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Savor these tips for less holiday cooking stress

Stress and Thanksgiving dinner should not be synonymous. After all, Thanksgiving should be a time to enjoy friends and family, watch a college football game and, most importantly, remember our many blessings.

In all too many homes, Thanksgiving means being stressed to the max with too much to do and so little time to do it. I believe this takes the fun out of the festivities, so let’s do Thanksgiving the easy way this year.

If you have a large gathering, call for the helpers. Ask each guest or family member to bring a dish. Don’t be a martyr and do the meal all by yourself.

I used to do that many moons ago, and I was worn out. I was super woman … or so I thought. Wrong! I needed to swallow my pride and ask for help. Here are some tips to help reduce the stress.

Step 1

Plan the menu from appetizers to main course to desserts. About two weeks before Thanksgiving, assign the dishes and even offer a recipe if you like. This way you will get a well-rounded menu. I went to a dinner once that was all white, from chicken breasts with white sauce to cauliflower to white chocolate mousse. We eat with our eyes first and this was visually unappealing — not at all what was intended. If sister Sue can’t do desserts, give her another dish to make. We are going for a successful, stress-free meal. I have friend who rarely cooks, so she always brings the napkins, bread or beverages. Get the idea?

Step 2

Shop a week before for everything you are going to do yourself, especially if you are doing the turkey. Make a list of recipe ingredients on paper or on your phone because who can remember everything? Remember a frozen turkey takes about three days to thaw in the refrigerator. Never thaw in the sink with running water. A frozen fresh turkey takes about 13 minutes per pound to defrost. Also, never leave the bird outside the refrigerator unless you are ready to pop in the oven.

Step 3

If you are doing the turkey and a side dish or dessert, prepare them a couple of days in advance and either refrigerate to the baking point or freeze.

Step 4

A week ahead, make sure guests are bringing what you asked. You don’t want to end up with all starches or all veggies and no dressing or stuffing, if you prefer.

Step 5

The day before, take the turkey out of fridge and dry with paper towel. Remember to remove the liver, neck and gizzards from the bird’s cavity before seasoning. I do not stuff a bird. I make dressing instead because I am cautious of the temperature of stuffing. I don’t take chances with any bacteria growing from improper cooking. Also, set the dining table a day before — one less holiday stressor.

Now comes the main event: cooking the turkey. Do I have a recipe for you! Remember grandmother or great-grandmother using cheesecloth? Mine used it for jams and jellies and fruitcakes. Until last year, I never had used it and was sure I would have to buy it at a kitchen specialty store — not so! Most supermarkets have cheesecloth with the foils and wraps or even in baking aisles.

Well-known restaurateur and chef Michael Symon uses cheesecloth to cook the turkey. He doesn’t even baste the bird. Martha Stewart bastes hers, and so do I. Who wants a dry turkey breast? Not me, that’s my favorite part. Even my father-in-law admitted my turkey was moist and flavorful. If you want to take the worry out of the turkey, baste with butter and white wine and wrap in cheesecloth. Baste every 20 to 30 minutes.

If you are doing a big bird, say 25 pounds or so, cook it the day before Thanksgiving or get up at dawn to bake the bird. This method cooks in a slow oven, so it does take time.

If roasting the bird is too much, take a turkey to a barbecue restaurant and ask them to smoke it. I like fried turkey, but that cooking method is not for novices.

Before guests arrive, have platters or bowls and utensils ready for their offerings. Remember, delegate kitchen duties. Let guests help put out the food, put ice in the glasses or pour the wine. When dinner is done, let others help with the cleanup.

This is your holiday, too, so make it a stress-free one!


View the Roasted Turkey in Cheesecloth recipe.

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