Turkey triumph

Thanksgiving tips from Diane Morgan

By
November 10, 2009

Culinate editor’s note: We asked Diane Morgan, the doyenne of Thanksgiving, to give us eight ideas for maximizing fun — and minimizing stress — on the big day.

The author of the just-released The New Thanksgiving Table, and of 2001’s The Thanksgiving Table, Morgan has made Thanksgiving dinner dozens of times — even in the middle of summer. If anyone knows how to make the most of this holiday, it’s she.

Here are Morgan’s eight turkey-day suggestions.

  1. Take your bird seriously. Order your turkey early! This way, you’ll get the type of bird you want — organic, natural, free range, heritage, from a local farm, etc.
  2. Make a list, check it twice. I’m a big fan of making lists. Make a big grocery list and buy your staples in advance. The perishables will have to wait and be purchased close to Thanksgiving day, but shop now for pantry staples such as chicken broth, olive oil, flour, and spices.
  3. Get all hands on deck. Whether you’re incredibly experienced or a novice, holiday dinners mean ratcheting it up. I can’t speak enough about the benefit of many hands. You need to create a menu and pass out assignments. Of course, don’t ask someone who doesn’t bake to make a pie. And if everyone is tired of Aunt Sue’s creamed spinach, give her something else to do.
  4. The table doesn’t set itself. Set the table a day in advance. It takes longer than you think. If you are planning a buffet, set all the empty platters in place so you can visualize where all the food is going to be placed. Set out serving utensils and make sure you have enough; if not, call your family and friends and borrow what you need.
  5. The Thanksgiving dessert course.
    Summon your inner stylist. As for fashioning a holiday table, I like a rustic autumnal look and have been known to make a table runner out of natural burlap and napkin rings out of strips of rolled corrugated cardboard tied with raffia — it’s creative cheapness that looks great.
  6. Organize tasks. Study all the recipes and if, for instance, onions are required for more than one dish, chop all that you’ll need at one time. Another time-saver is to invest in oven-to–table baking dishes. Then, to eliminate the passing of platters at the holiday table, set up a buffet. Guests can go back for seconds and there are fewer dishes to wash.
  7. Keep it jovial. Make the day of cooking fun! Last Thanksgiving, there were four of us in the kitchen chopping away while watching "The Wizard of Oz."
  8. Don’t sweat the timing. Disregard the whole idea that everything has to be timed perfectly. The turkey needs to rest 30 minutes before it’s carved, leaving plenty of time to finish up things. Side dishes can go back into the oven to reheat, and mashed potatoes can be made two hours ahead, then topped with an extra pat of butter and warmed in the microwave.

Diane Morgan is an author and cooking instructor who makes her home in Portland, Oregon. You can find her online — along with recipes, cooking videos, and commentary — at dianemorgancooks.com.

Related book: The New Thanksgiving Table

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1. by cafemama on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:50 AM PST

Thanksgiving is finally time to start taking advantage of all those preserves; I’m planning to make a couple of jars of harvest-type pie filling (I just made apple-quince-cranberry-maple and it was awesome!) and several jars of cranberry-walnut-orange conserve to go with the turkey. and for finger food? green bean pickles and hot pepper carrots. all I have to do is open some jars. I’m also making pie crust ahead and freezing it in the pans so dessert won’t create a bit of mess or fuss.

2. by HLorincz on Nov 10, 2009 at 11:28 AM PST

I use several oven to table pieces. I select what piece for what dish 2 days ahead of time, then I put the ingredients and/or recipe in that dish so that the day before I can just grab the dish and the ingredients to prep the recipe (as much as I can ahead of time). The day of I just finish if necessary then throw in the oven.

3. by Anne DeMelle on Nov 10, 2009 at 11:45 AM PST

These tips are great! I especially appreciate #5. Sustainable + cheap = a winning combination.

4. by tamarer on Nov 10, 2009 at 12:13 PM PST

Try to make as much as you can ahead and freeze (pie, stuffing, soup freeze beautifuly).

