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Thanksgiving101: Tips, tricks, recipes, food safety, and organizational information

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Joined: Dec 9, 2005


Posted to Thread #4567 at 8:38 pm on Nov 17, 2006

Thanksgiving101: Tips, tricks, recipes, food safety, and organizational information

I’m not having Turkey Day at my house this year, so right now I’ve got more time on my hands than some of you. :-) Since I saw a few questions on the swap I thought I’d share some info I’ve compiled that might help some Thanksgiving newbies and maybe a few others - you never know! Some of this has been posted before (this it the first time here at FinerKitchens), but I thought I’d post it together for easy reference for those who might get some use out of it.

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving everyone! -


TIP - for Thanksgiving Lump Free Gravy: If you’re not making a roux…place flour and water in jar and shake to blend. Then add to your drippings - you’ll never have lumps again!

TIP - To quickly chill drinks/Champagne put in bucket with not just ice - add water to the ice, it’ll chill MUCH faster (about 20 minutes).

TIP - Put a small piece of coal (note: not charcoal) in the pot when you peel potatoes ahead of time. You can peel them a day ahead and put a piece of the coal in the water. The potatoes stay white and crisp until you’re ready to boil them. Note: I have not tried this one but others swear by it.

TIP - If you accidentally over-salt a dish while it's still cooking, drop in a peeled potato - it absorbs the excess salt for an instant "fix me up".

TIP - If you are out of refrigerator space you can use your washing machine filled with ice. It’s well insulated and it drains out the water with no mess. It keeps things so cold you’ll still have ice cubes in the tub the next day!

TIP - Have extra salt on hand for spills on carpet. Pour a very generous amount over the spill (don’t let anyone dab at it - it will just push liquid further into carpet.) Let sit for as long as possible, even overnight. Salt will absorb the spill and you can vacuum it up.

TIP - Use cookie sheets stacked on food to create more shelves in your refrigerator.

TIP - Those aluminum roasting pans invite disaster with a big bird. Invest in a good pan. Or, put a cookie sheet underneath.


Detailed No-Fail Instructions from the Weber Cookbook (this is so easy)

Charcoal indirect heat method:

Open all vents before starting fire. Position charcoal rails as near the outside edge on the lower (charcoal) grill as possible. This allows a large area in the center for a drip pan. Place an equal number of charcoal briquettes on the left and right sides (see chart below).

Light briquettes. Let them burn 25-30 minutes or till they have a light coating of gray ash. For even heat, be sure briquettes are burning evenly on each side. If one side is hotter than the other use long handle tongs to rearrange the briquettes.

Center a drip pan on the lower grill. Then insert the cooking grill with the handles positioned directly over the briquettes so that additional briquettes can be added through the openings in the handles. Place the food in the center of the cooking grill directly above the drip pan. Cover the grill, leaving all vents open, and grill food as directed in the recipe.

Indirect grilling is a no-peek cooking method. In fact, every time you uncover the grill you let out heat, adding as much as 15 minutes to your grilling time. Let foods cooking the minimum time given in the recipe before checking for doneness. Because heat circulates around the food much like a convection oven, you don’t need to turn the foods.

How many charcoals to use:

Grill Briquettes needed Briquettes needed
on each side to add each side
for the first hour every hour

26 3/4” 30 9
22 1/2” 25 8
18 1/2” 16 5

Weber Turkey Recipe:

1 10-12 pound turkey
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Thaw turkey if frozen. Remove neck and giblets. Rinse turkey in and out, pat dry. Pull neck skin to back and fasten with a skewer. Twist wings under back and tie legs and tail together securely, or tuck legs under band of skin. Brush outer surface of the bird with oil and lightly season in and out with salt and pepper.

Insert meat thermometer into center of thickest part of a thigh, not touching the bone. Place turkey, breast side up, in center of the cooking grill. Grill 2 to 3 hours or until thermometer registers 180°F and the drumsticks move easily in their sockets.

Remove turkey from the grill. Let stand 15 minutes before carving. Serves 12-14.


From: Karen/Boston (@ Gail’s

REC: Make-ahead mashed potatoes. This was in yesterday's Boston Globe. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like a great idea for reducing last-minute cooking frenzy on Turkey day.


In general, allow 1 medium potato per person, but on Thanksgiving, when the table is full of side dishes, you can stretch a pot of mashed potatoes to serve more people.

8 medium potatoes (half Idaho or russet, half
Yellow Finn or Yukon gold)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups 1 or 2 percent milk
1 quart whole milk, heated to scalding
4 tablespoons butter

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 2-inch pieces. Combine them in a large pan with water to cover them completely. Add plenty of salt and the 2 cups of 1 or 2percent milk. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer the potatoes for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Drain them into a colander.

