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Colorado Springs chefs offer 6 tips for making Thanksgiving sides ahead of big meal

November 15, 2017 Updated: November 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm
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Thanksgiving food is prepared at the Gazette studio on Friday November 10, 2017 in Colorado Springs. as part of the how to take the stress out of preparing the big feast by making dishes ahead and freezing them to reheat on Thanksgiving. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

You've fought the lines at the grocery store buying just the right turkey and the many ingredients for the big Thanksgiving dinner. Now you have to figure out how to get it all on the table at once and on time. The clock is ticking, so today we offer some strategies to get the meal on the table not only in time, but also in a way that lets you be with your guests rather than in the steaming kitchen.

We turned to personal chef Mari Younkin and Cortney Smith, vice president and culinary instructor at The Cooks Marketplace, for some tips on getting a handle on the meal.

Younkin's advice:

1 - "Create a menu and prepare your grocery list at least a week ahead. For sure, pay attention to the turkey. If it's frozen, it can take days in the refrigerator to defrost."

A 20-pound frozen turkey can take up to five days to thaw in the fridge, reports the National Turkey Federation. Budget one day for every 4 pounds. If you're using a brine, make sure the bird has 12 hours to marinate.

"Butterball has a great website to learn about roasting the turkey," Younkin said.

2 - With the star of the show out of the way, you can move on to the dinner's supporting actors - appetizers, soups, side dishes and desserts. For these, Younkin says, "Make a detailed timeline for the most efficient schedule for preparing everything from starters to desserts, to ensure that you'll be trotting that turkey out right on time."

She recommends relying on the freezer.

"Your entire Thanksgiving meal can be prepared ahead and frozen," she said. "All the work has been done with little fuss and cleanup. To get the meal on the table, you will either bake or reheat. It has been proven that preparing and freezing meals ahead of time truly saves time and results in improving overall flavor."

Smith added tips to reduce stressing over the big meal.

3 - "Make pie dough up to two weeks ahead and freeze it," she said. "Make the pies the day before.

4 - "Set up a beverage station with snacks outside the kitchen to keep a calm workspace in the kitchen. This may sound silly, but play soothing music in the kitchen as you cook. This little tip can go a long way to keeping your sanity."

5 - Our favorite tip from Smith was pooling family slow cookers and convection ovens for extra oven space.

"This will also help avoid opening the oven door and releasing heat as multiple items are done," she said. "That slows down turkey cooking time."

6 - With Younkin's endorsement, we've selected three of the more popular Thanksgiving dishes to make ahead and freeze: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy. The recipes follow.

Let the frozen mashed potatoes defrost two days in the refrigerator before reheating on the stovetop, in a covered dish in the oven, in a slow cooker or microwaved in a covered dish.

If the thawed and heated mashed potatoes seem a little watery, whip in generous spoonfuls of sour cream or cream cheese to bring the texture back together. They will be creamy rather than fluffy. Top off with minced herbs and another swirl of butter to make them picture-perfect.

After the turkey is removed from the roasting pan and placed on the serving platter, pour some of the pan dripping into the reheated gravy for extra flavor.

With Smith's slow cooker suggestion, we spotted a dandy dressing recipe in Cheryl Jameson's new cookbook, "Texas Slow Cooker," that will free the valuable oven real estate needed by the holiday bird.

Your game plan will be set in motion Wednesday, when you place the frozen dishes in the fridge to defrost. On Thursday, you'll slide the turkey roaster into the oven and the dressing ingredients into the slow cooker. Since the tom will need to stand tented for half an hour to allow the juices to settle, you can use that time to warm the defrosted dishes in the oven.

Then, with the house full of fragrant aromas, you can greet your guests, kick up your feet with a glass of bubbly in hand and wish cheers to all - especially to yourself for crossing the finish line on time.

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