5. by alissasilver on Nov 10, 2009 at 2:24 PM PST

Write down what you and your guests like each year, it is good to repeat dishes that are winners and eliminate those that are not.

6. by Xanthippe on Nov 10, 2009 at 8:14 PM PST

My Thanksgiving day tip? If you’re the host, begin your day with some deep-breathing exercises. Truly. They enable you to stay centered while you’re flying around in a flurry of pots and pans, hot ovens and high expectations!

7. by Jaffer on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:39 AM PST

I make all my desserts (pumpkin pie, cheesecake, ect) a day ahead and keep them in the fridge.
Instead of having a big meal just for me and my husband, we always get together with friends and split the costs and the to-do list.

8. by Jackie Munyer on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:44 AM PST

Because we have one oven, I prepare the casseroles the day before and have them ready to reheat the next. That saves the oven for the turkey and dressing for the morning of Thanksgiving.

9. by Karen Moore on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:14 AM PST

Another good idea is to prep as many of your ingredients as you can in advance. Cut veggies, chop onions, measure out flour, spices etc. This has been a life saver when I have guests show up earlier than expected, and have to play host and cook at the same time :D

10. by Stacey Miller on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:22 PM PST

Recruit the kids... let them help plan and prepare the meal. You might get some very creative dishes, while making some new traditions along the way. I want my children to fondly remember the warmth and laughter of working alongside me and each other when they become the parents and have families of their own...

11. by kathleen on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:44 PM PST

my tip? ENJOY YOUR FAMILY, and if you know someone who will be alone, invite them to join you. My mom works at an army hospital, and last year, invited young wives who were missing their husbands who were in Iraq.

12. by anne on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:53 PM PST

Enlist family help with preparation and food items. Smeone who loves to make a delectable dessert so you can concentrate on the main dish and getting the table set early.

13. by CentreofNowhere on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:53 PM PST

My tip is to roll with the punches. Even with all of the advance preparation, requests for RSVPs, setting a time to sit down, there is inevitably going to be something that goes awry, something taking too long to cook, extra guests showing up, etc. And that is okay! It really is! Open another bottle of wine, relax, and make the most of your efforts, family and friends whether they are planned or not.

Fabulous tips here, all of them.

Oooh, and one more: eat dessert twice! Have it the first time with everyone, and a second indulgence once guests have left, all of the dishes are cleaned up and the food is put away and it’s time to put your feet up.

14. by Christine Cheripka on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:54 PM PST

Don’t be afraid to combine “from scratch” cooking with some “store bought” to create a memorable Thanksgiving Table. After all this is a day for Thanksgiving and not Labor Day....The women-folk don’t have to labor all day!!!

15. by Karen on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:54 PM PST

I’ve compiled a Thanksgiving family cookbook over the yeats with each family member’s favorite recipes listed. It makes for a quick reference guide to pull ideas from.

Each year I take a picture of the holiday table and list the menu and that all gets tucked into my book.

I also make a rich chicken base a few days ahead to give me a make ahead gravy. Anything I can do in advance is a huge help.

16. by justvaliptak on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM PST

We host what we call “Orphan Thanksgiving” for all those young people who are working/attending school too far away from their own families. They are invited to bring whatever is their favorite dish served at “Mom’s Thanksgiving Table” and we provide the Turkey and our favorites. One year, a tearful 22 year old showed up with all the ingredients for Pecan Pie, but was too afraid to make it on her own. We tackled Grandma’s recipe and she called Grandma when we finished and said “I did it!!” - again - through more tears.

17. by bmallie on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:56 PM PST

Make your piecrust several days ahead and freeze it. You can even roll it out and freeze it in your pie pan so it’s basically ready to go.

18. by jmdruadh on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:01 PM PST

Choose your side dishes based on your oven and stovetop capacities. Chance are, your full menu of sides won’t fit in the oven or on the stovetop at the same time.

One year, I actually did a mock-up, placing pots and pans on the stovetop, and baking dishes in the oven. That helped me catch a few timing issues before I started cooking, and gave me a better sense of whether my menu was reasonable.

19. by Food Lawyer on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:02 PM PST

For a really neat and conscientious Thanksgiving, consider serving a “heritage breed” turkey. This is a term that is growing in popularity, and generally appears in connection with descriptions of small-scale, local production turkeys. Prized for their rich flavor and beautiful plumage, heritage turkeys are the ancestors of the ubiquitous Broad-Breasted White industrial breed of turkey that comprises almost all of the of the commercial turkeys sold in America today.

Heritage breeds are making a comeback in America. Most breeds of heritage turkey were developed in the United States and Europe over hundreds of years; 41 specific breeds were identified in the American Poultry Association’s initial Standard of Perfection of 1874. The nine breeds recognized today are: Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish/Black Norfolk, White Holland, Beltsville Small White, Narragansett, and Royal Palm.”

Other points to consider:

• If you are really into recreating the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast, a heritage breed of turkey is more like what the first European settlers would have enjoyed.

• From the healthy consumer’s vantage, heritage turkeys are bred naturally and contain no hormones and antibiotics.

• For the ethically minded consumer, heritage turkeys tend to be raised on small family farms, and generally enjoy a higher quality of life.

• For the gourmet consumers, the meat that the heritage bird produces is reputed to be more flavorful than the standard supermarket turkey; the American Bronze breed, for example, reportedly produces a very succulent meat that has been describe as “steak like.”

• Finally, for the agriculturally-focused consumer, heritage breeds are attractive because they owe their taste to diverse diets; dining on fresh grass and insects, these birds exercise and even help control farmer’s pest problems.

Depending on where you live, local farm stands are taking orders for heritage birds. While any particular farm might have only a select offering, the Internet now allows consumers willing to live with a slightly-expanded Thanksgiving carbon footprint to access almost any kind of bird you can imagine. Today’s growing ranks of “artisan” farmers offer enterprising consumers online access to birds that run the gamut from farm-raised to humanely-raised, organic to vegetarian, pastured to kosher-slaughtered, etc.

Be advised: depending on the breed and characteristics you choose, a certain level of sticker shock is inevitable. For example, raising heritage breeds is more costly and time consuming than raising the industrial Broad Breasted Whites that dominate conventional supermarkets. While supermarket turkeys grow to an average of 32 pounds over 18 weeks, heritage birds take anywhere from 24-30 to reach their market weight. Plus, when you take shipping costs into account, well . . ., suffice to say the price to you, the consumer, will be higher.

How much higher? Consider a factor of ten! Conventional supermarkets regularly market Thanksgiving birds at approximately $0.90 - $1.19 per pound; this year, I’m seeing Butterball birds for $0.99/lb, and conventional birds under private label brands for only $0.68/lb.! Online sources for organic birds, however, can range from $7.00 to $9.00 a pound, based on size. Heritage breed turkeys, especially the pastured, organic ones, can cost from $8.00 to $11.00 and up depending on size. But, those who have tasted heritage breeds consistently say the cost and the wait are well worth it!

Whatever you choose, have a Happy Thanksgiving and always remember to eat healthy, my friends!
-Richard

20. by Anu Chathampally on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:02 PM PST

Have light snacks out all day for people to graze on while working etc. That way they’ll be hungry for the main event.

21. by Julie Pietras on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:08 PM PST

I love thanksgiving and the fact that we have a holiday that the marketers cannot figure out how to commercialize much more. We have done it to Christmas and to Halloween. But to me Thanksgiving is still ours and it is about gratefulness.

So my tip is to enjoy the food, absolutely, and to give thanks. Hug your family. Make each individual feel special in whatever way you can. Its people that enrich our lives and we need to give thanks for all those people who give our lives meaning.

iPods are great but its the people we love that we can hug and look in their eyes and share ourselves.
Happy Turkey Day everyone!

22. by candrese on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:15 PM PST

Rely on the expertise of others. My mom makes a better pie, especially the crust, than I can. Rather than fret, I ask her to bring the pies. She’s happy to do it and my family is happier eating them and I can focus on the main foods for which I am more capable and interested. Thanks Mom!

