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Help for timing Thanksgiving dishes so that everyting is served hot?

I usually have more help cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Anyone have tricks or suggestions to make sure evrything comes out hot at the same time? I will need to cook some veggie dishes last minute (green beans, etc) and will have made some things earlier in the day (mashed potatoes, wild rice, cornbread) that will need to be reheated. How does everyone do it? Thanks.

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  1. One thought - don't cook too many dishes. If you've got an oven and 4 burners, you should be able to make it work.

    There were some mentions in other threads about items that can be kept warm in crock pots -so check that out.

    1. I second the "don't cook too many dishes" recommendation! (Nobody will go hungry if there's one or two side starches instead of five)

      Another great strategy is to make sure that a certain number of your sides work at room temperature, so you don't have to worry about everything being hot.

      The other key, at least for me, is to have mostly sides that can be done ahead, and then heated in the oven while the turkey is resting (which is a while anyway) It sounds like you're doing this anyway. If you have a microwave, that's also a great help (for example, if you don't like your mashed potatoes reheated in the oven) I usually make sure everything can be reheated in the oven except the potatoes and gravy, nuke those, and it's no problem to have them all hot when the turkey's ready for carving.

      1. I always have a very detailed Thanksgiving checklist/to do list. It has the menu on it, and under each item it has specific tasks that need to be done, and (and this is the key) what time each of them need to be done, and at what temperature (if they're in the oven). I schedule what time dinner will be served, then count backwards, figuring out that the turkey will come out of the oven 30 to 40 minutes before dinner, the sides can go in then, when I should do any stove top items, etc. It also helps if you are a little relaxed about oven temp -- if I have two sides that need to be in the oven at the same time, and they cook at different temps, I just find a happy medium and put one on a top rack and one on a bottom. The checklist has saved me many a Thanksgiving.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JasmineG

          Absolutely! A printed out plan is the way to go. Mine begins with the shopping list and ends with the dishes and serving implements required for each dish. That way that last half hour that makes all the difference goes smoothly.

          Also run your dishwasher a few times during the prep to keep your workspace uncluttered and tools always ready.

        2. It's really pretty easy. The turkey tastes best after it has sit out for half an hour before carving, to stick all the sides (some precooked, others not) in the oven when you take the turkey out, finish up the stovetop stuff, and voila!

          1. Try cooking the turkey on the grill. It comes out great and makes the oven available for cooking and warming. Or serve a lot of booze and no one will notice if the food is cold !

            1. This doesn't work for everything but some sides can be kept hot or reheated on the stove instead of in the oven. If you have any sides that you think wouldn't be harmed by a little crispening on the bottom (some things are even better that way, in my opinion) you might want to utilize your burners.

              1. Re: green beans, I have had some success cooking them al dente earlier in the day, then shocking them in cold water. Dry thoroughly on paper towel. Before serving, warm them through on the stovetop (maybe in a little butter, sautéed shallot, herbs). This way they don’t require quite as much attention to get adequately cooked but not overcooked during that last half hour.

                1. If you have a slow cooker, put your mashed potatoes in there after you make them with some butter on top. Before serving, just give it another stir and they are nice and warm.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sagestrat

                    hi -- that idea about the mashed potatoes in the crock pot sounds cool to me, too.

                    i'm going to try this epicurious recipe for sweet potatoe puree with brown sugar and sherry; was thinking of making them the night before and warming them on top of the stove in a casserole, but maybe making them around mid-day and keeping them in the slow cooker until 6:30 is the way to go....?

                    hm, but would you really recommend keeping them in the low setting? for how long?

                    sorry for the angst; peace!

                    1. re: sagestrat

                      Great idea, using the slow cooker for keeping mashed potatoes warm. I don't have a slow cooker, but -- similar concept -- I'll try using my Tiger thermal cooker to hold my mashed potatoes this year. It's essentially a pot in a very big thermos.

                    2. Wow! Like that mashed taters in the crock pot idea. Will try it.
                      Agree with the rec to time backwards from eating time and write it all down.
                      That's how I do it and how I get stuff to the table on time, as well as don't forget anything.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: kayandallie

                        We do two different dressings in crockpots- works well.
                        I make the mashed potatoes an hour or so in advance and let them sit on the back burner (off) and they realy hold their heat. If you make them the day before or you have limited burner space, the crockpot would be an excellant idea.

