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Thanksgiving planning countdown: 8 tasks to do now for a stress-free holiday dinner

by Becky Krystal, Washington Post | November 16, 2021 at 10:00 p.m. | Updated November 17, 2021 at 9:41 a.m.
There's a lot you can accomplish right now that will make your life way easier come the holiday, and the days leading up to it. (Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

We're just about a week out from Thanksgiving. If you're anything like me, you may be itching to get started. Thankfully, there's a lot you can accomplish right now that will make your life way easier come the holiday.

Here's a rundown of tasks to check off to ensure a low-stress, enjoyable meal.

- Pick your recipes! Decide what you'd like to cook (and make a shopping list). This gives you time to track down elusive family recipes, ask everyone else for input with regard to dietary restrictions or other preferences, and figure out which dishes (platters, bowls, etc.) you'll use to serve each recipe.

- Acquire your turkey. Don't be left scrounging around the grocery store for turkey the day before the holiday. If you find a good deal on what you want now, go ahead and buy it to pop in the freezer. (Just give yourself enough time to defrost it, if you don't want to cook from frozen.)

- Buy all your shelf-stable goods. The grocery store aisles are already brimming with many of the ingredients we turn to for Thanksgiving. Go ahead and grab your canned pumpkin, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, marshmallows and whatever else your family's favorite dishes use. Fresh cranberries will store fine in the fridge for a few weeks, as well. Also stock up on all your drink supplies, especially your favorite champagne.

- Make your pie crust. Pie crust freezes great. Make your batch now to get it out of the way. Let it defrost at least overnight before you're ready to use it. Want to stash a whole ready-to-bake pie in the freezer? You can do that, too!

- Order your meal. If you've made the decision to outsource the cooking, whether it's the whole meal or a few parts, you can probably still place your order now. Deadlines vary, but generally restaurants and bakeries require a longer lead time than grocery stores.

- Locate all your tools and tableware. No one wants to be tearing up the house the day before Thanksgiving -- or even the day of -- looking for grandma's china or the fat separator you only use once a year. Long before you start cooking, take an hour or so to find what you'll need, dust it off and put it somewhere obvious and easily accessible. And if it's something you rarely use, like that electric carving knife, make sure it still works!

- Clean up. Now's the time to streamline and organize the pantry. Sort through, clean and empty out the refrigerator, using up anything you can cook with right now. You want to have as much room available as you can once those ingredients, make-ahead dishes and then leftovers start piling up. And clean your oven! Won't it be nice to be able to see through the glass window to check on your food without opening the door? Oh, and you might as well check if it's running true to temperature, too.

- Eye the timeline. After you've selected your recipes, you can start figuring out what to do when. Here's our list of how far ahead you can make things.

Cranberry sauce. Up to a week.

Gravy. A few days.

Bread. A day or two; wrap in foil and warm in the oven before serving. Or freeze for longer storage and defrost the day before.

Pies and other desserts. Two or more days.

Turkey. If you're brining, start brining the day before.

Stuffing. Make wholly a day in advance or up to the point of adding the liquid. Reheat or finish baking Thursday.

Sides. Prep raw veggies or roast, blanch or steam a day ahead.


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