23. by Kaye Lyssy on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:27 PM PST

Rent the table linens, napkins and bread basket napkins! The rental companies that caterer’s use have many beautiful colors and patterns to choose from. Afterwards you bag them up and take them back...and let them do the laundry! Your small neighborhood rental company will probably not have the selection a larger rental company will have, so it might take a phone call or two to find them!

24. by Dianne Rodway on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:29 PM PST

Every year I have some theme or thread that brings the guests together to know more about each other. One year it was simply “bring something to show and tell.” Another year, “bring a story to tell about yourself that others don’t know” This year I am asking everyone what food they think of when they think of Thanksgiving and I will have their item at our dinner, in their honor. It’s an interesting range: from wild rice and chestnut stuffing to refrigerated in the tube crescent rolls!

25. by sj.breeze on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:37 PM PST

Do what all the food magazines do, and write yourself a timeline--one for the days before Thanksgiving, and one for the day itself.

26. by Marilyn Noble on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:38 PM PST

I ask each of my guests to let me know what one food (besides the turkey) makes their Thanksgiving. I then make sure I have at least a little of that food to serve. In past years, it’s meant mashed potatoes, meatballs and sauce, and pasta, (a combination I wouldn’t have created on my own to go with turkey and stuffing) but everyone feels honored and loved and it’s all lots of fun. We end up talking about our family traditions and it reminds everyone that we have so much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

27. by Maria Hodkins on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:47 PM PST

Inevitably, there’s so much to prepare for the Thanksgiving dinner, that there’s really no time to make a big breakfast, especially for the extended family that might be visiting. It’s easier to prepare the Thanksgiving morning breakfast ahead of time, with an egg strata, some muffins or scones (frozen and pulled out), fresh fruit plate, and granola with yogurt--set out in a buffet. Then you can just put on the coffee and let everyone help themselves while the “elves” are working on the turkey and dressing in the kitchen.

28. by Diane Conroy on Nov 11, 2009 at 1:52 PM PST

This year we are starting a new tradition at our house. We are volunteering to serve the homeless at a local shelter. There are so many homeless with all the forclosures and families separated and laid off, that everyone needs to reach out somehow to them. We need to show them there are people out there who care even if it’s only something small like this. It’s our way of “Giving Thanks.”

29. by Anne Zimmerman on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:04 PM PST

Don’t get antsy and over do it on the appetizers! It seems we always get hungry and start munching while we are waiting for the turkey to finish. Then I find myself full before we’ve started!
A post dinner walk in the crisp air always helps with this, though.

30. by asherandeva on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:06 PM PST

We have two Thanksgivings--one at our family of origin and one with our chosen family that we call “The Real Thanksgiving” on the Saturday Night after. This is the T-day that we plan together--last year we had Pernil, a Puerto Rican pork dish. This year it will be turkey, but we all have a hand in cooking, right down to my nine year old who does appetizers.

31. by Diane Kroese on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:13 PM PST

With a large family, we divide the work. The host provides the turkey, stuffing and gravy, while the guests provide everything else. We get to enjoy everyones special dishes, and everyone has a good time.

32. by chef velo on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:24 PM PST

1. Avoid untested recipes, if you want to try new ones make it at least once prio to the big day.
2. When using a recipe out of a book I will re-write it. This helps with comprehension and then I’ll tape them on cabinet doors for easy viewing in cooking order.
3. Chopping and slicing prep can be done a day or two ahead.
4. Timing is essential I will have a time line schedule working backwards from service time.
5. Dress comfortably, clean work area and hands, learn to avoid cross-contamination.
6. Great time to enjoy a glass or two of that special bottle of wine while cooking.

33. by Richard Yarnell on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:55 PM PST

If you have an open kitchen, maybe even if you don’t, consider serving the meal in discreet courses over the afternoon and/or evening. No need to get everyone to table and serve the whole meal from soup to salad to dessert in one frantic burst. Adds informality, allows guests to circulate, removes all timing problems, and, best of all, eliminates the need to loosen the belt half way through the meal.