                        And I also obsess about the time schedule. It really helps, esp if there is wine open!

                      2. I have been asked to bring my maple butternut squash to Thanksgiving dinner, with the caveat that there isn't much stove space. So, I got one of those Pyrex insulated carriers with hot packs so I can bake the squash and put it in the carrier nice and hot so it should hold and be serving temp an hour or so later. I thought it would also be handy at home if I ran into the same problem when entertaining.

                        Does anyone have any experience with these? any warnings or suggestions about their use? I thought I'd pad the container with a terry towel for further insulation and inhibition of motion in the car...

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sheiladeedee

                          I have that same Pyrex insulated carrier that I've used countless times for potlucks. Over time the microwaveable pack (the red one) became leaky or something and I had to toss it. With the microwaved pack, it'll keep your dish hot for half an hour, warm for a couple hours. I didn't have to pad the bag with a towel in the car, I'd just put it on the (clean) car floor behind the driver seat. By the way, I'd use the plastic (airtight) lid while transporting, then replace with the glass lid at serving time.

                          1. re: sheiladeedee

                            Would you be willing to share your maple butternut squash recipe? Sounds great!

                            1. re: dimsumgirl

                              Not so much a recipe as a method... For a good sized butternut squash, peeled, roasted until tender... mash it up, add a stick of butter and about half a cup of maple syrup. Stir well, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a few grinds or grates of nutmeg. Dot with butter, sprinkle with more syrup, and bake until hot and bubbly and browned. A little orange zest is a good addition.

                          2. Yeah, just bite the bullet and accept that some of the dishes aren't going to be served hot. I mean, even a lot of restaurants can't get this right, why should you?

                            My #1 rule is "When the meat is ready, everything else is ready." It's never failed me.

                            1. A long time ago, as a single host, I gave up on the idea of having everything on the table and side tables to serve at once. It got way too complicated, given that I had many people who didn't eat certain things due to special diets, so simply passing things around resulting in bumper-car service.

                              Instead, cool or room temperature things are in the dining room, and warm things are in the kitchen (I am a clean-as-you-go cook, so the kitchen is not a disaster site at that point), and people bring their plates and serve themselves as they will.

                              We also do our thanksgivings and toasts (with champagne or other beverages of choice) after the main meal and before dessert. That way, people are not left having the food cold and having their thoughtfulness strangled by appetite.

                              Result: complete sanity and my guests are much more relaxed. While it is certainly a deviation from proper service, this was something that I was willing to compromise on, because the results were so uniformly superior for everyone.

                              Another hint: if possible, get electronic plate warming pads to keep serving plates warm before service. Use chargers to hold the place settings, as it were (and don't try to keep brass chargers spotless; they are *supposed* to show evidence of loving use over time -- only Americans have this thing to keep things looking like they've never been used).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Karl S

                                Or you can just put yoru plates in the dishwasher on the warming setting (i.e. the plate drying setting, after the wash)

                                1. re: Covert Ops

                                  My old-fashioned steam radiators make great plate warmers--so long as the heat's on.

                              2. Also, if you have the room for them, those electric warming trays work really well at keeping things at serving temp. They are a good investment if you entertain a lot. One tray would hold three casseroles.

                                1. agree with above poster ...turkey comes out and rests for a half hour and stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans go into the oven during that time. Meanwhile, I've never had a problem with making mashed potatoes ahead and reheating them in the microwave as long as potatoes are riced and a lot of butter and milk is used so they don't dry out.

                                  1. Crockpots rule for keeping sides nice and warm, I have two large ones and a smaller/medium size pot. Terrific for gravy, yams, potatoes, soups etc. SOOoo worth the investment.

                                    1. The Barefoot Contessa says you can keep the mashed potatoes (in a glass bowl) over a simmering pot of water on the back of the stove and they stay fresh and cream for 30 min. This could work for several items if you don't need all the burners

                                      1 Reply