Prepare holiday meal with help from your friends, restaurants


November 13, 1994|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

Thanksgiving is the only major holiday centered entirely around a meal. Of course, this means the one who prepares it 11 days from now will feel the weight of 370 years of tradition bearing down on her already overburdened shoulders.

But T-day meal preparation doesn't have to be stressful. And cooking it certainly doesn't have to be as time-consuming as the first one in 1621 in Plymouth, Mass. The Pilgrims and Native Americans had to build a fire just to fix simple corn on the cob. We can give it a jolt of radar love and put it on the table.

The microwave is only one thing to be thankful for at feast time. Newspaper food writers and editors from around the country say we should appreciate convenience foods, take-out fare and delegation.

But what about the terminally guilty among us who would beg guests' forgiveness for letting Boston Chicken or Kenny Rogers do some -- or all -- of the work?

"They're out of their minds," says Marian Burros, food columnist for the New York Times. "The people who come to eat are lucky they're getting fed. It's the spirit of being together that matters. Never mind what it tastes like. I hope nobody apologizes for taking shortcuts."

More words of wisdom from Ms. Burros and other food writers:

* Easy as pie: "Canned pumpkin is perfectly legitimate," says Ms. Burros. "Most pumpkins are much too watery to make pies with anyway. Also, some of those frozen pie crusts are good. But an easier thing to do is use a purchased graham cracker crust."

* Something not to do: "Under no circumstances cook the turkey overnight in a low oven," says Ms. Burros. "You're looking for trouble, terrible trouble. This is the most fertile ground for making pathogens increase if they exist in the turkey.."

To cut turkey-cooking time -- by about five minutes a pound -- prepare the dressing separately.

* Give Superwoman a proper burial: For more than a decade Detroit Free Press food writer Patty LaNoue Stearns put on her "I'm a Woman" hat and made the entire Thanksgiving meal for family and friends. "I don't know how many times people asked me what they could bring. I always said, 'Oh, nothing. We'll do it all.' "

Now one person cooks the turkey and others make side dishes. "This takes advance planning," she warns.

Whether it's your turn to do the meal or to bring a side dish, Ms. Stearns advises, "Make it easy on yourself. Don't make an elaborate effort. The best foods are comfort foods anyway."

* Don't be a turkey: Turkeys can't fly. But your imagination can take flight. "We think the Thanksgiving meal has to be a big dinner," says Jan Norris, food editor at the Palm Beach Post. "But it's not a law," she says with a laugh. "Do a brunch instead."

* Call in Chef Kenny: "The big word is take-out," says Carol Haddix, food-guide editor for the Chicago Tribune. "It's the best, easiest way to solve the problem. You can do the turkey yourself and buy the side dishes."

But there's a consideration for the budget-conscious. "It doesn't solve the money problem -- buying the side dishes already prepared is expensive. But it does save time. Once the turkey is out, just slip the side dishes in the oven and heat for 20 minutes," she says.


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