Be sure to withhold the dessert to the end of the day so the kids and husbands earn the sweets.

ry
Beavercreek, OR 

34. by Richard Yarnell on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:03 PM PST

On number 19:

Richard, would you agree that preparing these birds (or range fed duck, for that matter) is best adjusted toward preparing large game birds? For those who have not tried heritage breeds, most tend to be leaner than those bred for a huge breast and rapid growth. In addition, you won’t find these birds pumped full of water or broth. I use techniques out of older copies of Joy which have “game” sections.

Richard

Farming and cooking in Beavercreek, OR

35. by Richard Yarnell on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:10 PM PST

One more: this is a plea for safety.

Those turkey fryers, the ones filled with five gallons of hot-almost-to-the flash-point oil; the ones that make the news every year by incinerating at least the porch or back deck: don’t chuck them, but don’t use the oil either.

I almost always, now, poach big birds. Your turkey or goose will cook almost as fast in water as in the fat and you can flavor the water with vegetables before you begin the bird. Plan on an hour (always use a thermometer to check the bird) in the water and another 10-15 minutes in a very hot oven to add some color. No stuffing in the bird, of course, but in these days of salmonella and e. coli, that’s not a good idea anyway.

After you’ve carved the bird, throw the bones back in the cooking water, add more veggies if you like, and boil up a wonderful soup base, now redolent of the whole meal.

Best of all, your house will survive the experience.

ry

36. by elleystar on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:17 PM PST

Encourage early guests to lend you a hand in the kitchen by playing some great music and keeping a bottle of wine open and glasses handy. The kitchen will become the place to hang out, and everyone can have a great time talking and pitching in. (Even if the chores are simple like handing over tools or rinsing off dishes.)

37. by Stella Louise on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:50 PM PST

I buy a bunch of those take-out containers like Chinese restaurants use, so that I can load my guests up with lots of leftover goodies--and no one needs to worry about returning any Tupperware!

38. by anonymous on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:51 PM PST

Start planning at the end of October. Make lists for shopping. Some items can be purchased in advance spreading out the cost. Some dishes can be prepared in advance. If you have a great place that offers homemade pies and you are short on time, that may be an option for dessert.

Do ask for help if needed and if short on time or budget, a fun Thanksgiving can be a “potluck” with different dishes.

39. by Greg Frye on Nov 11, 2009 at 4:00 PM PST

I second those voices suggesting anything calming and relaxing -- enjoying the family, not sweating the timing, deep breathing exercises. After all, what good is a holiday with friends and family if you are so stressed you can’t enjoy it? It gets even worse if your tension spreads around the room and others can’t enjoy themselves either.

40. by Acook on Nov 11, 2009 at 4:39 PM PST

We’ll reduce the number of dishes we make use the pre-plannng ideas and enjoy the Turkey Trot with family!

41. by Katrina Hall on Nov 11, 2009 at 4:48 PM PST

The last three or four Thanksgivings have the family arriving just in time for dinner, then leaving when the toddler needed her nap. I learned to wave at the dirty dishes, enjoy the company - and have plenty of plastic take out containers to fill for all.

42. by Ivar Anderson on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:13 PM PST

I like to make my own stock for the gravy a week in advance. I buy inexpensive turkey parts (necks, wings, drumsticks) and roast them with onions, carrots and celery until everything is nicely browned. Then I drop them into a large stock pot and simmer for 8-12 hours. Drain the stock freeze it until Wednesday, then thaw it in the refrigerator while the turkey brines.
I also like to make a light roux in advance (Wednesday night) and refrigerate that until I am ready to make the gravy while the turkey rests.

43. by tkoehler on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:40 PM PST

butter spice rub - you’ll win best tasting turkey every time.

44. by Susan@MyLifesJoys on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:53 PM PST

I start my day with a cup of coffee and I try to relax and organize myself....then:

I try to plan ahead and do as much advance preparation as at all possible. I enlist the help of my Thanksgiving Elves-(Mom and Brother) to bring bread ,wine, butternut squash and Moms famous Family stuffing.
This year my niece is in charge of desserts the young children will enjoy- as they really wont eat pies.
I set the table early in the morning and begin to tackle my to do list!
Then I try to enjoy myself!

