Take Steps in Early November to Simplify Holiday Cooking

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The traditional Thanksgiving meal featuring turkey along with numerous sides requires a lot of time and effort in the kitchen. If this takes more time than your schedule allows, consider simplifying. A simpler menu, such as roasted chicken, turkey breast or tofurkey with fewer sides takes much less time to prepare. Invite guests who want to pitch in, either by bringing a dish or helping out in the kitchen.

Perhaps the easiest option is to order your holiday spread from a restaurant or grocery store deli. Some are now taking reservations.

If you choose a traditional menu, the best way to enjoy time with others is to spread out food preparation. These 6 steps will help you feel more organized and less stressed on your special days:

  1. Write down your menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas or other Holiday celebrations.
  2. Ask yourself, do any of these menu items freeze well? This could include roasted turkey, stock, casseroles and homemade cranberry sauce.
  3. Before Thanksgiving, set aside a day for cooking your freezer items. If there are some foods that you want to serve for both Thanksgiving and December holidays, cook large amounts and divide into appropriate portions for each holiday. Christmas is only 31 days after Thanksgiving, so you may freeze items without worrying about the quality deteriorating.

If your gathering isn’t large, you may be able to cook one turkey for both holidays. Make stock from the carcass for quality much better than store bought. Freeze the carved bird and stock into portions. I like to serve an additional protein choice at Christmas, so I freeze about 75% of the turkey for Thanksgiving.

  1. Take items out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge 3 days before the holiday.
  2. Food prep the day before. Tasks include cutting vegetables, simmering eggs to stuff, baking cornbread or cutting bread for stuffing, and preparing rolls and desserts or picking them up at the bakery.
  3. On the holiday prepare fresh vegetables and salads, stuffing, assemble stuffed eggs and make the gravy from the thawed stock. Consider how long it will take to heat your casseroles and turkey to 165 degrees so everything will be hot at meal time.

Whether your menu is simple or complex, the most important part of gathering around food is the relationships you build. Having a plan makes the process much more enjoyable.

Margie Mansure is an extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. As a registered dietitian/nutritionist chef, she offers nutrition and cooking classes to community members.

Cooking with Margie