If your Thanksgiving dinner always turns out perfectly with all the dishes being served on time and piping hot, then you can stop reading this column and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
If not, I have a few last-minute tips that might help.
Confirm your guest list. Make sure you know what each person is bringing to dinner and how much prep time he or she will need to complete the dish. You don't want a guest to show up a half hour before turkey time with a bag of potatoes instead of a bowl of mashed potatoes.
Evaluate your recipes and make sure you have all necessary ingredients. Check expiration dates on baking supplies and make sure everything is fresh and ready. Finish any last-minute grocery shopping tonight. Wash and chop vegetables and do other prep work.
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Make sure that turkey is chilling, not freezing, in the fridge. If you wake up tomorrow and your bird is frozen, draw it a cold water bath. Place the bird, still in its wrapper, in a sink filled with cold tap water. Change the water every half-hour to make sure it stays cold. Be patient. It will take roughly 30 minutes per pound for the bird to thaw.
Set the table tonight. This will save precious time tomorrow. Set out your serving dishes and put a notecard in each that lists what food goes in that dish. This ensures all your food makes it to the table.
Create a timetable. List the time each dish needs to go in the oven and any temperature changes required.
Stock the bar. A nice sparkling wine or dry riesling will pair well with various Thanksgiving courses. If you want red wine, look for lighter pinot noirs and avoid heavy cabernet sauvignons. For dessert, Port finishes the feast on a special note.
Be sure to remove the plastic package of giblets inside your turkey before you put it in the oven. Stuff the turkey with herbs and fruit or vegetables to add flavor but skip the dressing. That should be cooked separately.
To roast your turkey, set your oven to 325 degrees. Follow these guidelines to determine cooking times:
8- to 12-pound bird will need to roast for 2 hours and 45 minutes to 3 hours.
12- to 14-pounder needs 3 hours to 3 hours and 45 minutes.
14- to 18-pound bird needs 3 hours and 45 minutes to 4 hours and 15 minutes.
18- to 20-pound bird needs 4 hours and 15 minutes to 4 hours and 30 minutes.
20- to 24-pounder needs 4 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours.
The turkey must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be safe to eat. Stick a meat thermometer in the thigh to make sure the meat is done.
Plan to serve the meal at least half an hour after guests are set to arrive to accommodate late-arriving guests.
Ask for help. You don't have to do everything yourself. Get your family to help you be assigning certain duties. Have someone set the table, someone else fill water glasses and put your husband to work greeting guests at the door and handing them a glass of wine.
Be flexible. When your cousin shows up with her uninvited boyfriend, set an extra plate at the table and pretend you're not frazzled. If your sister suddenly announces she's a vegetarian, give her an extra-large helping of mashed potatoes and don't sit her near the turkey.
Give yourself time to get ready. At least a half hour before your guests arrive, give yourself time to apply your makeup, fix your hair and change into your dinner outfit. You'll feel better if you get yourself ready before the door-bell rings.
Smile and relax. When food burns, wine spills and guests argue, plant a smile on your face and stay calm. Remind yourself that you're doing a great job and that everyone appreciates your efforts even if they can't admit it.