A few years ago I enjoyed working with a Chinese programmer whom we called Gail. Gail had got into a fix: she was on the hook to make a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner for her visiting Chinese in-laws, but she had never cooked anything American before! Her kitchen, well-equipped for Chinese cookery, had none of the things we take for granted in an American kitchen, including knives and pans.
I took her shopping in Concord for gear and food, and one day I bought a roast chicken at Stop & Shop and brought it in to the office for lunch...and a lab exercise in carving a bird!
She was planning to serve dinner at 7pm, so I made up this checklist so she would not forget anything at all:
Preparing a Thanksgiving Feast can be a lot of fun, but it requires planning.
- Light Spinach Salad
- Roast Stuffed Turkey
- Mashed Potatoes
- Peas Roma
- Creamed Onions
- Gravy & Cranberry Sauce
- Apple Cider & Wine
- Apple Pie & Pumpkin Pie
- Take the turkey out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator.
- Check the shopping list to be sure you have all you will need
- Check all your hardware and sharpen all your knives. Make sure you have a baster, a whisk for making gravy, some clean linen kitchen towels, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, paper towels. Be sure you have dish soap and detergent for the dishwasher.
- Clear the kitchen counters, make sure all dishes are clean, fill salt and pepper shakers, etc.
- Get serving dishes and serving spoons for each dish. Make sure you have: a salad bowl & serving forks, two platters & two forks for the meat, a bowl for each of the vegetables & two for the stuffing, a gravy boat & a ladle, a butter dish, pretty dishes for the cranberry jelly, a pitcher for cider, two pie servers, an ice cream scoop, napkins
- Make the Mashed Potatoes and the Squash. Store in the fridge.
Thursday - For a 7pm dinner
- Take the turkey out of the refrigerator. Set the giblets aside if you plan to make a giblet gravy, BUT if you do not plan to use them in the gravy then just throw them out. Wash the bird inside and out with cold water and set it in the roasting pan to come to room temperature.
- If you plan to vacuum the dining room today, do it now before setting the table.
- Set the table: a dinner plate for each diner, a salad plate on top, on the left a folded napkin under a salad fork and a dinner fork to the inside, on the right a knife and a spoon. Above the knife a water goblet and a wine glass.
- When the table is set, put out the serving dishes to be sure they will all fit. If some will be on trivets, set those out and leave them in place. Leave the empty cider pitcher and water pitcher in place.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Rub the turkey with soft butter. Sprinkle it with salt. You can rub a little sage into it if you like.
- Prepare the stuffing according to the instructions on the package. If it calls for "water or chicken stock" then use the chicken stock:
- Boil water and make chicken bouillon - 4 cups + what you need for the stuffing. Use what you need for the stuffing, and then set aside the other 4 cups until you make the gravy. If you are using canned chicken stock, open the cans.
- Put 2 cups of water in the roasting pan and put the roasting pan in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 350.
- Baste the turkey with the juices in the bottom of the pan.
- Baste the turkey again.
- Baste the turkey again.
- Sit down and have a cup of tea - this may be your last break for the next 3 hours.
- Baste the turkey for the last time.
- Get the potatoes and the squash out of the refrigerator and put them in their serving dishes. Put a little butter on top of them and cover with aluminum foil.
- Chop up a package of bacon and cook it in a skillet until it is soft. Take out half of it (for the peas) and cook the other half (for the salad) until it is done and save it in a small dish. Cover the skillet and move it to the back burner with no heat.
- Open the cranberry sauce cans. Put the sauce in the dishes and cover with plastic wrap. Put butter in the butter dish.
- Assemble the salad in a nice salad bowl. A nice, light, festive salad is fresh baby spinach with dried sweetened cranberries, mandarin oranges, the cooked bacon, and sliced almonds tossed with a light raspberry vinaigrette. Some chopped hard-boiled egg is a nice addition, if you have it.
- Wash all the dishes in the sink and get them out of the way.
- Check the turkey for doneness. If it is done, take it out - see next step.
- Make the Peas Roma -Chop an onion and sauté it in the skillet (the one on the back burner) until it is soft and golden. Add the tender bacon. Microwave a package of baby peas for a couple of minutes and then toss them into the pan (watch for steam and spitting fat), stir quickly and cover for about 5 minutes. Season to taste, then put in a serving dish and cover with foil.
- Make the Creamed Onions according to the directions on the package. Season as needed, then put in a serving dish and cover with foil.
- Take the roasting pan out of the oven and put it on top of the stove.
- Put the 4 veggies into the stove to warm up. Leave the foil on.
- Transfer the turkey to a carving board and cover it with a clean linen kitchen towel.
- Take the rack out of the roasting pan and turn on medium heat under the roasting pan so you can make the gravy. The rack is hot and you need a kid-free place to put it - the sink is a good place if it is empty.
- Make the gravy: add 2 Tablespoons flour to the hot fat and stir it for 3-5 minutes, until it foams up. Gradually pour in the chicken stock while stirring vigorously. It will thicken at first, then slowly thin out. In the end you will have a nice smooth golden-brown gravy. Leave it simmering on the back of the stove until you are ready to put it in the gravy boat and serve. Stir a little to keep it from getting a skin.
- Take the veggies from the oven, remove the foil, and start sending them to their assigned places on the table. Send the cranberry sauce and the cider and wine, and have someone fill the water pitcher with icewater.
- Carve the turkey on the carving board. Start with the legs, thighs, & wings and put them on one platter. Cover with the kitchen towel and set aside. Working from the breastbone remove the two breasts and discard the carcass. This is not the time to be thrifty - throw it out. Slice the breasts and transfer them to the other platter.
- Make sure everything is out of the oven. Turn it off and put the pies in to warm up a little while you eat.
- Bring the turkey platters to the table.
- Join the guests, say grace, and eat well!
If there are many diners, declare one direction and pass all dishes the same way. Otherwise chaos reigns and some diners never see some foods.
- Don't forget the pies!