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Martha's Thanksgiving Tips

The Martha Stewart Show, November 2006

Follow these tips to help make your Thanksgiving preparations stress-free and smooth sailing.

Turkey Roasting Tools
Martha outlined the following recommendations for the roasting pan and other tools necessary to make a perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

- In addition to the roasting pan, be sure to have on hand scissors, cotton kitchen twine, trussing needles, a turkey baster, and an instant-read thermometer, a pastry/basting brush, a fat separator, and cheese cloth.

- When choosing a roasting pan, the most important consideration is its size. The pan should be just large enough to hold the roast and no larger. If the pan is too large, the juices and drippings will burn, giving an acrid flavor to the roast and ruining any pan gravy or juice that you might make.

- Good cookware is an investment that will last for many years. The high price tag is often a reflection of that longevity. You can certainly find less expensive items, but you may end up replacing them more often.

- A heavy, high sided roasting pan with study handles is ideal, but simple baking pans work as well. Ideally, the sides of the roasting pan should be 3 to 5 inches high (low sides are best for small roasts, high sides for large roasts). Anything higher than the actual roast will hide the meat from the oven heat, distorting the cooking times and inhibiting the browning.

- A roasting rack, either a V-shaped rack or a flat grid type rack, is a good investment. Setting the meat on a rack keeps it off the bottom of the pan and promotes even browning by allowing the hot, dry oven air to circulate around the entire roast. Without a rack, the bottom of the roast will begin to stew in the accumulating pan drippings. Another advantage of a roasting rack is that the pan juices are cleaner, so it's easy to make a pan sauce.

- It's best to position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven for larger roasts and in the center for smaller roasts so that the top of the roast will be in the upper-middle part of the oven. This allows maximum air circulation for even cooking and is especially important when roasting at high temperatures.

Organizing Your Pantry
If you haven't gone through your pantry lately, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are the perfect time to refresh ingredients like sugars, spices, herbs, and other staples. Getting fresh stock will also help your recipes taste better, since things like spices and seasonings will lose their potency after about a year.

Flours, sugars, and other dry goods -- key ingredients for pies -- should be transferred from their packaging into wide-mouth, airtight containers as soon as you get them home. This will not only help keep them fresh, but also make them easier to scoop with measuring tools when you're ready to use them. If you don't use up ingredients quickly, then it's a good idea to note the date of purchase on the containers.

Sugars should also be put into airtight containers, and be sure to keep all of these in low-humidity environment. Moisture can make solid sugars lumpy, so be sure to double-wrap brown sugars to keep them soft.

All of these items can be kept up to a year if properly stored, but oils for things like marinades and vinaigrettes have a bit shorter shelf life, and should be kept in original bottles for up to six months.

Spices for side dishes should be put into labeled tins where no light can reach them, because light and heat can cause them to lose their flavor more rapidly.

If you have everything organized and you stock up now, then you won't have to scramble for things later, which is a great way to stay stress-free.

Finalizing Your Guest List
A few weeks before your big holiday get-together is the time to prepare and finalize your guest list.

It is very important to get a final guest count, since this will allow you to figure out how much food you will need to shop for and prepare. It will also enable you to find the proper place in your household to entertain, and to note any shortages you have with chairs, tables, or place settings.

Invitations for Thanksgiving can be simple -- there is no need to go out and spend money on a printed invitation. An email or phone call will do just fine. And remember to set an early R.S.V.P. date, so you don't find yourself in a last-minute bind.

Once you have finalized your guest list, be a gracious host, and send out-of-town guests directions to your home. And, for those of you who have relatives flying in, it might prove helpful to remind your guests of the updated flight security regulations.

Planning Beverages and Purchasing Wine and Liquor
It is important to plan special beverages and purchase your wine and liquor in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, since supplies may run short as you get closer to the holiday.

Ordering Your Thanksgiving Turkey
For fresh and frozen turkey, contact your butcher or place your order at the supermarket at least two weeks before Thanksgiving to ensure availability and to plan your pickup.

Finalize Your Menu
Two weeks before Thanksgiving is the time to finalize your holiday menu and gather recipes.

Once your guest list is set, be sure to take your guests' dietary needs into consideration when creating your menu and incorporate any dishes your guests plan on bringing.

Once your recipes are gathered, protect them with laminated cards and place in a loose-leaf ring. Should anything spill on the recipe, the lamination makes for easy clean-up.

Ordering Thanksgiving Arrangements
If you aren't making your own Thanksgiving centerpieces, the perfect time to order your arrangements is two weeks before the holiday. This is also the ideal time to stock up on other decorative items, such as candles, gourds, and anything else that will make your holiday table extra-special.

Polishing Silver
Polishing silver is a very important component of your holiday preparation. While tarnish is not "dirt," silver always looks quite beautiful when it shines from a good polish. Here are some tips to properly polish your silver to make your Thanksgiving celebrations perfect.

- Wear cotton gloves: Silver dulls because of acids from your hands and sulfur from foods.

- Polish with a liquid polish and 100 percent cotton cloth.

- Use a soft toothbrush or cuticle stick to gently polish intricate patterns.

- Always rinse well in hot water. Dry with a soft cotton cloth.

- Don't over-polish: Silver is sturdy, but scratches easily, and a little silver is worn away every polishing.

- The more often you use your silver, the less you'll need to polish it.

- Visit for more information on the polish Martha recommends.

Setting Your Holiday Table and Labeling Dishes
One week before Thanksgiving is the time to decide how to set your holiday table and label your serving dishes. These tips will help you get organized, and will relieve a bit of stress on Thanksgiving Day.

- Take out all your serving platters, dishes, and utensils.

- Look through your menu, and label each serving piece with its coinciding recipe.

- Assigning dishes in advance is a practical way to see if you are missing any needed serving items.

- Note dishes that your guests are bringing -- you don't want there to be a shortage of room on your table, or a lack of platters.

- Lay out all of your place settings to ensure that you have ample plates, utensils, and linens.

- Press your tablecloth and linens now, and set them on the table until the big day.

Preparing Vegetables and Storable Sides
Two days before Thanksgiving is the ideal time to begin preparing your storable sides. Starting your preparations now will allow you to be less stressed in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. After all, Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate and relax with family and friends.

- Make side dishes that can be stored and easily thrown together the day of, such as cranberry sauce, casseroles, relishes, soups, and dips.

- Cut and cube bread for stuffing; set in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry out.

- Clean and chop vegetables.

- Peel potatoes and refrigerate in a pot of cold water.

The Day Before Thanksgiving
The day before Thanksgiving is a very important time to take care of last-minute preparations. To avoid stress, it's best to follow these tips the day before the big day.

- Buy your salad greens and perishable vegetables for tomorrow.

- Finish your fruit and pecan pies. Store them at room temperature instead of in the fridge, so they don't get soggy.

- Set your table with your linens, serving dishes, centerpieces, and place settings.

- Pick up your fresh turkey.

- Finally -- make a timeline for tomorrow. Preparing a set schedule and checklist always allows you to get organized while entertaining. The last thing you'll want to have is a slew of hungry guests waiting on an uncooked bird.

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