111622-food-thanksgiving 01.JPG

Thanksgiving meal and side dishes (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us. Are you ready, or are you panicking?

For the seasoned home cook, the holiday feast is no big deal. But a novice cook, who is hosting a group for the first time, may be experiencing random bouts of high blood pressure.

Just ask Emma Mitchell, owner of Emm’s Co. Culinary Experiences and an event planner. Her first Thanksgiving gathering was less than successful.

“I love hosting people for parties, but that wasn’t the case the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner about eight years ago,” she admitted. “Well before dinner was served, I got so overwhelmed that I threw my hands up, grabbed a glass of whiskey, and sat down in a chair and didn't move for a long time. My guests had to take over my kitchen, because I couldn’t handle the stress of it all. Hopefully, some of the lessons I took from that day can help others to be more successful with their Thanksgiving prep.”

To get a grip on the task at hand, we talked to several culinary experts, including Mitchell, and got their advice for creating a successful, sane Thanksgiving dinner:

111622-food-thanksgiving 02.JPG

Thanksgiving meal and side dishes (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Assign duties

“This one seems simple, and I know a lot may already do this,” said Cortney Smith, the co-owner and a culinary instructor at Gather Food Studio & Spice Shop, “but be strategic about it. Don’t assign the ‘always late’ guest the appetizers. Be flexible. Let guests bring dishes that they love, not just what is needed. It may push a few boundaries, but it won’t actually kill anyone if there isn’t green bean casserole on the table.”

Mitchell suggests, “Set up a Google document as a signup sheet and email/text it to everyone invited. You can even lay out a template, such as ‘we need a potato dish, a green vegetable, a salad, appetizers, dessert, and drinks.'”

Make a few lists

The obvious is the list of ingredients you’ll need for the food you’re responsible for. And the first item on that list should be to buy the turkey. If you haven’t already done so, head to the store today. If you are getting a frozen turkey, you’ll need one day for every 4 pounds to defrost it safely in the fridge. That 16-pounder will take four days.

Smith suggests making two lists.

One is “a basic to-do list of what you need to do,” she said. “It will keep you on track and give you a sense of accomplishment. And a second list we call the equipment list, which will have all the recipes you plan to make and the utensils you need to cook them, as well as what you’ll need to serve them. It's a way that caterers and food professionals stay on top of all of the items that they need for an event.”

Restaurant featuring fine Italian cuisine now open in Woodland Park

Sign Up for free: Peak Interest

Your weekly local update on arts, entertainment, and life in Colorado Springs! Delivered every Thursday to your inbox.

Success! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

The bird

Victor Matthews, owner and dean of Paragon Culinary School, and Smith agree that brining the turkey is the way to go, because the turkey will cook faster.

“Using brines and marinades changes the way the meat cooks,” Matthews said. “Marinated meat cooks faster and adds additional flavor and moisture, so it evens out cooking temps between dark and white meat. It also increases the moisture in the breast meat, which has a tendency to be dry.”

Smith’s No. 1 suggestion for roasting the bird: Invest in an electric turkey roaster.

“For an investment of $20 to $50, you get your whole oven back,” she said. “The turkey cooks faster and saves your oven space for sides, rolls and keeping food warm.”

High altitude plays a role in the cooking, Smith said, which leads to another tip from her: Plan on it taking an extra five to 10 minutes per pound for the turkey to cook.

“So keep that in mind when you are allowing time for your meal,” she said. “Don't go by those pop-up timers that come in the turkey. Invest in a small probe thermometer for a minimal cost and know when you are at that just-right temp. Also keep in mind you’ll lose anywhere from 50 to 100 degrees in your oven if you leave the door open too long, so be speedy when checking the turkey temperature in the deepest part of the thigh.”

111622-food-thanksgiving 03.JPG

Thanksgiving meal and side dishes (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Married Colorado Springs chefs opening new restaurant at former Michelle's Chocolatiers venue

Leftovers

“Don't forget to save that big turkey carcass,” Matthews said. “Put it in a large pot of water the next day with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and black peppercorns and simmer a few hours to make a wonderful stock that can be used for soups, stews or for Christmas. It freezes easily.”

Take a breath

“Thanksgiving may seem intimidating between the multiple dishes present and the amount of food that is usually prepared,” said Megan Fira, a chef and dietitian. “The majority of the food can be prepared ahead of time, relieving some of the stress and allowing for more time with family and friends.”

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

Load comments