(POSTED: September 24, 2003)
Thanksgiving Dinner...Plan Ahead No Need To Wing It!
Thanksgiving kicks off seasonal holiday feasts and in most households, turkey is the star attraction for the main meal. However preparation and planning for these family meals can give rise to Turkey Trauma and menu mayhem. This seasonal malady can be avoided by planning meals, entertaining, and activities to fit your lifestyle. If your schedule is flexible and can be adjusted to include more cooking for Thanksgiving guests, plan the menu in early November and cook one to two dishes each week and freeze them ahead of time.
On the other hand, if you are involved in several activities, children's sports or working and going to school, your schedule probably has less flexibility. Relax, with a little pre-planning, you can wing it, experience minimal stress, and serve a menu of flavorful dishes. First things first in both situations, think about the meal. Are you inviting guests? How many? What are the traditional and family favorites people always look for? Are there any special diets to consider? Who doesn't eat what??
After this exercise in food for thought make a decision on the main-dish and build your meal around the meat or poultry item. If your choice is consistent with most, turkey is the superstar for Thanksgiving dinner. The chief cook is not only roasting grilling, frying, or smoking the bird, 34% are photographing the table-ready masterpiece! Once you've decided to prepare turkey, make a decision on how it will be cooked.
Consumers today can purchase fresh or frozen turkeys of various sizes. If buying a frozen turkey, make sure you allow time in your preparation schedule for the turkey to thaw. Last minute attempts to thaw a solidly frozen turkey are one of the leading causes of Turkey Trauma. If your choice is a fresh turkey, clean out your refrigerator before bringing the turkey home to make sure there is plenty of storage space and the refrigerator is cold enough (40 degrees F or below) to store the turkey until you are ready to prepare and cook it.
Traditionally linked to turkey, stuffing or dressing as it is known in some circles is equally as important to the traditional meal. The major decision on the stuffing is whether to stuff or not to stuff the turkey. Many families serve a casserole of stuffing alongside the bird, but 69% of consumers surveyed by a leading turkey informabon line prepare the stuffing inside their Thanksgiving turkey. The caveat in cooking stuffing is to mix the ingredients and stuff the bird just before putting the turkey in the oven. If grilling or smoking a turkey, stuffing should not be placed inside the turkey, but cooked separately in a casserole dish to assure that the stuffing reaches the appropriate internal temperature (165 degrees F) within a minimal amount of time.
Additional menu items of relishes, vegetables, gravy, and dessert can be selected from family recipes, cookbooks or local newspapers. And in most cases these foods can be made from scratch, adapted to use convenience products, or purchased ready-to-eat from the supermarket. Today holiday meals reflect the personality and lifestyles of the host and hostess - the choice is up to you. Though the calendar shows the season is just around the corner, early planning is the way to a stress-free holiday meal.