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Saturday, November 20

And So It Begins...

Hey, everyone!!  Thought I'd just do a quick check-in to let you all know what I'm up to.  Tomorrow, I begin the week of cooking for Thanksgiving dinner.  I know, it's silly...starting cooking 4 days BEFORE dinner?  For me, it's just simpler.  There's ALOT of work involved in a completely homemade holiday dinner.  Why spend one day sweltering in a hot kitchen when, with a little planning, you can make it a breeze by breaking up the work, instead?

Of course, there is one key element that makes it possible...my fridge.  By making things in advance, and keeping them in the fridge until the final cooking, it allows me to be part of my family on Thanksgiving day (which is sort of what the day is about, right).  While I know I touched on this several weeks ago, I thought I'd give a little run-down of how I do it again so that, if any of you wish to try my methods, you'll have a handy "itinerary". 

SUNDAY

There are quite a few things for today.  First, if I hadn't already taken my bird out to thaw (or ham, if you prefer), that is a MUST!!  While your typical guidelines say to thaw for 30 minutes per pound in the fridge, I've YET to find a bird that thaws that fast.  AND, since you DON'T want to find yourself with a bird full of ice crystals when you are ready to cook it, it's always best to plan for additional time.  So, get that bird thawing!!

The other thing I will do on Sunday is all my desserts.  Unless it's a hot dessert, there's NO reason why doing them early and putting them in your fridge won't work.  They'll still be quite fresh when you are ready to serve them, I promise.  I'll be making my traditional Pumpkin Pie, the "untraditional" Pumpkin Rolls, and my Granny's Sour Cream Poundcake.  The baking temps and times are similar for all 3, which means heating the kitchen for one period only.  ALWAYS remember...if what you're making requires multiple temps, start off with the HIGHEST, then lower the temp as needed, not the other way around.  It's actually less work for your oven, which means a lower power bill.

MONDAY

Monday is always "stove" work.  This is the day that my cast iron gets it's workout.  I saute' any veggies that will be going into my dishes (celery, onion, etc), make my breadcrumbs and corncakes for my Traditional Dressing, and pre-chop or dice whatever else I'll be using.  By doing this, it allows for me to pre-assemble my dishes with everything but the liquid ingredients, which means simplicity on the day I cook them.  MUCH easier!! 

TUESDAY

This is usually the day I put my bird in it's brine.  By now, my turkey should be fully thawed, and allowing for 2 days of brining really gets those flavors into the meat.  If you unwrap your bird and find ice crystals, never fear...it WILL finish thawing while it brines.  Also, you can simply run cold water over the bird to speed up the process if you need to, although that will take a little time.

One caveat...IF the brine you are using has more than 1 1/2 cups of salt in the recipe, do not brine for more than 24 hours.  Salt can really penetrate meat, and you don't want it to overpower the flavor.  This year, I'm doing our Maple Apple brine...it gives a subtle sweet and savory flavor, so I'll brine for 2 days.

I also boil any eggs I'll be needing today.  Don't need to peel them, just go ahead, get them cooked, let them cool, and pop them in the fridge until your ready for them.  Also, if you are using any pasta (macaroni, for example), go ahead and knock it out as well.  Trust me, you'll thank me for this later!!

WEDNESDAY

Assembly time!!  It's quite simple, really...put together pretty much all your drier ingredients, holding the liquids off until just before baking.  For example, I'll go ahead and combine the breadcrumbs, corncakes, saute'd celery and onions, and chopped boiled eggs for my dressing, and put it in whatever pan I'll be baking in.  Then it's a simple matter of adding my stock and seasonings just before baking!!  This works for most things...Macaroni & Cheese, dressing, casseroles, etc...and takes all the effort out of the longest day, Thursday.

Also, today is the day you want to make any things like Classic Deviled Eggs, relishes, or Old-Fashioned Cranberry Sauce.  By doing them today, and chilling them overnight, you allow the flavors to blend perfectly!!  Lastly, if you have any FRESH vegetables you will be serving, today is the day to buy them...salad fixings, etc should ALL be crisp!!

THURSDAY

Welcome to a worry free Thanksgiving day!!  Pop your turkey (or ham) in the oven, add your liquids to your assembled casseroles, and plan your timing.

Typically, you want to cook your bird for about 20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees.  Personally, I ALWAYS add an additional 30 minutes to that amount of time...not enough to over cook, but plenty to ensure it's done.  I also add on about 20 minutes for the bird to sit after coming out of the oven.  You ALWAYS want to allow meat to rest a bit before carving...it allows the juices to distribute properly, and ensures the meat doesn't dry out.

Ironically, you can use this same temp to cook pretty much all you bake, you just have to adjust your cooking times for those as well.  If you would normally cook something for 30 minutes at 350, simply add an additional 10 minutes to your cooking time for that item.  If it calls for 30 minutes at 375, add 20 minutes...and so on.  In other words...figure up the time needed, and start cooking that item timed so that everything will come out roughly at the same time.  Remember also to allow for the "sitting" time for your meat...that way it's all ready for serious munching at one time!!!

What it comes down to is this...by simply planning out, you can make Thanksgiving TRULY a day to celebrate family and friends.  ENJOY!!!