Return the potatoes to the pan and add 1 cup of the whole milk with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper, and mash the potatoes until they are smooth. Add 1/2 cup more milk and the remaining butter. Continue mashing until the potatoes are fluffy. (You can add more butter, if you like.) Add 1/2 cup more milk, if necessary. The potatoes should be exactly the consistency you like for serving. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Use a plastic spatula to scrape down the sides of the pan. Smooth the top of the potatoes. Pour enough of the remaining milk on top of the potatoes to make a very thin layer.

Cover the pan with the lid and set the potatoes aside for several hours. Just before serving, set the potatoes over medium heat and reheat them, stirring constantly, until they are hot and fluffy. Transfer to a warm bowl and serve at once.



1 egg white beaten
1 box puff pastry
1 box tin foil

Gather a long sheet of tin foil and scrunch it up into the shape of cornucopia (solid form). Approximately 12 inches long and as thick as you desire. Make it big, so you can add lots of desserts or other foods. Next roll out puff pastry and cut into 1 inch strips. Begin constructing the cornucopia by wrapping each strip of pastry around and around the tin foil. After approximately 20 strips, the entire foil inner will be covered. Cutout decorative leaves with the remainder of dough and decorate the top of the cornucopia. When it's finished brush with egg wash. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden, about 20 minutes.

Once it has cooled, pull the inner tin foil out from the inside. You can fill it with brownies, squares and cookies.

Note: I made this last year and it was a big hit! I used it to have cubed bread tumbling out for dips. It’s a keeper.


Basics - Do Ahead, Do Now
Organizing cooking tasks divide up your time. Here are some examples of how to divide the preparation of some common dishes into jobs that are “do ahead” - done in advance, and “do now” - done close to serving time.

Do Ahead:
* Prepare and freeze muffins, bread, unbaked fruit pies, and tart shells up to 1 month ahead.
* Freeze baked, unfrosted cake layers up to 4 months.
* Assemble and freeze unbaked casseroles, meat pies, and filo pastries up to 1 month ahead.
* Wash salad greens and pat dry; wrap in tea towel, place in a plastic storage bag and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
* Wash, trim, and blanch vegetables up to 24 hours ahead.
* Marinate meat, poultry, or fish; refrigerate 1 to 24 hours.
* Make stocks and sauces ahead and freeze up to 1 month, or refrigerate up to 3 days.
* Prepare soups, stews, and vegetables purées; refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.
* Cakes can be assembled and frosted about 24 hours before serving.

Do Now:
* Bake muffin batters, fruit pies, and tart shells just before serving.
* Bake casseroles, meat pies, and filo pastries from the freezer.
* Tear washed greens and toss with dressing
* Reheat blanched vegetables in boiling water or a steamer basket, or sauté them in butter and oil.
* Cook marinated meat, poultry, or fish.
* Pull stocks and sauces from the freezer and reheat without defrosting.
* Reheat refrigerated or frozen soups, stews, and vegetable purées.


Food Safety - Improper Cooling (info taken from article in BH&G 11/00)

Many of us assume that food handling or undercooked food causes the most food-related sicknesses. Not so. The major culprit is improper cooling. “Leftovers have to be cooled quickly so as not to allow any surviving bacteria to grow. Bacteria thrives between 140 and 40 degrees, and even a turkey carcass that’s refrigerated immediately after it’s carved is going to be in that temperature range a lot longer than 4 hours.” - Richard Linton, an associate professor of food safety at Purdue University.

The FDA recommends that cooked food be cooled to 41º F in less than four hours. But that’s not easy as easy as it sounds. To demonstrate, Linton makes a big pot of chili for his students and asks: If you cooked chili at 165º and let it cool to 140º before putting it in a 38º refrigerator, how long will it take for the chili to cool to 40º?

The students usually say 4 hours. The right answer is 20 - 24 hours.

Here are some ways to speed up cooling in your kitchen:
* Use stainless steel containers for storage.
* Divide food into smaller, shallow containers. For fastest cooling, Linton recommends keeping leftovers under 2 inches in height.
* Slice all meat off bone before storing.
* If you don’t have smaller containers for storage, place food in a bowl and set it inside a sink full of ice, stirring every 15 minutes.


A CHECKLIST FOR ENTERTAINING (I know, I know, I’m always teased about my lists, but let me tell you - I always end up enjoying my parties instead of being stuck in the kitchen!)