45. by Susan Mellish on Nov 11, 2009 at 7:30 PM PST

We eat our Thanksgiving meal at noon, I am up early making the stuffing and getting the bird in the oven. To make my life easier, I chop all my onion and celery for the stuffing the night before and put the veggies in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. I also have all the bread torn the night before. Making my stuffing in the morning is a simple as cooking my veggies in butter, spicing up the dry bread, mixing the cooked veggies and butter into the bread and tasting for flavor. While the veggies simmer, I wash and dry the turkey and when the stuffing is assembled, I am ready to stuff.
http://thatcountrylife.com/wordpress

46. by elysek on Nov 11, 2009 at 9:20 PM PST

I find making lists and writing down a schedule to be extremely helpful in planning the dinner.

In addition, I strongly recommend purchasing an instant read thermometer to make sure all the food is cooked to the proper temperature. Also, don’t let the turkey sit out unrefrigerated for too long.

47. by RainandSnow on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:29 PM PST

Roast the turkey on the BBQ to free up oven space. Decorate and set the table the day before.

48. by lisamarie on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:36 PM PST

This may be a no brainer for some, but every year we go turkey hopping to accommodate both sides of the family. this year i am hosting at my place with both families present...this way we won’t get turkey burn out by day 1!

49. by yael even on Nov 12, 2009 at 12:01 AM PST

I try to make as much as possible in advance and I also think it’s important to delegate jobs to everyone in the house so it all doesn’t fall on the hostess.

50. by LFunke on Nov 12, 2009 at 12:34 AM PST

I like to actually be hungry and wanting to eat when I sit down to this wonderful meal. Here are a couple of ideas: have a warm soup or appetizer course earlier in the day and then go for a walk with guests before coming back for the last round of cooking, and enjoy only drinks (for kids, cider and maybe some raw veggies) in the hour or two before the meal. And because the aromas of a long day of cooking can also reduce your appetite, try to get a breath of fresh air just before the meal (not always possible, but I find it worth striving for!).

51. by Food Lawyer on Nov 12, 2009 at 5:19 AM PST

On number 34:

Richard, you are right on in noting that getting the most from cooking a heritage breed turkey means doing things a little bit differently from the standard methods generally used to prepare conventional birds. For those interested, check out the food blog TIGERS & STRAWBERRIES authored by Barbara Fisher; on it, there’s a nice posting entitled “Thanksgiving Report: Cooking a Heritage Turkey” that deals specifically with the unique aspects of preparing a heritage turkey for your table. I recommend this posting because the narrative is both informative and a delight to read. It even has how-to pictures and helpful responses from knowledgable readers. The post is accessible at: http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2005/11/28/thanksgiving-report-cooking-a-heritage-turkey/
Point well taken, Mr. Yarnell!
Eat healthy, my friends,
-Richard

52. by vesperlight on Nov 12, 2009 at 7:10 AM PST

I actually know a family that eats on paper plates on Thanksgiving to make cleanup easy. Make both your family and guests feel special by using the best dishes you have!

53. by sarash on Nov 12, 2009 at 7:47 AM PST

The same as so many others, I think doing as much before hand as possible is the best tip. Even mashed potatoes can be prepared ahead with butter and cream, microwaved the day of and fluffed up with no discernable off taste.

54. by Iain Abernathy on Nov 12, 2009 at 8:13 AM PST

Don’t neglect the drinks. Many people will just have iced tea, sodas and/or a random wine. Those are all good, but put some more thought into it. I expect to include: sweet tea, sodas, an easy wine (rose, or maybe the recent grape glut will allow a cheap but excellent pinot), beer (something easy but better than average, probably Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), and some basic cocktails.
For the cocktails I’ll have mid-price liquors so that they are good mixed or otherwise and some decadent mixers such as chocolate and coffee liqueurs. I may even infuse some vodka with apples.

