Making Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work, but it is worth it. That - "It is worth it!" - is the mantra cooks should chant to get themselves mentally ready for the big day. There are also some steps the cook and kitchen helpers can take in these final hours to make the meal go smoothly.
Here are some pre-meal maneuvers you can undertake today that will help prevent panic tomorrow.
Sharpen your knives. : Carving the bird requires a sharp blade. Moreover, there is a lot of vegetable chopping that goes into the meal preparations. The area's professional knife sharpeners say they will be grinding away this week.
"I am swamped," said John Quincy Adams, who runs a sharpening service behind his Hampden home.
"Every year around the holidays, people bring their knives in, and we sharpen them while they wait," said Will Seibel, who, along with brother, Thomas, operates the Grinding of America in Brooklyn. Frank Monaldi Sr. said he "will have my nose to the grindstone" this afternoon at his shop, Frank's Cutlery, on White Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. The pros suggest also sharpening a large serving fork, which will hold the bird steady during carving.
Ready the roasting pan. : It might seem elementary, but if your bird does not fit in your roasting pan, unhappiness ensues. Been there. Do a trial run, slipping the bird in the pan. If the turkey is too big, you still have time to send someone to the store to buy a large foil roasting pan. Better yet, buy two. If you place one inside the other you lessen the chance of the pans buckling when the bird is removed from the oven. Another preventive measure is to place the foil pan or pans on a sturdy metal baking sheet to help you lift the bird in and out of the oven.
If you don't have a rack to place the turkey on, you've still got an option. Alton Brown of the Food Network suggests scrunching pieces of aluminum foil into a snake, 1 inch thick and 3 feet long and coiling it on the bottom of the pan. This prevents the bird from getting a soggy bottom.
Test your important equipment. : Two things you don't want to find yourself without on Thanksgiving Day are a functional instant-read thermometer and a working oven. You need the thermometer to make sure the turkey is done (165 degrees is the USDA recommended minimum internal temperature). To make sure the thermometer is working, Bon Appetit recommends boiling a small pan of water, dipping the thermometer in and seeing if it registers 212 degrees. If it doesn't, you can adjust the reading by rotating the nut under the face of the thermometer, the magazine said, or take the difference into account when you use the thermometer.
You can test your oven temperature by putting an oven thermometer in the middle rack and seeing if it registers the set temperature. If it doesn't, you can try to take the difference into account when cooking Thursday.
That doesn't always work. When our oven stopped working last Christmas, we ended up finishing the turkey on a charcoal grill. Dinner was supposed to be served at 6:30. We did not sit down until 9:30; in the interim we ate a lot of cheese. We ended up with a two-tone turkey. Bummer.
Where possible, work ahead. : Pies can be made the day before, then hidden from pie predators. Bon Appetit recommends baking the potato dishes a day early, putting them in the fridge, then reheating them in the microwave just before dinner is served. Make sure you put the potatoes in dishes that fit in the microwave. Cranberry sauce can also be made in advance and cooled in the fridge.
Chill the beverages. : Speaking of chilling, start chilling the beverages. Last week, Mitchell Pressman of the Chesapeake Wine Company in Canton tested several wines by matching them with a roast turkey dinner. Among the white wines that worked, he said, were a $24 Jean Claude Thevenet Chardonnay Vin Mousseaux from France and an $18 Lagler Gruner Veltliner '07 Burgberg from Austria. Among the reds he liked were a $15 Lapierre Gamay '08 from France and a $27 Black Ankle Syrah '06 from Maryland's Frederick County.
"The crisp, low-alcohol wines worked well, and the rich stuff works well, too," he said. "But drinking a 14 percent alcohol wine with a rich meal can be tiring."
For sparklers, I love champagne but my wallet does not, so I settle for Italian Bellenda Prosecco 2007, $21.
As for food-friendly Thanksgiving beers I like, try Victory Prima Pils, Allagash Grand Cru and Clipper City MarzHon. They need time to cool down, especially in a crowded refrigerator. Either stick them in the fridge today, or put them in an ice-filled cooler. That frees up space in the refrigerator - and, as a bonus, keeps visitors out of the cook's way.
Forget about brining. : At this stage, it is too late to brine the bird. Both the wet brining method, which I have tried but did not like because it made the gravy too salty, and the dry brining method, which I am experimenting with this year, require three days.
Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. : Give someone else the jobs of setting the table, of arranging the serving dishes and - very important - lining up the dish washers. The cook does not do dishes. (As a designated pot-scrubber, before I take my place at the table, I make it a point to pour soapy water into the dirty pots and pans so they can soak for an hour while I soak up the food and wine.)
Don't forget the vegetarians. : It is their feast as well. One of the great things about Thanksgiving is that the side dishes - most of them vegetables - are as important as the turkey and gravy. The final issue of Gourmet (we pause here for a moment of respectful silence) has a list of 11 vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving. I cooked one of them, butternut squash baked in cream and topped with Parmesan cheese. It was too rich for me. We prefer the butternut squash ratatouille chef Anne Rosenzweig uses. She mixes chunks of the squash with apples. It is on our table every Thanksgiving. All the omnivores love it, and we make enough to have leftovers.
Think ahead about leftovers.: Leftovers are the driving force of the Thanksgiving weekend. The cook might work to near exhaustion on Thursday, but because of leftovers, should not break a sweat for the next two days. (Another reason to remind yourself: "It is worth it"!)
Gourmet suggested a couple of good leftover ideas. One was for a Reuben sandwich, made with turkey, sauerkraut (plenty of that in Baltimore at Thanksgiving) and Swiss cheese on toasted dark rye bread. Another was for a turkey wrap, made with leftover turkey stuffed inside a tortilla, with chipotle mayo ( 1/2 cup of mayo mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped chipotle peppers) topped with lettuce.
Remember to rest. : Finally, all the experts say we should remember the importance of resting. Test after test has shown that a crucial component to a successful turkey is letting the cooked bird rest uncovered on a cutting board for at least 30 minutes before slicing. We let our bird, a 20-pounder, rest for an hour, and it's still hot when carving time arrives.
Rest for the cook and crew is also vital. According to Bon Appetit, the wise Thanksgiving cook does not cook supper on Wednesday night. Instead the cook rests and orders takeout.
Note: Call before going.
* John Quincy Adams , 4004 Hickory Ave. 410- 889- 9072
* Grinding of America, 104 Annabel Ave. 410-539-2400
* Frank's Cutlery Service, 4121 White Ave. 410- 426-6720
* Martello Knife Service 1710 Sulphur Spring Road, Arbutus 410 536-7110
* Superior Sharpening Works, 7716 Harford Road, Parkville, 410- 668-2055
* Tru-Kut Grinding Inc. 216 Najoles Road, Millersville 410- 987-8500
Chef Anne Rosenzweig's butternut squash ratatouille
Makes: 10-12 servings
medium butternut squash, peeled, halved, fibers scooped out, cut into 3/4 -inch cubes
teaspoons canola oil
cup carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
cup leeks, cleaned and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
cup zucchini cut into 1/4 -inch dice
cup golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
cup shallots, chopped
cup vegetable or chicken broth
teaspoons salt plus more to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Place the squash in a roasting pan and toss with 2 teaspoons of the oil. Roast until just tender, tossing from time to time, about 25 minutes.
Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Add the roasted squash and the carrots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the leeks and cook for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, apples, shallots and cook for 3 more minutes. Stir in the vegetable or chicken broth, salt and pepper simmer until the vegetables are tender but not too soft, about 15 minutes, Serve warm
Per serving: 82 calories, 1 grams fat, trace saturated fat, 2 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 480 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol