Thanksgiving is fast approaching. It is not the time to cower in the kitchen. It is time to repeat three little words: Plan. Delegate. Chill.
Yes, this is the time to strategize your way to a happy Thanksgiving dinner.
Plan smartly, rely on a few time-savers, get an assist from a friend, relative or the supermarket, then accept that your cousin will probably bring his “famous” Jell-O sea-foam salad. Now chill.
And think about Thanksgiving the way Marc Forgione — chef-partner of his eponymous, Michelin-starred New York restaurant — does.
“When it comes to Thanksgiving, the more you can do the day before, the more time you get to relax. Get as much done as you possibly can so all you’re doing is reheating or finishing,” says Forgione, who contributed several prepare-ahead dishes to “The Macy’s Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook” (Book Kitchen, $24.95).
Forgione, who clinched his recent “The Next Iron Chef” win by creating a feast with foods served at Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621, was born into a family of cooks: His dad, Larry, is a chef; his three brothers cook. “And my sister was always in charge of the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.”
He remembers that Thanksgiving at the family’s home always included dishes brought by his grandfather and his aunt and uncle. “Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring something. This is supposed to be a time when your whole family is getting together,” he says. “Food is not supposed to be anything other than having fun, especially on Thanksgiving.”
So where do you start? With a basic menu. It’s a game plan. Include some favorites, perhaps a new recipe. Don’t go overboard. Ditch the nonessentials. Do you really need dinner rolls when you’re already serving stuffing?
“I’m a firm believer that less is more,” says Forgione. “I’d rather have three amazing sides that all taste delicious than 10 OK sides.”
We’ve planned a basic menu, with a few time-saving tips. Elaborate, eliminate, delegate. Then chill.
Forget fussy canapes. Purchase butternut squash soup, microwave hot, serve in mugs garnished with grated nutmeg.
Or … hit the supermarket for assorted olives and nuts. Or cut up raw vegetables and serve with hummus.
Go the unstuffed route. You’ll cut stuffing prep time plus 30 to 45 minutes of roasting time.
Or … fill the cavity with quarters of onions, oranges and apples, plus fresh herbs (parsley, sage, thyme). Stubborn about stuffing? Bake it in a dish while the roasted turkey rests before carving.
Do you really need jellied cranberries and cranberry salad?
Or … three days ahead, rinse a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, put in a saucepan with 1 cup each water and sugar; simmer until they pop. Put in a glass or plastic container, cover, chill.
Mashed whites and candied sweets with marshmallows? Stop it already — pick just one.
Or … pierce sweets, microwave, halve, then serve piping hot, with small dishes of brown sugar, maple syrup, butter and toasted pecans so everyone can flavor to taste.
Forget the green bean casserole. Please.
Instead … purchase broccoli and cauliflower florets (maybe add carrot coins), rinse, microwave, dress with melted butter mixed with grated lemon zest.
Pumpkin pie? Pecan pie? A rustic apple pie? Choose one.
Or … three days before, choose several almost ripe pears. On Thanksgiving, arrange on a platter with cheese and nuts. (OK, purchased sugared pecans, if you must.)
Forget mixed drinks. Stick with beer and wine.
Or … offer sparkling water plus two pitchers of juices, say mango and pineapple.