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tips for planning your thanksgiving menu
by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3
continued from page 1
1 Size matters. As you start fantasizing about recreating the Thanksgiving extravaganza your mom's extended family does back home every year, take a brief moment to step out of the lovely dream world, and take a good hard look at the reality of your kitchen. If you have a typical quasi-adult's kitchen, what you're probably looking at are two feet of usable counter space, and an oven that's just barely big enough to accommodate a small turkey. In this environment, it will be almost physically impossible to do the full-blown turkey day meal you're used to enjoying. Should this be the case, you'll probably want to keep the menu scaled down to just a select few of your very favorite eats. This might seem disappointing at first, but be honest with yourself: is it really, truly essential to have a meal that features mashed potatoes, baked squash, candied sweet potatoes, AND fresh-baked corn bread? Whittling it down to two of the four will make the cooking and baking go a lot quicker, and in the end, I guarantee you'll feel more than sufficiently sated in the starch department.
2 Timing issues. As you're putting together your menu, keep in mind that the turkey will pretty much monopolize the oven during the entirety of Thanksgiving day. What this means is that unless you're really looking forward to getting up well before the break of dawn, you should not put anything on that menu that requires significant oven time on the day of the celebration itself. You might think you can squeeze in the baking of a couple of pies first thing Thursday morning, but trust me: don't try it. Fortunately, for the most part, baked goods can be made a day ahead of time; pre-baked pies, in particular, just need to be popped in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes before serving time, and you'll find they're pretty much as good as fresh-baked. As for any side dishes you're planning to serve alongside the turkey, it's best to stick with things that can be made on the stove-top, or prepared ahead of time and quickly reheated (either in the microwave, on the stove, or in the oven during the 20 minutes after the roasted turkey has come out of the oven and before you start carving).
3 A balanced meal. Yes, I know: when it comes to Thanksgiving favorites, it's the heavy, diet-unfriendly stuff that most of us drool over, the turkey smothered in homemade gravy, the mashed potatoes drenched in butter and cream, the sweet potatoes slathered in a sticky-sweet brown sugar glaze. But do make sure to balance the (very delicious) starchy, fatty foods with some light and healthy options as well. Green things are good.
4 Scratch that. Be realistic about what you can whip up from scratch, and what you might be better off just buying ready-made. There's nothing wrong at all with combining ready-prepped ingredients and even (gasp!) pre-made foods with old-fashioned goodies created completely from scratch; the right ratio of ready-made to homemade will vary depending upon your cooking skill, kitchen capacity, time, and patience. Don't kill yourself attempting to make every last dish completely from scratch, unless you genuinely think it's doable, and you're sincerely looking forward to spending all your free time in the kitchen come Thanksgiving week. Remember: holidays are meant to be fun!