55. by Sharon Aquilino on Nov 12, 2009 at 9:25 AM PST

I make my mashed potatoes ahead of time and keep them warm in a double boiler.

56. by sara woodin on Nov 12, 2009 at 11:29 AM PST

Don’t forget to send yourself flowers, and check your candle supply.

57. by anonymous on Nov 12, 2009 at 12:10 PM PST

Adding to the ‘keep it jovial’ suggestion, if guests insist on dishes you detest -- green bean casserole (not updated!) comes to mind for me -- have the person who can’t live without it bring it, rather than making it yourself and then feeling grumpy about it. Profuse thanks are always appropriate!

58. by Jen Daniel on Nov 12, 2009 at 1:53 PM PST

Mexican Train Dominos and Uno make for loads of Thanksgiving holiday fun for the whole family!!

59. by Francine Fogel on Nov 12, 2009 at 4:05 PM PST

To expand on #4 - in addition to setting out the platters and serving pieces, I also jot down the dishes that are going in them, so that I ensure that I haven’t forgotten to put anything out.

60. by HConklin on Nov 12, 2009 at 6:33 PM PST

There are so many things to make in advance! My favorite is to put together the whole apple pie the weekend before and freeze it unbaked. On Thanksgiving day, bake it while you’re eating dinner and it will still be a bit warm when you’re ready for dessert. You can also toast bread cubes for dressing, chop vegetables, etc.

61. by vesperlight on Nov 12, 2009 at 10:25 PM PST

Put kids to work! When I was young my sisters and I enjoyed polishing silver, putting in extra leaves and setting the table, ironing linens, unearthing all the special occasion dishes, creating a centerpiece, setting up chairs. We didn’t enjoy dishes afterwards -- but we got them anyway.

62. by Mount Pleasant Farmers Market on Nov 13, 2009 at 7:10 AM PST

The bird is a centerpiece but it’s the vegetables that make this my favorite holiday. 10 “side” dishes is not too many, and assuming you don’t cook everything in bacon fat and chicken stock like I’m prone to do, your vegetarian guests get to just EAT, without having to ask, and without being limited to potatoes and bread rolls and dessert.

63. by laine608 on Nov 13, 2009 at 7:41 AM PST

I agree with a number of people - plan ahead and do ahead. The less you have to do the day of Thanksgiving, the earlier you get to eat turkey!

64. by Tamara Gordy on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:24 AM PST

Love to eat the turkey. I dont know why it has such a bad reputation. If you cook it with some good techniques, it comes out great - moist, flavorful...

65. by Kim on Nov 13, 2009 at 1:15 PM PST

Thanks for all these excellent ideas, everyone. We’ll notify the winners and get the books on their way. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

66. by french tart on Nov 14, 2009 at 3:53 PM PST

don’t hit the ground running on the morning of thanksgiving. my husband and i have a tradition that we’ve kept to since our very first thanksgiving together. we wake up, make coffee, add a shot of bailey’s and a shot of frangelico to it (you can leave this out if you dont want boozy coffee - but i feel it helps me wind into the morning just right), top with freshly whipped cream. then we park ourselves in front of the tv and watch part of the macy’s thanksgiving day parade. this small act of relaxing for just a moment before heading into the frenzy of a kitchen really helps us enjoy the day more.

i think having a tradition, such as our small one, helps me on those long days in the weeks prior to thanksgiving. it gives me something nice to look forward to that i know i can count on. traditions are very important.

67. by Kathy Gehrt on Nov 15, 2009 at 11:25 AM PST

Love these tips! Thanksgiving preparation can be a real joy with a little advance planning. Cooking while watching a movie is something we have not tried. This is a great idea!

68. by coffeeshakti on Nov 17, 2009 at 5:04 AM PST

I make/prep as much as I can a few days ahead. I’ll make a batch of cranberry sauce and can it, I’ll prep all the casseroles and make the pies. then I just bring it all over to my mother in laws to finish it up. She always does the turkey.

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Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

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