How to Prepare a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner
The Key Is Planning
The Thanksgiving feast is just around the corner. The key to a stress-free holiday dinner revolves around the planning. Make a list of the things you should buy, specific ingredients you will need, and how many guests you expect to entertain before the last minute. Take time to plan exactly what you are looking for before you step into the grocery store.
Here's some tips for making preparations to help make the feast easier and more enjoyable:
The Turkey Trauma!
Thoughts of serving a perfect, golden, and moist turkey can make many want to order a turkey with all the trimmings from a carryout business. But, Thanksgiving is all about family coming together, not about fretting over the perfect bird. Ignore and don't be intimidated with those picture-perfect feasts on magazine covers!
Buy the Bird Ahead of Time:
Focus on planning the meal and how much bird your budget can afford. Waiting until the last minute to get a lower price on a frozen bird will only add to your anxiety. Buy ahead when selections are plentiful.
Look for turkeys of uniform shapes. Irregular shaped birds might indicate substandard processing, or worse, the bird may have been partially thawed at some point.
Thawing the Bird:
The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly, in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the turkey, plan three or four days thawing time. The bird can be thawed overnight by submerging it in a sink or ice chest, but be sure it is completely covered by the water and ice. Don't try to rush the thawing time, or you can end up with a rare bird.
If you must shop for a turkey the last minute, try to get a fresh turkey. Ask your grocer or butcher when they will take orders for fresh turkeys, or plan to receive a shipment, so you can be sure to get the size you need.
Roasting the Bird:
Do your research ahead of time. Look through your recipes and roasting techniques. Get familiar with each step of preparation and be sure you understand the directions. This will alleviate any unwanted surprises on the day of the feast.
The turkey can be roasted in a traditional roasting pan, throw-away aluminum pans, or roasting bags. Remember, a large bird in the roasting pan will be heavy, so don't be afraid to ask for help to lift the pan into or from the oven to avoid burning your hands or arms. And, ALWAYS uss heat-proof gloves that give adequate coverage and protection to bare skin! Asking for help is much better than having your bird wind up on the floor!
Throw-away aluminum pans are great because they are, not only, disposable but don't require extra space to store them. But, aluminum pans can be dangerous because they can bend or be punctured by sharp objects, such as roasting forks. Lifting an aluminum pan requires extra care, and if punctured the juices will run all over the oven, kitchen floor, or countertop.
If your roasting pan doesn't have a lid, be sure to put a foil tent over the turkey to protect the skin from getting too brown. Adding some chicken stock and apple juice, or a splash of white wine in the bottom of the pan helps to keep the turkey moist. Keep the tent or lid over the turkey until it is just about 10 degrees from being done. A final basting and removal of the cover will create a pretty golden brown finish.
Roasting bags save a lot of clean-up time, but be very careful when you open the bag because the steam will quickly come out and your skin can be badly burned.
Use a turkey basting bulb, or large spoon to drizzle the pan juices over the turkey, several times during roasting. This help to keep the skin moist and prevents burning before the inside of the turkey has cooked.
Good meat thermometers that ensure proper cooking temperatures are worth the investment. Insert one thermometer into the thigh, and another at the thickest part of the turkey breast. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends inside temperatures should reach 165 degrees. Relying solely on those pop-up thermometers can be risky because they could be faulty or damaged during processing or shipping, and may not work properly.
Plan the foods you want to serve for the feast, and put the recipes in a place that you will be able to find them. Don't deviate from the original menu choices at the last minute, decide on a menu and stick to it.
Making a holiday dinner for family and friends is exciting, but can be challenging and stressful. Planning and preparation will give you the freedom to experience and enjoy the holiday feast, right along with the guests. Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring a dish or help with the cleanup. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing.