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Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner
Learn how to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with a maximum of enjoyment and a minimum of stress, snafus, and sleeplessness!
If you'd like your Thanksgiving preparations to go smoothly (and who wouldn't?), turn to experienced tech writer and foodie Joe Kissell for help. At least half the battle is a good plan, and Joe provides you with a customizable plan that gets you organized, helps you figure out what you need to buy, and prevents last-minute problems. Once the planning and shopping are done, follow Joe's detailed, tested recipes for Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
"Thanks for a great guide! I used it to successfully cook my first complete Thanksgiving, almost single-handed. While I can follow recipes, I am nowhere close to 'a cook'—your guide gave me the confidence to take on this meal!" —Ed Ruder
Appendixes cover special cases from allergies to vegans, drawings guide you as you work with the turkey, and a special included "Print Me" file provides shopping lists and schedules, as well as versions of the recipes that you can tape up in the kitchen. Although these recipes scale easily for a few more people, they are meant for 8-12 people. The recipes use U.S. and metric units.
Read this ebook to learn the answers to questions such as:
"I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for longer than I care to admit, and I never would have thought I'd pick up so many good tips! Great book!" —Trish Huffman
iPad & Kindle
About the Author
Joe Kissell has written many books about the Mac, including many popular Take Control ebooks. He's also a contributing editor of TidBITS and a senior contributor to Macworld, and previously spent 10 years in the Mac software industry.
Table of Contents
Read Me First
Preparing a complete Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd can be a daunting task, but this book lays out the entire process, complete with easy recipes and detailed, step-by-step instructions. If you've volunteered (or been volunteered!) to make Thanksgiving dinner, and you want to ensure that everything goes smoothly, this book will keep you organized, focused, and on track. This book was written by Joe Kissell, edited by Karen G. Anderson, and published by TidBITS Publishing Inc.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of family togetherness, good food, and all-around positive vibes—for most of us. For the cook, however, it's often a time of stress and grumpiness! Putting together a feast like this is an unusual feat even for experienced cooks. If you've never done it before, it can be terrifying. Many things can go wrong, but you can avoid or solve virtually every problem if you plan well and have the right tools and information within reach.
I'm a foodie from way back, but I make my living writing about computers. In technical writing, my goal is to break down complex and confusing computer tasks into simple, easy-to-follow steps. In this book, I do the same with Thanksgiving dinner, breaking down complex and confusing cooking tasks into simple, easy-to-follow steps.
Anyone who wants to prepare Thanksgiving dinner from scratch can benefit from these instructions. This may be the first time you've cooked Thanksgiving dinner, or perhaps you've tried cooking one in the past with dubious results. You might be a working parent, a guy who usually leaves major cooking to the women, or simply someone who's better at cooking than planning (and needs help with logistics). Whatever the case, I can help you put together the entire meal from start to finish with minimal stress, so you can enjoy the holiday!
For a great Thanksgiving feast, you want all the basic dishes to be prepared well, taste good, and be ready at the right time. You can pull this off if you stick with my recipes and timeline as much as possible. There are a million ways to cook each of these dishes, and what you see here may not be the way your mom or your favorite celebrity chef does it. But after extensive testing of recipes and procedures in this book, I can assure you that if you follow them, you'll get good results.
What's on the menu? It's a classic, traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinner: Roasted Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Candied Sweet Potatoes, and Pumpkin Pie.
I've included a few other options, such as a vegetarian main dish (see Appendix A: A Vegetarian Main Dish) and green vegetables (see the sidebar What about the Greens?), but in general, I stick to the basics. By the way, this meal is not low in fat, carbs, or salt. Sorry, dieters!
Although you'll be preparing almost everything from scratch—using fresh, whole ingredients where feasible—I understand that due to time, money, or space constraints, you may have to compromise here and there. So I've included a series of "Cutting Corners" sidebars with simpler approaches you can use if you get in trouble. On the other hand, if you're feeling more ambitious and want to get fancier, you may be interested in the "Upgrading" sidebars (for a few of the dishes), which tell you how to add extra flavor, texture, and finesse.
This book contains detailed instructions, but for your convenience, a separate "Print Me" file includes compact versions of all the recipes, the schedule, and the shopping list.
Before I set you loose, I want to tell you what assumptions I made when writing this book. I assume:
Because the most important thing you can do to ensure a successful Thanksgiving dinner is prepare well, I strongly urge you to read this entire book before you do anything else—and do that at least a week before Thanksgiving. At the very least, read Obtain Supplies, Obtain Ingredients, and Plan Your Cooking Schedule first, and be sure to take a good look at Appendix E: The Schedule.
Print out your reference materials:
Prepare for the big day:
Do day-before preparation:
Do Thanksgiving Day tasks:
Deal with special situations:
In version 1.2, I’ve modernized the book’s layout so that it works not only on large screens in PDF format, but also on smaller screens in EPUB and Mobipocket formats. In addition, I did the following:
Version 1.1 included the following changes from the original release:
Q: What if I don't want to make everything by hand?
A: You don't have to! Although the book assumes you'll make most things by hand, it also has sidebars that suggest when cutting a corner may the better part of valor and an appendix helps if you have to make Thanksgiving dinner with little prep time.
Q: What about my aunt Martha's stuffing recipe?
A: The book provides recipes that work together in terms of time and temperature, but it also assumes that you may want to swap in a recipe or two of your own.
Q: I love David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methods. Will this book help me have a Getting Things Done Thanksgiving?
A: Yes it will. It walks you right through the planning process with lots of next steps, to-dos, and lists.
Q: How do you recommend preparing the turkey?
A: Joe explains a basic brining technique.
Q: Isn't brining too hard for less-experienced cooks?
A: Joe has a special talent for breaking down complex tasks into simple steps. We think a lot of cooks will be pleased when they see how easy Joe makes it.
Q: I noticed that you don't cover a green vegetable, homemade rolls, or pecan pie.
A: Yes. We limited the book's scope to something we felt could be achieved by normal humans. The book does welcome you to make more dishes, and it links to a few noteworthy recipes for green veggies.
Q: What about vegetarians?
A: The book has a lovely recipe for a polenta-and-cheese based main course for vegetarians, and it even has an appendix on how to accommodate vegans. However, if you plan to cook an all-vegan feast, this isn't the right book for you.
Q: What about the gravy?
A: The gravy recipe is superb. And, Joe splits it so people with less time or experience can go for great gravy, but readers with more time or experience can go for amazingly superb gravy.
Q: What's a computer geek doing writing a cookbook?
A: Joe writes about technology in order to support his habit of eating well, and he was playing with his food long before he started playing with computers. He wields a whisk or a mouse with equal proficiency. Joe realized that the same methods he uses to make seemingly complicated computer tasks seem easy could be applied to seemingly complicated cooking tasks, and this book is the result.
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Feel free to ask us if you have a question about this title!
How could we not publish such kind words? If you'd like to send us your comments (good or bad, though we hope they're all good), just click the Feedback link on the cover of your copy of the ebook. Be sure to let us know if we can publish your comment. Thanks!
For your enjoyment, here's an excerpt from the ebook that covers how to make stuffing. The overall ebook has you starting your shopping early, but you can jump in here. Note that this recipe is intended to span 2 days, with you doing some prep work on the day before Thanksgiving. Of course, you can do it all on Thanksgiving day, if necessary.
The great thing about stuffing is that you can vary the recipe dramatically and still end up with a perfectly delicious end result. The basic ingredients of a turkey stuffing are bread, aromatics (celery and onion), stock or broth, a few spices, and a bit of butter. Of course, lots of stuffings get fancy with sausage, oysters, chestnuts, fruit, cornbread, or any of a zillion other modifications. We're going to stick with the standard (though I provide other suggestions in the "Upgrading" sidebar [at the end of this excerpt]. If you have a family recipe for another type of stuffing, and your guests expect it, feel free to use it instead.
IN OR OUT?
There are two broad schools of thought about stuffing: one says to cook it inside the turkey (in which case it truly is stuffing) and the other says to cook it separately (in which case it's sometimes called dressing). If you cook the stuffing inside the turkey, it will absorb a good bit of moisture and fat from the turkey—and along with it, lots of flavor. Stuffing the turkey is a (slightly awkward) extra step, as is removing the cooked stuffing, though using a stuffing bag can simplify both greatly.
But the main argument against stuffing the turkey is that the stuffing takes a long time to heat up, while spending significant time in contact with uncooked meat. That's a recipe for bacterial growth, and of course the last thing you want to do is make your guests sick! However, you can solve this problem quite easily. First, make sure the stuffing is very hot when you put it into the bird. And, second, before you take the turkey out of the oven, check the stuffing's temperature. If it's 160*F (71*C) or higher, you're completely safe.
Because the taste of genuinely stuffed stuffing is better, we'll be cooking it in the bird. But we'll also make some extra, cooked separately, because you can never have too much stuffing!
Most of the stuffing preparation should be done the day before Thanksgiving. Just before you put the turkey in the oven, you'll perform the last two steps: combining the wet and dry ingredients, and heating the stuffing.
Only if upgrading...
2 medium apples (replacing half the celery)
1-2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
Stuffing isn't at all hard to make, but if you're worried about getting everything done, there are always store-bought stuffing mixes. Frankly, I don't think any commercial mix can hold a candle to homemade stuffing, but this is ultimately a lower-priority menu item than, say, turkey or mashed potatoes.
This stuffing recipe, as it stands, is plenty tasty (especially the portion cooked inside the turkey). But it's also pretty basic. To add some pizzazz, you can try these suggestions:
* Replace half the celery with two medium-sized apples, peeled and diced into pieces about the same size as the celery.
* Add 1-2 cups of fresh chopped mushrooms.
* Look for other stuffing recipes. Among the thousands of stuffing recipes you can find online are ones that use rice or cornbread instead of white bread; ones that include sausage or oysters; ones that add chestnuts for some extra crunch; and numerous other variations. If you're feeling adventurous, substitute any of these recipes for the one here, but be sure to make enough to fill the turkey and an extra baking dish—at least 12 cups (3 l) in all.
November 19, 2013 -- As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I took a quick skim through the ebook to see how it was aging. Good news! With a topic like Thanksgiving, we don't have Apple releasing Turkey 2.0 or Google updating to Stuffing 3.17, so Joe's recipes are up-to-date. I am noticing a few places where Apple technology has changed, like in the Basics topic where iBooks is referred to as only an iOS app instead of an iOS and OS X app. Even so, I think you'll manage just fine. The Take Control crew had so much fun creating this title, that we'll probably want to update it at some point. That update will probably be much less about new Thanksgiving advice and much more about making sure it works technically; for example, we'll want to update that reference to iBooks platforms. And, we'll move the manuscript forward to whatever the latest Take Control templates is, so it will look like the rest of our more modern titles.
—Tonya J Engst
November 24, 2009 --
Get the scoop on Joe's favorite ebook, Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner. In the MacVoices #9120 podcast episode, Joe and host Chuck Joiner talk about choosing a turkey, baking a moist turkey, making various side dishes, handling logistics, and more. Also, if you know what a turkey "giblet" is, but have always wondered which "giblet" is which organ, check out the Turkey Giblets post from Joe's The Geeky Gourmet blog.
—Tonya J Engst
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