There's still time for feast

Holiday meal can be made in a few hours


You say you're too busy to put together a Thanksgiving meal from scratch? After all, tomorrow is the day and you haven't even baked a pie.

Well, you may have good reasons not to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but time shouldn't be one of them. Although all the books tell you to begin preparations days in advance, the biggest meal of the year really can be made in just a few hours.

If you shop today, you can watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning and still have turkey and all the trimmings ready before the kickoff of the Dallas-Denver football game at 4 p.m.

"It's definitely workable," says Tom Schwarzweller, executive chef at Wegmans in Hunt Valley.

In fact, he said, Wegmans stores are usually deluged with customers on Thanksgiving morning - procrastinators just like you.

Here's what you need to do:

Today --Plan your menu and write your shopping list. Of course you'll want turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. Decide what other side dishes you want. Keep in mind the oven will be occupied by the turkey, so you'll have to go with dishes you can prepare mainly on the stove top.

Nancy Cohen, owner of Eddie's of Roland Park, suggests a simple dish of green beans sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with sunflower seeds. Other options are creamed peas, steamed broccoli or fresh salad.

You also need to decide whether you want bread to go with your meal. If so, you can make a loaf in the bread machine, if you have one, stir up some skillet cornbread or take a shortcut and buy frozen or ready-made dinner rolls.

With your shopping list in hand, head to your local supermarket. You obviously don't have time to defrost a turkey, so you'll have to go with a fresh one. Most stores expected to have some fresh turkeys left today.

Sandra Lee, the cookbook-writing diva of semi-homemade, says you might want to consider buying two smaller turkeys, which will roast in less time than a large one. But let's face it, if you've waited until today to plan your Thanksgiving menu, chances are you won't have a big crowd showing up at your doorstep tomorrow. For a small family, a 5- to 8-pound turkey will do.

Noon tomorrow --When Santa Claus brings up the rear of the Macy's parade, start your oven. Preheat it to 325. The first priority is preparing your turkey. Remove giblets and put them in boiling water to cook for gravy stock.

Rinse turkey, pat it dry and season it as you like. Because the turkey will cook faster without the stuffing, it's better to bake your stuffing on the side.

Tip: The turkey will cook faster in an oven-roasting bag, although some cooks don't like this technique because the skin won't be as crispy.

12:15 p.m. --Once the turkey is in the oven and the stock is on the stove, start to work on the rest of the meal. If you're making bread in the bread machine, get it started as soon as you get the turkey in the oven. Most machines need at least three hours to bake a loaf.

12:30 p.m. --Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate.

12:45 p.m. --Set the table. Don't forget to add a few decorations, such as candles, mini-pumpkins, leaves.

1 p.m. --If you've chosen to make a homemade pie crust, make it now. Mix up filling and set aside in a separate bowl.

1:30 p.m. --Make stuffing using prepackaged bread cubes or cornbread. Season and cook on stove top, then place in buttered baking dish and set aside to bake when turkey is done.

1:50 p.m. --Make salad and side dishes, including skillet cornbread if you like.

2:30 p.m. --Peel and boil potatoes.

2:50 p.m. --Mash potatoes.

2:55 p.m. --Fill pie crust.

3 p.m. --Test turkey for doneness. Remove turkey from oven, increase temperature to 425.

3:05 p.m. --Place skillet cornbread in oven.

3:15 p.m. --Place pumpkin pie and stuffing in oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

3:30 p.m. --Reduce oven temperature to 350. Remove stuffing and cornbread. Continue to bake pie.

3:35 p.m. --Make gravy. Lee offers this recipe: Combine oil and flour to make a dark roux. Use the drippings from the turkey and pour them into the roux. Use a small whisk and fork to work through the lumps. Pour the mixture into the stock made from giblets, stir in and add salt to taste.

3:45 p.m. --Put food on the table. Seat your guests. Carve the turkey, make the toast.

4 p.m. --Check on the pie.

"You can do it," says Cohen, who says she has cooked Thanksgiving meals in a hurry. "And you'll be ready for the after-dinner drink."

Quick options

Cranberry sauce: Ocean Spray's jellied log graces many a Thanksgiving table, but if you'd like to make your own sauce, here's a quick and easy recipe from Thanksgiving guru Rick Rodgers.

In a medium sauce pan, bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in one 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to boil gently until all the cranberries have popped, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely.

Potatoes: Sandra Lee suggests buying already-mashed potatoes such as Simply Potatoes. Add butter and sour cream and it "tastes like you made it from scratch," Lee says.

Turkey: Wegmans' Tom Schwarzweller says one way to make sure your bird is done in time is to buy a brined turkey breast. It will cook up in 90 minutes and serve 8.

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