10 tips to make Thanksgiving dinner easier on the cook

Planning ahead and making some of the Thanksgiving dinner in advance can make life easier for everyone, especially the chef, says The Morning Edition's food columnist Andrew Coppolino.

Plan head, share the work and don't wait until Thanksgiving says food columnist

“It’s not about restrictive eating over the holidays, it’s about restrained,” says Robin Anderson.

Planning ahead and making some of the Thanksgiving dinner in advance can make life easier for everyone, especially the chef, says The Morning Edition's food columnist Andrew Coppolino.

The key, he says, is to plan now and even parcel out some of the work in advance so that everyone is invested in the dinner's success days before the actual holiday feast takes place.

Here are his ten tips to lowering the pressure cooker that can stress out the family chef.

Tip #1: Seek out TDC ("Turkey Dinner Collaboration")

Get the family to help out. Put an auntie on pumkpkin pie or other dessert duty. Make an in-law clean and blanch some green beans.

Tip #2: Write lists

Make plans. Do things days ahead, including making sure your frozen turkey is thawed several days beforehand. However, don't panic: you can cook a turkey from frozen on feast day, but you'll need at least 50 per cent more time. Most of what you serve for Thanksgiving dinner can be prepared a couple days ahead.

Tip #3: Don't stuff your bird

Make the stuffing in a slow cooker. Why? Stuffing the bird takes time. And un-stuffing it takes time, too. The turkey will cook more quickly unstuffed and the meat will be moister too (you'll also fit more stuffing in a slow cooker). As for the bird, cut up some aromatic vegetables and herbs a day or so ahead and refrigerate them in a sealed container. Before roasting the turkey, rub the cavity with a chicken stock base or butter, and those aromatic vegetables. You'll get tastier turkey meat.

Tip #4: Prepare an additional cold-served protein two days before

Turkey shouldn't be the only source of protein at the feast table. Perhaps a barbecued flank steak, marinated with some soy sauce, hoi sin and/or sesame oil? On Thanksgiving, slice it thinly against the grain, garnish with some herbs and serve it cold or at room temperature. Easy-peasy! A big old classic ham can be cooked ahead and served at room temperature too, along with some nice mustards. 

Tip #5: Mashed potatoes can stay on 'hold' a surprisingly long time

Hours before dinner, boil your spuds. Put them on a sheet or roasting pan in the over and dry them out in a 350 F oven. Meanwhile, heat some milk, cream, butter, and salt and pepper in a saucepan. After 10-15 minutes in the oven, put the cooked potatoes into a large pot and mash them. Add most – but not all – of the cream mixture into the mash mix. Pour the remaining cream mixture on top as a seal. Cover tightly with a couple of layers of foil and set the dish in the back of a warm oven. It can sit there a couple of hours. At dinner time, mix the seal into the mashed potatoes and transfer to your serving dish.

Tip #6: Do your math

Calculate turkey cooking time, but don't be afraid of using a thermometer! Remember too that the turkey is best if it rests before carving. Swaddle it lovingly to keep it warm until you are ready for it.

Tip #7: Leave the bird unwrapped overnight in your fridge

This will give your roast turkey a crispier skin.

Tip #8: Prepare side dishes a day or more in advance

 A day or so ahead: In salted, boiling water, cook some Brussels sprouts (cleaned and cut in half along their length) until they're almost done. Strain and set them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Dry off and reserve in fridge, wrapped in kitchen towel. Cook some bacon to near crispy. Cool and break it into pieces and also store that in the fridge. Just before serving the turkey dinner, heat a bit of butter in a frying pan, add the bacon to crisp a bit, and add the Brussels sprouts to heat through and brown up. Keep them warm, then serve.

Tip #9: Have a leftovers plan

Have containers ready and set aside in advance to send leftovers home with guests. If there is anything left over. And if you want to, be giving.

Tip #10: Have fun

Enjoy the act of creating your kitchen masterpieces while you're making them, and again while you're eating them with guests and family. The point of this holiday meal is to be thankful for the bounty of both. If you have a glass of wine or beer, drink responsibly.