Photo: Amanda Dumouchelle
Buckle up — Thanksgiving is coming. If you're already feeling a little stressed about hosting the big meal, take heed: There are plenty of things you can do now (as in, right this very minute) to save yourself some sweat and make the big day itself a celebration, not a stress fest.
1. Count Your
There's never been a better time to demands RSVPs. A good headcount allows you to plan out the space and how much tableware you'll need; more importantly, it tells you how much to cook (and keeps your leftovers strategy informed). You have our full permission to nag as much as needed. So make phone calls, send emails, knock on doors if you have to. Then check your cupboards and drawers to make sure you have all the plates, utensils, and glassware you need.
2. Make the Turkey Stock
The next time you go grocery shopping, pick up 4 to 5 pounds of turkey legs. Spend an afternoon making the best turkey stock ever (don't worry, you can do plenty of other things while it simmers on the stovetop), divide it among plastic quart containers, and freeze until Thanksgiving. When it comes time to make gravy, you'll have the best stock money didn't have to buy.
3. Prep the Bread for Stuffing
Why pay extra for pre-cut bread stuffing mix when you can start stockpiling bread cubes ahead of time? When you notice your bread getting stale, just cut it up into cubes, stash it in a large freezer bag, and freeze. Continue adding to the bag whenever day-old bread appears in your kitchen, measuring by the cup and noting the amount on the bag. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you'll have all the bread you need— and all the crumbs that come with cubing it will be long gone.
4. Crank Out the Cranberry Sauce
You can make this cranberry sauce a week out and refrigerate it, or— if you want to be a super planner— freeze it. Feeling extra ambitious? Make two kinds of cranberry sauce: A classic version for the traditionalists, and a modern version with heat-packing chipotle peppers or cooling mint leaves.
5. Puree a Squash
That's right: You can roast a squash right now and save the sweet, gorgeous puree for later. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Cut a squash in half and clean out the seeds and pulp. Season the squash with salt and place it cut side down on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil. Roast until tender, 1-1 1/4 hours. Let cool slightly. Scoop squash into a food processor, add a tablespoon of brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, and process into a puree. Transfer the puree into a freezer bag and keep frozen for a week or two, thawing it whenever you're ready to make a quick side dish or a silky soup.
6. Make Compound Butter
Butter should already be in your freezer— it will never go bad there. But Thanksgiving calls for better butter— compound butters made by folding in seasonings and herbs. A parsley compound butter enlightens the biscuit experience, upgrades [mashed potatoes], and makes a great option for flavoring your turkey before roasting. Just mix in the seasonings you want into a stick or two of softened butter. Drop the butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap, roll it into a log, and freeze until a few hours before you need.
7. Prep the Pie Crust
The most time-consuming part about baking a pie? Making all that pie dough. The good news is, the dough freezes perfectly for up to three months. After cutting butter into the dough and kneading it, roll the dough into balls, flatten them into discs (make sure there are no cracks), and freeze them. The day before you're ready to use them, transfer to the refrigerator to gently thaw.
8. Make Biscuit Dough
Thanksgiving Day should be for stovetop cooking and plotting out seating charts with chess-like strategy. In other words, it ain't for biscuit-making. Make your dough a week or two ahead of time, form into biscuits, and freeze the dough on cookie sheets until firm. Stash the frozen, uncooked dough pucks in a freezer bag. You can bake them from frozen on Thanksgiving Day— just brush them with a bit of cream and add a few minutes to the baking time.
9. Collect the Booze
Picture yourself at the grocery store a day or two before Thanksgiving. You've got a couple of last-minute bottles of wine in your cart; everybody ahead of you has everything, from the sweet potatoes to the turkey, for the big night. Are you really going to stand in line for two hours for a couple bottles that you could have bought weeks ahead of time? Nope, us neither. (P.S. - Planning cocktails or a punch? Make sure you get plenty of ice, too.)
10. Score Your Gear
You can't carve a turkey without a knife, and you're probably going to want a roasting pan to, uh, roast that turkey. So take stock of the equipment you have now, and if you don't have something? Get it! (Psst: Here's a list of our favorite Thanksgiving gadgets, from a truly weird-looking poultry lifter to a great (and cheap!) thermometer.