Thanksgiving is just a week away, and if you haven't already started to plan, time's a-wasting. You aren't in trouble yet, but you will be if you wait until next to the last minute to start planning and shopping.
Your three greatest weapons are: good organization, the practical art of the make-ahead dish and the fine art of delegation — in other words, sweet-talking someone into doing some of the cooking for you. And after the disaster we faced last Thanksgiving due to the pandemic, I have a feeling your guests will be more than happy to help contribute to the Thanksgiving feast.
So here goes:
— Organization. Put together a basic menu, and lay out a plan for the days between now and the big day. Keep both flexible. What is the point of stubbornly insisting on Brussels sprouts if the only ones you find in the market are wilted and yellowing? Likewise, don't indelibly etch your schedule on the back of your mind and hold onto it for dear life. You'll just be asking for anxiety if something comes up to interfere with that perfect plan — and, trust me, something always does.
— Preparation. Survey your menu for things that you can make completely ahead, and plan to make them as far in advance as you can get away with. Most cranberry sauces, chutneys and relishes will keep for a week or more; broth can and should be made several days ahead to let the flavors marry; cornbread for dressing has to be made at least one day ahead so that it has time to get a little stale. Suggestion: Make it now, and freeze it. Sweet potato casseroles, pies and yeast rolls can all be made a day or so ahead.
— Delegation. Here's a thought about convincing someone else to help. Say to them: "No one makes pecan pie like you," or "I've tried and tried to copy your recipe for green bean casserole, and it never turns out as good as yours." Trust me, they'll most likely double the recipe.
Here's what you can do right now:
— Inventory. Begin today by creating a basic menu, and then survey your pantry for staples. If you haven't used that bag of flour or box of rubbed sage since last Thanksgiving, toss them and start over. Make sure that you have all the ingredients for the things that you are making well ahead.
— Get a turkey. If you haven't already done so, order the bird, if needed. If it's waiting patiently in the freezer, make yourself a note to transfer it to the refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving to start the thawing process.
— Do the do-aheads. Do one thing that you can put away and forget about, even if it's just ironing the tablecloth or polishing the silver.
— Test-run a recipe. Here's something you can make today or next week that will still be as good on Thanksgiving Day, maybe even better.
Cranberry Orange Conserve
This is my all-time favorite cranberry conserve. To julienne orange zest, simply remove the zest from fruit with a bar zester or remove it with a vegetable peeler and then cut it into julienne with sharp knife. The bourbon adds a lovely finish.
24 ounces (6 cups) fresh cranberries
1 pound (2 cups) sugar
Zest of 1 orange, julienned
3 tablespoons bourbon
Pick through the berries for soft or damaged fruit. Wash them in a basin of cold water, and drain well. Put 2 cups of the berries into a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled saucepan. Lightly crush them with a wooden spoon or potato masher, and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming off scum as it rises. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the berries pop and collapse and juices are thick, about 45 minutes. Turn off heat.
Pour the berries and juice into a cloth-lined wire sieve set over a bowl. Force the juice through cloth into the bowl, and discard pulp. Put the juice back into the pot, and add the remaining berries and sugar. Return the pan to medium heat, and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer until berries are tender and transparent, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat, and stir in orange zest and bourbon.
Transfer the conserve to clean, sterilized glass jars, and let it cool. Cover and refrigerate until needed. It can be gently reheated or served at room temperature.
A BETTER WATER
This coming holiday season, as so many of us will be consuming more food and alcohol than we probably should, it's important to remember to drink plenty of water. But if you've seen any footage of landfills lately on TV or visited one in person, you've probably seen how many of those convenient but harmful plastic water bottles are filling up our landfills. And it's not just those throwaway bottles. It's refillable plastic water bottles, too.
Now, a new company, PathWater, has water in refillable, environmentally friendly aluminum bottles filled with your choice of still, sparkling or alkaline water. You can refill it with whatever water you want. I refill mine with filtered water from my refrigerator. The bottom line is this, though: The water that comes in it is good, you can refill it however you wish, and the bottle will last indefinitely. You'll feel good knowing you're doing your part to lessen the impact on our environment. If we all take care, recycle whenever we can and use refillable containers, it will make a difference.