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Toi Degree: Stop Thanksgiving chaos with these tips

As Thanksgiving approaches, anxieties and questions begin to arise. You wonder if you have everything you need. Did you get enough? How are you going to get it all done in time? Where are you going to put all that food? What to do, what to do?

Keep reading for a few tricks to a trouble-free Thanksgiving.

Problem: You can’t buy all the food that you need in a single trip.

Solution: Divide and conquer. Besides the fact that an entire feast’s worth of grocery bags is too much for one person to carry or one trunk to hold, you’re likely to forget a key ingredient or encounter depleted shelves if you try to buy everything in one trip at the last minute.

Planning in advance is a must, so try this: Set your Thanksgiving dinner menu a month in advance. Then, make a master list of what you’ll need. Next, divide it into perishables (dairy products, eggs, produce) and nonperishable (canned goods, spices, baking supplies). Buy everything that won’t spoil as far in advance as you can. Finally, return for the turkey, herbs and cheeses a few days before you begin cooking.

Problem: You got everything inside the refrigerator, but closing the door is another story.

Solution: Empty the refrigerator of everything but the essentials. “I’ve found so many things in people’s refrigerators that don’t need to be in there, like vinegars and jars of unopened jellies,” says Jennifer Clair, owner of Home Cooking New York in New York City. Thanksgiving is a really great time to clean out your refrigerator and that will allow you to make room for all the pre-dinner items that you will be buying leading up to the big day.

Here are additional tips to expand your storage space:

• “Store hearty produce, like apples, fresh cranberries and potatoes in a cool, dry place, like the trunk of the car or the basement,” says Jessica Leibovich, owner of Entrée Nous, a personal-chef in San Diego.

• Use a beach cooler for the turkey, casseroles, dips and other foods that must stay chilled. Fill with ice or frozen gel packs, and store in the garage or some other cold spot out of the sun. A cooler will keep food fresh for at least 24 hours. To make sure you’re in the safe zone, place a thermometer inside, and make sure it stays below 40 degrees.

Problem: 1 turkey + 5 side dishes + 2 desserts ÷ 1 stove = complete and total chaos.

Solution: To keep organized, create what caterers call a prep list, which lays out, in order, all the tasks that need to be done in the two days prior to your Thanksgiving dinner.

This takes me back to my undergraduate days in meal management with Dr. Abernathy at South Carolina State University. I will never forget the skills she taught me that I still use today — the key is that you work backwards, starting with the dish that takes the longest to make and so on to ensure that all foods come out at around the same time and are hot when it’s dinner time.

• First, figure out which recipes can be made at least one day in advance. Things like pies, blanched vegetables and gratins can all be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.

• Second, identify the dishes to be made on Thanksgiving Day that will take the longest. Work backward from the time you want to eat, allowing 10 extra minutes per recipe.

• Third, look at cooking temperatures, and see what can go in the oven at the same time. Use multiple timers to keep track of what’s in the oven and on the stovetop. Put a Post-it note on each timer so that you won’t forget which dish it’s for.

For more tips on making your Thanksgiving stress-free, visit: http://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/holidays/thanksgiving/thanksgiving-cooking-problems-solved

Happy turkey day.

Toi N. Degree is a Family & Consumer Education Agent for Rowan County Cooperative Extension.  You may reach me at 704-216-8970 or email me at: toi_degree@ncsu.edu

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