead of trying to share the oven with that big bird.  Here is a sample schedule for the big day:

Sunday or Monday

  • Set the table
  • Lay out serving pieces and utensils with sticky notes on them

Tuesday/Wednesday

  • Brine the turkey (people do this to add moisture and avoid a dry turkey – takes 24-72 hours)  *Tip – brine turkey in a cooler to save fridge space*
  • Arrange centerpiece
  • Chill beverages/wine
  • Buy ice if necessary
  • Choose your outfit
  • Cook what you can
  1. Potato Dishes can usually be made in advance.  My favorites are cheesy scalloped potatoes which can be made a day or two in advance then cooked in the oven while the turkey is resting, or Lyonnaise Potatoes which are first prepared on the stove then baked in the oven again while the turkey is resting. *Tip- potatoes can be peeled a day in advance and stored in water until needed for dish, such as mashed potatoes*
  2. Dessert: I always choose a few desserts that can be made 2-3 days in advance, such as Pumpkin Cheesecake or Cranberry Shortbread (I like cranberry to make its appearance here as that’s one less side dish during the meal).  Serve alongside ice cream and that’s one less thing you have to do the day of.
  3. Salads/Vegetable Dishes: I like to use real greens and seasonal vegetables instead of creamy casseroles.  Many vegetable dishes can be prepped or even made in advance so that flavors can meld for a day or so, such as: Mashed Root Vegetables with Bacon Vinaigrette. *Tip – all dressings for salads and vegetable dishes can be made up to a week in advance.  Simply toss right before serving.*
Thanksgiving Day
  • Cook the Turkey – I like a simple roast stuffed with onions, celery, rosemary (and any other herbs you prefer), and basted with butter.  The rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound. *Tip – never stuff the bird, and allow it to rest after cooking under tin foil for one hour* *Post cooking Tip – Save the stock from the turkey for tomorrow’s leftover soup or freeze for later use*
  • Bake potatoes and dressing while the turkey is resting
  • Make the gravy
  • Prepare the salad

Another bonus to planning and cooking dishes that can be made ahead of time is you are actually able to enjoy yourself and your family the day of.  And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?  Being thankful for those around you and the food on your table.  And so I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving with all the food being ready and on the table at the same time.  Cheers!

Cranberry Shortbread

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Cranberry Shortbread

I came across this recipe in one of my favorite foodie magazines – “Bon Appetit” and knew I had to use it this Thanksgiving! Not only can you make this dessert up to 3 days in advance (and save yourself some stress on the big day), but it incorporates two of my favorite fall fruits – cranberries and grapefruit. I prefer to allow cranberries to shine here than as a saucy side to the main course. Plus it’s simple to convert to a gluten-free dessert.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ cup or 1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 10oz. bag fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
  • ¼ cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 tsp. grated grapefruit zest

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8X8X2 inch pan with parchment, leaving a 2 inch hangover on 2 opposite sides.

Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Transfer to prepared pan; press evenly into bottom of pan (using the bottom of a flat measuring cup works well). Prick dough all over with a fork.

Bake shortbread until cooked through and pale golden, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool completely in pan.

Bring remaining ½ cup sugar, 1 ½ cups cranberries, and grapefruit juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally until cranberries burst and mixture is syrupy, about 8 minutes. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook until skins begin to split, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

To Serve: Spread cooled cranberry topping over shortbread. Scatter zest over. Using paper overhang, lift shortbread from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut shortbread.

Notes

Both shortbread and cranberry filling can be made ahead of time. Shortbread can be made 3 days ahead. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Cranberry topping too can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

http://www.theberghoff.com/2012/11/15/thanksgiving-time-table-tips-for-a-stress-free-feast/