Secrets for a Perfect Thanksgiving

butternut-applesFor most of us, Thanksgiving conjures up visions of our favorite dishes — some that we wait for almost a whole year to enjoy.

That’s why cooking for the big day can be such a stress for most people. So my advice: Don’t try to make it happen all in one day, use this how-to knowledge to plan ahead and you’ll see that it’s fun and satisfying.

Five Days Before

Have your shopping list complete and do the big shop. If your turkey is frozen when you buy it, check the package instructions for safe defrosting. Some large birds may take up to three days to defrost in the fridge, so give yourself an extra day for the defrosting process just to be on the safe side. Don’t be tempted to defrost on the countertop as it could allow harmful bacteria to develop.

Two Days Before

cranberry-sauceDesserts and cold sauces like cranberry keep well for two or more days if they are properly stored. Make your cranberry sauce at least two days ahead. Be sure to cool it on the countertop completely before transferring to an air-tight container. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Desserts like cookies and pies both store well, like apple pie or pumpkin pie. For cookies, allow to cool completely before storing in a cookie tin on the countertop until ready to use. For pies, bake and cool completely before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating until ready to serve.

Are you an advanced foodie cook? Then try my special Hungarian nutroll that you can make 4 to 5 days in advance and store the same way you do the pies.

The Day Before

Prepare your stuffing and chop your vegetables for side dishes like green beans, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Prepare the stuffing until the last step (but don’t bake it yet) — instead cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Or store my stuffing recipe overnight in the fridge covered with plastic wrap (remove wrap before baking).

Trim and chop your vegetables, but do not cook them. Store them refrigerated in clean ziplock bag. Next: prep your bird! Wash it well under cold running water and if you decide to keep your bird whole, fill the cavity with a tablespoon of salt to help kill bacteria. To butterfly it, simply watch the video below to find out how. Next, rub the surface of the turkey with olive oil and spices like dried herbs, paprika, and freshly ground black pepper if desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to roast.

Thanksgiving Morning

Check the cooking time for your turkey and place it in the oven with at least 1 hour leeway in case it needs to cook longer.

You will want to rest it at least 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute — a classic turkey newbie mistake is to skip the resting = dry bird! If it’s done cooking and you still have 1 hour to go, reduce the heat on your oven to 200°F, then remove to rest at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Make your vegetable side dishes, salads, green bean dishes, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes. Place your stuffing on the countertop to warm the dish about 20 minutes to avoid cracking you dish. Bake your stuffing, keeping it covered with aluminum foil or parchment paper (for at least 30 minutes).

Looking for more tips on cooking techniques? Check out my video series below that will teach you how to butterfly a turkey and make delicious, lump free gravy!

Healthy + Tasty Thanksgiving Video Series

You’ve got plenty of Thanksgiving recipes — but what about chefs’ secret tips to make it easier, simpler and lower in calories without skimping on taste? In this video, I’ll invite you behind the curtain of my Skinny Secrets Thanksgiving How-To Video Series to help you avoid common mistakes while amping up the flavor.

Enjoy important how-to tips to make your holidays stress-free (with do-ahead tips), enjoyable (with great shortcuts) and successful (with key insights how to avoid common mishaps like clumpy mashed potatoes). Get the Skinny Chef into your kitchen and be the star of this year’s Thanksgiving! Above are six videos for everything from turkey preparation to a new spin on the old cranberry sauce stand-by!

  • For example, butterflying turkey dramatically cuts down on roasting time, resulting in overall moister meat. In addition, by making the stuffing outside the bird ahead of time, food safety is improved while saving time on T-Day that you can spend with your family instead.
  • As a health coach, I always champion home-made turkey stock as the perfect base for velvety gravy, giving cooks tighter control over the amount of salt in their recipes – ideal for people who want to cut back on sodium.You can use low sodium store bought broth, or make your own homemade broth that will take your gravy to a whole new flavor level.
  • Harking back to my upbringing in rural Pittsburgh, I still swear by my granny’s moistest stuffing — but I created a “skinny” version with all the flavor and less fat.
  • Smooth, lump-free mashed potatoes are easy to make when you follow a few easy steps that are detailed in the healthy Thanksgiving video series –- among them my tips to mash the cooked potatoes when they are still hot and using warm milk.

Here are some other smart and healthy ideas to get your Thanksgiving off to a great start!

Sweet Potatoes and Apples for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving RecipesSweet and soothing, tart and rich, apples and sweet potatoes make a fall duet that is irresistible when sprinkled with spice and honeyed walnuts. I made these lovely layers with the help of a Japanese mandoline that will give you uniform slices in seconds. But there are plenty of other tools to make the prep time for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes go a lot faster without investing too much cash.

Granny’s Stuffing

stuffingMy granny makes the moistest stuffing and here is the “skinny” version with all the flavor and less fat. Even though she calls it stuffing, Granny likes to bake this Thanksgiving classic outside the bird.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

roasted-brussels-sproutsTry other vegetables side dishes can be prepped the day before, like Shallots and Green Beans, Simple Sauteed Spinach, and Broccoli with Kale and Walnuts. You can cook them off Thanksgiving afternoon while your bird is in the final stages of baking. Or try this no-cook superfood salad, that you make from start to finish the night before, based on the king of the superfood kingdom, kale!

In Granny’s Kitchen #3: Thanksgiving

In Granny’s Kitchen #3: ThanksgivingIn this episode, Granny shares her best Thanksgiving tips for what she considers to be the biggest feast of the year. From smooth mash potatoes to her moist stuffing, Granny knows best – after all she has cooked over 60 Thanksgiving dinners for a clan consisting of 15 family members! She also tells the story of a jealous feline, our family’s black cat, who almost spoiled the finale to the meal, her luscious homemade pumpkin pie!

Fast Holiday Sweets

Fast Holiday SweetsThis post is dedicated to all my girlfriends who are busy moms who love the idea of hosting, but find that making holiday snacks and goodies are last on the list.

Traditional Thanksgiving the Skinny Way

Traditional Thanksgiving the Skinny WayHands down, Thanksgiving is the biggest cooking holiday out there. Some of the foods that are served at the Thanksgiving table are actually healthy foods that have gotten a bad rap because of the way they are prepared, so here are four ways to lighten up the classic recipe without compromising a lot on taste!