Do you know what it is like to find yourself wandering through a Kroger in a strange town at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day? Have you ever eaten a sweet potato casserole sans pecans? Has your Thanksgiving feast ever been delayed by two hours while your sister combs the city for crescent rolls?
I certainly hope you answered no to all of these questions, but sadly I have witnessed many a holiday procrastinator’s nightmare that could have easily been avoided by simple preparation.
Let’s get to what we need to buy this week by looking at what we cannot buy until next week. It’s actually a short list. The main thing is the fresh produce. Any leafy greens need to be purchased at the earliest by next Tuesday if you want your Thanksgiving meal to have that sparkle. You could get away with onions or potatoes, maybe, but squash, fruit and anything exotic from the first right turn in the grocery store should wait until closer to the glory day.
If your dinner includes seafood such as shrimp or oyster dressing I would advise you reserve an order at your seafood distributor, but schedule a pickup on Wednesday. The same goes for any and all thawed proteins. If you aren’t going to freeze for later thawing it would be best to wait for your meat purchase.
So what can we buy today? Well, let’s look at our menu. We already have the frozen bird. That’s a big load off my shoulders. But we must plan ahead for thawing, and that can be a disaster. A fully thawed turkey can remain in a refrigerator for one to two days. Take that into consideration as a buffer when thawing. According to the USDA, in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees one can plan on 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. In that 12 pound range you should plan on 3-4 days. I would take it out of the freezer Sunday night. That should put you in the buffer zone perfectly.
Now that the centerpiece is taken care of we can prepare for our other recipes. Canned goods could’ve been purchased last year, for all I care. Not everything has to be fresh on this day. Corn for the casserole, green beans, the fried onions, cream of mushroom soup, get all of these things checked off your list. You will feel much better knowing it is in the pantry.
Prepare what you can and freeze it. Don’t freak out when I say this. We eat a tremendous amount of dressing. My mom will make plenty in advance, cover it and freeze it. It’s as easy as can be and I always appreciate bringing home an extra pan (and perhaps keeping that 13×9 dish until next year) if we have a surplus. Lucky for us my brother has a side-by-side oven, my sister and over/under oven and my aunt across the street goes to Cracker Barrel for some strange reason despite her highly coveted cooking skills and I could use her oven anytime. We can be baking, roasting and broiling all at the same time, so our bases are covered with any premade frozen items.
I know you have dessert Tupperware. Cakes and pies and all kinds of goodies will keep for days as long as they are cooled first. Don’t let them sweat and this week can be partially dedicated to the sweet treats.
Nuts. Of course we don’t worry about walnuts and pecans spoiling between now and next Thursday. We worry about last minute shopping and not being able to find any. It sounds silly, but I’ve been there. We make a cranberry salad with walnuts, and it isn’t the same with any substitution. Don’t get caught without pecans next week. Go over your recipes with a fine-toothed comb. Put nuts at the top of this week’s list.
There are some fruits you can buy this week. Those bags of fresh cranberries seem to hold up well. I buy a few bags to enjoy before the big day. I love to freeze them and put them in drinks as ice cubes. They can even create a nice contrast to braised Brussels sprouts. Oranges also will keep a little longer than apples. Try grabbing a few more than you’ll need for that ambrosia and spike the exterior with whole cloves to make your house smell heavenly.
If you are grinding your own coconut always have a backup plan. I’ve cracked into one too many nasty coconuts in my day. I prefer the fresh but I also grab a bag of shredded. If I don’t use it this week it’ll come in handy for magic cookie bars.
Some Pilgrims and Indians party harder than others. In a wine-friendly town such as ours you would not want to suffer through any family gathering without your favorite bottle. Trust me, amateurs, there will be a rush next week for reds and whites and you’ll be blue if they run out of your label. If you are traveling the same goes for your favorite beer. I’ve been criticized for buying too much. My retort is always, “Do you think we are going to let this go bad?”
There is plenty of turkey talk next week. Let’s get ahead of the game this week. I know some of this is obvious, but it is also easy to neglect. I hope it helps some of you to at least get excited about what is to come. I’ve been in the spirit since September!