A hassle-free feast
Simple ways to make the holidays saner and more memorable
These tips are so simple you can easily incorporate into your holiday prep routine. (Chicago Tribune/Bob Fila)
Plan ahead "Don't shop the day before," advised Andrea Nguyen, author of "Asian Dumplings."
"Plan serving dishes ahead of time and mark on the bottom with a sticky (note)," said Nathalie Dupree, the television personality and author of "New Southern Cooking" and other cookbooks.
"Make a time line. Figure out what can be done in advance and when everything is going in the oven," said Kara Brooks, chef and co-owner of the Still River Cafe in Eastford, Conn. "Get a good thermometer, so you know exactly when the turkey is done. Remember that the turkey should rest before carving, so cook your other side dishes 95 percent of the way initially and then finish them when the turkey rests."
Clear the decks "The dishwasher and sink should be empty," Dupree said. "Any last-minute pots and pans should go in a cooler filled with hot soapy water in an out-of-the-way place. They will soak clean, and the dishes can be cleared without having to wash them first, delaying and cluttering everything."
Go personal, not traditional "In order to make people feel really welcome, I make sure that there is something special for everyone: a dish of turnips for someone who loves turnips, mashed potatoes with cream for the spud-o-phile, a special cheese for someone who loves cheese, pear pie for the one who loves pears," said Marlena Spieler, an American cookbook author based in England. "Personal stuff makes your own holiday more personal, and less cookie-cutter-correct-traditional."
Simplicity counts "Because... we've all got so many favorites, I think the best thing to do when you're planning the meal is also the hardest: Keep it simple," said Dorie Greenspan, author of "Baking: From My Home to Yours" and other works. "It's so easy to plan a meal with more dishes than you, your oven or your refrigerator can handle. Plan a doable menu, and then, when you're sure you can manage it, think about adding a dish or two from your Thanksgiving wish list."
Do your prep "Cook as much ahead as possible, such as cranberry sauce, stuffing, braised leeks, pie," said Barbara Kafka, author of numerous cookbooks, including "Roasting: A Simple Art." "Remember that cold outdoor weather can serve as an extra refrigerator."
Maximize appliances "If you have the luxury of two ovens, you can be reheating your sides in one and cooking your turkey in the other," said chef Ming Tsai, host of "Simply Ming" on public television and owner of Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass. "Or, better yet, you can microwave your sides. This works especially well for sides like creamed spinach that don't have a lot of texture to them."
Think about leftovers "I buy cartons, like Chinese food containers, and pack up doggie bags for people to take goodies home," Spieler said.