10 Days, 10 Ways to Keep Thanksgiving Sane

Today is Nov. 12. Translation: Thanksgiving is a mere 10 days away.

Please note that this announcement is for planning purposes, not for inducing panic attacks. Think of it as a friendly wakeup call rather than a fire alarm. But. But, she says, gently but firmly, procrastination must be stowed in the overhead compartment for this ten-day journey. It really is time to talk turkey.

Below, I offer 10 ways to stay on top of your pre-planning hosting game, one for each day until the minute the guests start knocking on the door. There's always room for more tried-and-true tips, so please weigh in with your favorites in the comments area below.

1. Get the lay of your land: Take stock of the cabinets for tools, such as a roasting pan, instant-read thermometer and extra cutting board for carving. How are those potholders doing -- is it time for a new one that won't burn a hole in your palm? And what about that knife -- does it need sharpening? These equipment and tools questions are worth asking yourself now rather than the night before the holiday.

2. Speaking of stock, make some: There's plenty of time now to stock up -- omnivores, roast a chicken this week, save the back and neck and make a stock that will come in handy for turkey gravy, and stuffing moistener. Veggies, you do the same, with a mushroom-based or basic leek-garlic-herb broth that will be indispensable for stuffed squash, grains and soups.

3. Get a head start on cooking: It is not too early to crank out pie dough (keep frozen until day before baking - thaw in fridge), cranberry sauce (as early as the Sunday before Thanksgiving), or stuffing cubes (bread can be cut into cubes and frozen. Making dinner rolls? Let's roll today.

4. Bring on the liquid notions: Estimate how much booze and relevant beverages you'll need and go and buy it while the lines are shorter and the selection is plentiful. For wine: A good rule of thumb is half a bottle per person. Remember to have plenty of non-alcoholic options on hand.

5. Make a list, check it more than twice: Assuming you've got a menu in mind, now's the time to put it in writing. A memory is a terrible thing to tax at a time like this; jot down everything you'll need for the meal, including those overlooked pantry essentials -- cooking fat, salt, herbs, spices, eggs, flour, foil, parchment paper, plastic wrap.

6. Assess the state of the fridge : With all the extra incoming vittles, your refrigerated space quickly will shrink, making it difficult to find anything, which of course creates added stress. Before new food arrives, remove those takeout containers from September (you know who you are) and anything past its prime or expiration date. Besides, it's cathartic. (A little spritz of the shelves with spray cleaner wouldn't hurt, either.)

7. The label is your friend: Follow the lead of restaurant cooks and label all culinary works-in-progress with a name and date. You will be amazed at how this little extra step helps keep track of your food inventory, particularly those of us with short-term memories.

8. Ask for help: Appoint a helper, either with advance prep or day-of-feast projects, requesting that he/she arrive at least two hours early. From one kitchen control freak to another: It's okay to delegate. Really.

9. Ask questions: More than any other time of the year, the infrequent cook decides to dust off his cutting board and prepare a multi-course feast. Inevitably, being out of practice takes its toll on the brain, working overtime in catch-up mode, and alas, turns into a big sieve, forgetting all the basics of food safety, roasting and cooking on all four burners. That's what the What's Cooking Thanksgiving special is for. Join the online hoopla on Thursday, Nov. 15, 1 p.m. ET.

10. And last, but hardly least: Be kind to yourself. I know from experience that all work and no play makes a mean cook - and what's the point of being mean on day of giving thanks? Treat yourself to a new apron, get plenty of fresh air, remember to breathe, take your vitamins, and most of all, HAVE FUN.


By Kim ODonnel |  November 12, 2007; 10:01 AM ET Thanksgiving
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Comments

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I would add to "Make a list, check it more than twice," butter. Make sure your butter is fresh and plentiful. Also, be sure you have unsalted, if that is what your recipes call for. You'd be surprised how much butter you use for the big day.

Posted by: phoebesnow | November 12, 2007 11:49 AM

Wow those are great tips Kim! While I am not hosting Thanksgiving this year, I am printing this out and saving it for when I do! Thank you :)

Posted by: Southern Gal | November 12, 2007 1:38 PM

I'm not hosting this year as the family is all meeting in Orlando for a Disney Thanksgiving. It'll be fun but I will so miss all the planning and prep!

When I first hosted a couple years back, my aunt sent me turkey day prep sheet from her local paper. The best tip was to pre measure dry ingredients for biscuits, cornbread, cake, cookies, pastry, etc. Put them in labeled ziptop bags or containers. Prepare recipes as directed based on your schedule. You'll be amazed at how much time you'll save.

You can also precut onions, carrots, celery, etc. for stuffing, stock, and other sides to save some prep time the day of. Just know that diced onion may have a strong odor in your fridge which you wouldn't want to permeate your prepared sweet potato pie!

Posted by: Sean | November 12, 2007 2:57 PM

Or you can do what I'm doing, and buy the food already prepared by the local fancy market!
;D

Posted by: CJB | November 12, 2007 3:25 PM

I just thought of something else. This is something you can do yourself a couple of days ahead, or delegate to someone the morning of Turkey Day. Take out all the serving dishes you have, and using your prepared list of menu items, place post it notes with the names of the foods in the dishes you'll use. You might also want to put the utensils you'll use in the dish. (One time when I hosted 18 for T-Day, we'd gotten all the food into the dishes, asked the blessing, and then had to pause while we scrambled to get serving utensils for people to serve themselves!)

Posted by: Sean | November 12, 2007 3:31 PM

Don't forget to clean the oven!

I did!

Posted by: juno | November 27, 2007 11:01 AM

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