On Your Table: For Thanksgiving, don’t stress, but plan ahead

By Cathy BranciaroliFood Correspondent, The Times

Turkey is central to Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is coming and the best advice I’ve heard about this is, “Take it all in stride.   Everything is going to be ok.”

Executive Chef Tim Baker of The Whip Tavern in Unionville agrees.  He declares Thanksgiving to be his favorite holiday for eating with family and friends.  And it needn’t be stressful.  “You can do a million things with turkey,” he said.  “It can be stuffed and roasted traditionally.  It can be smoked.  It can be cooked on a rotisserie.  It can be broken down by taking the bones out and serving the meat any number of ways.  And then there are always turkey sandwiches for the leftovers.  They’re all good.”

Whether you are expecting to feed a big crowd, guests with strong dietary preferences, or just plain family, a little advance planning will go along way to preserving your sanity on turkey day.

Flexibility also is your best friend.  From its very beginning in 1621 the notion of Thanksgiving has been gather round and share foods that are on hand whether it be hearty fall vegetables, a meaty dish, grains or sweetened fruits – whatever is needed to satisfy everyone.  But turkeys are central to the feast, no matter how it is prepared.

So take a deep breath and relax.  Here are a few ideas to make this year’s Thanksgiving dinner enjoyable for the cook as well as the guests.  You can thank me later.

First off, about that planning thing.  Checklists are great for this including a serious shopping list.  Some items are obvious, but maybe not those aluminum throwaway pans that make cleanup so easy.  Write down your menu selections along with the ingredients to make them.  Think about what special dietary needs need to be accommodated.

Make or prepare ahead.  Unless you are a fan of running four hot burners and the oven simultaneously while juggling mixing bowls, pots and pans, getting as much work out of the way in advance is critical.  Choose desserts that can be made a day or two ahead. Or better yet, ask someone to bring his or her favorite.  Side dishes, such as the famous green bean casserole can be prepped, baked and then reheated for serving.  This sounds obvious but the turkey itself must be thawed days ahead.

Simple is best and just as delicious.  Thanksgiving dinner is not the time to experiment with new dishes.  Choose dishes with straightforward preparation.  Guests will love them just as much and after all, it’s the spirit of being together that counts not fancy food.

Leftovers.  Well, there is always that turkey sandwich that Chef Baker says is a totally awesome late night snack.   But there also are creative uses such as turkey chili, turkey noodle soup or turkey burritos.  Family will appreciate a change of pace on Black Friday.

Hopefully your Thanksgiving dinner will be enjoyable for everyone including the chef.  As a final tip, and in the spirit of making ahead, making it simple and making great leftovers, here is one of my family’s favorite dishes that feeds a crowd and always pleases guests.  It’s even tastier the next day.

Potato Gratin with Boursin Cheese

3 pounds small Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, with skins and sliced thin

2 5-oz Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs cheese
2 cups heavy/whipping cream
1 tsp salt
Cracked black pepper
2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter a 9×13 inch pan including sides.  In a medium saucepan, heat cream and cheese until cheese melts and there are no lumps, stirring to combine.  Add salt at the end.

To make the gratin, arrange potato slices in a slightly overlapping layer in the pan.  Pour ½ of the cream mix over the potatoes.  Sprinkle with the cracked pepper and ½ of the parsley.  Arrange a similar layer of potatoes in a second layer.  Top with remaining cream mix and parsley.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil.  Bake 45 minutes.  Check if bubbling in the center.  If not continue to bake 10-15 more minutes.  Serve hot.

This dish can be prepared in advance to the point of baking and stored in the refrigerator.  If you’re using a glass pan, make sure it comes up to room temperature to prevent breaking.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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