If you're somebody who's pretty good about planning - but not obsessive - you fit into our middle-of-the-road category. (We'll address the procrastinators next week; we covered the planners last week, and you're too late to be one of them.)
If you fall into this group, you may well opt for a frozen turkey, the most popular type of whole turkey sold during the season.
The difference between fresh and frozen turkeys? The turkey industry says there's no difference; the many fans of fresh turkey would vehemently disagree. But here's the thing about frozen turkeys, and part of what makes them so popular: They're cheap, especially in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Keep your eyes open for supermarket ads and you'll see them offered for as little as $8 for up to 16 pounds, or $11 for up to 20 pounds. Some stores offer a free turkey with the purchase of one (either at the same time - in which case you might enlist a friend - or later). The bargain prices usually necessitate a total purchase of a certain amount; that would be the rest of the groceries for your Thanksgiving dinner.
Another advantage of a frozen turkey is that it can be purchased well in advance. That leads to one of the main disadvantages - that you have to plan thawing time. Butterball recommends a rough guideline of about one day for every four pounds of turkey. The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator, although it also can be thawed in the kitchen sink or an insulated cooler, covered in cold water (changed frequently to keep it cold). For that method, allow about 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey.
Note: No matter that your mother or grandmother did, don't thaw the turkey at room temperature, unless you'd like to add a bout of food poisoning to your holiday plans.
THE SIDE DISHES
If you're thinking ahead, you also have more flexibility in regard to side dishes. If you're planning a tossed or green salad, you can prepare the salad ingredients and dressing as much as one day in advance; refrigerate the dressing and other ingredients separately until serving time.
Sweet potatoes and most vegetables also can be cleaned and cooked and refrigerated one day in advance. Mashed potatoes can be prepared one day in advance and refrigerated; rewarm on the stove gently, adding milk if necessary. Or try a make-ahead recipe like this:
SPINACH AND GRUYERE GRATIN
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
6 shallots, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
6 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Four 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess moisture
8 ounces grated Gruyere
½ cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow 2½- to 3-quart baking dish with oil; set aside.
Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 4 to 6 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, nutmeg, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir in the spinach, shallot mixture, Gruyere and Parmesan. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Bake until the spinach mixture is bubbling and the top is golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes.
Note: The gratin can be prepared (but not baked) and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day in advance. Bring to room temperature, then bake as directed, adding 5 to 10 minutes to the cooking time.
- Recipe from Real Simple
If you're thinking ahead, you don't have to settle on pre-baked, par-baked or popped-out-of-the-can rolls. Plan to make your dough on the evening before Thanksgiving, and you'll just have to shape and bake on the big day.
1 package active-dry yeast
½ cup shortening
2 eggs, beaten
1½ teaspoons salt
½ cup sugar
7½ to 8 cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter for tops of rolls
Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees). In a large bowl, combine 1 cup boiling water and shortening. Add 1 cup water, eggs, salt, sugar and yeast mixture. Stir in 1 cup of flour at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add enough flour to form a soft dough that can be kneaded.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, tear off small pieces of dough (you'll need about 108 pieces) and put three into each cup of a greased muffin tin to form cloverleaf rolls. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Makes 36.
- Recipe from Taste of Home
Call the Butterball Turkey Talk Line at 800-288-8372, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture meat and poultry hotline at 888-674-6854. You also can visit AskKaren.gov for the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service virtual representative, 24/7. If you're worried about your pie, try the Crisco Pie hotline, 877-367-7438.
Thanksgiving dinner information also is available at www.Butterball.com, www.JennieO.com, www.OceanSpray.com, www.Epicurious.com, www.CookingLight.com, www.FoodNetwork.com or any of a myriad of other websites.