By Carla Hall
Author of Cooking With Love
It's here: The gateway to the holiday season. Thanksgiving is the time to pull out all the culinary stops. It is the time to make an impression. Of course, and most importantly, it is the time to be thankful.
Plan ahead. Think ahead and plan out a few days in advance. You can begin making side dishes such as cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole earlier in the week that can be refrigerated until the day of.
Make a storage plan. Your oven will be crowded, as will your refrigerator. Take advantage of resealable bags. They lay flat, are stackable, and are transparent so you can see what's in them. If you've marinated something, you use less marinade when using a resealable bag.
Buy in bulk. Don't forget to plan for the leftovers. Use some of the bulk items for the big day, and some for the next day to stretch the leftovers into something new. For example, cubed stuffing makes great croutons for a turkey Caesar salad with a few dried cranberries.
Make a Game Day Plan. Because the oven is crowded on the big day, balance the menu with cold, room temperature, stove-top reheat, and oven-reheat dishes. This will help with multitasking and assure that cold dishes are cold and hot dishes are hot when ready to serve.
Organize the cleanup. If you're planning a large party, designate a drop-off area for the dirty dishes, e.g. the garage or laundry room. Have a separate bin for plates, glasses, and flatware. This will make the cleanup much easier and the kitchen won't be overwhelmed with after-dinner clutter.
Set a budget and shop bargains. Start early to take advantage of Thanksgiving savings. One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes is sweet potato pie-fortunately, sweet potatoes are in season and cheaper this time of year.
Remain happy and calm. Happy cooking makes a much better meal. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. Thanksgiving is a day of togetherness. Let your friends and family help share in the meal preparation.
Be traditional AND creative. The holidays are a tradition, so don't stretch too far away from America's favorite table trimmings, including mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. But don't be afraid to gives these dishes a creative twist. Consider adding sour cream and Parmesan cheese to mashed potatoes or including dried cranberries in your green bean casserole.
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