Begin your party preparations with a list of all the items you will need, the tasks you must perform, and the arrangements to be made. Making a list goes a long way towards lessening anxiety and allows you to enjoy the festivities along with your guests. This is my base list that I use to create my master list for big events like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

One Month Before
* Choose the menu/theme.
* Make a guest list.
* Decide on table settings, linens and centerpieces.
* Plan lighting.
* If the party is large and seating is limited, consider renting several small round tables. Arrange for delivery and pick-up.
* Decide where you will set your foods, beverages, coffee and dessert.
* Rent or borrow items you don't have such as: coffee urn/platters/serving utensils.

Three Weeks Before
* Create a menu including beverages and gather recipes.
* Set aside time to test new dishes.
* Check your pantry for recipe ingredients.
* Prepare a shopping list.
* Prepare, wrap and label dishes that freeze well.
* Shop for decorations, candles and linens.
* Call guests or drop them a note. If your home is hard to find, include a map with the invitation.
* If having a potluck, contact guests for sign up. (Remember to plan the use of the number of burners on your cook-top, as well as items that can be cooked at the same temperature in your oven when making assignments.)

Two Weeks Before
* Order special items, such as meats, poultry, and baked goods.
* Make and freeze pastry dough(s).
* Check table linens; send out for cleaning if needed.
* Order fresh flowers for table arrangements.
* Schedule make ahead foods.
* If you are planning a formal party, create a seating arrangement & make place cards.

One Week Before
* Clean and polish china, silver, glassware.
* Organize serving trays, bowls, and baskets.
* Select background music.
* Preliminary Major House Cleaning
* Plan serving centers - Buffet, Cocktail Tables, Etc.

Two Days Before
* Pick up special order items.
* Shop for all fresh food supplies.
* Pick up beverages and ice.
* Shop for all groceries except highly perishable items
* Move Furniture & set up buffet table
* Reclean house
* Clean/press table cloths if they weren’t sent out.

The Day Before
* Make pies, hors d'oeuvres, stuffing, yeast breads and rolls.
* Prepare dishes that can be stored in the refrigerator.
* Thaw frozen foods.
* Clean fresh vegetables and fruits.
* Pick up fresh flowers and make floral arrangements. Store in a cool place.
* Set the table.
* Set up food and beverage stations.
* Put serving dishes (and utensils) on tables where they will be placed.
* Pick up turkey if fresh.
* Clean turkey and store in the refrigerator overnight.
* Clean glassware, roasting tray and silver.
* Buy perishable groceries.
* Plan cooking timetable.
* Complete make ahead foods.
* Set up coffee maker and set timer.
* Make sure everything that needs to be chilled is in.
* Run dishwasher and empty it out.

The Day of The Party
* Prepare the main entree. Allow enough time for poultry and meats to roast and to rest before carving.
* Arrange hor d'oeuvres and fresh foods on platters.
* Prepare final dishes.
* Set out hors d'oeuvres, beverages and coffee.
* Put on music and enjoy a wonderful meal with family and friends.

The Day After:
* After any party, you might want to record in a journal how much was left over and what people liked and didn't like. This information will be a big help when you plan your next party. Think of your party journal as a reference to look back on when you are trying to remember your boss's favorite drink. That way you can have it at the next event. It is also an easy way to keep track of what you served so you don't make the exact same menu again, unless of course you want to!

Shopping list/notes:

Here are some things you may want to think about having during the party:

* Coat rack (hangers or a separate room to put coats)
* A place to put boots or umbrellas
* Ice, ice bucket, ice tongs or scoop
* Cocktail napkins (have enough for at least 2 per person)
* Toothpicks
* Candles
* Matches
* Paper towels
* Extra toilet paper (for powder room)
* Pretty guest soaps (for powder room)
* Paper hand towels (for powder room)
* Potpourri (for powder room)
* Plates (remember: appetizer, salad, dinner, dessert)
* Bowls (if you are having a soup course)
* Glasses (remember: water, wine, mixed drink, beer, soda, coffee), some beverages can use the same type of glass
* Silverware (remember all of the courses/a fresh spoon or stir is necessary for coffee)
* If grilling: check the tank, charcoal, lighter fuel, bug spray, and citronella candles
* Coffee and assortment of tea bags
* Cream and sugar (and artificial sweeteners)
* Salt and pepper
* Wine, beer, and soda -chilled
* Wine and bottle opener
* Bar garnishes (lime, lemon, olives, onions, cherries, and salt)
* Centerpiece (flowers, balloons, etc.)
* Film for the camera (wow that's old -- let's say batteries instead these days)
* Ziploc bags/containers for leftovers to keep and give, or Chinese take out containers
* Garbage bags
* Dishwashing soap
* Club soda (for any thing that may spill, a great spot remover)
* If you don't have enough space to chill all of your beverages. It only takes beer, wine and soda 20 minutes to chill on ice. A large tub or cooler can be used in a back room. Also, your washing machine will work in a pinch too.

The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something that can be learned in no other way. - MTwain

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