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Thanksgiving Planning Guide and sample timeline

Thanksgiving Table 07

Thanksgiving is upon us! It is time to give you my “Thanksgiving Planning Guide”.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having just your family of 4 or 40 people for the big day, you need to have a plan and that plan needs to be set into action now!

Thanksgiving cupcakes07

10 Days to One Week Before Thanksgiving

• Confirm the number of guests and plan the menu.
• Create your shopping list, and buy nonperishable items and the frozen turkey, if using frozen
• If you are using a fresh turkey, order it now. Order pies, if needed.
• Plan your centerpiece(s) and decorations. Purchase and put together everything that is nonperishable.
• If you’re making pies, prepare the crusts. Roll out the dough, transfer to pie dishes, and store in the freezer.
• Bake any bread and rolls, and store them in the freezer.
•  Clean and press the table linens or take them to a dry-cleaner.
•  Polish the silver.
•  Clean out your refrigerator, making room for Thanksgiving foods.
•  Arrange to borrow or rent any tables, chairs, or linens.

Three Days Ahead (Monday)

• Make cranberry sauce, and store it in the refrigerator.
• If you purchased a frozen turkey, begin thawing it in the refrigerator.
• Set out, and wash if needed; all plates, crystal, serving dishes, and utensils. Use post-it notes and write down what is going into what dish and place the post-its on the dish along with the proper serving utensils. This not only helps you remember what goes where but also alleviates the problem of forgetting to serve something stashed away in the back of the refrigerator (which has happened to me many times!) and also helps any kitchen helpers while trying to get everything in its place at the last second.

Two Days Ahead (Tuesday)

• Shop for perishables.
• Set the table, and cover with a sheet to keep the dust off.
• Make any pies or desserts that can be made 2 days ahead.
• Chop any ingredients for the dressing or other side dishes, such as the onions, herbs, and celery, then label and store in zip-lock bags in the refrigerator.
• Cut fresh bread into chunks for the dressing, spread out on sheet pans, and leave out overnight to dry.

Thanksgiving 02 table

One Day Ahead (Wednesday)

• Pick up your fresh turkey, if using.
• If brining, begin the process this morning.
• Clean and dry salad greens, line a plastic bag with paper towels and store in the refrigerator.
• Start the stuffing and any vegetable dishes that have do-ahead steps.
• Make appetizers and place them in appropriate serving dishes.
• Make any remaining desserts.
• Chill wines, water, and other beverages.
• Finish preparing your centerpieces and decorations, adding in fresh flowers and/or fruits and vegetables, if used.
• Double check the bathrooms for clean guest towels, hand soap, and extra toilet paper.

The Evening Before (Wednesday night)

•  Look over your menu and recipes to create a cooking timeline for the day. The sample below is just an example and is based on an 18-20 pound stuffed turkey which takes between 5 to 5 1/2 hours to cook with a planned meal time of 5:00 PM.  Set up your timeline after figuring out how long your size turkey needs to roast, work backward and be sure to add in the extra 1 hour to allow the turkey to stand at room temperature before roasting and another 1/2 hour to allow it to rest after roasting and before carving.  Work everything else in around the timing of the turkey.

Sample Hourly Timeline for Thanksgiving Day

9:30 AM – take out turkey, remove giblet and neck and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour
–      prepare the stuffing/dressing
10:30 AM – Preheat oven; Rinse turkey and dry inside and out, season, stuff, and truss
11:00 AM – Turkey into the oven and refrigerate the remaining stuffing “dressing”
11:15 AM- 2:00 PM
–       Wash out and set up the coffee maker for dessert service
–       Remove breads/rolls from the freezer
–       Peel potatoes
–       Etc.
–       Etc.
2:00 PM – Shower, dress, and get gorgeous for guests
–       Turn on music and lights around the house
–       Remove sheet from table and set out centerpieces, set out butter dishes
–       Etc.
–       Etc.
–       Set out appetizers
3:30 PM – Guests arrive
3:45 PM – Place side dishes in the oven to reheat
–       Etc.
4:00 PM- Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the turkey, allow another 20 to 30 minutes, if necessary, or remove from oven if ready, and tent with foil to rest for 30 minutes.
4:00 PM – Make the gravy and reheat the mashed potatoes
About 4:30 or 4:50 – Carve turkey and place on a serving platter
–       light candles, fill glasses
5:00 – Dinnertime!

• Set your alarm and get a good night’s sleep!

looking happy and relaxed thanks to the planning guide

Looking happy and relaxed thanks to the planning guide.

Thanksgiving Day (Thursday)

• After morning coffee, clean pot, and set up for dessert service after the big meal.
• Thaw loaves of bread and rolls in the morning and heat in the oven just before serving, if desired.
• Put the stuffed turkey in the oven to roast
• Peel potatoes and place them in a pot of cold water to cover, set aside in a cool place.
• Complete the vegetables and side dishes. Reheat before the meal.
• Remove the sheet from the table and place butter in the serving dish and place it on table to soften.
• Garnish desserts.
• Make the mashed potatoes. Reheat in the microwave or in a double boiler before serving.
• Remove turkey from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest for 30 minutes while making gravy.
• Turn on the coffee pot and place any desserts that need to be served warm in a low oven.
• Have someone else pour the wine and water, light any candles, turn on music, turn off the television, round up the guests, and get them to the table.
• Carve the turkey and place slices on a designated platter.
• Get your guests seated, say grace, give thanks and enjoy!

Finally, a few final tips: My favorite wines to serve on Thanksgiving are Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone, and especially Beaujolais Nouveau, which becomes available just a week or two before Thanksgiving. Look for it at Total Wine, Trader Joe’s, Cost Plus World Market, or BevMo.

AND if you run into a turkey problem- call The Turkey Talk-Line provided by Butterball at 1-800-BUTTERBALL (288-8372)

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1 holiday gift guides and controlling holiday stress — Les Petites Gourmettes { 12.09.09 at 5:45 AM }

[…] For a party or a big holiday meal, always make a game-plan. You need to know more than just what dishes you want to serve.  Time management and prepping ahead of time are key.  Once you have a menu in mind, the first thing to figure out is what time you would like to serve the meal or what time the party is to start.  Take that time and work backwards from there.  If you need an example of what I’m talking about, look at my Thanksgiving timeline by clicking here. […]

2 Betsy { 11.14.13 at 10:07 AM }

a miracle for taking everything we want and need to spend Thanksgiving in a rental and having no idea about the kitchen set up is like 🙂 Think we are just doing a turkey breast if I can find a good one- any ideas? and trying to figure out what I can make a head of time– don’t want a total Costco meal – You really don’t need to answer this but the post just made me start to panic a little 🙂

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